In the October 2018 Issue
Putting D.C. on the Map
The Meridian Is the Invisible Line That Runs Through Washington
by Molly McCluskey
If you stand at Jefferson’s feet in the memorial built to honor him and turn your gaze north across the Tidal Basin toward the White House, you might not know it, but your gaze is following the path of one of Washington’s four prime meridians — a circle of constant longitude passing through a given place between the earth’s surface and its terrestrial poles. The well-known prime meridian, for example, is an imaginary line that runs between the North and South Poles and divides the earth into two hemispheres. In D.C., this particular meridian was used by Americans as a starting point for mapping the continent.
It’s invisible and unknown to anyone not looking for it, but for those who seek it out, the signs are there. Between the Jefferson Memorial and the glimpse of the White House visible through the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin, for example, three spots — the Jefferson Pier, the Meridian Stone and the Zero Milestone marker — all mark the way.
It’s easy to overlook this invisible line in an area so enshrouded in history that even the sidewalks have been stamped with it. Further up 16th Street, however, the line makes it presence known, in landmarks named after it: Meridian Hill Park, a number of apartment buildings and co-ops and, of course, the Meridian House, headquarters of the Meridian International Center.
In the September 2018 Issue
The Capitol Alternative
Swiss Embassy Builds Roots at Historic Single Oak Site at Dumbarton
by Molly McCluskey
The story of the Swiss property in Washington begins, as so many great stories begin, with a tree.
It’s an ancient tree, planted long before there was a Swiss Embassy in Washington, or even a legation, before there was a neighborhood along the street where the Swiss Embassy and residence now lie — before there was even a street. It dates back so far that, before there was a Washington, D.C., that tree sat on a swath of land that was known as the Rock of Dumbarton.
The Rock of Dumbarton (as in Dumbarton House, Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, Dumbarton Bridge, etc.) was a tract of 795 acres deeded to Scotsman Ninian Beall in 1703. Beall was a particularly tall man with flaming red hair, exiled after being captured at the Battle of Dunbar and is widely regarded as the founder of Georgetown. (Some people contend that Dumbarton should be spelled Dunbarton, because Dunbar was the town where Beall and other Scottish soldiers were imprisoned by the British, so it’s likely he named the area Dun-barton as a wry reference to his capture.)
In the June 2018 Issue
Upscale D.C. Properties Flex Their Muscle with High-End Fitness Facilities
by Stephanie Kanowitz
With almost 16,000 residential units under construction in the nation’s capital as of August 2017, according to the Washington DC Economic Partnership’s 2017-18 DC Development Report, developers are looking to flex their competitive muscles. For many, that means offering fitness facilities that go above and beyond the traditionally cramped room stocked with a treadmill and a few weights.
Condos, particularly new construction, are touting onsite gyms with top-of-the-line equipment such as Peloton bikes, yoga and spin studios, lap pools and group exercise classes to attract well-heeled residents with high expectations. What’s more, gone are the days of relegating exercise areas to a building’s basement. These amenities are front and center, with plenty of windows offering natural light and great views of the city.
In the December 2015 Issue
Local Real Estate Sales Moving at Brisk Pace
by Stephanie Kanowitz
The Washington metropolitan area is a hopping real estate market. Even when the nation’s economy tanked in recent years, along with home prices, analysts say the region emerged relatively unscathed, compared to other big-city markets, thanks in part to the fact that the U.S. government, the biggest employer in these parts, never goes out of business.
New statistics from real estate giant TTR Sotheby’s International Realty show that the D.C. residential market continues to chug along at an impressive clip. The total sold dollar volume here increased 7.3 percent and the median sold price increased 4.6 percent during the third quarter of 2015. Fairfax County, Va., leads the region in overall sales, which rose by 12.5 percent to $6.4 billion through September.
Even in this relatively durable market, however, there were some fluctuations. The historic D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown saw a dip in sales of 4.3 percent, with homes sitting on the market longer. But other places saw big movement, including up-and-coming Logan Circle, with the average number of days that properties sat on the market decreasing steadily. The picture was more mixed for places like Maryland’s affluent Montgomery County and Alexandria, Va., where sales increased but, conversely, homes were slower to offload.
In the September 2015 Issue
The Il Palazzo Saga
After Years of Hold-Ups, Plans For Ex-Italian Embassy Move Forward
by Lauren Hodges
The Italian Embassy at 2700 16th St., NW, is a vision in neo-Renaissance style. Even surrounded by dust, weeds and dented construction signs, the vacant terra cotta building, called Il Palazzo, manages to retain its dignity, its dimension and its limestone detail. The word “cancelleria” (Italian for “chancellery”) is engraved over a doorway and ornate carvings adorn the aged gray walls. Proud black light fixtures flank the entrance and finely spaced corbels jut from beneath the Mediterranean-tiled roof.
But for many Adams Morgan residents, the prominent site has long been a questionable work-in-progress, as well as a fixture of frustration, since it was slated to become the neighborhood’s newest luxury apartment building. That was almost 10 years ago.
In May 2010, the Washington Business Journal reported that Valor Development had purchased the storied 35,000-square-foot mansion from Embassy Real Estate for $7.5 million with plans to convert it into condos. At that point, the Italian Embassy had been settled into its new location on Whitehaven Street, NW, for nearly a decade. And Il Palazzo, which was built in 1925 and designed by Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, had since been designated as a historic landmark.
In the June 2015 Issue
Building a Global City
Architecture of Nation’s Capital Reflects International Influences
by Stephanie Kanowitz
The United States is often referred to as a melting pot because of the mix of cultures and languages that coexist here. And in many ways, the nation’s capital exemplifies that amalgam. Sure, there’s the obvious variety of races and religions, but the story of America, of Washington, D.C., is told in subtler ways, too.
Like the faces of the people who inhabit the nation’s capital, the architecture of the buildings here reflects a history rooted in international relations.
“In a way, it’s sort of the distillation of America and in some ways it is very unlike any place else in America,” said G. Martin Moeller Jr., senior curator at the National Building Museum.
Foreign flair has touched D.C. from the start. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French-born architect, designed the city’s layout in 1791. He developed a Baroque plan with ceremonial spaces and grand radial avenues, resulting in the intersecting diagonal avenues superimposed over a grid that we know today, according to the National Park Service. “The avenues radiated from the two most significant building sites that were to be occupied by houses for Congress and the President,” NPS added.
In the March 2015 Issue
LEEDing the Way
Eco-Friendly Finnish Embassy Goes Green — and Platinum
by Molly McCluskey
The decision for the Finnish Embassy to go green originated less in eco-friendly idealism than it did in hard-nosed pragmatism, when in 2000, a maintenance manager sought ways to cut down on the embassy’s high energy costs.
“We already had a very good building, but we had very high bills for energy and water consumption,” said Finnish Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde. “And as our manager started replacing old bulbs with more energy-efficient ones, he was starting to look at our cooling system and especially our warming systems, but also water faucets, etc., to see how we could be more energy efficient.”
In the end, the sleek architectural landmark along Observatory Circle not only become more energy efficient, but also stood out as a model of sustainable design among Washington’s embassies.
In the September 2014 Issue
Planning Commission Wants Chanceries Out of D.C. Residential Areas
by Martin Austermuhle
Kalorama is a tony neighborhood sandwiched between Connecticut and Massachusetts Avenues in Northwest Washington, a bucolic residential getaway boasting beautiful homes — and its fair share of embassies and ambassador residences.
That high concentration of diplomatic representation in a small neighborhood — there are some 60 offices or chanceries in five square blocks — has aggravated some neighbors and prompted a rewrite of the regulations governing where foreign missions can establish their permanent presence in the nation’s capital. It also points to a change in how and where embassies are located, pushing them out of traditional diplomatic enclaves like Embassy Row.
At its July meeting, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the federal agency that plays a role in determining development patterns in Washington, approved a change to the rule that allows countries to open embassies in residential areas.
In the June 2014 Issue
New Book Chronicles Illustrious British Residence
by Anna Gawel
It seems almost blasphemous to compare the British Residence, whose stately halls have welcomed everyone from royalty to rock stars, to a workhorse. But Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S., says this haven of refinement on Massachusetts Avenue was “built to do a job” — elevating Anglo-American relations — and it has done that job admirably.
“Here we are in a house that is built for purpose. It’s not like most of the other great embassies, of which there are a number in the city, which were houses that were built by somebody else … for their own purposes and then bought by governments. This was built to do the job,” Westmacott told a group of journalists May 6 at the unveiling of “The Architecture of Diplomacy: The British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington,” a new coffee-table book chronicling the mission’s history and design.
Canadian Embassy Marks 25 Years of Being at Center of U.S. Relations
by Sarah Alaoui
Centrally located on Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and the Capitol, and only a stone’s throw away from the National Gallery of Art and Newseum, the Embassy of Canada in D.C. has seen its fair share of serious business and glitzy fun. The grand property that once contained a Ford dealership and public library now houses the diplomatic mission of America’s crucial northern ally. The embassy, so far the only foreign mission to be so close to the U.S. Capitol powerhouse, is gearing up to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its building this summer.
“There is an urban myth that Canada was given our prime location at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue for our help in the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 hostage crisis,” said Christine Constantin, the embassy’s spokeswoman. “As you can see from the dates, this was not in fact the case.”
In the April 2014 Issue
Designing a Dream
Washington’s Seventh Annual Home Makeover Builds on Its Success
by Stephanie Kanowitz
How do you make a dream house even dreamier? Make it a DC Design House. As part of the seventh annual event, which raises money for Children’s National Medical Center, some of the area’s best designers renovate every nook and cranny of some of Washington’s finest living spaces. This year’s makeover is being done on an almost 8,000-square-foot stone colonial from 1929 formerly owned by Marshall B. Coyne, founder of the Madison Hotel, which is now the Loews Madison.
“This year’s house had a great history, with 60 years in the same family, and how amazing it is to have the DC Design House at Marshall Coyne’s home … which was filled with his [art and history] collections,” said Susan Hayes Long, chairwoman and corporate board member for DC Design House. “We love a home with local history, mystery or something unique.”
In the March 2014 Issue
India, Oman Buy Real Estate To Expand Cultural Presence
by Martin Austermuhle
In 2005, a U.S. State Department advisory committee issued a report on the value of using culture in the practice of diplomacy. “Cultural diplomacy is the linchpin of public diplomacy; for it is in cultural activities that a nation’s idea of itself is best represented,” offered the report.
Many foreign embassies in Washington already knew that. Cultural programming has been a mainstay of D.C.’s diplomatic community for years (much of it dutifully covered in the pages of The Washington Diplomat). Washingtonians regularly flock to the embassies of Argentina, Austria, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden and other nations for hundreds of exhibits, performances, discussions and other events throughout the year. Mexico has its own prized cultural institute on 16th Street, and Spain recently opened its own cultural space in the former ambassador’s residence.
Two other countries are getting in on the act and have taken initial steps to establish or expand their cultural presences in the nation’s capital.
In the September 2013 Issue
Diplomatic House Hunt
Embassies Need Extra Direction To Navigate D.C. Real Estate Market
by Stephanie Kanowitz
When the Embassy of Kazakhstan wanted to buy a new residence for the ambassador, the buyers decided on a three-story $5.5 million neoclassical home in Northwest, near Embassy Row and the vice president’s mansion. The large entertaining space fit their wish list, but the process of finding it took close to five years and lots of close work with a local realtor.
Working with a real estate agent is crucial for diplomatic property deals, said Connie Carter, a top realtor at Washington Fine Properties and the one who worked with former Ambassador Erlan Idrissov to find the new residence at 2910 Edgevale Terrace, NW. (Idrissov is now Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, and Kairat Umarov has been the country’s ambassador to the United States since January of this year.) Carter said there are three main issues for any country shopping for property.
The first is the timing of the ambassador versus the state of the property, including how long it will take for the deal to go through and whether the home will need remodeling or renovations, she said.
“There’s the country that’s purchasing it and then there’s the personal needs of the ambassador overseeing the purchase and those sometimes are in conflict,” Carter told The Diplomat. “A current ambassador is usually not willing to be the one who has to oversee the work, and so that gets in the way.”
In the June 2013 Issue
Ready, Set, Decorate
Upscale Property Becomes Home to Creative Laboratory of Design
by Stephanie Kanowitz
The brand new, 14,000-square-foot house in D.C.’s Wesley Heights neighborhood already had plenty going for it: five stories with eight bedrooms, eight full bathrooms and four half-baths on a lot situated minutes from Georgetown. Then 24 of the area’s best interior designers descended on it and turned it into a haven of modern technology mixed with comfort and livability.
“It turned out to be a strong house with a variety of design styles,” said Susan Hayes Long, DC Design House’s executive committee chairwoman, describing it as “fresh, organic, livable.”
The sixth annual DC Design House raised more than $200,000 for Children’s National Medical Center, bringing the total dollar amount raised for the center to more than $1 million over the last six years.
Moving with the Times
D.C. Streetcars Resurrect Bygone Era of Transportation
by Martin Austermuhle
For a century streetcars crisscrossed Washington, D.C., ferrying residents, visitors and commuters from as far away as Cabin John, Md., and parts of Virginia to locations in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Mount Pleasant, Capitol Hill, and the Navy Yard. By the time World War I began, more than 200 miles of streetcar tracks existed in the region, with 100 of those in D.C. alone.
But by 1963, that extensive network ceased to exist. Pressured by the ever-expanding use of the personal automobile and largely replaced by the more cost-effective public bus, the D.C. Board of Commissioners and Congress opted to tear up its tracks and sell off its streetcars. To date, the only reminder that streetcars ever ran in D.C. are small segments of rail tracks maintained for posterity’s sake along two residential roads in Georgetown.
Now, though, D.C. officials are looking back as a means to move forward.
In the April 2013 Issue
Green with Envy
‘Diplomatic Gardens’ Offers Lush Look At Privileged Backyards of Ambassadors
by Audrey Hoffer
Soon another glorious spring in the nation’s capital will break forth. Then the city will be in full bloom, and waves of people will flood the streets to enjoy the color, imbibe the fragrance, and bask in the botanical beauty of Washington, D.C.
There are also many magnificent private gardens behind the residence walls of the ambassadors who call Washington home. Now, thanks to the imagination and keen eyes of a local couple, everyone can take a peek behind those walls with a coffee-table book laden with color photographs of these private gardens.
“Diplomatic Gardens of Washington,” a photography book by Ann Stevens, with accompanying text written by her husband Giles Kelly, is an exclusive glimpse at the stunning personal backyards of ambassadors. The horticultural photography book, released last year, features historical anecdotes and details about a dozen residences, ranging from Australia to France to South Korea.
In the March 2013 Issue
Apt to Please
Luxury Flats Make Washington D.C. Comeback
Not that long ago, the U Street neighborhood was a whorl of dilapidated shops, the odd famous fast-food place, and lots of low-rise, low-rent apartment blocks.
Today, towering glass edifices rise from city blocks that used to be occupied by strip malls — towering, at least by the standards of D.C., where buildings are subject to height restrictions (see “Tall Ambitions: Officials Eye Curtailing D.C.’s Height Restrictions” in the September 2012 issue). Doormen sit behind desks inside buildings where residents work out on treadmills, sip complimentary coffee, or play video games on the X-Box in the communal lounge.
In U Street, the H Street Corridor, Penn Quarter, Columbia Heights and so many other D.C. neighborhoods, luxury is now spelled luuuxery as developers build pricey apartments and condos targeting, in many cases, young professionals like lawyers and lobbyists — anyone who earns a sizeable income and doesn’t have a large, school-age family. Many of these new units, while upscale, are relatively small — two bedrooms, tops — and the city’s public schools still have a long way to go to catch up to the quality education offered in neighboring Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
In the December 2012 Issue
More Than a Mall
In Tysons Redevelopment Plans, Officials Cut ‘Corner,’ Not Corners
Tysons Corner in Virginia is synonymous with many things these days, few of them positive. There are the Beltway snarls caused by seemingly never-ending construction to accommodate a new Metro line. There is the absolute need for a car, even to go a couple of blocks for lunch. And there’s the facelessness of an urban environment defined by high-rise buildings, two huge shopping malls, offices, thousands of parking spaces, and roads, roads, roads.
Tysons Corner is seen as a place that people come to briefly, for work or some upscale shopping, before heading home to pleasanter places, usually somewhere else.
In the September 2012 Issue
Officials Eye Curtailing D.C.’s Height Restrictions
If political ambitions in D.C. run high, the buildings do not. The city’s iconic skyline is dotted with historic monuments and plenty of blue sky — thanks to strict height restrictions that have kept the city from building up. But with little room left to build out, critics say residents and businesses are getting shortchanged by the dearth of tall buildings in the U.S. capital.
So officials and ordinary citizens in Washington are once again mulling whether a law passed in the 19th century and amended in 1910 that limits the height of most city buildings to 130 feet (40 meters) should be relaxed.
In the June 2012 Issue
Extreme Mall Makeover
White Flint Redevelopment Aims To Bring European Style to Suburbia
by Veronika Oleksyn
The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Madrid’s Plaza de Santa Ana. The Piazza Navona in Rome.
Not really what comes to mind when you think of American shopping centers.
But if all goes according to plan, Maryland’s White Flint Mall, an aging concrete complex off congested Rockville Pike, could soon resemble these European landmarks. At least a little.
A sweeping redevelopment proposal for the 34-year-old institution envisions a mix of stores, residences, outdoor cafés and even a promenade in place of a strip of sidewalk where pedestrians currently fear being run over.
In the April 2012 Issue
Design with Heart
Redecorating for a Good Cause In DC Design House Challenge
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Redesigning a house in six weeks is a challenge. Add to it that the house is more than 10,000 square feet and 23 of its rooms and spaces will each be remodeled by a different designer, and it sounds like pure chaos. But it’s more like controlled madness, if you ask the decorators involved in the fifth annual DC Design House, which benefits Children’s National Medical Center.
“It’s a significant challenge, but it will be fun,” Lorna Gross, owner of Savant Interior Design in Bethesda, Md., said of the annual design showcase and fundraiser.
This year’s house is a seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom estate in Spring Valley that was built in 1956 for media magnates Francisco and Gladys Aguirre. Francisco Aguirre, a native of Nicaragua, was an international consultant and a co-founder of the Diario Las Americas newspaper, still run by the family in Miami.
In the March 2012 Issue
Established and Eclectic
Two of D.C.’s Most Established Neighborhoods Also Its Most Eclectic
story and photos by Dave Seminara
Two of Washington’s most iconic, distinctive neighborhoods also couldn’t be any more different from one another, though they share an enduring appeal that continues to evolve and redefine D.C living.
On one side, couples browse posh furniture boutiques for antiques or stroll along canal paths on lazy Saturday afternoons. Several blocks — and a world — away, thumping dive bars and immigrant-owned eateries attract hipsters on raucous Saturday nights. But these scenes only speak to one side of these multifaceted, well-established yet surprisingly eclectic neighborhoods.
In the September 2011 Issue
Quarter of Change
After Years of Revitalization, Penn Quarter’s Personality Shines
by Jacob Comenetz
At the symbolically significant halfway point between the White House and Congress, located on two hillocks above the Potomac marshland, Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s original plan for the city of Washington envisioned a national cathedral, or pantheon to American heroes, to be constructed on a low ridge of dry land at the intersection of 8th and F Streets, NW.
But in 1836, the technology-obsessed young nation began building a more practical, worldly structure on that spot. A massive granite monument to American ingenuity, the U.S. Patent Office, towered above the modest two- and three-story brick buildings that rose around it. Together with the General Post Office building across F Street, where construction began in 1839, it anchored the neighborhood of government workers, merchants and laborers who lived and worked in the core of the nascent capital city.
Civil War Heroes Immortalized Along Circles of Embassy Row
by David Tobenkin
While 150 years have passed since the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in the waters off Charleston, South Carolina, sparked the Civil War, many of the Union’s leading generals can still be seen walking or riding the streets of Washington, D.C. A surprising number of bronze and stone memorials to American military heroes can be found along Massachusetts Avenue, NW, ensconced among the foreign embassies, chanceries and ambassadorial residences of Embassy Row.
Many of the top Union brass, alas, are located elsewhere: Their commander in chief, Abraham Lincoln, is honored elsewhere throughout the city, most notably at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.
In the June 2011 Issue
Tale of Two Circles
Dupont and Logan Become Centerpieces of D.C. Change
by Jacob Comenetz
To get a sense of the dramatic changes in demography and development that have swept Washington, D.C., over the past decade, one can hardly do better than take a stroll up 14th Street, NW, from Thomas Circle to U Street.
Along this route, the backbone of “mid-city” Washington, lies a diverse stretch of buildings and businesses, young and old, newly refurbished and under construction, unequaled in the District. The people one is likely to encounter along 14th Street, too, represent the changing face of D.C. today.
That Washington is rapidily changing is readily apparent to anyone who’s lived here in just the last few years alone. The 2010 Census data, released in late March, confirmed what one can tell from walking down the street: D.C. is getting younger, more populous, and more diverse. What was once known as “Chocolate City” is on the verge of losing its black majority.
In the April 2011 Issue
Despite Downturn, High-End D.C. Real Estate Holding Up Quite Well
by Stephanie Kanowitz
Borrowing a cup of sugar could get a whole lot more interesting if the vice president were your neighbor — assuming you could get past the Secret Service officers. For the first time in 50 years, the property next door to the VP’s official residence on Observatory Circle is for sale. Asking price: $7.2 million.
That buys you not only bragging rights to 3400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, but your own piece of history. The 7,128-foot house was built in 1926 by Christian Heurich, who owned a brewery in Foggy Bottom. Later purchased by Dr. Marshall Parks, the father of pediatric ophthalmology and a founder of Children’s National Medical Center, the house was visited by the previous two popes.
Rebirth at Water’s Edge
Deluge of Development Changing Fortunes on Banks of Anacostia River
by Luke Jerod Kummer
In some cases, the revitalization of the District has been the story of a rising tide lifting all boats, but for other long-neglected neighborhoods, a better metaphor might involve the bursting of a dam.
Only a decade ago, the area to the west of the Washington Navy Yard was a dried-up, post-industrial ghost town. But these days, a spate of construction projects is breathing new life along the banks of the Anacostia River as part of an ambitious residential and commercial venture called the Capitol Riverfront — which is transforming the area’s historic structures while trying to preserve the original industrial spirit that buoyed the neighborhood during the Navy Yard’s heyday.