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Annual Dupont Circle House Tour to Feature Variety of Houses & Condos, Historic Belmont Mansion to Host Tea; Cavanaugh Sculpture Tour to be Special Feature

 Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the October 2018 issue pdf

By Gordon Alt & Karol Stanley*

This year’s 51st annual Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) house tour taking place on the afternoon of Sunday, October 21st will feature architectural gems and late 19th and early 20th century houses and apartments, including the finest remaining Beaux Arts residence in Washington. The tour will also include modern masterpieces and brilliant conversions and will also offer opportunities to enjoy several historic and contemporary interiors and art collections, as well as a private gallery visit.

Dupont Circle remains the high point of urban transformation with many upper-end restaurants, coffee houses, shops and galleries. It also has many award winning residences, embassies and important historic sites, including mansions built for America’s first families who came to Washington to open the “season’s premier balls”. This year’s tea will take place in the Perry Belmont mansion, notably the finest preserved of these treasures, with stunning interiors and a significant collection. It is a wonderful place to take a biscuit or cucumber sandwich with our afternoon tea as you take a break from the tour. It will also feature a stunning bust of Cavanaugh’s Esther, who was one of the five points on the Eastern Star, and who represented honor and fidelity.

This year’s self-guided tour will include 13 sites, covering an area from Dupont Circle to T Street NW, and include intermittent sites on Swann and Corcoran streets. Along with site locations, the tour map will include parallel notes that show the locations of sculpture by nationally-recognized sculptor John Cavanaugh, whose home and studio was in the neighborhood, and who has almost two-dozen public sculptures in Washington alone.

If architecture is frozen music, surely The Perry Belmont mansion is one of the greatest symphonies ever composed. It has anchored a prominent location just east of Dupont Circle for over a century, a testament to the quality of its construction and to the dedicated stewardship of its owners. It is possibly the finest, intact example of a Beaux Arts-style mansion in the District. The exterior decoration is reminiscent of 15th and 16th century French château architecture, and its most prominent feature is the grand upper floor, capped with a copper-trimmed slate roof, accented with magnificent stone urns and finials. The history, architecture, and priceless décor is unparalleled, and we can imagine no finer place to nibble cucumber sandwiches or sample pastry and imbibe a restorative cup of tea between visiting the many other historic homes open to you on the tour this year. The House Tour’s afternoon tea will be held in the State Dining Room between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.

[Editor’s note: In our October 2008 story authored by Joel Lawson, then DCCA’s president, he wrote that the mansion, “b]uilt between 1906 and 1909 at the then-extravagant cost of $1.5 million, and designed by a famous French architect who had designed many grand homes and chateaus in Europe . . . includes many of its original furnishings; Tiffany vases, 37 oil paintings, Louis XIV and Louis XV furniture, china and oriental rugs are still on display. All the marble in the house was brought from Italy, all of the carved wood from Germany, and all the metal fixtures from France. Chandeliers throughout are gold gilt and hung with hand-carved rock crystal drops, some with amethyst as well.”]

This three-story Victorian end row house refuses to stay in her lane architecturally. The original parlor and dining room with gilded settees and antique Victrola are elegance unperturbed by time. But pass through these rooms and emerge, a century later, to a glass addition that displays a kitchen so sleek it might be an edgeless pool. Other portals lead on to a dazzling red tile shower room, a calm and cozy den nested in a glassy corner from which to view the neighbors, and a third-floor master suite featuring an industrial styled and sized bathroom set comfortably into an 1890’s bay window.

The Sagamore, built in 1905, retains much of its age-old charm with the lobby’s marble walls and the oak balustrades of the staircase. Featured on the tour will be a fourth-floor unit that is flooded with natural light and warmed with personal art, rugs, and mementos collected during the owner’s many years of international travel for both work and pleasure.

Finding construction money after the 1968 riots in DC was next to impossible. With steely resolve and 49 attempts later, the owners were able to secure funding with a local bank in Dupont Circle. They tore down a Civil War-era derelict wood-frame house and created a modern town home full of light and space that blends in well with the now-renovated neighborhood. An abundance of art, including African masks, pottery from the Middle East, and oriental rugs adorn the house and beautifully reflect the family’s worldwide travel destinations.

A special highlight of the tour this year will be the work of John Cavanaugh within the Dupont area with locations of the works to be flagged on the tour map. Cavanaugh was a very successful ceramic sculptor in Ohio after graduating from Ohio State University. He received several awards including a Ford Foundation Prize and a full scholarship and exhibit at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. After arriving in NYC in 1957, he obtained studio space in the important Sculpture Center then in Manhattan, where he was able to exhibit annually from the 1960’s through the 1970’s. Here he was recognized for his unique control in creating hammered lead sculpture. American Artist Magazine called him the “Master of Hammered Lead Sculpture.”

When his partner, architect Philip Froeder, came to Washington, Cavanaugh followed. Here they began to acquire abandoned and diminished buildings in Dupont Circle to restore, and Cavanaugh began placing hammered lead reliefs on several of these projects. When they completed one of their largest projects at 1801-03 Swann Street in 1977, The Washington Star weekend magazine featured them as some of the few individuals who were crucial in beginning the recovery of Dupont Circle before banks would even loan to the area. A friend suggested that Cavanaugh read Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past for inspiration, since the Charles Swann was the primary character.

Cavanaugh created seven hammered lead reliefs, one for each of the books in the “Remembrance” on Swann Street. He also took the corner commercial space as his studio/gallery until his death in 1985.

The tour map will show the Cavanaugh Sculpture Garden installed in 2017 on the grounds of the Women’s National Democratic Club on Q Street and New Hampshire Ave. It contains four sculptures featuring the four periods of a woman’s’ life, from youth to old age. The map also recognizes other Cavanaugh work throughout the neighborhood, including the Proust inspired panels on Swann Street. This year’s tour will explore the many sides of our Dupont Circle Neighborhood.

Among the many sides of the neighborhood in recent time has been 19th Street resident John Harvey’s informal Saturday antiques and collectibles sale in his front yard just south of S Street. On the day of the tour he will be set up in the front yard of the house on the northeast corner of 19th and S Streets.

Also on the tour is the early 20th century neoclassical manor once owned by DC socialite Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson. Now comprised of 92 short-term, fully furnished luxury apartments, the Ampeer Dupont Circle is inviting all tour participants to relax in the Ampeer’s ballroom and sip gently-priced cocktails in the private bar beginning at 3 p.m.

*Gordon Alt, a Dupont Circle resident, is the executive director of the Cavanaugh Foundation. Karol Stanley is serving as chair of the house tour planning committee.


How to Obtain Tickets & Self-Guide Booklets

Tickets — which include entry to the traditionally sumptuous tea — are available in advance for $40 ($50 on day of the tour). To purchase online, visit On the day of the tour, starting at 11 a.m., both tickets and booklets will be available at the Dupont Circle Resource Center located in the small brick building immediately west of the Circle at Mass. Ave. & 20th St.


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