It was the Board of Public works under the leadership of Alexander Shepherd that spearheaded the way for the development of Dupont Circle. Nevada Senator William Morris Stewart led the “California Syndicate” which bought up tracts of undeveloped land and the style of the neighborhood was set when Stewart erected his mansion (now demolished) in the 1870s. By the late 1880s the Dupont neighborhood was an affluent and vibrant residential enclave.
Two types of housing predominate in the historic district: palatial mansions and freestanding residences built in the styles popular between 1895 and 1910; and three-and-four-story rowhouses, many of which are variations on the Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque Revival styles, built primarily before the turn of the century. The mansions line the broad, tree-lined diagonal avenues that intersect the circle and the rowhouses line the grid streets of the historic district. This juxtaposition of house types and street pattern gives the area a unique character.
The majority of the houses in the Dupont Circle Historic District are not mansions, however. The blocks along the grid streets are lined with rowhouses that were occupied by middle-class professionals and official Washingtonians. In recent years, pressure for large-scale commercial office development on Connecticut Avenue has been intense. A number of new office buildings, some unsympathetic to the historic district line the northern and southern fringes of Connecticut Avenue. Dupont Circle Historic District is roughly bounded by Rhode Island Avenue, NW; M and N streets, NW, on the south; Florida Avenue, NW, on the west; Swann Street, NW, on the north; and the 16th Street Historic District on the east. Our walking tour will start in the circle itself...
Massachusetts and Connecticut avenues and 19th and P streets
In 1871 the Corps of Engineers began construction of Dupont Circle itself which at the time was called Pacific Circle. In 1882 Congress authorized a memorial statue of Rear Admiral Samuel Francis duPont in recognition of his Civil War service. The bronze remembrance was erected in 1884. In 1921 the statue of Dupont was replaced by a double-tiered white marble fountain sculpted by Lincoln Memorial creator Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon. Three classical figures, symbolizing the Sea, the Stars and the Wind are carved on the fountain’s central shaft.
Patterson House/Washington Club
15 Dupont Circle
This palatial Beaux Arts home, designed by celebrated architect Stanford White to resemble an Italian palazzo, is the only remaining mansion on a circle once ringed with eye-catching homes. Built for Robert Patterson of Chicago, editor of the Chicago Tribune and his wife Elinor Medill Patterson, it was the scene of elegant entertaining which continued after their daughter Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson, writer, socialite, and publisher of the Washington Times-Herald, was deeded the house in 1923. The Calvin Coolidge family lived in Patterson House in 1927 while the White House was being spruced up.
WALK EAST ON MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE.
Wadsworth House/Sulgrave Club
1801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
This was the winter residence of millionaire gentleman farmer, Herbert Wadsworth from Western New York, and his wife, Martha Blow Wadsworth, an accomplished sportswoman. Architect Frederick H. Brooke designed one of the town’s first Beaux Arts mansions with tan press-brick walls and cream-colored terra-cotta and stone trim; completed in 1902 it was one of the largest on Massachusetts Avenue. The house was a Red Cross office in 1918 during World War I and thereafter only sporadically used by the family until it was sold in 1932 for $125,000 and converted into the Sulgrave Club, a private women’s club for the pursuit of music, art and social gatherings.
McCormick Apartments/National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Chicago-based millionaire Stanley McCormick set out to create “the most luxurious apartment building in Washington” and tabbed French-born architect Jules Henri de Sibour for the job in 1917. With just one unit per floor it attracted such A-list tenants as Joseph Duveen, a British baron considered one of the most influential art dealers of all time; socialite and ambassador Pearl Mesta, and Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon. Today the Parisian-inspired building houses the National Trust for Historic Preservation, chartered by Congress in 1949 to save significant buildings like this one.
TURN LEFT ON 18TH STREET.
Boardman House/Embassy of Iraq
1801 P Street NW
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1856 William Jarvis Boardman returned to his native Ohio and carved out an influential career in Cleveland business, civic, and political affairs before moving to Washington in the late 1880s. For this home in 1893 Boardman hired Washington architects Joseph Coerten Hornblower and James Rush Marshall. The duo was known for their substantial government buildings and this residence almost qualifies as such. It borrows elements of the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style based on the work of Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson such as its powerful entry arch. Despite his lengthy list of accomplishments when William Boardman died in 1915 he was identified in his obituary as the father of Mabel Boardman, a leader of the American Red Cross. The building is now the Embassy of Iraq.
Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
1777 Church Street, NW
This typical Dupont Circle rowhouse from 1917 houses the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, one of the largest AIA chapters in the country with over 1900 members. TheAIA was founded back in 1887. Morris Leisenring, chief architect for the United States Army Corps lived here for a half-century.
TURN LEFT ON Q STREET.
Weeks House/Women’s National Democratic Club
1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Harvey L. Page was a Victorian architect who specialized in houses of “moderate cost.” Here he created a rambling Arts and Crafts home of note in 1894 under a distinctive shed roof. The client was Sarah Adams Whittemore, cousin of acerbic writer Henry Adams. Banker John C. Weeks, who migrated from New England to serve as a congressman and senator, was its most prominent resident.
TURN RIGHT ON NEW HAMPSHIRE AVENUE.
Belmont House/Order of the Eastern Star
1618 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Perry Belmont was the son of New York banker and horse racing patron August Belmont, the brother of August Belmont, Jr. developer of New York’s subway, and grandson of Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened the Orient to western trade. Perry Belmont served as a Congressman from New York and was later ambassador to Spain. He lured designer Etienne Sansom from Europe to fashion a French Beaux Arts palace on an odd trapezoidal building lot of land purchased for $90,000. Belmont poured an additional $1.5 million into construction costs for his winter home. In 1925 Perry Belmont sold the building to General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (Freemasons, of which Belmont was himself a member) for $100,000, on the condition that the Right Worthy Grand Secretary would live in the building. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Thomas Nelson Page House
1759 R Street, NW
The Page family traces its way back to Jamestown in 1650 and the similarly rooted Nelson family dates to Yorktown. Descendent Thomas Nelson Page was a lawyer and writer of antebellum South novels who was tapped by Woodrow Wilson to serve as ambassador to Italy during World War I. Tipping his hat to the long-reaching family heritage, architect Stanford White broke from his trademark classical designs to birth this masterfully proportioned Federal Revival manor house in 1897.
TURN RIGHT ON S STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 16TH STREET.
Temple of the Scottish Rite
1733 16th Street, NW
John Russell Pope of Jefferson Memorial fame, crafted another of the city’s most striking monuments far from the National Mall as the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction of the 33rd Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry. Pope used the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, as his model for the Temple. The monumental sphinxes guarding the temple doors symbolize wisdom and power. In 1931, a survey of of members from the Association of American Architects listed this as the fifth most beautiful building in the world.
1701 16th Street, NW
Harry Wardman, an Englishman, was a major developer of Washington rowhouses in the early 1900s. By the 1920s he had branched into residential hotels and the Chastleton was one of his best. The eight-story buff-brick Chastleton is infused with Tudor and Gothic elements imported from the British Isles of centuries past; its dual entrances are separated by a massive two-story-high arched Gothic window, awash with stone gargoyles, tracery, and pseudo-buttresses. Some of the town’s brightest luminaries sought shelter in the Chastleton, including Mrs. Wallis Simpson (later the Duchess of Windsor) and General Douglas MacArthur.
Church of the Holy City
1611 16th Street, NW
The Swedenborgian Church was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois on January 29, 1861 under the name of the General Convention of the New Jerusalem in the United States of America, Inc. This English Perpendicular Gothic church, built of Indiana limestone in 1894 was designed by H. Langford Warren, Professor of Architecture at Harvard University, and a Swedenborgian.
TURN RIGHT ON Q STREET.
1615 Q Street, NW
Thomas Franklin Schneider returned from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with a vision: build Washington, D.C.’s first residential skyscraper, designed in the image of the exhibition’s “Transportation Building.” Featuring a bold Egyptian Revival arch, the Transportation Building, located on Cairo Street at the Fair, became the blueprint and namesake for Schneider’s project. Not everyone bought into Schneider’s vision. Hardly any, in fact. Water and ladders from fire trucks could not reach the upper floors in case of a fire. Some believed a strong wind would knock the 165-foot high building right down to the street. That it was one of the first residential towers in America to employ steel-frame construction did little to ease fears. Acting swiftly, in 1894 Washington’s Board of Commissioners enacted a building height limit to prevent another Cairo from ever happening again. The height limit law remains on the books to this day, and is the reason why Washington, D.C. is the only major American city that doesn’t boast a skyline. The Cairo was promoted “as the largest and most luxurious apartment in Washington D.C.” but quickly morphed into a glamorous hotel. For the first half of the 20th century socialites of the world would congregate at The Cairo Hotel when in Washington. After World War II, The Cairo began a steady decline as Washingtonians fled to the suburbs and in 1955 Schneider’s daughters were forced to sell it for three million dollars. The building deteriorated steadily over the next two decades until it was rescued as a condominium restoration.
RETURN TO 16TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Jewish Community Center
1529 16th Street, NW
Architect B. Stanley Simmons, a Maryland native, began designing buildings in the Victorian age of the 1890s and continued into the Art Deco era of the 1930s. For this building he tapped the Neoclassical style, rendered in granite and limestone in 1920. Inside, a large ballroom, state-of-the-art stage, gymnasium, billiard room and swimming pool beckoned. A red-tiled roof garden provided a quiet respite from a hectic day.
Carnegie Institution for Science
1530 P Street, NW
In 1901, after Andrew Carnegie sold his U.S. Steel interests to J.P. Morgan for $400 million, he set out to give away his money. One idea was a national university devoted to scientific research to which he pledged $22 million. John Carrere and Thomas Hastings designed the Beaux-Arts palazzo for the institute to move into in 1910.
Embassy of Australia
1601 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
The Embassy of Australia typifies the clean, restrained lines that dominated 1960s architecture in Washington, D.C.
TURN RIGHT ON MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE.
Wilkins House/Peruvian Chancery
1700 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
This was one of the first commissions for Jules Henri de Sibour, one of the town’s busiest architects in the first three decades of the 20th century. The client was Emily Wilkins, widow of Ohio congressman Beriah Wilkins and heir to a majority stake in the Washington Post. With a rusticated base and European sensibilities, the limestone-dressed structure has performed embassy duty since 1946.
Clarence Moore House/Uzbekistan Embassy
1746 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Another creation of Jules Henri de Sibour, this one was for Clarence Moore, a wealthy West Virginia coal baron, in 1909. Moore, one of the best-known sportsmen in America, was to enjoy his elegant residence only briefly - in 1912, after sailing to Europe to purchase a brace of twenty-five hounds from the best packs in the north of England he perished aboard the Titanic on the return voyage. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was used by the Canadian government until the 1980s and opened as the Uzbekistan Embassy in 1993.
RETURN TO DUPONT CIRCLE AND TURN LEFT ON NEW HAMPSHIRE AVENUE.
1307 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Commonly known as the Brewmaster’s Castle, this exuberant Victorian brownstone was built in 1892-1894 by German immigrant, Christian Heurich. Heurich was a brewer when he emigrated to the United States at the close of the Civil War. By 1873 he was the sole owner of the Christian Heurich Lager Beer Brewery. Heurich lived to the age of 102 before passing in 1944. On April 19, 1955, his wife deeded the beer-inspired house to the Historical Society of Washington, DC, which occupied the house until 2003 when the newly formed Heurich House Foundation bought it and as a museum.
TURN RIGHT ON O STREET.
Mansion on O Street
2020 O Street
The Mansion is a private club, a small luxury hotel as well as an internationally recognized conference center and museum. The five interconnected town houses, include a Conservancy, Grand Ballroom, European Wine Cellar, seven dining rooms, 12 conference/ meeting rooms, 23 guest rooms, 32 secret doors, and 18 fireplaces.
RETURN TO 20TH STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN LEFT ON MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE.
2000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
The oldest remaining mansion in the Dupont Circle area, this is the sole surviving example of at least seven imposing Second Empire and Queen Anne residences executed by the transplanted Philadelphian architect John Fraser. The roomy red brick Second Empire structure was raised in 1881 for James G. Blaine. Blaine was a senator from Maine, Speaker of the House, and a three-time unsuccessful candidate for the White House. The Blaines lived here only two years. Hall-of-Fame inventor George Westinghouse called this mansion home from 1901 until his 1914. In 1921, it was converted to apartments and morphed into office space in 1948.
2012 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Designed in 1897 by Glenn Brown in the Italian Renaissance style, this house is notable for its monochromatic exterior even though it is composed of two different materials. The liver-colored man-made brick matches the hue of the natural sandstone flawlessly.
Walsh McLean House/ Indonesian Embassy
2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
This elaborate 60-room mansion was designed by Danish-born and educated architect Henry Andersen in the classically inspired Beaux Arts style. It was built for Thomas Walsh, an Irish immigrant who became a multi-millionaire in the Colorado gold fields in 1896. The price tag was $835,000 in 1903, making it the most expensive house in Washington. To emphasize his rags-to-riches tale, Walsh had a bar of gold ore embedded in the front porch. When daughter Evalyn inherited the house, she refused to move in after a series of tragedies befell the family. She married Edward Beale McLean, whose family owned the Washington Post and she would eventually come to own the 45.52-carat deep blue Hope Diamond, known for its curses as well and now in the Smithsonian Institution. The house became the headquarters for the Federal Writers Project during the New Deal, was used by the Red Cross during World War II, and became the Indonesian Embassy in 1951.
Larz Anderson House/Society of the Cincinnati
2118 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Here is another one-time winter residence, this one built between 1902 and 1905 for Larz Anderson, an American diplomat, and his wife, Isabel Weld Perkins, an author. Architects Arthur Little and Herbert Browne of Boston designed the white limestone Venetian palazzo around a stately entrance court. Following Larz Anderson’s death in 1937, his widow donated the Anderson House and its contents to the Society of the Cincinnati, of which Larz Anderson had been a devoted member for more than forty years. The Society opened Anderson House as a museum in 1939.
Townsend House/Cosmos Club
2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
The luxurious taste of the Gilded Age is reflected in the Townsend House, completed in 1901 for railroad magnate Richard Townsend and his superstitious wife Mary Scott. Mary insisted that architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings build her new French-influenced mansion around the existing Hillyer house, because a gypsy once predicted that she would die “under a new roof.” The Cosmos Club, founded by explorer John Wesley Powell in 1878, acquired the property in the 1950s.
WALK EAST ON Q STREET.
1600 21st Street, NW
Duncan Phillips founded what is considered to be America’s first museum of modern art in 1921. He opened two rooms of his 1897 Georgian Revival house to the public to view his private collection of impressionist and modern American and European art, with works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Claude Monet, Honoré Daumier, Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Jacob Lawrence, and Richard Diebenkorn.
Thomas T. Gaff House/Colombian Embassy
1520 20th Street, NW
Thomas Gaff made a fortune in the distillery and heavy machinery business in Ohio. Architects Bruce Price and Jules Henri de Sibour designed his mansion in 1904 as a rendition of an early 17th century manor house. Following a brief tenure by the Gaff family, the showcase was leased to several high-power Washingtonians, including President Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of War, Dwight F. Davis, and to the governments of Greece and Columbia. The Colombian government purchased the house in 1944 from Thomas Gaff’s daughter, Mrs. Carey D. Langhorne, who lived next door on Q Street at the time.
TURN RIGHT ON 20TH STREET TO RETURN TO DUPONT CIRCLE AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.