Monday, December 22, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Halcyon House, an impressive Georgetown mansion, for sale for $30 million, is at a busy crossroads near Georgetown University.
The Mansions of Georgetown, and Oprah
By Carol Joynt

In more than three decades as a Georgetown resident I’ve walked by Evermay Estate at least a few times a month. The gates were always open. Recently, though, they’ve been shut tight. My guess is that’s because of the other “O,” not President-elect Barack Obama, but Oprah Winfrey.

Where Oprah goes so goes a lot of curiosity. If the rumor mill is accurate, Oprah is in the market for a Washington residence and on her list are three prime Georgetown addresses, with Evermay the grandest and most expensive at an asking price of $49 million.
The view from Halcyon House at night. To the right is Virginia. To the left is the Washington Monument.
For a person who has a taste for 18th century Americana, as Oprah does, Evermay would be a splendid acquisition. An industrious brickyard owner and Scotsman named Samuel Davidson bought the land for the estate in the late 1790s. Construction of the home began in 1901. Davidson also owned land that would become Lafayette Park and the north lawn of the White House.

There was another owner after Davidson, but in 1923 Evermay was bought by diplomat F. Lammot Belin and its been in the Belin family ever since. None of the Belin descendents live in the mansion – the last, Harry Belin, moved out a while ago. It is used occasionally for private parties and fundraisers. The rooms are lovely, ideal for entertaining on a lavish scale, and the 3.5 acres of lawn and gardens have been kept up.
The abridged history of Everymay.
The gates at Evermay, now closed to the casual Looky Lou, since the gush of rumors that Oprah may be interested. The estate is listed for $49 million.
Residents are nervous about Evermay being up for sale. One community elder said, “We’re actually appalled.” This is because there are no easements. A developer with bad intentions could come in and chop the place up, the sort of project that gives certain Georgetowners apoplexy. On that basis, the Oprah rumors could be good news.

She’s reportedly also looking at Halcyon House and the former home of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. I’ve heard everything from Oprah actually touring the mansions to reports that it’s only her representatives. Halcyon House is a 225 year old Georgian mansion that was home to the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert. In recent years its been home and studio to sculptor John Dreyfuss, who put it on the market for $30 million. For many years Dreyfuss made a cash cow out of Halycon House by renting part or all of it for all kinds of parties.
The view of Evermay through the gates.
The view from Evermay - Oak Hill Cemetary, where the estate's original owner, Samuel Davidson is buried along with many other Washington notables.
Katharine Graham’s house may be a challenge compared to Evermay or Halcyon House. It sold for approximately $8 million in 2002 to bachelor venture capitalist Mark Ein, but he never moved in. He put it back on the market for a rumored $14 million. It sits rather forlornly at the top of Georgetown, appearing practically haunted, and any one who has been inside says it needs TLC and a big renovation.

Still, what a history -- presidents, royalty, the global elite all were entertained by Kay Graham in her elegant dining room. She was a queen of media in her time the way Oprah is today – business mogul and hostess combined. I’m told Oprah’s people are concerned about the Graham house not because of the renovation challenge, but security issues. They say wherever Oprah lives she needs to have a “security perimeter.”
Katharine Graham and her husband bought this house in 1946. After her death, it was sold in 2002 to Mark Ein for $8 million. He never moved in and has it on the market for a reported $12-14 million
Well, whatever. It’s a distraction from the economy, Caroline and Blago. It would be exciting to have Oprah in Georgetown. She could be the new Pamela Harriman, and by that I mean the part of Harriman’s resume that has to do with serving as a glittering hostess to the President.

Maybe she’d welcome an ambassadorship down the road, too. Georgetown has been home to plenty of dynamic women. Harriman, Graham, Jackie Kennedy, Evangeline Bruce and Elizabeth Taylor, just to name a few.
The rumor mill says Oprah is interested in Kay Graham's estate, but there is concern whether an appropriate "security perimeter" could be established. Unlike Evermay, there are no gates.
As with Evermay, the view from the Graham mansion is of Georgetown's Oak Hill Cemetery.
Should the three mansions I’ve mentioned not make the cut with Oprah, a new entry went on the market this past weekend. It’s on O Street and was home to John and Elizabeth Edwards when he was in the Senate and a Vice Presidential candidate. They sold it for $5 million a couple of years ago. Now, after a renovation, it’s available for $10 million.

We should be thankful that in the middle of a global financial crisis, and a seeming real estate meltdown, even in “recession proof” Washington, we have Oprah, who makes multi-million dollar mansions into a viable market.
The house John and Elizabeth Edwards sold for $5 million has been renovated and was put back on the market Sunday for $10 million. The owners hope, among others, to get Oprah's attention.

There were two warm and welcoming parties
in the last week, and both got their charm from being tossed in the spirit of friendship.

Anne and Howard Weir
live in the heart of Cleveland Park, one of Washington’s charming and exclusive neighborhoods. She is a realtor and he is a lawyer and they are parents to a cat, dogs and grown children. If Georgetown is Washington’s equal to the Upper East Side, then Cleveland Park might be our Upper West Side. The houses sprawl and have handsome verandas, because in its inception in the late 1880s it was where Washingtonians – including President Grover Cleveland – had their summer estates.
The Weir family cat, on the inside. The Weir family dog, very much on the outside.
In the middle of the party, a crackling fire and the cat asleep on the sofa.
A mantel adorned with holiday traditions.
The Weirs front porch. It's outdoors but looks like it's indoors.
The spread.
One of Cleveland Park’s virtues is a strong feeling of family and neighborhood, and this was tapped into Saturday night when the Weirs held their annual “Christmas Open House.”

It appeared that all of Cleveland Park showed up, and there were no strangers. I didn’t get everyone’s names, but took as many pictures as possible before the happy crowd was too thick to move my arms, much less snap a photo.
Howard Weir with his mother, Anne. Howard Weir and Cathy Jones.
Evie Rooney. Tersh Boasberg, head of Washington's Historic Preservation Review Board, his wife, Sally Boasberg, Christine Hobbs, and Anne Weir.
Ken Bacon, Deborah Both, Judy Bacon, and Charles Both. National Journal's Stuart Taylor, Jr.
Alfred Cumming and Laurie Sedlmayr. Alexander Wood and Danielle Knight with their daughters Zoe and Ella.
Elizabeth Ulmer and Jon Graham. Melissa and Gareth Conway.
Mindi Gardner, Sue Albright, and Virginia Butler. Robbins Pancake and Leslie Kamrad.
Bill Gardner and Mike Healy. Lisa Weir, with her father, Howard.
Laurie Sedlmayr and Elizabeth Ulmer. Wendy and Steve Pearlstein with Anne Weir.
The Saturday before another happy crowd gathered in Bethesda, Md., to help Bill Donahue celebrate his 70th birthday. Bill is a fixture of Georgetown, where he can be found practically every day of the week at his shop, Antiques of Georgetown. The name is appropriate because Bill’s shop is the go-to stop for antiques in Georgetown, especially among collectors, decorators and grand dames.

Even First Ladies shop there, including Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan. When the late Katharine Graham’s family had items of hers to dispense with after a Sotheby’s auction – dining room chairs, for example - they sold them at Bill’s shop.
Bill Donahue's legendary Georgetown antiques shop - popular with First Ladies, decorators, collectors, grand dames and just plain folks.
The Bill Donahue 70th birthday party scene.
It’s a kind of clubhouse, too, where Bill’s friends show up daily to hang out and gossip. This conviviality carried over to his party. Since the retail business has been a little bumpy of late, someone said, “You need a buyer who backs up a truck and buys the whole store.” I asked if he was excited that Oprah Winfrey may come to town. “No,” he said, “because her decorator came in here some time ago, bought a lot and never paid.” Bill settled with the decorator in small claims court and got his money.

A shop owner’s work is never done.
Bill Donahue with three of his grandchildren. Bill Donahue with an adoring female fan.
Bill Donahue with two more of his many fans.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.