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What the Bland Apartment Building Replaced at Massachusetts Avenue and 22nd Street, NW

By Paul Kelsey Williams*

When one travels a grand street such as Massachusetts Avenue west of Dupont Circle, one might be inclined to think that it was surely the central transportation route in and out of Dupont Circle, lined with huge mansions built over 100 years

ago. Old photographs, however, prove otherwise, as they show small sapling trees, construction railways, and a single lane, dirt-surfaced Massachusetts Avenue just northwest of Sheridan Circle–pictured not in the 1860s, but in 1911. These illustrate that this part of Washington was then still quite rural, where sportsmen often hunted small game. Today’s priciest real estate along the aenue and Embassy Row was then cut off from the rest of the city by the deep gorge of Rock Creek.

Yet, closer to Dupont Circle, large homes had been constructed on huge lots beginning in the 1880s, when the real estate speculation of the area was recognized. Logan Circle had been the address of choice prior to 1890, as health concerns stemming from the swampy bogs in the vicinity of Massachusetts Avenue kept builders at bay.

Between 1884 and 1885, Anastasia Patten purchased lots 10 through 15 at what is today the corner of 22nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue, where Florida Avenue intersects. On February 5, 1885, she obtained a Permit to Build for a grand brick residence on just one of the lots, No. 13, to be surrounded by a large yard and gardens.

Anastasia was a native of Ireland, as was her husband, Edmond Patten, both of whom had had made their way to California during the gold rush and were one of the fortunate ones to actually make a fortune there and in Nevada, mining the fields. He died shortly thereafter, and Mrs. Patten and her five daughters moved to Paris where the girls were educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart before returning to the United States and settling in Washington.

She listed architect Robert Isaac Fleming as responsible for her new home’s design. The house was built at the estimated cost of an impressive $70,000, when most large elegant town homes in rows cost about $5,000 to construct. Fleming had been appointed city engineer of Richmond following his service in the Civil War. He moved to Washington having no formal training, went on to become an architect for many of the city’s prominent families until his death in 1907. His son Robert V. Fleming followed in his father’s profession.

After moving into the house at 2122 Massachusetts Avenue, each of the daughters held their debuts in there. Unfortunately, their mother Anastasia Patten died in 1888, but the daughters carried on the fine tradition of society entertaining at the residence. They included Mary, Augusta, Josephine, Edythe, and Helen. Like all socially prominent families, their personal woes often spilled out in the society papers, and the public soon learned that the sisters did not approve of John M. Glover, who had married Augusta. She was both estranged from the family, and accused of inheriting more of the estate of their mother than the other sisters had received. The Patten sisters sold lots 14 and 15 to Isabel Anderson for the erection of the mansion at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue, today the headquarters and museum of the Society of the Cincinnati. At the time, they received the tidy sum of $93,000 for the two vacant lots.

Edythe married General Henry Clark Corbin in 1901, but the other sisters never married and remained at 2122 Massachusetts Avenue until the 1940s. They entertained many elite Washingtonians, including the Theodore Roosevelts, at their well-known Sunday parties. They added a tennis court to the grounds in 1913.

Josephine Patten died in 1945, and just a year later, the remaining sisters sold the house to Jerry Maiatico for a paltry $165,000. It stood vacant until it was torn down beginning in November of 1947. Apparently, a spectacular blue and amber Venetian glass chandelier was sold to an Evanston, Illinois restaurant owner, and the other furnishings were auctioned off. An article in the December 26, 1947 Washington Daily News revealed a few interesting interior facts about the house, and the efforts it took to actually tear down the structure:

“The massive beauty of the old house is still visible — walls and ceilings of the downstairs rooms were paneled in oak or mahogany. Stained glass panels were in almost every window. A huge stairway with a beautifully carved balustrade twisted through the center of the house clear to the fourth floor. Wreckers have been working on the old house for nearly three weeks and scarcely have made a dent in it.”

The house and its still large landscaped grounds were replaced in 1970 by the erection of the State House Apartments in 1970.

Editor’s Note: *The writer, an historic preservation specialist and historian, is the president of Kelsey & Associates in Washington, DC and Baltimore. As we were preparing for the June issue, he was visiting historic sites in China and so was not available to submit a new article. This, then, has afforded us the opportunity to re-publish from the May 2001 issue, now slightly edited,  this especially informative article which we believe will be of broad interest to our readers