The grass in front of 2021 Campus Drive is cut. The windows are dark. The tan front door is shut. Quiet—save the grumbles of passing buses—but normal.
Eleanore Jantz, or “Elli” as her friends called her, occupied the colonial-style brick house nestled in the middle of the rapidly growing University since 1978. When she died in July, the 104-year-old widow was the last private resident of the faculty houses lining Campus Drive, relics of a mostly forgotten era.
Built in the early 1930s, the homes have largely been repurposed during the last few decades. Soon, Elli’s house will too be swallowed by the University that originally grew around it.
Eleanore Marjorie Whitmore Jantz was born in 1912 and raised in Philadelphia before enrolling at Ohio’s Antioch College in 1932. However, she left the school before graduating to marry the man whose career would eventually bring her to Durham—Harold Jantz, an Antioch assistant professor of German and a leading Goethe scholar.
“She met her husband when he was a faculty member and she was an undergraduate, in the days when those things were allowable,” said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, who used to visit Elli about once a year. “She got married, I think fairly young, and then went back to school later to get a Ph.D.”
Elli followed her husband’s career to Northwestern University in Illinois, where she earned her bachelor of science degree and was the first woman to be accepted into post-graduate studies at the school. She earned her Ph.D. there in 1959.
Her husband left Northwestern in 1957 for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Elli went on to teach psychology and psychotherapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine for 18 years. In another first, she was the first woman to serve on Maryland’s Board of Psychological Examiners.
After their time in Maryland, the two retired to Durham in the late 1970s. Harold took up a position at Duke as a visiting professor in the department of Germanic languages and literature, and the couple donated his expansive—about 9,000 volumes—collection of manuscripts and books to the University.
“They wanted a house, and that house was available,” Trask said. “It was built before, but they were told they could live in that house, and they lived there ever since.”
A friend of the University
Harold passed away in 1987, leaving behind his wife of 52 years. Leland Phelps—Harold’s long-time colleague at both Northwestern and Duke—spoke at a memorial service held in the Chapel on March 29, 1987, according to a funeral program accessed via the Duke Archives.
Phelps also wrote in a document accessed from the Archives that Harold had lived his life to the fullest.
“Harold Jantz was not an ivory-tower scholar. It is true that he loved and was devoted to his books and the scholarly life, but he also loved good company, good food, fine wines and travel. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was an entertaining raconteur,” Phelps wrote. “With eyes sparkling, he could hold an audience enthralled as he recounted experiences he and Eleanore had had searching for and collecting the treasures that make up the Jantz collection.”
Following her husband’s death, Elli continued to live in their Campus Drive residence until she passed away in the home on July 30, 2017, said Tom Hadzor, associate university librarian for development and one of Elli’s friends.
Hadzor knew Elli for about a decade and said they bonded through lunches at the Washington Duke—one of her favorite places to visit. Elli, who collected cookbooks, always ordered dessert during their lunches, which would sometimes stretch upwards of three hours.
“Just a neat, neat lady. A little bit of a character. A little impish. Smart as can be,” Hadzor said. “She lived to 104 and was just as sharp as when I first met her and long before that. We had interesting conversations about all sorts of stuff. She had a variety of interests, and it was always fun to be with her.”
Although most of people who passed Elli’s house each day were oblivious to her living there, those within the University who knew her kept an eye out for the elderly widow.
Trask said he got to know her years ago because there were rumors bouncing around that the University was considering building an art museum behind her house, and he wanted to meet her.
“I was the one who had to go tell her that we were going to build an art museum in her backyard,” he said.
A year or two later, he had to go back and tell her that the architect had not placed the museum exactly where they wanted him to—meaning that her garage needed to be removed.
“So that’s why that house has a very nice, new garage,” Trask said. “We built her a place when the [Nasher Museum of Art] knocked it down.”
Randy Orange, a facilities and maintenance department building coordinator, was Elli’s point of contact for any problems she had with the home.
He visited the property every other week to maintain it for the past five years, but he was always only a phone call away when she had problems—whether they were related to her cable TV, alarm system or lawn care.
“She never had to call the customer service line or put things online, she just gave me a call, and whether it was our department or not, I made sure it got to the right people,” he said.
Hadzor shared an anecdote about one time when Senior Philanthropic Counsel Phil Buchanan visited Jantz when she complained about construction dirt making her windows grimy. Despite being in a suit and tie, he offered to clean the windows for her.
“He got stuff and went and cleaned her windows. Phil is a big guy—like 6’6" or something—and he was up there washing her windows,” Hadzor said.
History of the houses
Elli’s passing marks the end of more than 80 years of faculty members and their families living in the houses lining the road that ties Duke’s two halves together.
The homes—which in most cases have been inhabited by several residents associated with the University—are typically referred to using numbers given to them by S.W. Myatt, a director of the Duke Construction Company at the time.
When recruiting professors from out-of-state in its early years, offering on-campus housing was a big draw. The young University allotted up to $350,000 for the construction of the houses and hired Horace Trumbauer—architect of the Duke Chapel—to design the houses.
Houses 1 to 4 were originally home to University administrators such as President William Preston Few, President Robert Lee Flowers, Dean William Wannamaker and Chief Engineer A.C. Lee. The remaining homes primarily housed members of the faculty and other University deans. House 7 was the home of football coach Wallace Wade.
But in several of these houses lining Campus Drive, what was once residential space for Duke’s administrators and faculty is now home to offices and conference rooms.
Alan Kendrick, assistant dean of graduate student development, arrived at Duke a few months before the offices of the Graduate School moved to their current office in House 2. This home had been occupied by President Flowers until 1935, when he moved to House 4 in a trade with Dr. Frederic Hanes, chairman of the Department of Medicine.
Kendrick said that prior to the relocation, the Graduate School was spread across Duke’s campus—with offices in the Allen Building and two different spots on Campus Drive. Now, about 40 people work out of the former home.
“When I need to talk to someone, I don’t have to ride to the Allen Building,” he said. “We’re here. It just makes it so much easier.”
In a blend not uncommon to Duke, old features persist alongside modern technology in House 2. A first-floor conference room boasts a fireplace on one end and a large television on the other, while an old bathtub covered with a cushion serves as a bench in a bathroom upstairs. A portrait of Flowers hangs on the second floor, and copy machines are tucked into rooms small enough to be closets.
The old building comes with its unique features—including a secret staircase to get to the third floor and small storage spaces with waist-high doors. Then, there are the “hiccups,” such as the bat problem they encountered a few years ago.
Some bats had taken up residence in the house, remaining there long enough for one of them to earn the nickname “Fred,” before being humanely removed. Kendrick said he mistook one of the creatures for a doorstop while searching for paper in a closet.
“I was touching it with my foot, and it raised up and hissed at me. I let out a scream. People came running, and I was so embarrassed,” he said. “I have not lived that down.”
Making room for a growing University
Although the houses are remnants of Duke’s early efforts to recruit and retain outstanding faculty and provide administrators with campus homes, they may not be around forever.
When making room for the along Campus Drive, the University announced in May 2015 that it would. When no one bought the two houses despite the University offering a modest relocation fee, Duke had them taken down to make room for the new building.
It’s a strategy they will try again with Elli’s house.
Trask said that sometime in 2018, the University will make the home available for nearly free to anyone willing to pay to have it moved. The issue with this strategy comes from how expensive it is to move houses in Durham—entire blocks would have to be rewired for something as large as a house to be moved.
If no one takes the house, the University will tear it down.
“It cannot stay there, considering the Nasher and the art building, it has to come out of there,” Trask said.
Hadzor said he understands the University will need to move the house, but added that he loved how Duke kept its promise and let the Jantz couple live there for the rest of their days. This, even despite its impact on projects like the Nasher, he noted.
Although the house will soon be gone, Hadzor said that this will not change how he remembers Elli.
“It will make me sad, just because I associate that house with her and that piece of property with her," he said. "I would stand out on the porch with her and look at stuff, and she would talk about things they had planted years before and whether they were growing or not. I won’t be able to drive by that area without thinking about her, that’s for sure—whether the house is there or not.”