The homes overlooking Nantucket Sound are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hyannis today.By George Brennan
The Kennedy family lived in other places—the president’s birthplace in Brookline, a luxurious mansion in New York, apartments in Washington, D.C., and a retreat in Palm Beach among them—but it was the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport that was home.
It was the place where the family gathered during its happiest times—touch football games on the expansive lawn, short walks to the docks for a sail, family weddings. It was the place where John F. Kennedy learned he had won the presidency.
It was also the place where the family grieved unspeakable tragedies.
“Absolutely, no question, that was their home,” says Robert Luddington from his retirement home in Pompano Beach, Florida. Luddington, a retired designer and consultant for Jordan Marsh, has been the personal interior designer for Rose Kennedy and her family since 1957.
The compound is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hyannis, even though you can only get a slight peek from Irving Avenue at the white clapboard, traditional Cape-style homes that overlook Nantucket Sound. There were three in total, as well as guest houses, a pool and tennis courts on the intertwined properties that form an L in the Hyannisport neighborhood.
In her book, “The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy,” Jean Kennedy Smith wrote about a time when her mother climbed aboard a tour bus to show a group of tourists the family home. “They want to see the house very much, so I’m going to show them around,” Rose Kennedy told her puzzled children.
After Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died in 2009, the so-called main house was donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in 2012. It is now used as a retreat for students and is open for visits by school groups. The senator’s son, Ted Jr., and his wife, Kiki, live nearby in what was JFK’s former home.
The house will be part of the celebration of JFK’s 100th birthday with a reception on the lawn, Natalie Boyle, a spokeswoman for the EMK Institute, wrote in an email.
Joseph Kennedy Sr., the family’s patriarch, first rented a cottage on Marchant Avenue in Hyannisport in 1926. In 1928, he purchased and remodeled it and added onto it as his family grew. His son, Jack, purchased a house at 111 Irving Ave. in 1956 and Ted purchased a residence at 28 Marchant Ave. in 1959 that he would later sell to his brother, Bobby.
The compound was born.
“The compound was the great unifying place for all of them. They grew up there. It’s where they all came back for Thanksgiving,” says Melody J. Miller, who served as an aide to both Robert and Edward Kennedy. “It was such a meaningful place. They could have camaraderie, go out and sail, relax and entertain friends.”
Through the years, Luddington worked with all of the families helping them find the furnishings that would turn the houses into homes. “Mrs. Kennedy was very exacting and very interested in maintaining a comfortable home for family and friends,” says Luddington. “She always approved down to the finest detail. She was very interested in seeing that things were of quality and traditional in feeling.”
Joseph Kennedy Sr. collected some furnishings in Europe while he was ambassador to Britain. Those furnishings were mixed with American antiques to provide a welcoming home, says Luddington, adding that “Our aim was to make it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.” he says.
Jackie Kennedy had similar tastes to her mother-in-law, as did others in the Kennedy clan, says Luddington. “Jackie was a traditionalist in a sense, she liked historical things, and Eunice Shriver had the most contemporary tastes among the Kennedy children,” he says.
Luddington came to work for the Kennedys through a recommendation. Through the years, he won the family’s trust. “We always had a formal business relationship, but through the years, I was many times (Rose’s) guest at her various homes. She was indeed a friend,” says Luddington. “We always addressed one another formally, but enjoyed our association.”
Now 92, Luddington splits his time between Florida and Falmouth. He recently donated some of his collection of Kennedy memorabilia to the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis, which includes personal notes written to him by Rose Kennedy. He also has consulted on exhibits and makes guest speaking appearances about his times with the Kennedy family.
Luddington spent his years updating, tweaking and keeping the homes fresh. “It was always nice to be able to be called back again when they needed some interior work done. That was a great satisfaction,” he says. “I enjoyed their confidence in me. The friendship we had over the years.”
It was Rose Kennedy’s wish that her house be preserved and used for charitable reasons. “His mother felt that his house was such a historic house, it should have a permanent association with education and history,” says Miller, noting that the EMK Institute is a perfect way to meet those wishes.