Kalorama Community – Washington DC


Most people, less familiar with the District, believe the most exclusive neighborhood in Washington is Georgetown.

However, it is actually Kalorama that rightfully claims ownership of this distinction. While the community is not gated or otherwise secured, residents who live here are the wealthiest, most private and most elite of the city. Most denizens find their names annually printed in Washington’s “Green Book,” the social register of D.C. Kalorama is actually divided into two separate communities. Kalorama Triangle, which is the more urban and Sheridan-Kalorama, which is more residential. However, both areas sprung from the same source – the original estate from which the dual communities received part of their names.

The story of Kalorama begins in 1795, when a man by the name of Gustavus Scott, purchased land from the Holmead family (who also owned a large estate called “Pleasant Plains” in the neighborhood now known as Columbia Heights.) Scott constructed a large, classically-styled house, which he named Belair, at 23rd and S streets. In 1807, Scott sold the property to Joel Barlow, a noted poet of the time, who renamed the estate Kalorama. Kalorama, which means “fine view” in Greek, did possess an extraordinary view of its surrounding areas, set atop rolling hills. He commissioned architect Benjamin Latrobe, best known for his design of the White House, to enlarge the house and add to its design. Barlow lived on the property until shortly before his death in 1812. Throughout this period, prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Robert Fulton frequented the estate. Fulton demonstrated his torpedoes and steamships to members of Congress at the estate’s millpond.

This original Kalorama residence was destroyed during the Civil War after the Union Army chose the site as a smallpox hospital. Then, in 1887, the District government leveled the entire estate to extend S Street. During this time, massive development occurred throughout Washington and Kalorama was subdivided for sale and use.

Additionally, in 1893, Congress ordered an expansion of Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for the city. As Kalorama had lain outside of L’Enfant’s original design, the neighborhood had remained rural. By the turn of the century, this would change as two distinct Kalorama neighborhoods-within-one-neighborhood developed.

Sheridan-Kalorama

During the 1880’s, widespread row house construction permeated the city. However, the Sheridan area of Kalorama was virtually untouched. It still remained essentially rural with dirt roads, chases and gentle hills. But, as Washington demanded new housing, Kalorama opened up for both development and speculation. The first concentration of speculative row houses in this area illustrates the growth of the neighborhood and its metamorphosis into an extension of a city growing in population. The earliest construction took place closest to Connecticut Avenue. Rows of houses along S Street, Bancroft Place, Leroy Place and Wyoming Avenue contributed to the construction craze. The houses from 2107-2115 S Street and 2111-2121 Bancroft Place, with their rough-hewn stonework, round-arched openings, picturesque towers and corner turrets constructed in the Romanesque Style, were identical to those that were popular and permeated the adjacent Dupont Circle neighborhood

But, not all of the new constructs were speculative based. The mansions that began to inundate the neighborhood were private, commissioned works, designed by the top architects of Washington. By 1887, the price of land in Kalorama had tripled. These residences, many with ballrooms, grand staircases, attached garages and chauffer/servants quarters marked the area. Nearly all retained the defining element of a piano nobile – or “noble floor” – which places the main public floor on the second level of the home. The homes showcased the neighborhood’s wealth.

Properties, such as 2145 Decatur Place, were U shaped and set off far from the street. And, the mansion known as The Linders, caused mouths in the District to gape. Primarily due to the fact that it was originally built in Danvers, Massachusetts in 1754. The house was then subsequently moved to Kalorama, piece-by-piece in 1935. Afterwards, it was rebuilt under the guidance of Walter Macomber, a noted Washington architect. Apartment buildings also sprouted in the neighborhood that were incomparable to other DC multi-unit dwellings. The Highland Apartments on Connecticut Avenue included public ballrooms, dining rooms and garage space for tenants. This was the lap of luxury in apartment living. By 1910, the neighborhood was established as the most exclusive of Washington.

But the rolling twenties rolled on and the Great Depression loomed. During this period, the Sheridan district of Kalorama lost its luster. The economy forced sales of homes throughout the area. And, these great mansions and estates were snatched up for a song. Most of them by foreign governments. The area on Massachusetts Avenue, from Scott Circle to Sheridan Circle, which had been called “Millionaire’s Row” quickly changed its moniker and became known as “Embassy Row.” In 1928, the government of Egypt bought a Renaissance Revival mansion on Sheridan Circle and started a trend. This would continue post World War II, when nations began to compete with each other over building and retaining the most impressive residences. They did so in order to represent their significance in the capital of the new superpower. It was actually the presence of the diplomatic community that allowed the high degree of social and economic stability to remain in the neighborhood while other sections of the District fell into decline.

To this day the Sheridan area of Kalorama remains one of the most affluent and sought-out pool of addresses in Washington. Five presidents have made the neighborhood their home. William Taft (2215 Wyoming Avenue), Warren Harding (2314 Wyoming Avenue), Herbert Hoover (2300 S Street), Franklin Roosevelt (2131 R Street) and Woodrow Wilson (2340 S Street.) Wilson’s former home is now a museum that honors the late president. And, its not just presidents that have sought out the Sheridan-Kalorama community. Ted Kennedy, Diane Feinstein and Donald Rumsfeld have all been neighbors. So many of the who’s-who of Washington elite have lived in the area, and, this is unlikely to change anytime soon..

Kalorama Triangle

The more urban side of the neighborhood, known as Kalorama Triangle, is an important illustration of the aesthetics of middle-class speculative housing during the early 20th century. Both grand architecture and modest homes create blocks of residences that are some of the most sought-after in the city. Although the Sheridan section of the neighborhood is more residential by nature, it was the Triangle area that developed housing both first and faster. This was due to the construction of two bridges (the Duke Ellington and Taft) and the fact that two major streetcar lines were closer to its proximity. It is this section of Kalorama that is more comparable to its northern (Woodley Park) and southern (Dupont Circle) neighbors.

It also is an area that experimented with architectural design. The result is a tapestry woven of myriad styles. The first house that was built, following the division of Kalorama land, was in 1893 at 2317 Ashmead Place. Designed by the owner, Thomas Fuller, it is an important representation of the influence of the English Arts and Crafts Movement on residential properties in the United States. By the end of the nineteenth century, Arts and Crafts ideals had influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics, illustration, domestic design and the decorative arts. Anti-industrial, the movement stood for simple forms and often applied medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. (The “Prairie School” of Frank Lloyd Wright is an example of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.)

Fuller’s house was followed, in 1898, by a man named Walter Peter who changed the great vision of architecture and erected a Georgian Revival (also known as Colonial Revival) manse at 1842 Mintwood Place. In 1901, an Alex Miller did the same at 1901 Biltmore Street. This style was a nationalistic movement in the United States, which sought to revive elements of a broader movement in the arts. In the early 1890’s Americans began to value their own heritage and architecture. Particularly after the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 reawakened Americans to their colonial past. These homes were characterized by window openings, hung in adjacent pairs or in triple combinations rather than as single windows, side porches or sunrooms and multiple columned porches and doors with fanlights and sidelights.

In 1911, yet another architectural style arrived on the scene at 1850 and 1852 Biltmore Street. Designed and built by W. Granville, these two homes showcased a Mediterranean bent, which had begun to be seen around the neighborhood. This style evolved from renewed interest in the Italian Renaissance palaces and seaside villas dating from the sixteenth century. Balconies became common, generally made of wrought iron or wood. The homes’ ornamentation were simple or dramatic but all incorporated Mediterranean influences. Soon, the Triangle community displayed Arts and Crafts styled estates, Colonial Revival homes, Victorian townhouses and Mediterranean Influenced mansions throughout the neighborhood.

In the modern era, Kalorama has sought out its past. Nearly all of the 350 houses have been refurbished to resemble the original properties as the neighborhood has sought to promote its history. In fact, new development has gone retro as well. Kalorama Place, a grand condominium complex, was designed to echo the early 20th century architectural themes of the neighborhood. The building, which took the stead of the former Rock Creek Hotel – a relic from wartime Washington – was hailed by many for keeping the roots of Kalorama in tact.

Kalorama is one of the most pleasant and charming neighborhoods of Washington. It is stuffed with mansions, embassies, chanceries, schools and other private residences. A neighborhood landmark is its version of the Spanish Steps. These steps were built at the turn of the 20th century, as the neighborhood developed, when planners faced an issue with elevation at 22nd and S streets. The steep hillside was impractical to build a road (without destroying buildings on either side) and a ramp would have been difficult for carriages and automobiles to traverse. Instead, streets were graded from above and below and a set of dual steps were inserted for pedestrian use. The steps are separated by a lions-head fountain, which was designed and constructed by the District’s Municipal Office of Public Works in 1911.

Although, Kalorama is primarily residential, it does not lack in convenience and variety. Restaurants cater to different tastes and styles. Bistros, boutiques and bars line the part of Connecticut Avenue contained in Kalorama. Veritas is noted for its wine selection. Couscous Cafe is a great place to grab a quick bite. Bistro du Coin is a local favorite. And, a quick, five-minute walk down Connecticut Avenue yields all of the treats and varieties of Dupont Circle eateries. Likewise, Adams Morgan is adjacent to Kalorama and offers a plethora of dining choices. Also, both Woodley Park and Dupont Circle metro stations service the Kalorama neighborhood. That means ease in traveling about town.

Housing in Kalorama is still some of the most expensive in the city The median single home is valued at $2,780,000 and a condominium rests north of $600k. But, Kalorama is worth it. It is a neighborhood which is both stately and sophisticated. The quiet streets do not reflect its proximity to downtown. Rather, it is peaceful. It is a community with active citizens who keep their neighborhood beautiful and let their neighbors enjoy their personal space.

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