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By | September 17, 2017

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lower mezzanine servants quarters – 5th floor – Mellon Building – Washington DC – 2013-09-15
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Image by Tim Evanson
Looking north along the lower mezzanine servants’ quarters on the fifth floor (old Andrew Mellon apartment) floor of the McCormick Apartments at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., in the United States. The structure is also known as the Andrew Mellon Building, for one of its most famous tenants. The flooring and moldings are all original to the building. The room at the end of the hall would have been the shared bathroom. The family corridor is to the left.

The structure was built by Stanley McCormick, heir to the International Harvester fortune. McCormick was mentally ill, however, and the building was largely built to the specifications of his wife, Katherine Dexter McCormick. The apartments were designed by Jules Henri de Sibour in the Beaux-Arts style common to the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Construction began in 1915 and was complete in 1917.

The building was designed to accommodate the very wealthy, as were most of the mansions and apartment buildings in the Dupont Circle neighborhood and north along Massachusetts Avenue NW. The plot of land was trapezoidal, posing some challenges to the typical symmetrical, boxy mansion design. De Sibor designed the entrance (on the northwest corner of 18th Street and Massachusetts Avenue) to pentrate the building in a northeasterly direction. Here, a circular tower formed the corner of the building and created a circular receiving area where visitors could shake off water-logged coats, remove galoshes, and alert the concierge as to whom they were visiting. Three short steps led into a small, square foyer where the concierge had a desk. From here, one could take the elevator up or take the winding staircase to the upper floors.

Because of the reception and foyer areas on the ground floor, the first floor was divided into two smaller apartments. The apartment to the left of the lobby was nearly identical in arrangement to that of the units above, but the one to the right was radically different in order to add baths, kitchen, bedrooms, and servants’ quarters.

Each of the upper floors occupied an entire floor. The core of the building contained the staircase and elevator. Around this was wrapped the servants hall, kitchen, and servants’ quarters. On the exterior of the building was the family living space. The facade facing the alley that ran along the east side and southeast corner of the building was undecorated. A narrow, unfinished rectangular courtyard pierced the building here to provide light to the servants’ quarters and servants’ hall.

The huge living room and somewhat smaller dining room ran the length of the building along Massachusetts Avenue NW. Behind the dining room (along the southeast corner alley) was the kitchen, and further back was the servants’ hall (which served as a servants’ dining room). Three foyers — right, left, and ahead — bracketed the elevator and stairwell, providing plenty of buffer space to keep visitors out of the apartment until they were wanted.

Along quieter 18th Street was a salon, two small bedrooms (with a shared bath), and a large bedroom (which occupied the brightly lit corner). Three small bedrooms ran along P Street NW. There were three bathrooms here, each shared by the bedroom next to it. These essentially created a long corridor on the P Street wall through which family members or guests could visit one another in states of undress without using the hallway. A public corridor ran along the inner wall of these bedrooms.

The inner core of the building consisted of a mezzanine set below the floor. The servants’ hall, kitchen, dining room, living room, salon, bedrooms, foyers, and public corridors all had 14.5 foot high ceilings. The servants quarters were remarkably smaller, each just 10 feet wide and 15 feet long with only enough room for a twin bed and an upright wardrobe. All five servants’ rooms shared a single bath. Ceilings here were just eight feet. Interestingly, the top floor had TWO mezzanines — the normal one below, as well as one above. This gave the top floor apartment space for as many as 10 live-in servants.

The building offered many amenities: A central boiler system that provided both heat in winter and circulated cool water through the radiators in summer (to help cool things off); a central vaccum system (plug the hose into the wall, and use); refrigerated tap water; and laundry chutes. Each apartment had its own washing machines and drying racks in the basement.

The building had numerous famous residents. They included Stanley McCormick and his daughter, Katherine McCormick Judge, who lived here from 1917 to 1930 and from 1930 to 1933. Robert Wood Bliss, a State Department official, lived here from 1920 to 1923. He moved out to become ambassador to Sweden, and upon his return to the U.S. purchased the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Georgetown. (It is now a national historic site and museum housing his extensive collection of pre-Columbian and Byzantine art.) William Butterworth, president of John Deere, lived here from 1930 to 1931 when he was president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Alanson B. Houghton, the former president of the Corning Glass Works, lived here from 1930 to 1934, as did Thomas Fortune Ryan (the onwer of the Belgian Congo diamond fields and an American robber-baron) from 1920 to 1922. Pearl Mesta, "the hostess with the mostest", lived here from 1931 to 1932. Her dinner parties and cocktail receptions were considered the most lavish and delightful of Washington society for half a century. Industrialist and banker Andrew Mellon also lived here from 1921 to 1932 while he served as Secretary of the Treasury to Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Mellon occupied the top floor. Most tenants paid a whopping ,000 a month to live there. (That’s 5,000 in 2013 dollars!) Mellon paid ,000 a month. For a few months in 1936, Lord Joseph Duveen rented the apartment below Mellon’s and placed 42 valuable oil paintings there for Mellon to look at. Mellon, an avid art collector, was expanding his collection to form the nucleus of what he hoped would be a National Gallery of Art. Duveen hired a caretaker for the temporary gallery, and gave Mellon access (day or night). After some months, Mellon purchased nearly all of the paintings Duveen offered.

The Great Depression led to widespread vacancies in the building during the 1930s. It was largely empty by 1940. In 1941, the building was seized by the federal government and turned into offices. The British Purchasing Commission (which obtained ships, guns, and ammunition from the U.S. during the Lend-Lease period prior to WWII) used it from 1941 to 1942, followed by the British Air Commission in 1948 and the Commonwealth Scientific Office in 1949. It stood empty for two years. Stanley McCormick died in 1950, and under the terms of his will the building was donated to the American Council on Education. The council used it until 1969. It was sold to the Brookings Institution (which is next door) in January 1970. Brookings rented out to a wide range of scientific, educational, and lobbying organizations. It was sold to the National Trust for Historic Preservation on October 28, 1976 — at which point it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

In late June 2013, the National Trust sold the building to the American Enterprise Institute (a right-wing think tank) for .5 million. The Trust moved into leased space on the top two floors of the Watergate Office Building. The National Trust holds a permanent historic preservation easement that protects both the interior and exterior of the Mellon Building.

Edmondson residence – Mildred Street, Warrawee, Sydney, NSW – 1965
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Image by MidCentArc
Architect: Terry Edmondson

"The best houses belong to their surroundings. Design and site are as one – one doesn’t impose on, or dominate, the other. Everything makes complete sense. And so it is with a house that architect Terry Edmondson designed for his own family in 1965.

Edmondson liked the idea of the house “hugging the ground, fitting into the slope of the land”, and excavated two separate levels to achieve that. It’s always bothered him, he says, that houses face the street “and put important things on street side no matter what the orientation is”. In this case, the block faces south west, which Edmondson saw as an opportunity – at a time when few were thinking of such things – he designed the house to turn its back to the street, keeping out hot summer sun and westerly winds, and remaining completely private.

From the garden side, though, there’s a lovely openness to it with its banks of windows, and yet it’s a design (made up of the original sixties house with a later addition, also by Edmondson) that still manages to retain enough privacy and sense of discovery to remain architecturally interesting by cleverly interlocking spaces.

The L-shaped design maximises the northern sun to the principal rooms to the rear of the original house that contains the kitchen, laundry, study, living room (with fireplace) and dining room on one arm of the L, with three bedrooms and bathroom, reached via a stairway from the kitchen, on the other. The later addition, tucked in beyond the dining room and continuing the long arm of the L, is made up of winter sitting room, main bedroom and ensuite. Almost all rooms in the house look out over the well-established garden, with a brick-paved covered terrace opening from the living room.

Some time before Edmondson designed the house, he had visited Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in Wisconsin, and, with its floating roof planes and broad eaves, it’s possible to see echoes of the American architect’s work in the Warrawee house. Edmondson’s colleagues were such architects as Bruce Rickard, Ian McKay and Philip Cox, and, at the time, they were all working with similar materials and ideas.

In this case, the materials are essentially western red cedar and sandstock brick, used externally and internally to great effect. Giving some idea of the architect’s attention to detail, Edmondson particularly liked those that had been placed close to the fire holes in the kiln, and would make regular trips to a brickyard in St Leonards to hand-pick suitable ones. “They were all stockpiled before we started laying them – I’d intermix them with commons on site.”

And it is the attention to detail, as much as the overall design, that makes this house so appealing. Edmondson designed the built-in furniture and lighting; those in the soffits; the light around the skylight in the dining room; the inset low-lights in the bedroom corridor. There is also wonderful detailing in the asymmetric structure of the fireplace, the brickwork of the small stair, and the positioning of windows to capture framed views of the exterior.

With only three owners since Edmondson and his family lived there, thankfully, virtually everything in this beautifully understated house is still intact. It is one that stands quietly but head and shoulders alongside some of the finest examples of mid-century architecture in the Wahroonga, Warrawee and Turramurra area."

Realtor Photos

All images are for educational purposes and are under copyright of creators and owners.

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