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Residential Architecture of Washington, D.C., and Its Suburbs

Pamela Scott


Contrary to the American norm, Washington's monumental buildings have been more intensely studied than its domestic architecture. The city's position as the capital of the United States, the national architectural significance of many of the monuments and government buildings in its central core, and copious archival documentation about them have contributed to wide-spread knowledge of Washington's greatest public architecture. Few, however, of Washington's private residences have been considered of sufficient national importance to be included in general surveys of American architecture, and only a handful of publications have been devoted exclusively to them. Many important nineteenth-century Washington houses including B. Henry Latrobe's John P. Van Ness House (1816-7), James Renwick's W. W. Corcoran House (1849-54), and H. H. Richardson's double house for John Hay and Henry Adams (1884-86), and even John Russell Pope's John R. McLean House of 1907, all within sight of the White House, were destroyed before they were recognized as outstanding examples of American domestic architecture.1

Consciously inclusive late twentieth-century historiography, coupled with the revitalization of inner city neighborhoods and the historic preservation movement, have led to a reassessment of the social and cultural values of the entire built environment. During the same period appreciation of the unique aesthetic ideas and cultural characteristics of every era, no matter how recent, has come with the maturing of American architectural history as a scholarly discipline. Whereas visual grace and the client's prominence were formerly the primary yardsticks for judging a house's architectural worth, many recent scholars consider broadly defined social and cultural values and the meaning to the community as a whole of greater significance. The nature of the architectural drawings and related materials in the Prints and Photographs Division pertaining to Washington's domestic architecture allows for all these methodological approaches.

Washington's nearly 250-year history of domestic architecture offers a notable range of periods, styles, and types and is remarkable for the nearly intact survival of many eighteenth and nineteenth-century residential neighborhoods near the city's governing and commercial centers. Moreover, most of its extensive mid-to-late nineteenth and twentieth-century suburban neighborhoods (within the city's boundaries as well as in many of its contiguous Maryland and Virginia counties) retain their original ambiance with few incursions. In-depth study of most houses built during the first half of this period--including the White House--is hampered by scarce graphic and textual documentation, as well as often extensive changes in the fabric of the surviving examples. However, resources abound for research on many houses erected after 1877, the date of the earliest surviving building permits. Some of the permits, housed in the National Archives and the District of Columbia Archives, contain original blueprints or brownlines of both elevations and plans. The as yet unexplored office archives of a few of Washington's twentieth-century firms have survived, are now housed in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, and offer primarily visual documentation on a wide range of housing styles and types. Typically most of Washington's domestic commissions went to local architects, while most of the federal government buildings were designed by architects of national reputations, few of whom made Washington their permanent home.

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Early Houses

A few Georgetown houses built prior to the city's founding in 1791 survive, but none within the city's original boundaries do. The location and footprints of those in Georgetown are recorded on survey maps done by B. Henry Latrobe in 1802-4 as part of his design for the Washington Canal. Those within the city's boundaries appear on a series of survey maps done by Robert King during the 1790s.2 Beginning in the 1930s the Historic American Buildings Survey did measured drawings recording some early Georgetown houses, including the exteriors and interiors of the carpenter Christopher Layhman's house (HABS DC-10-2, sheet 1 of 3)(Old Stone House, HABS: DC, GEO, 3-), located at 3051 M Street, N.W. HABS drawings for now destroyed early buildings erected within the bounds of the original federal city are more numerous and range from inexpensive wood cottages, as the Hamburgh Village House (HABS DC,10-6-) built about 1790, at 412 20th Street, N.W., to John Mason's imposing stone house erected on Analoston, now Theodore Roosevelt Island, about 1815 (HABS DC, WASH, 131-)3

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Rowhouses

Historic American Buildings Survey; Stuart M. Barnette, del.. Row house, 2411 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Measured drawing; plan, elevations and details.
Historic American Buildings Survey; Stuart M. Barnette, del.. Row house, 2411 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Measured drawing; plan, elevations and details. Ink on paper, 1936. HABS DC-27, sheet 2 of 2

Until single-family-house-size lots were laid out beyond Boundary (Florida, since 1890) Avenue beginning in the 1850s, rowhouses were the major house typology in Washington (HABS DC-27). Long, rectangular lots were platted specifically to promote contiguously fronted buildings, but individual rowhouses initially outnumbered continuous rows built by developers. Both groups were governed by the city's building regulations, first enunciated by President Washington's proclamation of 17 October 1791 and amended frequently over the next two centuries.4 The original eight articles stipulated building materials (brick and stone for party walls), access by city officials to regulate common areas, and two design criteria. The heights of houses were limited to forty feet with those built on the avenues to be at least 35 feet tall. All buildings were to be parallel to the streets, but set backs could be determined by the "improvers."

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Early Development Schemes

Two early abortive proposals for development of entire squares in the city reflected contemporary European urban planning measures. The prizes in Samuel Blodget's second lottery scheme, announced on 20 May 1793 were six "magnificant dwelling houses" ranging in value from $20,000 to $5,000 for which "two beautiful Designs are already selected for the entire Fronts on two of the Public Squares; from these Drawings it is proposed to erect two Centre and four Corner Buildings, as soon as possible after this Lottery is sold.5 The lottery failed and the architect or architects of the "two beautiful Designs" are unknown although James Hoban must be considered as he designed the hotel, called Blodgett's Hotel that was erected as a result of the first lottery. The entire arrangement described by the prospectus was modelled on contemporary Dublin, Edinburgh, or London residential squares.

In 1793 a French-trained architect, G[eorges ?] du Jareau, a refugée from Santo Domingo, sent the commissioners drawings and a detailed proposal for a scheme to develop the new city's residential squares with contiguous double houses joined together by party walls (drawings and written description in the National Archives, RG 42). Exterior flat facades would abut the streets with entries into each unit via passageways leading to small interior courts; the compact units were then to be arranged around a large rectangular common ground in the center of each square, instead of the fenced yards and gardens denoting private property lines that became the American urban norm.

The North American Land Company's failed early rowhouse development of 30 units at the corner of South Capitol and N Street, S.W., was one of the most ambitious housing developments of its type actually built in America in the 1790s. Probably designed by William Lovering as well as built by him, the Twenty Buildings (as they were called, even though there were 30) had a short life due to the long litigation in which it played a key part in settling the debts of the developers Thomas Law, John Nicholson, and Robert Morris. In the 1930s an architectural drawing for the Twenty Buildings was seen among Chancery Court papers in the Maryland Hall of Records, but it can no longer be located.6

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Early Architects

In most cases the architects of Washington's early houses are unknown. James Hoban, who owned extensive property in Washington at the time of his death in 1831, undoubtedly designed many private and speculative houses in and around the city, but his papers and drawings were destroyed in a fire in the 1880s. George Hadfield, whose only known surviving house is the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington Cemetery (1820), must also have designed many of Washington's homes before his death in 1826. The only surviving drawing of a house by him, dated 1798, was presumably designed for a site in or around Washington; its patron, or whether it was ever built, are unknown.7

William Thornton, architect. Preliminary design, house for John Tayloe, "the Octagon,” 1799 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Floor plan. Ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper
William Thornton, architect. Preliminary design, house for John Tayloe, "the Octagon,” 1799 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Floor plan. Ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper. Ca. 1800. ADE - UNIT 2581, no. 1 (A size)

Innovative and conservative house designs date from every period of Washington's history, with traditional stylistic and planning solutions predominating for low and middle income housing but both avant garde and traditional forms providing models for homes of the city's wealthy citizens. Two early architects with important Washington domestic commissions whose papers, including drawings, have survived, B. Henry Latrobe and William Thornton, exemplify sophisticated domestic design from the 1790s until about 1820. Scattered archival evidence of the career of a traditionalist of the same era, architect-builder William Lovering exists, including his only known drawing (in the Philadelphia Athenaeum) for a group of rowhouses known as the Six Buildings, erected on Pennsylvania Avenue at 20th Street N.W. about 1810. Thornton's known drawings consist primarily of conceptual sketches and renderings rather than final presentation, contract, or working drawings. Hence the fine finished quality of his two important Washington residences, the Octagon House for John Tayloe (ADE - UNIT 2581) and Tudor Place (ADE - UNIT 2588) for Robert Peter, is known from the structures themselves and from twentieth-century measured drawings of them done after changes to their original fabrics had already occurred.

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B. Henry Latrobe

Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect. Entrance Hall, Commodore Stephen Decatur House, 748 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. Plan, elevations, and section
B. Henry Latrobe, architect. Entrance Hall, Commodore Stephen Decatur House, 748 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. Plan, elevations, and section. Graphite, ink, wash, and watercolor on paper. 1818. ADE - UNIT 2558, no. 4 (B size).

Latrobe's drawings of his residential works, both executed and proposed, form the basis for their in-depth study, as only four of his American houses survive. The best known of these is the cubic house he designed for Stephen Decatur (1817-8) facing Lafayette Square (ADE - UNIT 2558). The relationship between Latrobe's drawings and buildings is succinctly demonstrated by his drawing for the Decatur House vestibule: his ability to convey the three-dimensional spatial quality of architecture simultaneously with the physicality of architectural form. The excitement of Latrobe's drawings is that they record with immediacy and beauty the process of his architectural thought, the transference of ideas to paper complete with information for the next step in the process, the means both visual and written to accomplish construction by artisans.

No other American architect of Latrobe's generation left such a rich graphic legacy of domestic architecture of the federal period, albeit drawings for some of his Washington houses, such as that for John P. Van Ness, formerly located at the northwest corner of Constitution and 17th Streets, are unfortunately lost, while those for some of his unexecuted designs survive (John Tayloe House, ADE - UNIT 2886). Latrobe's sophisticated command of small-scale architectural forms and imaginative domestic arrangements were unsurpassed in his day, and arguably stand near the acme of American residential design. Latrobe's considerable influence on contemporary builders and architects was particularly strong in Georgetown and Washington, where even details as simple as his sunken circular molding to terminate lintels that extend beyond the window or door openings (bull's-eye lintels) were widely copied (HABS DC-16, sheet 5 of 5 and HABS - DC, WASH, 28-24).

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Early Forms

During the first decades of the nineteenth century most new houses in Washington filled in the missing gaps of the streets initially settled along a rough diagonal swath from Capitol Hill to Georgetown. Daniel Reiff attributes Washington's conservative Greek Revival domestic architecture from about 1820 through the 1840s to the local strength of the builder tradition. Generally Greek Revival house forms in Washington were essentially the same as those of the Federal period, but door and window surrounds became bolder and more planar as the delicately carved or incised ornament of the turn-of-the-century Federal style was replaced by broad, plain surfaces. In more stylistically advanced examples square attic windows replaced the metopes in classical friezes, a motif that the Philadelphia architect William Strickland believed to be an American contribution to the long history of transformations of classical architectural traditions.8 Double-story Greek Revival Doric porticoes, common on important houses in many parts of the country, were an anomaly in Washington. George Hadfield's massive Doric portico of the George Washington Parke Custis House, Arlington House, designed in 1820 was set atop the ridge that visually defined Arlington's skyline. It was intended to be an immense stage set when viewed from the city to mark the site of an intended museum and monument to George Washington. No drawings by Hadfield for Arlington House are known to have survived, but two watercolors and two pencil sketches done by A.J. Davis about 1830 to 1834 depict its dominating presence in Washington's greater city-landscape.9

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Early Records and Their Study

Gilbert White, builder. House, "Normanstone" for Robert Barnard, 3100 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Perspective
Gilbert White, builder. House, "Normanstone" for Robert Barnard, 3100 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Perspective. Ink on paper. Ca. 1830. ADE - UNIT 2752, no. 5 (A size).

Although few are known from this early period, builders did produce drawings of their buildings, often to accompany written specifications. Gilbert White's drawings of about 1830 for "Normanstone" (ADE - UNIT 2752), a house located on what later became known as Massachusetts Avenue Heights, demonstrate Reiff's premise: they are primitive line drawings for a substantial two-story, three-bay, hipped-roof rectangular building, a vernacular house form familiar in America during the previous two centuries. On some of White's drawings specifications appear on the same sheet, an indication that the graphic image functioned for him as a record, perhaps even a legal document, rather than as a medium to explain design ideas or to instruct craftsmen. No refinements of proportion or detail were included in White's drawings because he himself erected the house according to a familiar and accepted formula, perhaps aided by other workmen as well schooled in traditional forms and building techniques as himself.

With the exception of William Lovering and several late nineteenth century builders, principally Robert I. Fleming, the careers of Washington's important early architect-builders, such as Charles Sengstack, have not been systematically studied due to scanty information. Examination of the membership and goals of various builders' societies established in the first half of the century, supplemented with newspaper accounts and advertisements, would increase our knowledge of the business of constructing the private city during its early and mid developmental stages.10

The rarity as well as the limited nature of drawings such as White's are ameliorated by other graphic and photographic evidence. Printed views of Washington give an overall impression of the mixture of public and private structures, as do early watercolors. The two most extensive collections of Washington views are those in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress and the Maachen Collection at the Historical Society of Washington. Individual houses in many lithographs can occasionally be linked to written documents to verify architects and dates of construction.11 The best known of the early watercolorists was the Baroness Hyde de Neuville, the wife of the French ambassador who lived in Washington during the 1810s.12 Watercolors done during the 1840s by August Köllner and John Rubens Smith, as well as those done by Montgomery C. Meigs at mid-century, record the slow and concentrated growth of the city's residential neighborhoods between Georgetown and Capitol Hill with K Street their northernmost boundary until after the Civil War.13 Although prints and photographs of wartime Washington and its aftermath abound, no substantial corpus of drawings or watercolors is known that record the city under siege nor its aftermath when the city's streets and squares were transformed under the territorial government's public works projects. Meigs's post-war sketches are primarily of his own building designs.

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Mills and Walter

One of America's major architects of the first half of the nineteenth century, Robert Mills, lived in Washington from 1830 until his death in 1855, yet no important house in the city can definitely be assigned to him. He is known to have "improved" several lots that he owned, presumably by erecting inexpensive rowhouses on them for resale.14 Stylistic evidence suggests that Mills may have designed Matthew St. Clair Clarke's house (1836) facing Lafayette Square. Now St. John's Parish House, it was renovated by Thomas U. Walter in 1854 into an Italianate-style mansion. When architectural models changed at mid-century from ancient to Renaissance ones, Walter, one of America's premier Greek Revival architects, adopted the most recent of the classical revival styles, the Italianate. Walter, the son of a builder who ended his career as president of the American Institute of Architects, epitomized architects who inventively transformed the classical, medieval, and Renaissance languages into varied modern American idioms. The early Victorian period (ca. 1830-1850) coincided with a rise in professional American architects as builders successfully made the transition to designers, or their sons (as in Walter's case) were apprenticed to architects.15

Thomas U. Walter, architect. “Front elevation, Design for a Mansion for the Hon. John Sherman,” Washington, D.C.(?) Elevation
Thomas U. Walter, architect. “Front elevation, Design for a Mansion for the Hon. John Sherman,” Washington, D.C.(?) Elevation. Photographic print of drawing. 1865. ADE - UNIT 2591, no. 3 (C size)(Photo).

 

Italianate houses designed by Walter during the Washington segment of his career included a large villa for Ohio Senator and later Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman. The date 1865 is recorded by mounted photographs of four elevation and two plan drawings (ADE - UNIT 2591) of the Sherman house. The drawings themselves are lost and it is uncertain whether Sherman's country house was intended for a site near Washington, or in Ohio, although the former is more likely as Sherman lived continuously in Washington from 1855 until his death in 1900. Two surviving examples of Walter's Italianate villas, in or near Washington, the T.B.A. Hewlings House, Ingleside (1851: 1818 Newton Street, N.W.)(HABS DC-502), and the Tysen House, Glenelg (1852), in Ellicott City, Maryland, belong to the same series as the Sherman House design. They all follow a general Italianate villa formula of intersecting masses marked by a tall crossing tower surrounded by multiple verandas, seemingly variants on Andrew Jackson Downing's "Southern Villa-Romanesque style" illustrated in his Architecture of Country Houses (1850).

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Downing and Anderson

Charles Frederick Anderson, architect. “North East elevation for No. III Design,” American Villa Architecture (New York: Putnam? 1853. Perspective Rendering
Charles Frederick Anderson, architect. “North East elevation for No. III Design,” American Villa Architecture (New York: Putnam? 1853. Perspective Rendering. Color lithograph. 1853. P&P Case NA7586.A5, p. 16. LC-USZC4-4585

Nearly simultaneously Downing himself designed two important Washington houses on a similar model for the brothers Robert and Francis Dodge (1850-1852), located on Q Street in Georgetown. Both houses were completed by Downing's partner Calvert Vaux, who published perspective views and plans of them in Villas and Cottages (1857). Both of the Dodge villas survive but in considerably altered form; extensive field notes, photographs and drawings of the Robert Dodge House done in 1921 by Joseph Younger while working in Waggaman and Ray's office (ADE - UNIT 185), preliminary to its transmogrification into a pillared southern manse for Warren Delano Robbins (HABS DC-246), provides valuable additional information on the Downing-Vaux design. In 1853, Charles Frederick Anderson, an entrant in the Capitol Extension competition of 1850, published his own designs for eighteen Italianate houses in American Villa Architecture, many of which are comparable to Walter's buildings in scale and composition (LC-USZC4-4585 ; NA7586.A5 Case Y, p. 16). Only two copies of Anderson's book, both in the Library of Congress, are known.

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The 1850s

About 1850 the number of architects in Washington increased dramatically due less to the immediate architectural needs of the city than to the staffing of federal architectural and engineering offices whose function was to provide designs for government buildings nationwide. Establishment of the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department in 1852 brought a constantly changing supply of well-trained architects to the city, many of whom moonlighted by designing residences and churches, or later established private practices in the city. Likewise many architects who came to Washington to work on the Capitol Extension beginning in 1851, often referred to in official records as "draftsmen" irrespective of their level of training, contributed to the city's domestic architectural scene. Many who were European-trained, or from families of builders with strong European traditions, brought to their somewhat inconspicuous government positions both excellent training in up-to-date engineering principles and the current design attitudes of their respective cultures. The majority whose careers have been at least partially examined were either German-born and trained or the sons of fathers who were.

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Victorians

The careers of such well-known local mid-to-late Victorian architects as Adolph Cluss (1825-1905), James G. Hill (1841-1913), and Thomas Franklin Schneider (1859-1938) have been studied because the vitality of their prolific work excited admiration. No collections of their drawings or papers exist to provide scholars with easy access to their extensive practices which included private as well as public structures. Although none of the three can be considered great design innovators on a national level, their individual interpretations of American architectural idioms of their time have left a distinctive stamp on many centrally located Washington neighborhoods. From Capitol Hill to Dupont Circle numerous brick or rock-faced stone rowhouses and free-standing homes are (or were) ornamented with decorative pressed-brick panels (associated with the Queen Anne style) or carved floriate decoration (a hallmark of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.16

Norris G. Starkweather, architect; Historic American Buildings Survey. River and drive fronts, “Camden” or “Camden Place,") country villa for William C. Pratt, Port Royal, Virginia
Norris G. Starkweather, architect; Historic American Buildings Survey. River and drive fronts, “Camden” or “Camden Place,") country villa for William C. Pratt, Port Royal, Virginia
Norris G. Starkweather, architect; Historic American Buildings Survey. River and drive fronts, “Camden” or “Camden Place,") country villa for William C. Pratt, Port Royal, Virginia. Perspective rendering. Photograph of original. Drawing 1857, photograph 1934. ADE - UNIT 2201, no. 4 (B size) and HABS, VA, 17-PORO.V, 2-35. 1934. HABS VA,17-PORO.V,2-34

Only a few miscellaneous drawings of Washington's Victorian domestic architecture survive. Vermont-born Norris G. Starkweather, in partnership from 1868-1871 with the architect-builder Thomas M. Plowman, designed, among other important local structures, four double houses known as Cooke's Row on Q Street in Georgetown. Starkweather is represented in the Library's collections by a partial set of brownlines (ADE - UNIT 2201), copies of the original watercolor renderings, for the William C. Pratt House, "Camden" (1857), located in Caroline County, Virginia. Comparison of Camden's two impressionistic elevations labeled "river front" and "drive front" with the perspective rendering copied by the Historic American Buildings Survey and the house itself reveals both major and minor differences, suggesting that a study of the role of presentation drawings in the design and building process in America is warranted.17

Seven drawings from 1879 for a double house on the southeast corner of 17th and K streets, N.W., for Richard L. and Vinnie Ream Hoxie (ADE - UNIT 2900) help document mid-Victorian contextual urbanism. Six of the seven are unsigned, drafted or sketched in pencil, and show the strong influence of Adolf Cluss on Plowman. Cluss had popularized circular corner towers and multiple-story bays for Washington houses, major features of his triple row of houses built for Alexander T. Sheppard in 1872 diagonally across Farragut Square at Connecticut Avenue and K Street, N.W. Plowman's three Hoxie house elevation drawings show the evolution of his details from neo-Renaissance to neo-Grec as he altered the Cluss prototype from a mid- to High Victorian design.

W. Bruce Gray, architect. “Sketch of Entrance Hall,” Joseph M. Toner House, 15th Street and Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Perspective
W. Bruce Gray, architect. “Sketch of Entrance Hall,” Joseph M. Toner House, 15th Street and Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Perspective. Ink, graphite, and watercolor on paper. Ca. 1880. ADE - UNIT 2505, no. 3 (C size).

Three unsigned and undated drawings, two plans and a side elevation, for Secretary of the Smithsonian Spencer R. Baird's residence (c. 1865) at 1445 Massachusetts Avenue NW (ADE - UNIT 2109) indicate how few drawings were used to convey to the client and builder alike the basic forms, proportions, and internal organization for such a substantial Victorian house. W. Bruce Gray's set of sixteen drawings for the Joseph M. Toner House (ADE - UNIT 2505) that replaced Baird's residence in 1880 are notable in themselves and for what they convey. Some are drawn on linen, others on paper; color coding of materials is indicated (common for drawings of public structures, but unusual for private ones.) Three alternate plans speculate on how to organize living spaces and facades with either English or French overtones for the end rowhouse on a triangular corner site. Particularly enjoyable, because so unexpected, is a perspective vignette in ink on sheet sixteen of the entrance hall. Comparison of Gray's drawings with designs published in 1889 by his contemporary and occasional partner, Harvey L. Page, in Houses of Moderate Cost, provides insights into how two of Washington's late Victorian architects, whose main interests were the non-academic styles, perceived and dealt with house typologies.18

Leon Dessez is another important architect with a large domestic practice represented in the Library's collections. Eight drawings on linen of his 1899 house for E. J. Stellwagen (ADE - UNIT 2305) at the corner of Biltmore Street and Columbia Road, N.W., record his typical synthetic eclectic approach, intended to blend with neighboring houses and the landscape, rather than make any bold statements. Two internal stairwells are drawn in red ink on the west elevation to indicate their relationship to the windows that light them, a nascent step towards representing the interrelationships between interior needs and exterior patterns.

Price and McLanahan, architects; Dr. C. L. Marlatt, entomologist. “Carved Panels,” main hall, alterations to the “Residence” of C. L. Marlatt, 1521 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Price and McLanahan, architects; Dr. C. L. Marlatt, entomologist. “Carved Panels,” main hall, alterations to the “Residence” of C. L. Marlatt, 1521 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Full size details. Blueprint. 1909. ADE - UNIT 2171, no. 15 (E size).

Ornament for most Washington Victorian houses was ordered from catalogues; a study of the role of architects as designers of sculptural decoration during the Victorian and Arts and Crafts periods, indeed, for the equally rich early twentieth-century academic architecture, would serve the academic and preservation communities alike. One rich source for such study is represented by the numerous original drawings for Victorian ornament and interior architectural details which can be found in the archive of Washington draftsman J. Goldsborough Bruff (ADE - UNIT 1929). Lemuel Norris included a partial north elevation and partial cross section in his set of contract drawings (with changes indicated and signed by the builder John McGregor) for entomologist Charles L. Marlatt's house (ADE - UNIT 2170) at 1521 Sixteenth Street, N.W. (1908). Additional sheets of full-scale ornamental and structural details by the Philadelphia architects Price and McLanahan give all the information needed to carve plant, insect, and animal forms and insert them into the surrounding woodwork for the Marlatt House.19

The Arts and Crafts bungalow was widely disseminated via printed designs; architect's drawings for them are rare. Comparison of published examples with two blueprints (ADE - UNIT 2012) signed by William Douden (1869-1946) of Washington, for W.E. Drumheller's substantial bungalow in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, might help scholars better understand the role of architects in a housing typology dominated by packaged designs. Forty-nine Arthur B. Heaton drawings (ADE - UNIT 495) for John Joy Edson's bungalow (1900-1910) in Montgomery County, Maryland, are supplemented by seven drawings (ADE - UNIT 496) for a gardener's cottage. In 1916 Heaton produced thirteen drawings for a "bungalow" for Mrs. Frank M. Heaton, in Washington, D.C. (ADE - UNIT 829).

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A.B. Mullett & Co.

Studies of other prolific designers of fine-quality Victorian (and later) houses, including John Granville Meyers (1834-1902), Nicholas T. Haller, partners William J. Marsh (d. 1926) and Walter G. Peter (1868-c. 1945), and Appleton P. Clark (1865-1955), are merited but hampered because the location of their professional papers and drawings are unknown or presently unavailable for study by scholars. Extensive records of A.B. Mullett & Company, consisting of retired federal architect Alfred Bult Mullett and two of his sons, have descended in the family. The Mullett papers donated to the Prints and Photographs Division adds breadth and variety to the Library's large holdings on turn-of-the-century domestic design, particularly valuable for comparisons with local contemporaries designing in the same vein, notably Waggaman and Ray and Waddy Wood.

A. B. Mullett & Co, architects. Studies for two townhouses in album, “City Houses between Party Walls.” Elevations
A. B. Mullett & Co, architects. Studies for two townhouses in album, “City Houses between Party Walls.” Elevations. Graphite on tracing paper, ca. 1900-1920. LOT 13041, no. 4 (A size).

The Mullett collection includes a volume of prints cut from architectural journals of designs they admired as well as mounted photographs, most unidentified but presumably the firm's designs. Their known houses, beginning with late Victorian eclecticism and extending to the academic Beaux-Arts and Colonial Revival styles of the first quarter of this century, are pleasant and competently designed. The firm seems to have followed most stylistic trends of the day, rather than breaking new ground, as Mullett senior did with his famous Second Empire government office buildings of the 1870s and '80s. When the entire corpus of Mullett & Company works has been thoroughly compiled, their contributions, particularly to local permutations of Southern and New England Colonial Revival patterns in examples such as the W. H. May House of 1921 in Langley, Virginia (ADE - UNIT 2267), can be evaluated within the context of other east coast practitioners designing in a like manner.

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Scarcity of Records

The group of houses for which lost or destroyed architectural records is particularly lamented are those evocative remnants of Gilded Age Washington, the mansions on or near Dupont, Sheridan, and Kalorama circles and along 16th Street, N.W., near Meridian Hill. As most now serve as embassies, chanceries, or offices for national or international organizations, their important public or semi-public functions, combined with their urbanistically integrated close-in locations, make them particularly visible exemplars of Washington's peculiar mixture of turn-of-the-century political and social life. Their designers were generally Washington's finest architects; drawings for them are rare, perhaps because their sheer size (frequently 30" x 40") and bulk (often dozens for a large house) led to their destruction. One small watercolor by George Oakley Totten for an unbuilt mansion on Meridian Hill is among the Mary F. Henderson Papers at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Bruce Price & De Sibour, architects. “Residence for T. T. Gaff, Esq.,” 20th and Q streets, N.W., Washington, D.C. Elevation and partial section
Bruce Price & De Sibour, architects. “Residence for T. T. Gaff, Esq.,” 20th and Q streets, N.W., Washington, D.C. Elevation and partial section. Graphite, ink and colored ink on linen. 1903-1904. ADE - UNIT 2014, no. 4 (E size).

Although building permits record several local houses designed by the firms of John Smithmeyer and Paul Pelz and Joseph Hornblower and J. Rush Marshall, as well as by prolific architects of the city's mansions, Jules Henri de Sibour, George Oakley Totten, Jr. (ADE - UNIT 2144), and Nathan Wyeth, the fate of their office records is unknown. Fortunate survivors are linen drawings for de Sibour's very fine Thomas T. Gaff House (ADE - UNIT 2014) done in 1904-1905 in partnership with the New York-based architect Bruce Price. Only twenty drawings survive from a group numbered internally up to 220, a set originally so extensive that the entire house, now the Embassy of Colombia, could be faithfully reconstructed from them. Physically large in format, the Gaff House set of drawings include full-scale elevation details as well as plans, sections, and detail drawings; similar ones must have been common for contemporary houses of like spatial and surface complexity.20

Occasionally the semi-public careers of architects of this period have enabled scholars to amass sufficient visual and written documentation to assess their work. Although best known as an administrator and author, Glenn Brown's surviving houses in the Logan, Dupont, and Sheridan circle areas prove him to have been one of the city's most polished and erudite architects in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1896 Brown published a thoughtful overview of the city's contemporary houses, noting and illustrating several solutions of how local architects coped with the acute triangular lots created by the city's rectilinear street-diagonal avenue intersections. Many of the fifteen plans illustrate Brown's contention that polygonal rooms shapes and meandering circulation patterns of many late Victorian homes were due to their irregular sites occasioned by Pierre Charles L'Enfant's innovative urban plan. Brown also recorded the influential presence of actual H.H. Richardson houses in the city, all originally clustered between the White House and K Street. But his own architectural output had to be pieced together and must be studied from surviving buildings (frequently altered later) or from photographs, as no corpus of his drawings is known to exist.21

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Twentieth Century

This long litany of losses underlines the great fragility of the paper history of private architectural firms; most of the nineteenth-century survivors in the Prints and Photographs Division are by happenstance. The Library's systematic collecting of large holdings of twentieth-century architectural drawings affords scholars multiple opportunities to examine in detail Washington's suburbanization. The city's twentieth-century growth has been primarily suburban in character, as tract developments of free-standing homes proliferated around the old city core and extended well into Maryland and Virginia.

The anti-urban nature of much of Washington's domestic architecture, beginning with the White House (combining the "sumptuousness of a palace" with the "convenience of a house and the agreeableness of a country seat," opined L'Enfant), suggests a suburban ideal before this concept was actually given formal expression in the 1840s. Washington clients of single family homes who could afford them, from John Tayloe's city house to millionaires who erected mansions on or near Dupont and Sheridan Circles, chose urban villas rather than city palaces, in order to capture and privately enjoy part of the city's renowned natural beauty. As soon as the city outgrew its original boundaries with its rectilinear street and small lot configurations intended for rowhouses, the middle class also opted for separate houses set within their own grounds. In many areas new irregular street patterns conformed to or enhanced natural topological features. Certainly the extent and typological variety of suburban houses within or contiguous to Washington, including large numbers of catalogue houses, those erected by builders, those designed by architects for developers, and a large number designed for specific clients, offer a local laboratory with which to study local versions of America's most representative housing type.

Each of the early twentieth century architects whose important drawings of houses are preserved in the Prints and Photographs Division is paradigmatic of some variant on the academic historicism of the era, ranging from the ultra conservative formality of Waggaman and Ray to the cosiness of Arthur B. Heaton. A few representative examples of drawings of residences by a few nationally known architects, such as John Russell Pope's superb houses for Henry White of 1910-11(ADE - UNIT 1946) and for Edwin Laughlin of 1920-1924 (ADE - UNIT 1945) on Meridian Hill, both now serving the cultural organization, Meridian House International, have survived.

Two blueprints (ADE - UNIT 2173) by the New York firm Delano & Aldrich record neo-classical interior alterations made for client Gifford Pinchot to Washington's finest Arts and Crafts House (now the Democratic Women's Club) designed by Harvey Page in 1894. Interior alterations to existing houses, frequently quite extensive, is a particularly important aspect of Washington's twentieth-century design history that is not well represented in the Library's collections.

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Waddy B. Wood

Three of the Library's four large collections of twentieth-century domestic drawings were by architects whose eclectic designs were basically anti-academic in nature. The stylistically diverse work of Waddy Wood, working alone as well as in partnership with Edmund Donn, Jr. and William I. Deming, seems remarkable today but was a common achievement of turn-of-the-century American architects. Such versatility exhibited their wide-ranging knowledge and mastery of many architectural traditions as they strove to design contextually for the heterogeneous American scene or for clients whose varied backgrounds or aspirations demanded different domestic ambiances. In Wood's case, his modern renditions of historical styles did not stop with exterior clothing and decorative details, but extended to the shapes and arrangements of his rooms where he also sought historical verisimilitude. Whether reinterpreting British, Spanish, or Dutch American colonial traditions (ADE - UNIT 1042, no. 1 (A size)), or that of the Italian Renaissance or English Baroque, Wood consciously chose prototypes that differed from aristocratic French and continental models favored by his academically trained contemporaries. One exception is his Henry Fairbanks House (1915), later owned by Woodrow Wilson and now a National Trust property. Wood's model for the Fairbanks house facade was Robert Adam's very formal Society of Arts (1772-1776) in London, yet its interior was decidedly more informal, even picturesque, in its room arrangements. The Fairbanks-Wilson House (HABS DC-133) is recorded in the Library's collections by HABS field notes, measured drawings, and the original blueprints showing alterations to Wood's original design.

Thus Wood's houses, even those of a formal nature, have an intimacy associated with smaller scale American and European houses from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. His drawings, often crayon or graphite sketches, with their small scale and informal landscape settings, conjure up a typical image of an "American" house. Wood's exterior elevations are particularly well proportioned and detailed, often establishing a modest scale for streetscapes, as his houses on or contiguous to Sheridan Circle, that mitigate larger, more aggressive neighbors. Wood also experimented with a variety of exterior cladding materials, particularly how different brick colors and textures might be used to promote an authentic feel of the historical styles he was evoking. Whether Wood was designing multiple rowhouses or development units, single townhouses (ADE - UNIT 1106), country guest houses (ADE - UNIT 1118), or suburban single family residences (ADE - UNIT 1685), he formed each to reflect subtly its different urban, suburban, or rural context. Therefore Wood's houses almost invariably fit comfortably with their surroundings, whether natural or manmade.

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Arthur B. Heaton

Residential architecture ranging from large scale townhouses to modestly scaled and priced suburban development houses comprised a significant part of Arthur B. Heaton's large and varied practice. In his houses he followed national trends in developer versions of the Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival styles without contributing any significant innovative ideas. Although not the same caliber a designer as Wood, Heaton aspired to similar scenic and homey effects as Wood achieved in his more informal dwellings. Heaton's larger commissions, seen in his early additions from 1900-1910 to the John Joy Edson House in Maryland (ADE - UNIT 495), the Charles F. Denley House of 1927 (ADE - UNIT 515), and his own house in Spring Valley, "Wendover," done in 1929 (ADE - UNIT 1040), demonstrate his long-term interest in reconciling formal and informal planning.

Edward W. Donn, Jr., designer and delineator. “Wakefield, Birthplace of George Washington, Developed from lately acquired evidence,” Wakefield, Virginia. Perspective rendering
Edward W. Donn, Jr., designer and delineator. “Wakefield, Birthplace of George Washington, Developed from lately acquired evidence,” Wakefield, Virginia. Perspective rendering. Photographic print. © 1927. ADE - UNIT 2161, no. 1 (Photo size)

Within the local context Heaton responded to a moderate income clientele whose preferences were for traditional images of "American" home life. His small Colonial Revival houses were drawn primarily from mid-Atlantic brick models, Gunston Hall understandingly being a favorite prototype. Heaton was not alone among local architects in his interest in the region's Colonial buildings as objects of study, of projected restorations and rebuilding, and as source material for their own works. Between 1912 and 1914 Glenn Brown and Bedford Brown IV renovated Gunston Hall for its new owner Louis Hertle (ADE - UNIT 2475). In 1927 Waddy Wood's one-time architectural partner Edward W. Donn, Jr., produced a conjectural restoration of Wakefield, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the birthplace of George Washington, followed in 1930 by a set of working drawings for the Wakefield National Memorial Association for the rebuilding of an "early 18th century Virginia country house typifying the house in which George Washington was born in 1732." Copies of the latter, now lost, have made their way into the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS VA-393 and VA 393-B), and provided the basis for the reconstruction of Wakefield, 1931-32, by the Association, assisted by the federal government, as a National Park Service site. Other observances of bicentennial of the birth of George Washington in 1932 included an large exhibition in Washington, D.C., of measured drawings and topographic surveys of Mount Vernon, Woodlawn Plantation, and Gunston Hall, which apparently included a conjectural restoration of "Belvoir on the Potomac" (ADE - UNIT 2007) by architect H. Brooks Price.22

For his Arts and Crafts models, Arthur B. Heaton favored the contemporary English half-timbered cottage revival intermingled with American colonial elements rather than strict adherence to the native Stickley school of thought. His well-constructed houses combined clear, logical, and often clever internal space planning with tame and tasteful details chosen from catalogues to produce good building quality and proven design formulas for people of moderate means. Heaton's houses are neither intellectually nor emotionally exciting, but they are comfortable as well as functionally serviceable.

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Waggaman and Ray

Clarke Waggaman, architect. “Wrought Iron Gates in Entrance Arch, Residence for Mrs. Helen Meserve,” 1825 R Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Sketch elevation
Clarke Waggaman, architect. “Wrought Iron Gates in Entrance Arch, Residence for Mrs. Helen Meserve,” 1825 R Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Sketch elevation. Ink on linen. 1914. ADE - UNIT 41, no. 68 (C size).

The cosmopolitan sophistication of Clarke Waggaman and George N. Ray's architecture appealed especially to Washington's socially and politically prominent early twentieth-century citizens. The architects' imposing rows or individual town houses, as well as their quietly elegant mansions, imparted to the Dupont, Sheridan, and Massachusetts Avenue Heights neighborhoods a decidedly European-capital flavor, an environment admired and desired by much of the wealthier segment of America's East-Coast population at the time. Waggaman and Ray houses tended to be large in scale, often filling to capacity their urban lots, as in the Louis Lehr House of 1911-14 (ADE - UNIT 332) or sharply defining the edges of suburban ones, as in Waggaman's own house of 1917 (ADE - UNIT 363). The firm's penchant for self-contained cubic and rectilinear masses, even when building on irregular sites, extended to interior volumes which rarely have curved surfaces unlike many other contemporary Beaux Arts houses in Washington. Interior decoration and details are a notable aspect of the corpus of their drawings. Waggaman & Ray's Mrs. Helen Meserve House (ADE - UNIT 41 and ADE - UNIT 42) was particularly notable for its interior detail drawings. The elevation drawing for the iron gate set into an arched wall of the Meserve house includes specifications and written information on its historical source, and the plan shows the placement of the gate in a passageway leading from the drive to a box garden and "private" lawn (ADE - UNIT 41, no. 6 C size). Collectively their beautifully-proportioned facades follow formulas derived mainly from Italian Renaissance models, evident in the firm's 1912 commissions for large townhouses for the Honorable A. B. Butler (ADE - UNIT 179) and Captain Anthony F. Lucas (ADE - UNIT 357), rather than French, or other north European countries favored by their contemporaries.

George N. Ray, architect. Entrance and stair hall elevations, “Residence for Edward S. Perot,” 29th Street and Woodland Drive, N.W. (lot 808, square 2200), Washington, D.C. Sectional elevations
George N. Ray, architect. Entrance and stair hall elevations, “Residence for Edward S. Perot,” 29th Street and Woodland Drive, N.W. (lot 808, square 2200), Washington, D.C. Sectional elevations. Graphite and colored pencil on tracing paper. 1925-1926. ADE - UNIT 339, no. 51 (E size).

Waggaman & Ray's greatest contribution to Washington's architectural scene was to create a hybrid Beaux Arts-Georgian Revival style in which they very successfully merged the two, probably in an attempt to define a new "American" house that fused traditional eighteenth-century formal English colonial elements with contemporary academic ideas and ideals, as in their houses Colonel J. R. Williams (ADE - UNIT 180)(now the Embassy of South Africa), Mrs. Sidney Appleton House (ADE - UNIT 45), or that for Mr. and Mrs. William A. Hill (ADE - UNIT 79). The extensiveness of their domestic commissions attests to their popularity among many wealthy Washingtonians; their houses were quieter, more reserved, less ostentatious than the exuberant, frequently French or Baroque-inspired houses designed by Jules Henri de Sibour or George Oakley Totten, and perhaps for these reasons considered more desirable for clients with behind-the-scenes-power-brokering lifestyles. Waggaman and Ray's occasional forays into exotic or currently stylish historicism, such as the Moorish-medieval style house for Edward S. Perot of 1925 (ADE - UNIT 339), with an elaborate stairhall, still retain the firm's distinctive flat and restrained treatment of volumetric masses.

The Waggaman and Ray collection has an additional valuable dimension as the repository of copies of other architects drawings that are otherwise unknown. Blueprints (ADE - UNIT 424) of a house by Hornblower and Marshall at the corner of 18th and N streets, N.W. dated 6 May 1896, of Frederic B. Pyle's S.W. Woodward House (ADE - UNIT 398) on LeRoy Place, N.W., of a stable dated 1901 by Marsh and Peter for Rudolph Kauffmann (ADE - UNIT 488) on Military Road, and Atkinson and White's design (ADE - UNIT 288) for the L. Victor Froment House (1922-1923) in Warrenton, Virginia, and J. Lakin Baldridge's drawings for a Washington, D. C., residence for Herbert Adair (ADE - UNIT 340) indicate the range of talent and varying importance of commissions found in this vast collection of drawings.

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Donald H. Drayer

The Donald H. Drayer Archive complements both the Heaton and Wood Archives in that it provides continuity for detailed study of informal middle class housing from the first through the third quarter of this century. Drayer with many contemporaries educated during the tumultuous shift from the historicism of the Beaux-Arts system to modernism gave birth to a new version of American historical eclecticism. Their sense of architectural proportions, spatial relations, and decorative elements were a composite, or compromise, between traditional canons and contemporary ones. Probably in response to a common desire among Americans to live in "colonial" houses, many of Drayer's residences were generic neo-Colonial, but filtered through the anti-historical bias of modernism. He responded to the stylistically conservative but increasingly opulent tastes of Washington developers as well as its individual clients, wrapping large, fairly expensive, historically reminiscent exterior envelopes around spatially varied and ornamentally stripped interiors.

Drayer included historicizing elements to traditional compact house shapes, as Mr. & Mrs. Nathan Landow's house (ADE - UNIT 1484) erected in Bradley Hills in 1969, or the Senator Albert Gore House (ADE - UNIT 1358), where the echoes of America's honorable past mask its present-day amenities. Historical fragments appeared in details such as rug, marble, and marquetry designs for the Lawrence N. Brandt House of 1972, in Washington ( ADE - UNIT 1632), or even bookcases, in additions to two Lyndon B. Johnson houses in Washington (ADE - UNIT 1414 and ADE - UNIT 1415). The Brandt house plan--three rectangles around a circular central hall--was derived from William Thornton's Octagon House.

In general, fine proportions and elegant architectural detail gave way during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s to new kinds of communal space. Costly new appliances and heating and air conditioning systems offering physical amenities and comforts gave more pleasure to more people than did finely tuned design elements. Drayer's drawings while recording in detail the taste of mid-twentieth century America through design features such as raised flag stone hearths of the J. A. Mathews House in Montgomery County, Maryland, of 1952 also are of great value in documenting emerging technological innovations that changed American home life. The Mr. & Mrs. Nathan Landow Residence (ADE - UNIT 1484) in Bradley Hills, Maryland, had a three-car garage appended to an elaborate stone and stucco, hipped roof mansion; its historicizing decorative details (as a carved keystone) attest to the vitality of Colonial Revival tradition in 1969. The J. A. Mathews House in Bannockburn Heights, Maryland, (ADE - UNIT 1225) has all of the new communal spaces--family room, TV room, and rec room--associated with mid-to late twentieth-century life in America, as well as expanded storage areas (work shops as well as purpose-built closets), efficient modern kitchens, and multiple bathrooms that are now part of standard house designs.

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Developers

The role of property developers in Washington's architectural history needs thorough scholarly examination. Most Washington houses, whether rowhouse or single family residence, were built as part of real estate developments. James Hoban, often working in partnership with the house builder Pierce Purcell, was actively involved in designing and erecting speculative housing judging from his property transactions. Robert Mills also bought city lots, "improved" them and then sold them for a profit, presumably financing as well as designing pedestrian brick rowhouses. Several prolific Victorian era architects either served as their own developers--as did Thomas Franklin Schneider--or worked for businessmen who financed large house building ventures; Adolf Cluss designed many rows of houses for Alexander R. Shepherd, prominent Washington developer as well as political figure.

Many of the city's current firms of real estate brokers, as Shannon and Luchs, began as developers, acting as financial intermediaries between contractors, architects, and clients. Washington neighborhoods as desireable and diverse as Kalorama, Cleveland Park, Spring Valley, and American University Park were largely developed as real estate ventures. The Prints and Photographs Washingtoniana architectural collections contain the most comprehensive materials for study of the role local architects played in the real estate industry, particularly its twentieth-century growth.

Questions as diverse as overall development objectives to contemporary building materials and methods can be examined in detail using the Waggaman and Ray, Wood, Heaton, and Drayer archives. Two aspects of the city's domestic architectural history greatly facilitated by the existence of such extensive drawing collections are the evolution of designs due to architect-client consultations and the study of interiors. When architects maintain excellent records, as Waggaman and Ray did, surviving drawings of alternate designs presented to clients allow scholars to ask and perhaps answer questions about taste, the arrival and acceptance of new domestic amenities, and even attitudes about how to shelter automobiles. Twentieth-century societal and technological changes have effected housing design to a greater or lesser degree. Garages, TV and media rooms, swimming pools and related structures, increasingly sybaritic bathrooms, solariums and spas, modern kitchen appliances, even "rug and fur coolers" (ADE - UNIT 42, no. 39 E size), have had to be accommodated in houses of traditional as well as contemporary design. Access to most Washington interiors is difficult for scholars and many have been radically changed with original planning and decoration obliterated. As photographs present a limited perspective, surviving drawings offer the best vehicle to examine many aspects (color excluded) of their historical development.

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Government Sponsorship

Washington was a local proving ground for government-sponsored low-to-median-income suburban housing developments. Those modelled on socially and architecturally progressive prototypes that began in Europe, as the town of Greenbelt, Maryland, have been frequently studied, while the ones like Arthur B. Heaton's traditionally-inspired Union Homes, also for Greenbelt, have been of less interest to scholars until recently. Heaton designed the Union Homes in the 1940s for the Office of War Information as temporary houses, but their forms, details, and amenities are similar to much of the inexpensive catalogue and factory-built housing of the era. Comparisons within the typology between those inspired by European and those by American prototypes is a worthwhile study that could be undertaken utilizing the Library's collections alone. Which have endured the longest with the least amount of change and why? The outward appearance of lower, and even medium, cost houses undertaken by private developers is often not markedly different from public housing units; the differences lie within (see for example, Mihran Mesrobian's designs in 1932 for the D.C. Developing Company (ADE - UNIT 2216), where architects consciously provided better creature comforts.

 


George N. Ray, architect. Entrance and stair hall elevations, “Residence for Edward S. Perot,” 29th Street and Woodland Drive, N.W. (lot 808, square 2200), Washington, D.C. Sectional elevations
Arthur B. Heaton, architect. Night study, house for the Misses McEwen, 3324 Newark Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Perspective rendering. Graphite and watercolor on paper. 1906. ADE - UNIT 1050, no. 1 (A size).

Heaton's picturesquely composed Charles F. Denley House of 1927 has Colonial Revival clothing (ADE - UNIT 515), but a free-flowing, open interior comparable to a Frank Lloyd Wright house. His McEwen House of 1906 (ADE UNIT - 1050), located at 3324 Newark Street in Washington's Cleveland Park neighborhood, is recorded by a rare nighttime watercolor view (pl. 10.12). For the Clay Coss House of 1936 (ADE - UNIT 1039) in the Spring Valley neighborhood, Heaton attached the garage directly to the kitchen, a portent of future accommodations for the automobile. Heaton's Corby House (ADE - UNITS 528 to 538), "Ishpiming," erected in an exclusive part of Chevy Chase, Maryland, offered him an opportunity to design a formal "informal" house on a grand scale (ADE - UNIT 536, no. 30 E size).

Pattern-book houses are one of America's most venerable architectural traditions, apparently beginning in the early eighteenth-century with imported illustrated treatises but still viable today. Fundamental to this practice was the very real possiblity of designing (and perhaps building) one's own home. In 1921 the Own a Home Exposition Company with offices in Chicago and New York sponsored a competition entitled "Own Your Home Competition," in which architects were invited to provide designs for modest suburban homes in four categories established according to materials. Washington architect Louis Justement won first prizes for his four-room frame Colonial cottage as well as his house constructed with metal lath, back plaster and stucco (ADE - UNIT 2879, no 17 A size). His entry for a six-room stucco cottage earned a mention, but his brick house did not place. Justement's designs as well as many other competitors were copyrighted and seem to have formed the basis for a series of catalogue or factory-built houses destined for middle-class developments.

Washington had at least one mail-order house design business. Standard Homes Company published a series of books of designs from the 1920s through the 1950s, including editions of the Plan Book of Modern American Homes (1921; NA7127.S777), 101 American Homes (1921: NA7127.S755), Better Homes at Lower Cost (1926-30, NA7127.S775), Homes of Comfort at Low Cost, Homes of Today (ca. 1929, NA7127.S777), Homes of Brick and Stucco (ca. 1929; NA7127.S7764), and Standard Construction Details for Home Builders (ca. 1950, TH151.S66). Daniel Theodor Morgan (b. 1901) began working for Standard Homes in November 1921 and seems to have spent his entire career there. Morgan, with a formal education through the ninth grade, and a few classes in structural design at George Washington University in 1943 a job requirement for the war effort, was registered an an architect in Washington in 1951. Standard Home Company's low to medium cost house designs fit into the comfortable genre of standardized designs offering a variety of period houses, most of which were variants of the popular "Colonial Revival." By 1930 they began offering customized designs. (LC TH151.S66 and NA7127.S766 n. 7).

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Hugh Newell Jacobsen


Hugh Newell Jacobsen, architect. "Residence" for Dr. and Mrs. James L. Kahn,” Lima, Ohio. Axonometric projection
Hugh Newell Jacobsen, architect. "Residence" for Dr. and Mrs. James L. Kahn,” Lima, Ohio. Axonometric projection. Ink and graphite on acetate drafting film. 1981-1982. ADE - UNIT 2613, no. 21 (F size). .

The Prints and Photograph Division's twentieth-century architectural drawings are predominantly of historicist house designs because the vast majority of Washington and Washington-area houses are traditional. Not surprisingly the work of the city's premier modernist architect of the late 20th century, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, is fundamentally conservative in its essential tastefulness. Jacobsen's international reputation rests perhaps more on his series of beautiful houses, many in and near Washington, as on his public commissions. He approached each of his residential designs as an individual problem of site conditions, client lifestyle, and appropriate historical precedent; each is an example of consummate artistry where sensitive and sensible design are realized through superb building craftsmanship. Jacobsen's definition of houses as series of interconnected rooms with clear external volumetric expressions--a unit approach which he terms pavilions--also includes historical contextualism, as each is a fresh contemporary expression of an earlier American house type. Mansard roofs and bay windows of the James Newmyer House (ADE - UNIT 2609) of 1966 reflect not just forms associated with Victorian styles in Washington, but also their materials, high basements, and ordered asymmetry. At the same time, while Jacobsen's contemporaneous Trentman House (ADE - UNIT 2608) responds sensitively to its Georgetown streetscape, it is avowedly and unashamedly modern. By retaining but reordering and abstracting their essential geometries, Jacobsen's transformations of American rural farm house, updated in the Bryan House of 1987 in the Worthington Valley, Maryland (ADE - UNIT 2607) and vernacular forms such as the Cape Cod house redux in the John Drier House of 1977 in northwest Washington (ADE - UNIT 2602), or the modified "board-and-batten" vocabulary of his Kahn House in Lima, Ohio, of 1982, has transferred, without sentimental claptrap, their essential hominess into exciting contemporary idioms.23

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Cesar Pelli

While Jacobsen's work exemplifies a basically sensual approach to contemporary house design, a cerebral strategy is represented in the Library's collections by drawings of educator-architect Cesar Pelli. Tracking the gradual transformation of Pelli's conceptual sketches of suburban house projects exhibited at the Venice Biennale (ADE - UNIT 2370) in 1976, through their intermediate stage as the Long Gallery House design (ADE - UNIT 2373) offered for sale in 1980, to its concrete realization as the Maryland House (ADE - UNIT 2374) erected in 1985-1989 in suburban Montgomery County, is to undertake with the architect a journey of self-conscious historical inquiry. The recent interest among architects and the public at large in architectural history has led many contemporary architects to realize that their own place in history can only be correctly understood if drawings recording their complete design cycle are preserved intact. If published, as in Pelli's case, these drawings participate in the profession's ongoing theoretical-historical dialogue, influencing as well as having been influenced.24

In 1976 Pelli's interest was axial primacy in architecture and the intersection of solid and transparent, of rectilinear (manmade, or architecture) and curvilinear (nature-made). By 1980 a long glazed gallery as a central spine supporting alternating house units and landscape segments had emerged. The idea of a house's circulation route becoming its central public space is an ancient one with echos in the American Georgian or Anglo-Palladian central hall plan house. It is entirely appropriate that the Gewirz House with its simple geometric forms and strong colors was built in suburban Washington, a fitting accompaniment to the area's long tradition of historically connected houses in concert with nature.

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Tradition

The essentially conservative nature of the majority of Washington houses is rooted in the strong sense of American history that has always pervaded the city. The predominant style remains that of the city's founding era, permutations on the so-called "American Colonial" house. For at least the last two centuries a recurring theme for many American architects has been how to transform European historical prototypes to convey images that bespoke America. The issue was not just how to respond to different climatic and social conditions, but how to express contemporary perceptions of what the American house should look like. Although seventeenth and eighteenth century America was dotted with buildings representative of the colonists differing national traditions, from French Mississippi Valley poteaux-en-terre houses to Dutch stepped-gable brick rows in New York, Georgian houses from the English colonies emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the image of the generic "American" house.

The strength of the English Colonial tradition in Washington can partially be linked to the city's function as the national capital and partially to its location in the mid-Atlantic region. Sentimental or patriotic nostalgia about the Revolutionary era, the crucial roles played by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison (all owners of near-by English Colonial houses) in the city's founding, identification by many local residents (particularly government employees) with "American values," near-by sites of important Colonial houses, including Williamsburg and Annapolis: all have contributed to the sense among many twentieth-century Washingtonians that the archtypal Washington house should express "American" more strongly than elsewhere.

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Holdings Outside the Library of Congress

Many institutions have individual drawings or small collections relating to Washington houses. Nicholas King's 1798 drawing for Edward Langley's house on South Capitol Street is in the Joseph Downs Manuscript Collection of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum. R. Snowdon Andrew's perspective watercolor of the George Riggs House (1856) at 1617 I Street near Farragut Square is in the John Beverly Riggs Collection in Wilmington, Delaware. William Lovering's drawing for the Six Buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue, Thomas U. Walter's drawings for his own house and that for Alexander Ray, and Paul Cret's drawings for the Mary Stewart residence are in the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. The records of the Franklin Fire Insurance Company and the Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company, both preserved in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, frequently include plans, and occasionally elevation drawings, of Washington houses insured with them between the 1820s and 1890s.25

The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, has a George Hadfield drawing dated 1798 for an unidentified house, Carrère and Hastings drawings for the William R. Castle (1929-1931) and David A. Reed (1929-1930) houses, Charles A. Platt's drawings for the James Parmelee House (1912-1914), Ogden Codman's drawings for the Martha Codman House (1908-1910), Hoppin & Koen's George B. McClellan House (1922), and an unidentified house at 34th and O Streets NW (1939) by William Muschenheim. Montgomery C. Meigs's drawings for his own house on K Street and those by McKim, Mead, and White for several Washington houses are in the New York Historical Society; Meigs' sketches for many Washington houses are among his papers in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

The Berla Abel, Edward W. Donn, Jr., Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Keyes, Condon & Florence, and Chloethiel Woodward Smith collections in the Archives of the American Institute of Architects Archive all contain substantial materials relating to Washington's domestic architecture.

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Notes

1. Significant early books on Washington's domestic architecture include Mary S. Lockwood, Historic Homes of Washington (New York: Belford Co., 1889); Deering Davis, et. al., Georgetown Houses of the Federal Period (New York: Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1944); and Harold D. Eberlein and Cortlandt V. D. Hubbard, Historic Houses of Georgetown and Washington City (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1958). Recent scholarship includes Georgetown Residential Architecture-Northeast (Washington: Commission of Fine Arts and Historic American Buildings Survey, [1968]; Commission of Fine Arts, Massachusetts Avenue Architecture. 2 vols. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1973-1975); Sue A. Kohler and Jeffrey R. Carson. Sixteenth Street Architecture. 2 vols. (Washington: Commission of Fine Arts, 1978-88); and Kathryn Schneider Smith, ed. Washington at Home (Washington: Columbia Historical Society, 1988). Numerous destroyed Washington houses are illustrated and discussed by James M. Goode, Capital Losses. A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979) 3-158. back to text

2 Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, "Plans and Sections of the Proposed Continuation of the Washington Canal from Rock Creek to the Little Falls of the Potomac, Washington, D. C.," G3852 .W28 .G45 s07 .L3 Vault. Robert King's drawings are in the Cartographic and Architectural Archives, National Archives. back to text

3 Nancy B. Schwartz, comp. Historic American Buildings Survey. District of Columbia Catalog. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974). Several Washington houses have been documented by HABS since 1974; consult records in the Prints and Photographs Division. back to text

4 Alison K. Hoagland. "Nineteenth-Century Building Regulations in Washington, D.C." Records of the Columbia Historical Society 52 (1989) 57-77. back to text

5 Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 21 May 1793: 3. back to text

6 Allen C. Clark, "Daniel Carroll of Duddington," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 39 (1938): 22-3; the 1796 drawing for the "Seven Buildings," rowhouses erected by a consortium of developers, is in the Athenaeum of Philadelpia. back to text

7 Hadfield's drawing located at the Avery Architectural Library, Columbia University, was identified by its cataloger as "Commodore Porter's House" on Meridian Hill on no internal evidence. Hadfield's former student William Parker Eliot bought his drawings at an Orphan's Court auction of Hadfield's property on 16 February 1826; the location of Eliot's papers is unknown. National Archives, R.G. 21. back to text

8 Daniel Reiff, Washington Architecture 1791-1861 (Washington: Commission of Fine Arts, 1971): 70. William Strickland, H.R. 267, 28th Congress, 1st Session. "[T]he American plan of putting windows in the blank space of the frieze. . . . is purely an American improvement in the art of building, to get rid of a blank space which has always given a heavy appearance to the attic." Strickland was mistaken; the window metope was used during the Italian Renaissance, one example being the Villa Madama. Eighteenth century English and French examples abound. back to text

9 A.J. Davis Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. back to text

10 Orlando Rideout V., Building the Octagon (Washington: American Institute of Architects Press, 1989); Melissa McLoud, "Craftsmen and Entrepreneurs. Builders in Late Nineteenth-Century Washington, D. C.," Ph. D. thesis, George Washington University, 1988; District of Columbia Building permits began to be issued in 1877; those for houses (the vast majority of permits) sometimes include blueprints, plans, or especially plans for projections (which were technically over public land); Paul Kelsey Williams' house histories, done for private clients, are on deposit in the library of the Historical Society of Washington, D. C. back to text

11 See John W. Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984) and Reps, Washington on View. The Nation's Capital Since 1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991). back to text

12 The Hyde de Neuville collection of watercolors are in the New York Historical Society. back to text

13 The Köllner and Smith collections are in the Prints and Photographs Division; Meigs's drawings and sketches are scattered between the National Archives, Library of Congress, and Historical Society of Washington. back to text

14 See "Washington property" in Pamela Scott, ed. The Papers of Robert Mills 1781-1855 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1990): 170. back to text

15 Jeffrey A. Cohen, "Building a Discipline: Early Institutional Settings for Architectural Education in Philadelphia, 1804-1890," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 53 (June 1994): 139-183. back to text

16 See Tanya Beauchamp, "Adolph Cluss and the Building of the U. S. National Museum. An Architecture of Perfect Adaptability." M.A. thesis, University of Virginia, 1972; Margaret Gordon Davis, "James G. Hill, Victorian Architect, Washington, D.C." M.A. thesis, University of Virginia, 1981. Candace Reed's extensive research on Schneider is unpublished. [Thomas Franklin Schneider], Selections from the Work of T. F. Schneider, Architect, Washington, D.C. (Washington: Privately Printed, 1894). back to text

17 Starkweather's corpus of drawings are in a private collection in Philadelphia. Camden is discussed and illustrated in Mills Lane, Architecture of the Old South. Virginia (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984): 223-5. A full set of elevations and a perspective, in the possession of Camden's owners, Mr. & Mrs. Richard T. Pratt, are illustrated in William B. O'Neal, Architectural Drawing in Virginia, 1819-1969 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia School of Architecture, 1969): 76-9. back to text

18 Harvey L. Page, Houses of Moderate Cost (Washington: Gibson Bros., 1889). back to text

19 The Marlatt house drawings are discussed and illustrated in Sue A. Kohler and Jeffrey R. Carson, Sixteenth Street Architecture (Washington: Commission of Fine Arts, 1988) II: 332-363; George E. Thomas, William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Modern Design (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000). back to text

20 Anne E. Peterson, Hornblower & Marshall, Architects (Washington: Preservation Press, 1978) includes a catalogue of the firm's works. Much of the work of de Sibour, Totten, and Wyeth is presented in the four volumes on Massachusetts Avenue and Sixteenth Street compiled by the Commission of Fine Arts (see note 1). back to text

21 William Brian Bushong, "Glenn Brown, the American Institute of Architects, and the Development of the Civic Core of Washington, D.C." Ph.D. diss., George Washington University, 1988; Glenn Brown, "Domestic Architecture in Washington City," Engineering Magazine (January 1896): 434-460. Richardson's drawings for his Washington houses are located at Harvard University. James F. O'Gorman, Selected Drawings. H.H. Richardson and His Office (Cambridge: Harvard College Library, 1974). back to text

22 Charles Moore to Senator Simeon D. Fess, Vice Chairman, George Washington Bicentennial Commission, Report of the Commission of Fine Arts (1936), 74th Congress, 2d sess., S. Document No. 214, 70-71. back to text

23 Kevin W. Green, ed., Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Architect (Washington: American Institute of Architects Press, 1988). back to text

24 Mario Gandelsonas and John Pastier, Cesar Pelli. Buildings and Projects, 1965-1990 (New York: Rizzoli, 1990): 252-63. back to text

25 A detailed finding aid to the Franklin Fire Insurance Company and Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company records is currently being prepared. back to text


Last revised: 2005


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