D.C.’s Heurich House brews up Victorian-style mystery

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It looks just like one of the many mansions where Scooby-Doo and the gang solved mysteries. An empty knight’s suit even sits in the corner of the foyer.

Unlike most mansions in the cartoon, Heurich House isn’t surrounded by fog or a moat. Instead, this mountainous, gray sandstone structure — which once welcomed guests in carriages beneath its gargoyle-engraved porte cochere — sits about a block from the Dupont Circle Metro Station and serves as a museum.

The homeowner, Christian Heurich, operated one of the most successful breweries in the District and was once the city’s largest non-government employer. With his sizable fortune, Heurich commissioned the construction of his 11,600 square-foot home (which became known as the Brewmaster's Castle) in 1892.

His dimly lit foyer tells of his success and his dedication to entertaining guests.

Frescoes adorn the ceiling, and every inch of wood in the room is dedicated to creating a larger design. A decorative street lamp with a story of its own sits at the base of the two-toned marble stairs. The lamp was part of the Chicago World Fair in 1893, and after seeing it, Heurich requested one for his home.

This suit of armor stands sentry in the Heurich House entry hall.

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This suit of armor stands sentry in the Heurich House entry hall. more >

The lamp, just like the rest of his house, could run on gas or electricity.

“The technology in the house was really state of the art for its time,” said Rachel Jerome, the museum’s assistant director. “It was built with central heat, and fully electrified, which was really early for D.C. But even little things in the house were state of the art, like a self cleaning sink and a central vacuum system.”

The house also has speaking tubes that connected the kitchen to the upstairs rooms for easier communication between the Heuriches and the servants, an elevator shaft and an alarm system.

However, the oaken carvings in the dining room alone were about as expensive as a whole new house, Heurich used to say.

Wooden table legs featuring exquisitely carved roaring lions, a massive nickel-plated bronze chandelier and plush chairs bearing the initials CH etched into them all belong to a different time — one without Pier 1 Imports or HomeGoods.

Only one item seems out of out of place in the polished dining room — a frowning ceramic doll named Michael that stares at guests with paint-chipped eyes from its spot on the mantle. Heurich’s wife never wanted an unlucky number seated around her table, so she kept Michael close by and pulled up a chair for him whenever 13 people came to dinner.

The castle contains 15 fireplaces, all with one-of-a-kind cast-iron firebacks. The fireback in the foyer is a cast of Elihu Vedder’s “The Sun God,” but the most impressive belongs to the library. When illuminated by a flashlight, one can see that the fireback bears the head of a lion.

None of these beautiful fireplaces were ever used. Heurich knew the devastation that fires could cause from having lost his breweries to fires three times. Thus he set out to build the city’s first fireproof home, a fact he proudly aired with a finial of a salamander and flames atop the tower at the front of his house. (According to mythology, salamanders had the ability to extinguish flames.)

Like many Victorians, Heurich assigned a gender to each of the mansion’s 31 rooms.

The feminine rooms, such as the sitting room near the foyer where Heurich’s wife liked to entertain, display light yellow and green couches, curtains and paint; murals of angels on the ceilings; four feet of detailed, gold-painted plaster moulding and accents of gold everywhere.

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