Many large-landed properties of our nation’s capital became museums or embassies. A few have survived as private residences– here’s the best of them.
By Donna Evers
1623 28TH STREET NW is a Federal-style building designed by Nicholas King in 1801 for Samuel Davidson, a businessman who owned 150 acres in Washington, including the land on which the White House was built.The 3.5- acre Georgetown estate includes a 12,000-square-foot residence with a gatekeeper’s cottage, swimming pool,tennis court and extensive gardens. Owned by the Belin family since 1923, Evermay was recently sold to a private owner for $22 million.
3101 R STREET NW was acquired in 1920 by diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred, who redesigned it, added museum space and embellished the grounds with the help of noted landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand.Among the many large parties they hosted there was their 30th wedding anniversary, for which Igor Stravinsky composed the “Dumbarton Suite.” In 1940, they donated the 16-acre estate to Harvard University for use as a Byzantine Studies center. The museums and gardens are open to the public.
3905 RESERVOIR ROAD NW was the estate of Standard Oil heiress Ann Archbold,who built the Italian villa between 1922 and 1925 and used its grounds to train German Shepherds as seeing-eye and police dogs. In 1924, she donated 24 acres to what later became Glover-Archbold Park. Her son, John D. Archbold, sold the remaining 42 acres in 1978 to developers who turned it into a posh, gated and eponymously named townhouse community.
2101 FOXHALL ROAD NW was built in 1929 by Duncan and Marjorie Phillips after they turned their 21st Street NW home over to the Phillips Collection. The 16-acre estate included a 17,000-square-foot Maryland plantation-style house with 20 rooms, including a dining room that seated 30, and a large servants’ wing. The 12-bedroom mansion was demolished in 1988 but the land sat empty for years. It is now being developed as Phillips Park, a neighborhood of multimillion- dollar homes.
1801 FOXHALL ROAD NW
In 1936, Elinor Morse Ryan, the daughter of financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, hired architect William Bottemly to build an elegant 13,000-square-foot Georgian-style mansion on her 17-acre estate. After she married Parke Howell Brady, she spent much of her time abroad and rented the house to various people, including Marjorie Merriwether Post.The property was sold to Mrs. Eugene B. Casey in 2001, and when Mrs. Casey couldn’t persuade the city to make it the official mayoral residence, she had it torn down before it could be granted historic designation. She eventually ceded the land to the Salvation Army.
THE CAFRITZ ESTATE
2301 FOXHALL ROAD NW
Real estate mogul Morris Cafritz built this Art Deco mansion in 1938 for his wife Gwen, a famed hostess in the 1940s and ’50s. Senators and Supreme Court justices flocked to their cocktail parties and dinners where they marveled at the lighted dance floor and terrace overlooking the city lights.The 13.8-acre estate is now the campus of the private Field School.
THE NELSON ROCKEFELLER ESTATE
2500 FOXHALL ROAD NW
Rockefeller purchased this mansion when he became Gerald R. Ford’s vice president even though there was an official vice presidential residence on Observatory Circle. He and his wife, Happy, preferred the privacy of their own 27-acre estate. When the property was sold and the house demolished after he left office, neighbors fought development plans for years, but finally agreed to allow Foxhall Crescent, a community of expensive town homes, to be built on the site.
THE BELGIAN RESIDENCE
2300 FOXHALL ROAD NW
Auto heiress Anna Dodge Dillman commissioned renowned architect Horace Trumbauer to build this exquisite residence as a wedding gift to her daughter, Delphine, who married Nevada banker Raymond Baker (who had been previously married to a Bromo-Seltzer heiress, who in turn had been married to a Vanderbilt.) The 30-room mansion, a copy of the Hotel Rothelin- Charolais in Paris, sits on 13 acres with views of the Potomac River and Blue Ridge Mountains.The Belgians purchased it in 1945 for use as an ambassadorial residence.
4300 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE NW
This Colonial Revival country house was constructed in 1896 by banker Charles C. Glover Sr. An ardent conservationist, Glover persuaded Congress to buy and preserve the land for Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo. He later donated 77 acres from his own estate to form Glover-Archbold Park. National Presbyterian Church bought the remaining 16 acres in 1959 and resold it to developers who razed the house to build the Foxhall Cooperative and Westover, a gated townhouse community.
NEBRASKA AVENUE NW
Located near American University just off Dow Chemical heiress Ruth Buchanan’s 2.75-acre residence is one of the last privately owned estates in Washington. It is noted for gardens designed by Rose Greeley in the 1950s and a magnificent 350- year-old oak tree from which the property derives its name.
1644 31ST STREET NW was purchased in 1805 by Martha Parke Custis Peter, the step-granddaughter of George Washington. A fine example of neoclassicism, the mansion was designed by Dr.William Thornton, who also did the U.S. Capitol. Descendants of the Peter family owned the 5.5-acre estate for 180 years. Tudor Place is now a museum and garden open to the public.
3600 WISCONSIN AVENUE NW
In 1916, Evalyn Walsh McLean, the owner of the Hope diamond, and her husband Ned McLean, owner of the Washington Post, inherited 75 acres and a Georgian mansion designed by famed architect John Russell Pope. The estate soon became the scene of parties that rivaled the court of Versailles in lavishness and expense. After the McLeans suffered a series of misfortunes, the house was sold to the government and torn down in 1942.The McLean Gardens Condominium now occupies much of the property.
3000 CATHEDRAL AVENUE NW was built in 1802 by Philip Barton Key, the uncle of Francis Scott Key. Presidents Martin Van Buren and Grover Cleveland later leased the estate (which once comprised 250 acres) for use as their “Summer White House.” In the 1920s, Gen. George S. Patton rented it and then sold it in 1929 to Henry Stimson, secretary of war under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.The Maret School acquired the estate in 1950.
2121 PARK ROAD NW and 1940 SHEPHERD STREET NW
Mona Blodgett and her husband, David St. Pierre Gaillard, built a mansion in the 1920s in Rock Creek Park and named it “The Rocks” after his family’s plantation in North Carolina. The 21,000-square-foot house on 16 acres is so big that it has two addresses. It now belongs to Sen. John D.“Jay” Rockefeller IV and his wife, Sharon, who host many events at Washington’s largest privately owned property.
2800 ALBEMARLE STREET NW
The Italian government purchased rambling Tudor residence in 1976 from Peggy Guggenheim Logan. Peggy’s first husband, copper heir Robert Guggenheim, purchased the property in 1942 and named it after his yacht, which in turn was named after his mother Florence. It is fitting that Italian ambassadors now call “Villa Firenze” their home. The mansion on 22 acres of elaborate gardens is sheltered by tall trees and evergreens and is often the scene of large events.
3001 GARRISON STREET NW
The gated entrance guards the 25-acre grounds of this fine Colonial Revival stone mansion. In 1928, Charles H. Tompkins, who built the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool and designed Meridian Hill Park, asked architect Horace Peaslee to design his home on high ground that was once Battery Terrill, a Civil War fortress. The estate was purchased by the Peruvians in 1944 and currently includes a soccer field.
4155 LINNEAN AVENUE NW
Currently the Hillwood Museum and Gardens, this estate was the home of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriwether Post, who hosted spectacular parties there with gold dinner settings for 100, an army of liveried servants and museum-quality Russian and French art throughout the house. She bequeathed the property as a museum after her death in 1973.