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upper rotunda facade – McCormick Apartments – Washington DC – 2013-09-15
Image by Tim Evanson
Looking northeast at the fifth floor rotunda facade 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 Beaux Arts exterior is almost unchanged since its construction.
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.
Morrison residence – Castlecrag, NSW – 1966
Image by MidCentArc
"Space, light, and a view of water or bushland from every room were some of architect Maurice Morrison’s aims when he designed this three-level home for his family on a rocky site at Castlecrag, N.S.W. Even the bathroom in the Morrison house has a lovely view – a pyramid-shaped skylight above the handbasin reflects the outside scenery. The 30-square (3000 sq ft) house is basically simple in design, with each level in the form of a rectangle, connected by a spiral staircase made mainly of camphor laurel. The well of the staircase is lined with green Italian glass tiles injected with gold, and begins its spiral climb in a glass-walled, circular entrance hall. Cantilevered out from a bush-covered cliff, the top floor forms the main living area. Virtually one rectangular room, about 50 feet long by 14 feet wide, it contains an open kitchen, backed by a laundry and a flagged terrace, and dining and sitting areas extending through sliding glass doors to a roofed deck. Three bed- rooms, bathroom, and a smaller, more formal, sitting-room make up the first floor, which is also rectangular and is built at right angles to the upper floor. Supported by slender steel columns set into a rocky shelf, it seems to be made almost entirely of glass, framed with white painted aluminum. All the bedrooms open on to a glass-walled gallery overlooking the harbor. At ground-floor level is the entrance hall, a car park, and an outdoor living area. A second spiral staircase leads to a basement playroom, with a perspex window giving a view of swimmers in the pool."
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