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What Does the “Washington Post March” Have to Do With the Embassy of Peru?

By Stephen A. Hansen*

John Kelley’s June 14, 2014 article in the Washington Post (“Here’s the story behind Sousa’s famous ‘Washington Post March’”) marked the 125th anniversary of the first public performance of what might be considered the city’s very own anthem.

But, how does such an American and Washington, DC institution as that march have any relationship to the present day Embassy of Peru as well? Well, there is a connection.

Beriah Wilkins. photo--Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Beriah Wilkins. photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1889, Beriah Wilkins, a Civil War veteran and three-time congressman from Ohio, along with former Postmaster General Frank Hatton, purchased the Washington Post newspaper from Stilson Hutchins. Wilkins served as its editor until his death in 1905.

To promote the newspaper, Wilkins and Hatton asked the leader of the Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, to compose a march for the newspaper’s essay contest awards ceremony. Sousa composed “The Washington Post March,” which remains one of his best-known works. Wilkins bought out Hatton’s share of the newspaper in 1894 and eventually handed over management of the Post Publishing Company to his son John and placed his other son, Robert, in charge of one of the paper’s lesser important departments.

“Washington Post March” sheet music cover. photo--author's collection.

“Washington Post March” sheet music cover. photo–author’s collection.

In 1900, Wilkins built a house on a large, one-half acre lot at 1711 Massachusetts Avenue. It was designed by architect Appleton P. Clark, Jr. in the by then outdated French Colonial style, not the then in vogue Beaux Arts style. When it was completed, it was one of the largest homes in the city, boasting 35 rooms and 10 baths. Beriah Wilkins died in 1905, and his sons continued to run the paper for two more years before selling it to John Roll McLean, owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and future father-in-law to Evalyn Walsh McLean —- owner of the famous Hope Diamond.

Beriah Wilkins’ house at 1711 Massachusetts's collection.

Beriah Wilkins’ house at 1711 Massachusetts–author’s collection.

Three years after her husband’s death, Emily saw her chance to join the Beaux Arts-style architectural revolution that had overtaken the Dupont Circle neighborhood. She bought a corner lot at 1700 Massachusetts Avenue that was then occupied by Tibbett’s grocery store. It was the last “unimproved” corner on Massachusetts Avenue from Thomas Circle as far west as Sheridan Circle and, at the time, considered the best remaining building site in this section of the city. To make sure her new house, although not as large as the first, would be in the latest style, she contracted prominent local architect Jules Henri de Sibour to design it.

Emily Wilkins sold her old house to Senator Henry Algernon Du Pont of Delaware, who had been renting Alice Pike Barney’s house at 1626 Rhode Island Avenue, NW and was waiting for a choice piece of property in the neighborhood to open up. It was one of the largest residential sales made in years. As the furniture in it was custom-made for the house, it conveyed with the sale. It eventually became the FairmontJunior College and Preparatory School for Girls.

Unfortunately, Emily Wilkins died the same year her new house was completed, leaving it to her son John. Her other son, Robert, not only missed out on running the Washington Post, but also on any claims to the house. Emily’s funeral was held at the Church of the Covenant, once located at Connecticut Avenue and N Streets, NW. One of the pallbearers at her funeral was her architect, Jules Henry de Sibour.

Emily Wilkins' new home at 1701 Massachusetts Avenue. photo--Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division..

Emily Wilkins’ new home at 1700 Massachusetts Avenue. photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division..

John Wilkins and his wife, Julia, became very socially prominent and stayed in the Massachusetts Avenue house often during the winter seasons. John served as president of the Chevy Chase Club and as a member of the board of governors of the Metropolitan Club. John Wilkins died in the Massachusetts Avenue house in 1941.

After John Wilkins’s death, the house changed hands many times. In 1947, it became the Australian Embassy, and in 1973, it was purchased by the Republic of Peru for its embassy, which it remains today. So, there you have the connection of the “Washington Post March” with the Embassy of Peru.

Editor’s note: For more on Dupont Circle’s historic sites, the author’s forthcoming book, A History of Dupont Circle: Center of High Society in the Capital, will be highly informative;publication is scheduled for August 24, 2014.

*Stephen A. Hansen is an historic preservation specialist, Washington DC historian, author of several books and of the Virtual Architectural Archaeology blog.

© 2014 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Stephen A. Hansen. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.