I lived in The District for ten years, and have been just outside The District Line for two decades. I have visited every museum, and historic property, at least once over that time.
Until last week, I had only been inside The Perry Belmont House for receptions for the Dupont Circle House Tour, and as far as I have ever known, that was about the only way to do so. Until now that is…
Built in 1909, it is a Beaux Arts masterpiece, perfectly proportioned of exceedingly high quality materials and craftsmanship, with a learned eye for exquisite detail. It is shockingly well preserved, and with great deal of the original furnishings. These are not the only characteristics that make it unique, but also its footprint.
The lot is an odd one, a right angle triangle with the base on 18th Street, short side running along R Street, and an hypotenuse paralleling New Hampshire Avenue. The front door is under a porte cochere extending from the building's narrow southern tip. Very unusual.
Built in the European style of “Piano Nobile” the main entertainment rooms are on what we would call the second floor. Upon entering the small anteroom at the triangular point, one is delighted by a view up into the main ballroom. It is breathtaking.
Ascending the grand marble staircase, one enters the Petite Salon, with eighteen-foot tall french windows, and glimmering in gilt.
Moving to the center of the building, on either side of the staircase, one enters the Ballroom, with a domed twenty-five foot ceiling and Scalamandré silk damask covered walls. The original suites of fine French furnishings are marvelously intact, as well as a gold-gilt Steinway Grand. Awesome. At the ballroom’s debut, Washington society writers herald it being “the best dance floor in town”!
What makes this an ideal venue for hosting important dinners, cocktail or wedding receptions is that it is so well designed and immaculately kept, there is little or no need for superfluous decoration.The lighting is already perfect, and the aesthetics are so voluptuous, that any more than the simplest of flowers need to be employed.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Belmont (she was the second, with a bit of a scandal attached) were of the sort of people who were, how does one say this delicately… fantastically wealthy! This Washington, D.C. palace was only one of their “seasonal” residences, with others in Newport, Manhattan, and Palm Beach. The money came in trainloads from the family’s dealings in banking and a deep association with the Rothschilds.
This house was used six weeks a year, or so, and was built for only one purpose... for lavish parties. In fact, in all of its nearly fifty-thousand square feet there are only three modest sized bedrooms, His, Hers, one for a Guest, and an intimate dining room, parlor, and library. The rest of the place was specifically built for entertaining. (Oh yes, there were bedrooms for the full-time staff: all fourteen of them.
One can then enter an understated, well, compared to the rest of the place, Salon that is soothing and calm in musty shades of grey-green and gold.
From there, one moves into the Dining Room, whose incredibly carved ceiling and ornate mantle originated in grand Venetian Villas in the 1600’s. Each door surround is superbly hand-carved marble, and must weigh in at over a ton. Truly, this is one of the most fantastic rooms in our fair city. The room still proudly houses the original dining room table, as well as its twenty-two matching chairs, sideboards, and twin torchiere, all in a Baronial style.
Now, I realize that the style of this grand pile may not suit everyone’s taste. Farmhouse tables and faux Barcelona chairs really don’t work in the setting. But here at Brian Beal Moore Catering, we can make any gathering look tastefully contemporary, without marring the historical ambiance.
If you are interested in seeing this superlative specimen of historic architecture for your next gathering, do let me know. I shall be happy to make the arrangements. (Just think of a Gatsby New Year Party!)