- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

The Gilded Age moguls who built the mansions in the capital's exclusive Kalorama neighborhood 100 or more years ago adorned their spacious homes with silver cabinets, gold doorknobs and mother-of-pearl dining room sets. Now that many of these French and Italianate, Renaissance and beaux-arts architectural gems are used as embassies or ambassadorial residences, they are just as inaccessible to the public as they were in their glory days. Tomorrow, however, is a rare opportunity to take a peek inside during the 18th annual Kalorama House and Embassy Tour.

It will support a good cause, as well. The Inside Embassy Row tour is a fund-raiser for Woodrow Wilson House, the 28th president's residence from 1919 until his death in 1924, which is now preserved as a shrine to his life, career and times.

“The tour gives you a little taste of how wealthy people of the Gilded Age lived,” says Frank Aucella, Wilson House's executive director. “Some of them built these mansions as stopover places on their way from New York or Philadelphia to winter homes in Georgia or elsewhere in the South,” Mr. Aucella adds. “They needed a place in Washington for maybe two months out of the year March and October.”

Since these homeowners lived during an “everything is possible” age, they didn't hold back on extravagance and glitz in either interior or exterior design.

One of the most popular architects of the age was George Oakley Totten. He designed several of the mansions that were later converted to diplomatic use, including the crown jewel of this year's tour, the Turkish ambassador's home at Sheridan Circle and 23rd Street NW.

“It's been called one of the most beautiful residences in Washington,” Mr. Aucella says, noting that it was originally built for Edward Hamlin Everett, known as the bottle-top king for his patent on corrugated caps for soft drink bottles.

The mansion has a Bowling Green granite and limestone facade, and the interior decor was, and still is, a fusion of styles and cultures. Sixteenth century paintings by Bronzini adorn the walls on either side of the wide staircase that leads to the second-floor reception hall. The floors, made out of teak from China, are covered by enormous Turkish rugs. Doorknobs throughout the house are gold-plated.

Much of the over-the-top furniture is original to the house, which the Turkish government bought from Mr. Everett's widow in the mid-1930s, but there are also legacies of art and furniture left by Turkish envoys over the years. The tea and coffee sets in the glass cabinets are Turkish, as are many of the paintings.

When many of the wealthy families were forced to sell their extravagant “white elephants” during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a number of foreign governments were the purchasers.

The Romanian Embassy was one of them, and it is also on the tour this year. It was designed in 1907 by the same firm Carrere and Hastings that designed the New York Library. The building features uniquely shaped rooms to accommodate for a rounded lot at Sheridan Circle.

Also on the tour is the Russian Cultural Center, once home to the family of Hope diamond owner Evalyn Walsh McLean. The home was sold in the 1950s to the government of the Soviet Union for use as an agricultural mission. The residence of the Syrian ambassador, which contains the mother-of-pearl dining room table and silver china closet, and a number of private homes are also featured.

The walking tour, which takes anywhere from two hours to 3½ hours, starts at the Wilson House, which is currently showcasing “Passing the Torch,” an exhibit devoted to a luncheon that President Wilson's formidable widow, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, hosted for then-brand-new first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961.

“The exhibit has a bottle of wine left from the luncheon, the dress that Mrs. Wilson wore, and the Boulange chair that Jackie coveted,” says Marie Danch, who organized the Kalorama House and Embassy Tour.

The Wilson House exhibit is included in the price of the tour, which has attracted as many as 1,800 people in past years. The draw, Mrs. Danch says, is the chance to explore the grandeur and decadence of these homes from the inside.

“People may not expect it, but they will be completely in awe,” Mrs. Danch says.


WHAT: “Inside Embassy Row,” the 18th annual Kalorama House and Embassy Tour

WHERE: The Wilson House, 2340 S St. NW

WHEN: 12 to 5 p.m. tomorrow

TICKETS: $18 in advance; $20 on tour day

PHONE: 202/387-4062 ext.18


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