Drive through Alexandria and you’ll see examples of Greek Revivals, with their bold columns, in structures such as the Athenaeum, the peach-hued home of the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, and the Lyceum, the city’s history museum.
Or check out the Brice House and the Hammond House, both in Annapolis, examples of the Georgian style noted for distinctive paneled front doors with decorative crowns and pilasters on the side.
“There is a wealth of styles,” says Patrick Andrus, a historian with the National Register of Historic Places. “In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, D.C. was very cosmopolitan, very receptive to architectural styles.
. . .
D.C. adopted everything that was available.”
Many of those architectural gems still stand, largely because of the preservation movement.
Preservation efforts by homeowners, historians and groups — Cultural Tourism D.C., the D.C. Preservation League, Preservation Maryland, Preservation Virginia and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, just to name a few — have been extensive.
More than 90,000 properties (most of them residential) are on Maryland’s registry, according to state officials. In Virginia, there are more than 41,000 houses listed as historic, most of them in historid districts, says Marc C. Wagner, designation manager at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
To date, more than 25,000 D.C. buildings are in a historic district, says Steve Callcott, deputy preservation officer in the city’s Historic Preservation Office.
Says Andrus: “It’s a rich environment for historic preservation.”
Washington was one of the earliest jurisdictions to create historic districts: first in 1964, although the designation was largely honorary, and later by law in 1978. (Georgetown was even earlier, with the creation of a historic district in 1950 by an act of Congress.)
“We also had some preservation through neglect,” says G. Martin Moeller Jr., senior vice president and curator at the National Building Museum and author of the “AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C.”
“But [the upside] is that we have large areas that are well-preserved — Logan Circle, for example — because there was no pressure to build there in the 20th century,” Moeller says.
The prestige and wealth associated with the region also account for the number of houses worth saving.
Old, modern and modified styles
Important architects with work in the area range from Robert Mills, who designed structures such as the Washington Monument and the Treasury Department building, and the Smithsonian’s James Renwick Jr. to Beaux-Arts master Nathan Corwith Wyeth and modern masters I.M. Pei and Richard Neutra.