Monday, April 23, 2012

Charles Haar and Me

Leafing through the Harvard magazine that came in the mail today, I learned that Charles Monroe Haar, "LLB 48, Brandeis professor of law emeritus" at the Harvard Law School, died on January 10. The Harvard obituary doesn't say how old he was, but google leads me to the New York Times obituary which reports that he was born in 1920. I never knew him and know very little about him except that he was one of the first experts in land use law and an important figure in urban redevelopment circles in the post-WW2 era. But when I saw his name and the report of his death, I felt a bit of emotion that can only be described as mourning combined with nostalgia. How and why does one mourn for a man one doesn't know? In fact,the mourning was only partially for Prof. Haar (although I wish his family my sincere condolences), but mostly for my own father, who died over two decades ago. Haar began teaching at Harvard Law school in 1952 (I learn from the obituary). In 1952, my father was a statistician for the Baltimore Redevelopment Land Agency and a night law student at the University of Maryland. At that time, Maryland offered no courses in land-use law. Indeed, according to Harvard magazine, "[Haar] was one of the first law professors to introduce students to the emerging field of land-use law." Since my father had gone to law school at the suggestion of his boss at the RLA and since he had decided that urban planning and land-use law were where he wanted to make his career, it was only natural perhaps that when he graduated from Maryland in 1953, he would turn to Harvard and Haar for some additional instruction. He got some sort of post-graduate fellowship and spent a happy year in Cambridge, MA in 1953-54. The most important aspect of the year was the opportunity to study with Haar at the law school and to participate in a research group on land use at the school of public administration. (You can find what looks like a rather dry report from 1955 entitled Farm and Other Operating-Unit Land-Use Planning at Google Books based on the work of this group.) From my father's point of view, the second most important aspect was that he took a labor law course (somehow he had not taken a labor law course in law school--lawyers, is this possible?) with Archibald Cox, later of Watergate fame, who told my father that he should switch from land-use to labor law (at least according to my father). My father stuck with land-use and left Cambridge to move to Saint Louis and then to DC. He was a practicing lawyer, mostly in government service, but he also taught off and on as an adjunct in law school (Catholic U in the 70s) and in urban planning (Maryland in the late 80s). Of course he used Haar's casebook for his courses. As I said, I never met Haar, and I don't even know how much my father kept in touch with him over the years. But that year seems to have been a formative experience. I didn't connect the dots when I was younger, but the newness of the field in the 1950s must have been exciting. Haar was less than a decade older than my father and was only in his second or third year of teaching in 1953-54. Haar was also Jewish (or at least born to Jewish parents, as the Boston Globe obituary puts it.) And in 1953, being Jewish meant something socially in the Ivy League, even, I'm guessing, in the law school. It is easy to see why my father might have felt such a strong connection to his teacher. I know my father really enjoyed that year. Once when we were visiting Boston in the late 70s or early 80s, my father dragged us to see the dorm he had lived in (looked like a total dump to me although the cinder blocks were probably new and gleaming in 1953) and later, when we did a college tour in the late 80s, we had to eat lunch at the Greenhouse Coffee Shop--I drew the line at the Wursthaus which was his first choice. The high point of the trip for him was sitting down at a table and finding an elderly man at the next table: "Professor [Paul] Freund? I am sure you don't remember me but you were the chair of the special student committee in 1953 when I applied to the program...." Professor Freund graciously said he remembered. Who knows? But it made my father very happy. My father died less than a year after that college trip. Professor Freund died a few years later (1992--I just checked on Wikipedia), and now Charles Haar is also gone. So is the Greenhouse Coffee shop and the Wursthaus too for that matter. And the nostalgia? I too spent a year as a kind of special student (hence the alumni magazine) at Harvard when I was writing my dissertation and my wife's work brought us to Boston. At some point during that year, it occurred to me that I was in a very vague way following in my father's footsteps. It even occurred to me at one point to look up Charles Haar and see what he could tell me about my father in that period. But I was busy with other things and didn't pursue this. (Now my nostalgia and mourning is mixed with regret.) I suppose it's strange to feel nostalgia for someone else's past. But Charles Haar and Paul Freund and Archibald Cox and Cambridge, Mass in 1953 all became part of my past as well. I'll leave it there.

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