Throwback Thursday: Five Things You May Not Know About Larz Anderson

Who is that guy, anyway?

larz anderson

Isabel and Larz Anderson / Photo via Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Monday, August 15, 2016, would have been Larz Anderson’s 150th birthday.

Who is Larz Anderson, you ask? He’s a car collector, amateur horticulturalist, foreign ambassador, Harvard grad, and rich guy all rolled into one. You’ve probably seen his name adorning a park in Brookline and a bridge in Allston—but maybe you’ve never known who they were named for. Have no fear, for we’re here to inform you about Mr. Anderson and all of his quirks.

1. He used to spend summers and holidays at the spot where Larz Anderson Park now is.

Brookline’s Larz Anderson Park is a National Historic Site and an all-around wooded wonder. The nature-filled area boasts views of the Boston skyline and plenty of picnic spots. But 70 years ago, the beautiful 64-acre plot was known as the Weld Estate. The wealthy Weld family owned the land for years, and in 1899, Larz Anderson and his wife Isabel Weld Perkins bought the parcel from Isabel’s cousin. They built a mansion there, along with lush gardens and a carriage house.

The mansion where the Andersons spent summers and holidays has since been torn down, and the space where it once stood is now part of a place called Larz Anderson Park. Isabel Anderson left the Weld Estate to the Town of Brookline upon her death in 1948, creating the park.

2. He was a gearhead.

Located within Larz Anderson Park is the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. Established in 1927, the museum (which used to be the Andersons’ carriage house) contains Anderson’s extensive collection of vintage vehicles from early carriages to motorcars. Both Larz and Isabel became fascinated with automobiles, and purchased one soon after their marriage. Eventually, they amassed more than 30 vehicles. Claiming to have America’s oldest car collection, the Andersons stored the cars in their carriage house, often opening it to the public. When Isabel bequeathed the her estate to Brookline, the car collection was included.

larz anderson park

Larz Anderson Park, formerly the Weld Estate / Photo via Wikimedia/Creative Commons

3. He was an ambassador to Japan, which is where he got that sweet bonsai collection.

After years of serving in the military and working in a variety of diplomatic positions across Europe, Anderson went east. From 1912 to 1913, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Sure, it was only for one short year, but it was a bonsai-filled year. He collected more than 40 dwarfed trees while in Asia. Anderson imported his newly created bonsai collection upon his return to the United States in 1913.

Anderson’s wife donated most of the bonsais to Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum after his death. Following her passing in 1948, the entirety of the collection was handed over to the Arboretum. You can still see the collection there today.

4. He’s partially responsible for the Boston College Eagle design.

During his time in Japan, Anderson placed a gilded bronze eagle sculpture outside of his home in Tokyo. According to the Brookline Historical Society, the eagle was given to the Andersons’ private secretary, Augustus Anderson (who bore no relation), after the Weld Estate was gifted to the town of Brookline.  The secretary donated the bronze eagle to Boston College, which the society says “has remained the most visible representation of the school mascot.”

5. He was a member of Hasty Pudding.

Anderson didn’t attend Boston College, though—he was a Harvard grad. While a student there, he was part of the same group that parades people like Amy Poehler down the streets of Cambridge every year. Yes, Anderson was apparently talented enough to join Hasty Pudding, the oldest theatrical organization in the United States. What a guy.