Wardman's World

By Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 15, 2005

You may have heard the name Harry Wardman.

Perhaps it calls to mind the 1,300-room Wardman Park hotel at Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street NW. It was one of the D.C. developer's biggest projects.

Or maybe you know his exclusive Hay-Adams, Jefferson and St. Regis hotels downtown. Perhaps you've heard people brag about their elegant solid-brick Wardman houses in neighborhoods such as Woodley Park, Kalorama and Georgetown.

But what those caught up in the scramble for housing in the District may not know is how many other well-regarded Wardman residential buildings still exist -- and on a more modest scale.

In the first three decades of the 20th century, when Washingtonians thought of the suburbs as anything north of Florida Avenue, Wardman and a team of architects created about 3,000 residential buildings across the District. Of them, about 2,000 were rowhouses meant for middle-class workers and their families, according to a new exhibit on his work on display at the District's John A. Wilson Building. Even though they weren't marketed to rich people, the houses still have the generous size and solid construction that were considered Wardman trademarks.

Many of the rowhouses are still standing, even if their heritage has been lost to time, the exhibit's curators say. That includes small stands of houses on 14th Street NW at Newton and Meridian streets that have been converted over the years into stores, funeral homes and check-cashing services, their fine features hidden, their once-valued wide front porches lopped off or bricked in.

Wardman rowhouses in well-to-do neighborhoods are promoted by real estate agents for their quality materials and construction. So valuable are they in some communities that agents have taken to calling copycats "Wardman-style" houses. Some rowhouses in Woodley Park are even protected by preservation rules.

But in other neighborhoods, the developer's rowhouses aren't generally protected, appreciated or even recognized, say preservationists.

"We're concerned that some neighborhoods and the larger community don't know about the history of the homes and how well built they are," said Caroline Mesrobian Hickman, the granddaughter of one of Wardman's top architects, Mihran Mesrobian, and one of the exhibit's curators.

"You worry that with all the development pressures in these neighborhoods that people will tear them down and put high-rise condos up instead," Hickman said.

The exhibit, "Celebrating a Century of Wardman Row-House Neighborhoods," focuses on Wardman rowhouses in three neighborhoods now experiencing significant renewal efforts and developer interest.

The neighborhoods, all in Northwest Washington are: Columbia Heights, up 14th Street between Monroe Street and Spring Road and stretching to 13th Street; Bloomingdale, north of Florida Avenue to McMillan Reservoir between Second and North Capitol streets; and Brightwood, between Georgia Avenue and Fifth Street, from Quackenbos Street to Tewksbury Place.

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