Monday, February 2, 2015

John Russell Pope's Morton house for sale

I recently discovered that the Levi Morton house (1912) by John Russell Pope in my old neighborhood in Washington, DC, was for sale. For about a decade I lived a block away from this stunning mansion at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue, NW and always admired it.
For the past 75 years the National Coatings Association has been the (excellent) caretaker of this historic structure which has housed a former Vice President, a Russian ambassador, and even Alexander Graham Bell.
If you are familiar with a map of Washington, the regular grid of streets is broken by a number of Avenues which meet at traffic circles;  this creates some odd triangular building sites. The Morton house is within one of these odd shaped lots which explains the strange angles in the first floorplan above.
The gracious porte cochere sits on the north side of the property on Rhode Island Avenue. Pope cleverly used the irregular slanted front facade for service spaces, situating larger and more important rooms around the more regular square facades. In 1912 these rooms faced gardens which are now (partially) parking lots.
The odd service wing in the floorplan which included storage and servant apartments either was never built or was torn down at one point for more parking. I always wondered if the stucco part of the building which you see to the left of the photo above was original and apparently it was. It looks different than the elevation drawing earlier in this post and rather like an after thought. It houses the original dining room and butler's pantry.
The  (west) side facade above is the most prominent as it faces Scott Circle and affords beautiful views.
As with many parts of the city the area has changed significantly since 1912 and this mansion is surrounded mostly by large apartment buildings and hotels which you get a sense of in the above photograph or on google streetviews.
This existing house was an extensive renovation to an older red brick Victorian structure dating from 1879 designed by John Fraser, a well-known Philadelphian architect. The interior was completely redone by Pope in a Classical style which included this stunning staircase which includes Levi Morton's monogram.
The original fixtures are all extant and included with the sale offered by Lucia Wadeson of Cresa Corporate Real Estate. I can imagine this becoming rather grand condo's with a significant addition or ideally an embassy (Cuba?).
 Images are not my own: B&W Photographs and drawings from the book "Mastering Tradition" by author James Garrison and color images from this article in the Washington Business Journal.


Hels said...

The staircase is indeed stunning. And not just because of the impressive iron work inside the banisters. I think the shape is impressive because each flight is so long and flowing.

Parnassus said...

I hope the purchaser will keep the house more or less intact. Too often subdivision results in destruction of the original circulation patterns, which seem particularly interesting here. This seems a unique solution to the odd lot shape, but I wonder whether people sometimes felt like they were using the service entrance.

John Russel Pope designed Calhoun College (whose pre-history I once wrote about), so I was lucky to be able to live in a Pope-designed building for several years. His great ability was integrating impressive individual buildings within an overall grand and uplifting large-scale plan.

Karena Albert said...

So good to see that this historic home has been so well preserved. The staircase is stunning!

The Arts by Karena

Ann said...

We just went skiing with some DC friends. I have to admit, I was just telling them how much your blog makes me want to real estalk that city! This is another great one. It would be nice to see it as an embassy. Even though it would keep the building, there's something that makes me a bit sad when I see these things divided into condos. But again, far better than losing the property!!

Nancy {at} powellbrower at home said...

Another DC beauty among so many. Thanks for the lesson and sharing this beauty. I hope it stays a grand home and not a condo. Xo Nancy

Nancy {at} powellbrower at home said...

So lovely and speaks of the fabulous treasures in DC. We have it all right here! Xo Nancy

Marcus Langford said...

I've never seen this building before. You have inspired me to want to drive by it and take it all in.