Monday, September 13, 2010

Mitchell Park – for the Love of a Poodle

In the first years of the 20th century Morton and Elizabeth Mitchell bought a plot of land on S St. NW, at 23rd Street in Washington DC’s Kalorama neighborhood, equidistant between Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues. Their property, located where the 1795 brick manor house of the vast Anthony Holmead estate once stood*, was to be the site of their new home. Their 14 year old poodle, named Bock, died soon after the Mitchells purchased the lot, and his remains were buried on their undeveloped property under a small stone.

Before construction of the house began, Morton Mitchell died, and Elizabeth eventually lost interest in the new house project. Upon her death in 1917, she deeded the land to the city for use as a park, with the stipulation that Bock’s grave be maintained undisturbed in perpetuity.

The will of Elizabeth Patterson Mitchell stated:
“To the City of Washington, D.C., I leave my lot on S Street to the memory of Morton Mitchell for a park. It was intended for our home, and our old dog, whose bones rest there, is not to be disturbed.”

Today, the land is called Mitchell Park. Bock’s grave, marked by a small bronze plaque on the side of a masonry ledge that surrounds a tree, lies in the middle of the children’s play area that borders Bancroft Street. When the park was given a major refurbishment in 2004, the plaque was moved from its home in the soil beneath a tree to its present location.

The portion of the park that fronts 23rd Street contains wild grasses, trees, pathways, picnic tables and long wooden park benches; adjacent to a small field house/recreation building is a children’s playground, and an open grassy field is located along the eastern perimeter of the park.

*In the early 20th century the land was owned by the German government, which planned to build an embassy on the property. To that end, they razed the Holmstead house in 1929, but before it could be built the U.S. government confiscated the land during World War II and annexed it to Mitchell Park. Thus, the park’s delineation is now 23rd Street to the west, S Street to the south, Bancroft Place to the north and Phelps Place to the east.

Trivia: The park’s steep hillside just below the tennis courts at the corner of S and 23rd Streets is reinforced with stones that contain interesting brachiopod shell fossils. Appalachian in origin, from the Oriskany sandstone formation, the stones were created by sediments deposited in the early Devonian period, slightly less than 400 million years ago.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Everett House, Home to Turkish Ambassador

Residence of the Turkish Ambassador to the U.S.
1606 23rd Street, N.W. at Sheridan Circle

The impressive Beaux-Arts neoclassical edifice that serves as the Turkish Ambassador’s residence was designed by Washington based society architect George Oakley Totten, Jr. (1866–1939). Completed in 1914, the 40,000 sq. ft. limestone mansion was commissioned by Edward Hamlin Everett (1851-1929), a wealthy industrialist from Cleveland, Ohio. Chief among his inventions was the crimped soft drink bottle cap; in addition to bottle glass industries, he was involved in Texas oil and Missouri brewing interests. His company, The American Bottle Company, later merged with Corning to become the Owens-Corning Fiberglass Company.

At the time this house was built, the Everetts also had homes in Ohio, Vermont* and a chateau in Switzerland**.

Edward Everett (right)

The site of the house previously served as a city dump, but the large lot took a huge turn for the better when construction of this fabulous home, situated between the buffalo bridge over Rock Creek Park and Sheridan Circle, commenced in 1910. With Renaissance-style architectural features prominent on the exterior, the interior features a black and white marble entrance hall, sweeping double staircase, gold plated door-knobs, teakwood floors, a musicians gallery, a rococo-designed Otis elevator, 150 windows, 200 doors, a conservatory with vaulted mosaic accented ceilings, a rooftop garden and a swimming pool in the basement. The sparkling ballroom is resplendent with red silk tapestry and wood paneled walls under a gold leaf carved coffered ceiling. During the 1920s, the house became famous for festive musical evenings featuring singers from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Everett’s guests were seated on gold painted art nouveau bent wood chairs, which had seemingly disappeared upon the death of Grace Everett (1879-1969), only to be rediscovered in the early 1980s in the mansion’s attic.

Architect George Oakley Totten, Jr. had previously worked in Istanbul, where he designed the first American chancery and a residence for Izzet Pasha (the Grand Vezir, Prime Minister of the Turkish Empire). His work there was so well received that he was offered the position of “Private Architect to the Sultan.” Totten blended three architectural periods in his design for this mansion: 16th-century Italian, 18th-century Romanesque and 19th-century Art Deco, with distinct features from decorative Ottoman styles.

At the time of his death in 1929, Everett lived in Washington with his second wife, opera singer Grace Burnap (thirty years his junior), and their two daughters, born when Edward was in his seventies. In 1932, his widow leased the house to the Turkish government, and it was used as both chancery and residence. In 1936, at the behest of Turkey’s first President, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the mansion was purchased from Grace by the Turkish government with all its contents for $400,000. In the 1990s the Chancery moved to Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue, and the building became the residence of the ambassador. The house was closed in 2004 for a three-year $20 million renovation, during which time the structure and all its contents were painstakingly restored.

Trivia: When Turkish Ambassador Münir Ertegün and his family moved to Washington D.C. in 1936, his two sons, Ahmet and Nasuhi, already had a record collection of 25,000 blues and jazz records. But it was their live Sunday music salons with the young Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performing for integrated audiences that shocked Washington’s elite. Attending prep school during the day, Ahmet and his older brother frequented Washington’s musical haunts by night. When their father died in 1944, they both decided to stay in America and pursue music careers; Nasuhi chose Los Angeles and Ahmet, Washington. With partner Herb Abramson, Ahmet launched Atlantic Records on a $10,000 loan from his Turkish dentist, and the rest is history. They recorded some of the greatest musicians of the century; they began with Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown and Ray Charles, then discovered Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Soon they branched out to Bobby Darin, Sonny and Cher, the Bee Gees, and Allman Brothers, and signed the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa and Kid Rock. In October 2006, Ahmet fell backstage during a Rolling Stones New York concert and lapsed into a coma. He died on December 14, 2006, at age 83.
*The 27-room Everett summer home in Bennington, VT (shown above), on the National Register of Historic Places, now serves as the primary administrative and academic building of Southern Vermont College. Everett hired famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (NYC's Central Park) to design the grounds; a distinctive feature of the estate is an Olmstead-designed 13-tier cascading stone fountain at the rear of the mansion.

Everett owned the multi-spired neo-Gothic Château de l'Aile (shown below) in Vevey, Switzerland, overlooking the shores of Lake Geneva.