When most people think about throwing a dinner party, they plan for eight, 10, or perhaps 12 friends and family members to gather around the dining room table. Not Patricia Moore-Pastides. As the wife of University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, Patricia often hosts gatherings for dozens, if not hundreds, of guests. She does it with remarkable regularity, too. Since becoming the First Lady of the University of South Carolina in 2008, this author, public health professional, mother, and grandmother has welcomed more than 35,000 people into her home.
And what a home it is. Constructed in 1854 as a faculty duplex, the regency-style building did not become the President’s House until 1952, when then-USC president Donald S. Russell and Virginia, his wife, undertook a complete renovation. When the structural changes were complete, Virginia hired New York designer William Pahlmann to create the interiors. It was a bold choice. William’s eclectic spaces, which ranged from the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York (where he partnered with Philip Johnson) to the home of CBS founder William Paley and his socialite wife, Babe, juxtaposed furnishings and accessories from a variety of periods against walls often covered in highly saturated colors.
Although most of these touches have been changed over the years, his most prized legacy lives on in the second floor reception room of the President’s House, where extraordinary 19th century wallpaper covers one of the long walls. Depicting a panoramic scene of a wedding procession in China and called “Procession Chinoise,” the block-printed paper was created in France hundreds of years ago. The paper is particularly unusual because the scene is rendered in varying shades of gray instead of full color.
“In the early 1800s, the Europeans were so fascinated by all things Chinese and East Asian that they created a decorating style called ‘Chinoiserie,’” says Lisa Robinette, manager of the President’s House and a member of the University’s special events staff. “In the 1970s the Metropolitan Museum of Art identified the paper as having been produced in 1832 by Zuber, a French company that has been producing block-printed panoramic wallpaper since the 18th century. But Mrs. Moore-Pastides thought it might be a mistake, so she tracked it down and discovered that not only was it produced by someone else, it’s actually from around 1811. It’s one of the most beloved pieces in the house.”
Since the Pastides moved into the house, the paper has provided a lovely backdrop to festive events including the annual Board of Trustees Holiday Dinner, a celebrity-studded fashion show to benefit the USC Center for Colon Cancer research, a celebration of the installation of the Ronald E. McNair Chair (which honors Ph.D. physicist and astronaut Ronald E. McNair), and a themed dinner for internationally recognized opera director Gunter Kramer that featured a custom dining table in the shape of a grand piano.
Smaller dinners are held in the home’s more intimate dining spaces, including the front dining room, where a fireplace flickers during the winter and oversized windows look out onto the Horseshoe, and the back dining room, where an early 20th-century crystal chandelier glitters from the ceiling and a mahogany cabinet displays silver platters, trays, pitchers, and other pieces.
One of Patricia’s favorite places to entertain is outside in the many garden rooms that comprise the rear of the property. The largest is the lower garden, where mature crape myrtles, hydrangeas, and loquats surround a spacious brick patio that can seat 100 for dinner. Buffet tables or a single long dining table often fill the arbor-shaded middle garden, which is highlighted by an oversized fresco that was painted in 2016 by magna cum laude BFA graduate Taylor Tynes. Central to the fresco, a pomegranate tree mirrors the garden’s vegetation. Tynes named the fresco A Present Past, reflecting how history influences us today. The fresco features Aristotle, Plato and Athena, which frames opposing philosophies, paramount to learning in our educational system.
Events at the President’s House often begin in the east foyer, a jewel box of a room that is decorated with important works of art such as A View of Charleston from Mt. Pleasant; a pastel by Elizabeth Verner O’Neill; A New Description of Carolina, which is cartologist John Speed’s 1676 map covering the area from Florida to Virginia and west to the Appalachian Mountains; a late 19th-century gamecock inkwell; and a cast of Frederic Remington’s first bronze, Bronco Buster. From there, many guests head to the library, a massive room set with two fireplaces, shelf after shelf of books, and dozens of family photos. Several seating areas offer spaces for conversation. Furnishings such as an ornately carved marble and wood coffee table from 1860 and an 1810 George III mahogany case clock are historical elements in the room.
The third floor includes the recreation room with a billiard table surrounded by a spectacular array of Gamecock memorabilia commemorating every sport. Of particular interest is a photograph of Harris throwing out the first pitch at the new Gamecock baseball park on his birthday in 2009. June Raines and Bobby Richardson, two former USC baseball coaches, stand beside him. Harris was ecstatic as Bobby Richardson, a former star with the New York Yankees, was a hero of his youth. The recreation room also has a framed Gamecock jersey featuring the number 28, which is where Harris fits in on the lineup of presidents of USC.
The President’s House has also seen its share of overnight guests, including then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, who gave the university’s 1957 commencement address. Kennedy reworked his speech by hand on onion skin paper in this room the night before delivery. After delivery, the speech was left on the podium and is now part of the South Caroliniana Library collection. The room where he stayed is now called the Kennedy bedroom and is filled with Kennedy memorabilia and photographs of Senator Kennedy with then-USC President Russell; Gov. George B. Timmerman, Jr.; and former Gov., U.S. Secretary of State, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice James F. Byrnes. As a focal point, the Kennedy room boasts an American 18th-century walnut highboy dresser in the Queen Anne style.
Patricia and Harris’ favorite overnight guests, though, are their children, Andrew and Katharine, as well as their grandchildren, Penelope and Alice, daughters of Katharine and her husband, Forest. The girls visit so often that a sun porch just off the den in the family’s living quarters has been transformed into a playroom complete with a pint-sized lavender kitchen, a shelf of books, and a matched set of miniature university rocking chairs that were given to the granddaughters as Christmas gifts from members of the USC Board of Trustees.
When she is not entertaining her granddaughters, Patricia rises early but stays in the family quarters until about 10 in the morning, writing notes, exercising, and getting ready for a day that often goes straight through until after dinner. To carve out that precious personal time, Patricia has worked out a system with the staff so they will know when they can begin their work in the family apartment.
“When we first moved into the house, I felt like I had to be up, dressed, and ready to go first thing in the morning,” she says. “I realized that I wasn’t getting any time to restore myself. Now, I open the blinds that face the backyard when I’m ready to see people. The staff knows that’s the sign that I’m ready to go.”
On days off, Patricia and Harris often stay in, dining on a simple meal of salad, South Carolina seafood, and vegetables. “My dream meal is a green salad with arugula, purslane, and other greens topped with walnuts, dried cherries, and shaved Parmesan,” says Patricia. “Add South Carolina swordfish and Imam Baildi, a Greek vegetable dish that’s similar to ratatouille, and some fruit and a hunk of dark chocolate at the end, and I’m all set!”
Without question, a mixture of university life, entertaining, and family make up the Pastides’ historic Horseshoe home. Their energy and enthusiasm fosters a vibrant Gamecock community and a superb environment for learning.