- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

All the headlines, high prices and history that come to mind when one thinks of Georgetown neglect the fact that the tiny hamlet, first and foremost, is a community.
It's one that's eager to open its doors to strangers, at least for one weekend each year. The 2002 Georgetown House Tour will give visitors an extended peek at 12 homes in the famed District neighborhood.
The tour, which runs April 27 and 28 to raise funds for local charities, lets visitors peruse six houses each day. The samples reflect the area's history and its stubbornly classic sense of style.
Georgetown resident Frida Burling, the tour's chairwoman emeritus and a fountain of local lore, says the tour is the oldest of its kind in the country, dating back to the early 1920s.
Mrs. Burling says the original tour's asking price was $1, and a horse and carriage brought visitors from one select home to another if the distance was too great. This month's visitors will pay $30 for one day or $50 for both. This year's tour, she says, is arranged so people can walk from house to house.
The selected homes are split up into the community's east and west sides, and each has its own docent.
Last year's tour drew roughly 1,500 visitors. Organizers expect similar numbers this year, and Georgetown resident Jean Rainey promises a whole new show.
"We try not to repeat anything more often than once every three years," says Mrs. Rainey, who organizes publicity for the tour.
That isn't a problem, typically, because the community often has a steady influx of new owners on whom to draw, but it also can rely on existing neighbors eager to display a major renovation project or two. Mrs. Burling says she used to tap her considerable network of friends for potential homes to be viewed, but now people come to her.
"When they get a new house," Mrs. Burling says, "I figure they'd be proud to show it off, and they are."
The tour will raise money for outreach programs coordinated by St. John's Episcopal Church at 3240 O St. NW, including charities such as So Others Might Eat and the Georgetown Ministry Center.
Past tours have included several homes by Georgetown architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, who in addition to his Georgetown commissions designed a home for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Martha's Vineyard. This year, only one of Mr. Jacobsen's houses is included on the tour. The house, on O Street on the west side of Georgetown, was formed by combining a two-story house with a three-story house. It sports a spiral staircase, a common Jacobsen touch.
Guests receive a program giving details about the homes along with a map to guide their visits.
Some homeowners offer views of just some of their floors. Others open up their entire homes and gardens.
In recent years, homeowners have shied away from elegance in their decor and concentrated instead on more eclectic flourishes. Mrs. Burling cites a home with a Caribbean theme and immense green plants enlivening the interiors that was the hit of a recent tour.

Today's Georgetown houses typically sport large, inviting kitchens.
"The people want big, fancy, eating-in kitchens," Mrs. Burling says. Other style trends include large, upscale bathrooms and pools, a challenge given the small land parcels upon which many houses sit.
She marvels at the kaleidoscope of homes on nearly every block, from expansive houses befitting dignitaries to more modest abodes that suit younger couples and families.
"We have a wide array of architecture," Mrs. Burling says, a point played up by the tour. While the larger houses provide the most spectacle, more modest homes possess enough character to rival their mammoth peers. One such home, on R Street, is a tall, thin affair in the Second Empire style with a compact driveway and towering shrubs on both sides of the three-story structure.
Another home, a stately Federal house in the 1600 block of 34th Street, features a segmented brick exterior covered with vines. Sharply steeped peaks accentuate the building's sleek silhouette.
Mark McInturff, principal of McInturff Architects in Bethesda, says the community has persevered "through every stylistic change." Federal and Georgian styles that bloomed during the 18th century remain alongside Victorian homes from the 19th century.
"It started out more or less contemporary with the times," he says.
Today, when change occurs, it does so slowly, in part because new homes must be approved by the Old Georgetown Board/Commission of Fine Arts.
"They review the work proposals based on whether it's appropriate to the community," Mr. McInturff says of the subjective process. "It hasn't prevented contemporary buildings from being built."
The approval, Mr. McInturff says, can vary from block to block, street to street.
His firm recently finished a "very visible" contemporary home above Key Bridge. "It passed without problems," Mr. McInturff says, but that might not have been the case along another stretch of Georgetown with older, Colonial-style homes.
Georgetown interiors split in two directions, he says. A classic Federal house, typically featuring a boxy design, three stories and enlarged moldings, columns or doors, may inspire its owners to design its living spaces in that motif. Others opt to preserve their historical exteriors while creating more open, well-lit spaces inside for comfort.

Georgetown residents Terry and Beth Collins will open up their home for the first time. The house's gray facade belies its colorful interior.
A polished hardwood floor leads into a comfortably decorated living room with a piano illuminated by a bay window. The room's cleverly tucked-away bar sits across from one of the house's five fireplaces, with a wooden mantel convincingly painted to appear like marble.
The Collinses moved into the house in 1983 and immediately set about renovating the space.
The structure dates back to 1831, Mr. Collins says, though back then his home and its neighboring house were all one structure. They were split in 1877.
Two of the house's four floors will be open for view, as will its lush garden with a tiny pool and X- shaped hedges.
"We wouldn't have done it if it were a commercial thing," Mr. Collins says of the tour and its charitable purpose. Plus, he says, "It's nice for people to come and see the variety of homes."
While contemporary homes are being built in the area, Mr. Jacobsen, who by his account has "laid hands" on more than 120 of the area's various homes, sees a renewed interest in classic architecture.
Until recently, "I was very busy in Georgetown doing modern architecture," Mr. Jacobsen says, but the past few years have seen a renewed interest in classic, Colonial aesthetics. Mr. Jacobsen, whose design tastes run more modern, says he hasn't worked on a Georgetown home in about five years.

Visitors can break from the tour for a complimentary afternoon tea in the Parish Hall of St. John's Church. Hosts will offer sandwiches, tea and treats from 2 to 6 p.m.
Mrs. Burling speaks of Georgetown as if its profile were no higher than that of any quaint, upscale town across the country.
"We're ringed by greenery and water," she says, pointing to the Potomac River to the south and the bucolic Oak Hill Cemetery to the north.
That doesn't mean just any family can become part of the Georgetown community. The soaring real estate market means a homeowner needs significant capital before calling Georgetown home.
"Lately, the last five years, we're selling houses for over four million [dollars]," she says.
Still, the neighborhood's character remains true to the hearts of her neighbors.
"What I love most is that it's a community. I know our neighbors; I walk a few blocks to the post office," Mrs. Burling says.

WHAT: The Georgetown House Tour
WHERE: Various locations, Georgetown
WHEN: Noon to 5 p.m. April 27, 28
TICKETS: $30 for one day, $50 for both.
INFORMATION: 202/338-2287 or visit www.georgetownhousetour.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide