Wednesday, October 10, 2012

National Park Seminary tour

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating historic housetour at National Park Seminary with my friend Maxine who I have mentioned a few times before. She's lucky enough to live in this unique neighborhood and invited me to join her!
The seminary, located at the northern tip of Rock Creek Park outside of Silver Spring, has a long history, many uses and owners, and now has been redeveloped as a condominium and townhouse community (more on that later). 
The site started as an estate but in the 1880s a resort was built here, high in the hills above Washington DC, so that people could escape the heat of the city. You can see the original inn below.
The resort was a failure due to difficulty in reaching the site and an economic recession at the time.
It was soon bought by a couple in the 1890s who started an exclusive girl's school on the site which remained for many years until being requisitioned by the army as auxiliary hospital space.  These odd structures you see here were club houses and out-buildings which, similar to the Columbian Exposition in 1893 were meant to educate the girls on different cultures; expose them to things they hadn't seen before. Pretty cool, huh?
They are all now private houses or still for sale by the developer who has given new life to the Seminary.
There has been a lot of negative feedback, many believing the developers have disregarded the detailing and history of the building.  They claim the developer turned the main building into a generic suburban condominimum.  Given the high cost of renovations, I forgive them this offense as the exterior restoration has been impeccable.  Many of the interior details have been retained, as you will see later in this post. This is a HUGE undertaking and I applaud their efforts -certainly better than wrack and ruin, no?
You can see the disrepair the campus had fallen into above in some of the un-renovated parts of the property (which are still available for sale); Serious, gross neglect on the part of the army.
Above you can see how the developers funded much of this work by turning some of the open land into townhouses detailed similarly to many of the more unique buildings.
My friend Maxine lives in one of these new townhouses which are nicely finished.  In this group above, you can see how they copied details from existing buildings (the dilapidated buildings in the center).
The main building, as I said earlier, is an enormous structure added onto over the years. The main inn remains the nucleus which the girl's school extended somewhat randomly in Victorian fashion. Above you can see the grand ballroom to the left which was surrounded by dorm rooms.
On the opposite side of the inn were mechanical and service spaces connected to the main building with this enclosed bridge.
Greek temples adjacent to French chateaus next to Tudor revival - it's quirky and fabulous.
Can you imagine something like this being built today?
To the left of the drive here is the "American Cottage" which a young family is currently renovating to suit their needs.
The stone work throughout is really nicely detailed and restored;  Original sculptures dot the grounds.
The Grecian temple you see behind the main building is attached in rambling fashion (of course) and now houses 2 apartments that I would die to see!
Near the mechanical spaces is this 'colonial house' below which is available. In better shape than some of the abandoned buildings you can see it still needs a thorough renovation! What a fun project this would be.
This stairhall below is on the first floor just off the porch, the center fan topped french doors is a coved living room following the shape of the transom. On the opposite side is a large kitchen and the main entrance.  Still quite a bit of the original building left to save.
The proceeds of the tour were to fund rehabilitation of the statuary.
This lead lion is hollow (who painted these yellow??).
This Indian is in far better shape.
This bronze sculpture is really lovely.
The aloha building (more apartments) has semi-caryatids surrounding the porch.
While much of the interior doesn't follow the original plans, details such as staircases, paneling, and fireplaces have been saved (even if they sometimes make no sense in the new layout).
This carved stone plaque below was in the 'president's mansion' entryway in an enormous inglenook. The house is now split into 12 generously sized apartments!
Wonder what it's like to live in one of these converted structures?
One of the first to be snapped up was the chapel; separate from the main building but attached by walkways.
The bulk of the interior is open living space with a corner filled-in with a mezzanine office over a master bedroom suite.
A truly unique space although maybe a bit too much 'church' was kept for my personal tastes.
The altar makes a perfect spot for the grand piano.
Remember the ballroom I mentioned earlier? It seemed like a fitting way to close.
Originally the upper levels were all dorm rooms (now they are apartments and storage spaces).
These plaster brackets are in perfect condition. The stone fireplace at the far end has sadly been painted but is still gorgeous.
So tell me, what do you think of this development? Would you live here?


Anonymous said...

The best tour!

I would live there. I do!

It was great to see you Stefan. Caryatids?...who knows stuff like that.


bill k said...

Quirky indeed. I mean no disrespect when I say that the exteriors look rather like the grounds of an amusement park! What fun! :) Love the ballroom.

Ann said...

What an amazing place! I've never been there and I love all the architectural styles at work. The details are stunning, your friend is very lucky. Something truly sweet and lovely about the colonial house, I can only imagine it brought back to life. And have to add, love the bentwood rockers in the last shot, my favorite reading spot here at home. :)

Parnassus said...

There are so many defunct campuses around, not only schools, but also old hospitals, sanitariums, prisons, etc. These are usually visually interesting aside from their history, but they are hard to redevelop, so most simply decay until they are razed.

This one seems to embrace the Early Disneyland style, which makes for a lot of fun, and the eclecticism seems especially appropriate for the D.C. area.
--Road to Parnassus

Kerry Steele- Design du Monde said...

I think it is really wonderful that the entire thing was not bulldozed for a mind-numbing endless series of identical structures. I would love to live there.

Michael Hampton said...


This is so cool. I had no idea this even existed. Personally, I could move right into La Maison Chinoise! Maybe it's for sale. Lets plan a day of architecture next time I'm in DC. Thanks for the great post.



Blue said...

This makes me wish, and it's not often I feel this way, that I'd like to buy there. The ballroom would be stunning as a livingroom - a room minimally furnished so space and volume could be appreciated for themselves. Beautiful!

Mark D. Ruffner said...

Hi, Stefan - Thanks for a grand tour of such a fun area. Quirky seems to be the word here, but it's great that all this is being lovingly preserved. I know from my own city that historic preservation is in an endless battle against developers whose only vision is profit, so this is all very refreshing. I'd live in the Greek temple, of course!

Karena said...

Stefan than you for a wonderful tour. what a delightful village; even though the designs ran a muck,it is still better than seeing Stepford homes.

I love that I always learn something new from your detailed posts!

Art by Karena

Anonymous said...

This looks like lots of fun! Bravo to the developer for preserving the chatacter,or 'genius of the place'

Another wonderful architetural tour, Stefan, you are the best!

Pigtown*Design said...

is the place you can sort of see from the beltway? it's fabulous.

Sanity Fair said...

What a crazy, amazing place! I've never head of this before - it's a bit of world tour right here in D.C. What a fantasy design. I'm going to have to go see this in person.

Michael said...

The console table at Noir and the Gunn stools get my vote!
I'd been away from blogging for a bit too long and I'm glad to see you're still posting great stuff, Stefan.

Janet said...

Oh, I am so happy to see this. The place was in such horrible shape, and was in danger of imploding. I'd love to see it now. . . I went by years ago to walk around and it was pretty dangerous in some places, with rotting wood stairs, walls collapsing, etc.

Ellen Eanet said...

Loved your comments on the S.O.S.National Park Seminary House Tour. We hope you will join us for the 2013 tour.
NPS is indeed, a magical campus.

Anonymous said...

I lived in swiss chalet next to pagoda from 6'4-70' was an amazing place with lots of hiding places and catacombs for kids to run around in:)