Most of the eight architecturally unusual houses in the National Park Seminary are nearing the end of their renovations by private owners and developers. Three soon will be put on the real estate market. And a few still need much work.
The seminary’s 27 acres in the Linden Lane area were first used as a farm and tobacco plantation, then became the site of a hotel in the mid-19th century. In 1894, the hotel was transformed into the National Park Seminary, a finishing school for young women.
Tuition was high — $1,200 a year. Wealthy women from across the country attended.
The distinct single-family houses on Linden Lane once were sorority houses for the school. The girls didn’t live in the houses; they were used for gatherings.
“The philosophy of the school was not only to teach them through books, but through the world around them,” Rosenthal said. “So we believe they built the sorority houses in the international style as a way of teaching the girls about the world.”
The school’s owners, John and Vesta Cassedy, designed most of the houses. But one sorority chose the Swiss chalet style, with high ceilings and large windows.
“The students of that sorority researched it and found that this was a pretty traditional style,” Rosenthal said. “The plans for that sorority house were taken to the Swiss legation — what we refer to today as an embassy — in Washington for them to review the design. And then the school built it in 1899.”
In 1942, the Army seized the school under the War Powers Act. Walter Reed Army Hospital, which was near the site, needed more space to rehabilitate wounded soldiers. The seminary became part of the hospital’s Forest Glen annex.
Doctors lived in the former sorority houses. Soldiers were rehabilitated at the site through World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
By the late 1980s, the seminary buildings were in decline. The Army transferred the property to the Alexander Co., a private developer, in 2004. Renovations began in July 2006.
Rosenthal said she is happy the historic houses are being sold to homeowners.
“That’s what needs to happen,” she said. “When the developer planned for residential use, we thought that was the best plan. It was the least impact for the historical buildings. And the most natural.”
The castle and Spanish mission will soon be offered for sale, Rosenthal said. The chalet is already listed, for $950,000.
The chalet and pagoda are privately owned, and renovations are being completed. Renovations on the Dutch windmill are almost complete.