35 Harrington Gardens, 35 Years Later
In August of 1977, our suitcases were made by American Tourister and Samsonite in varying shades of cherry red, chocolate brown, and baby blue. We navigated our luggage without wheels or retractable handles through JFK airport, equally excited and anxious. Hugging our parents goodbye, we boarded the Air India flight to Heathrow. We weren’t admonished to turn off our personal electronic devices because we didn’t have any.
We arrived at the towering Penta Hotel the next morning, and then proceeded down Gloucester Road to 35 Harrington Gardens. The first few days were fueled by McVitie’s chocolate digestive biscuits. Our mutually safe haven was a welcoming Victorian building, set behind a black curliqued wrought iron archway. Classes met at 35 Harrington Gardens and spilled out onto the streets of London, Cambridge, Oxford, and even Dublin.
At the helm of our studies was Tim Kidd, a veritable walking British encyclopedia. The wonderful Jean Knight opened our eyes to so much more than paintings and buildings in her weekly Art and Architecture classes.
In August of 2012, I returned to London, wheeling my super-cool, super-high-tech suitcase through Heathrow. The former Penta Hotel still stands, but has been reincarnated as a Holiday Inn. I found my way back to 35 Harrington Gardens, which is still tucked behind the same wrought iron proscenium archway. On the other side of the door stood the most affable and hospitable Bill Sheasgreen, who welcomed me so warmly I felt as though I had been expected. The winding staircase still beckoned, the once empty walls now boasting a gallery of Ithaca London students, their framed likenesses climbing up each landing. I poked my head into a second-floor classroom, which in many ways appeared unchanged except for the perfect formation of computer-topped desks.
I could make out the silhouettes of the Ithaca students. These 20-somethings take for granted technology that we never considered in 1977. Their ability to connect with home or with those around them is no longer reliant on an airmail letter or placing a call from a London pay phone. To say I was just the slightest bit envious of the semester that lay before them would be a gross understatement. If I could turn back the clock, a semester in London would be sweeter than a two-for-one sale on McVitie’s biscuits at the Sainsbury’s.
Ellen Gray’s son, Drew Schweppe '12, graduated from IC last May and is doing his graduate studies in London.