The Mansion That Found a 2nd Home
Saturday, October 22, 2005
It's been quite a ride for the house at 2401 Kalorama Rd. NW, a 251-year-old Georgian-style mansion now on the market for $12.75 million.
The three-story residence, which sits on one of the largest lots in Kalorama and is one of the most expensive listings in the District, was originally built in 1754 as a grand summer home in Danvers, Mass., just north of Boston.
A century and a half later, it had been through a number of owners and two restorations. In the 1930s, when two noted antiques dealers bought it and sold off one room of paneling to a museum, local preservationists feared it would be stripped or razed. But the dealers sold the whole thing instead in 1934 to a prominent District couple, George and Miriam Morris. The Morrises wanted a period house to showcase their collection of early American furniture, according to a history done on the house.
The house was dismantled, with each piece numbered, and was shipped to the District in six railroad boxcars. Under the direction of the key architect at Colonial Williamsburg, it was painstakingly reassembled on a concrete foundation, supported by steel beams. The process took nearly three years and included an expansion of about five feet to accommodate modern plumbing -- meaning indoor bathrooms.
By the time the Morrises died, though, the house needed considerable work. Another prominent Washington couple purchased it for $1.2 million in 1983.
That couple -- real estate developer and property manager Norman Bernstein and his wife, Diane, a children's advocate -- are leaving it in great shape, says listing broker Virginia Chew of Arnold, Bradley, Sargent, Davy & Chew Inc. in the District. The couple restored the house, modernizing and updating the kitchen and plumbing and upgrading other features. They persuaded the man who had overseen the house's move to the District to come out of retirement and work with them.
The home, which is known as the Lindens for the linden trees that lined the original driveway in Massachusetts, has near-12-foot ceilings, interior columns, stenciled floors and wallpaper designed in Paris in the early 1800s. It was assessed at $5.9 million in 2005.
The Bernsteins are downsizing to a Georgetown apartment, says their son, Joshua, who is president of his own property management and development firms. But "they really don't want to leave." The Bernstein family lived just around the block from the Lindens when he and his five sisters were growing up, he said, "and my mother always loved that house."
How the house survived over the years is a real saga, he said. But the family believes the Lindens was well worth the effort.
"It is not only a wonderful example of 18th-century architecture, but also it has a history that links it to the founding of the country," he said.
The house was first built for Robert "King" Hooper, a leading shipowner and merchant in Marblehead, Mass. Hooper wanted an ornate summer home to make a "statement about his wealth" and stature, says Bernstein. But not too long after it was built, the merchant lost his social footing when he persisted in sympathizing with the British during the run-up to the Revolutionary War. He not only entertained local Tories but lent the house for several months in 1774 to Thomas Gage, the reviled British military governor of Massachusetts.
"There is a hole in the front door of the house, from a musket shot" aimed at Hooper just before the war, Bernstein said.
Unlike many Tories of the time, Hooper was able to escape with his life and his home. But he eventually lost the house to creditors, according to research done for the Bernstein family. The property passed to several other owners, including one who used it as a boardinghouse.
Francis Peabody Jr., who bought the Lindens in 1860, restored the home again, adding a kitchen wing, sun porch and the French pictorial wallpaper. Peabody died in 1910 and his wife a year later, and another family took it over. By 1933 the area around the house was deteriorating, the research says.
Antiques dealers Israel Sack and Leon David, who were noted collectors of early American furniture, bought the property in 1933 for about $10,000. Sack, who is considered by many to have created the American antiques market, soon sold the paneled drawing room to the Kansas City Museum.
Before the house could be further stripped or razed, Miriam Morris showed up, said Bernstein. "She wanted to build a Georgian house, to display her collection of American furniture," he said. "And when she heard of this house, that had once been called the finest example of 18th-century architecture and was being sold off piecemeal, she and her husband bought it from the Sacks."
The Morrises paid about $14,000 in 1934, and by the next year had set in motion the process of dismantling and reassembling the pieces. Overseeing the project was Walter Macomber, resident architect of Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon.
Sack paid for a craftsman to copy the paneled drawing room for the Morrises as a condition of the sale, according to the Bernsteins' research.
George Morris was a well-known Washington lawyer and a onetime president of the American Bar Association; Miriam was a social hostess and civic booster. She held several public receptions to show off the house when it was finished and over the years she lived there hosted many parties and benefits in it.
When Miriam Morris died, the property and their antiques collection "was offered tout ensemble to the Smithsonian," says local architectural historian Sally Berk. "But without an endowment, the Smithsonian turned it down."
The Morris collection was later auctioned at Christie's, where it fetched $2.3 million. Broker Chew says many features are still intact. The house includes eight bedrooms, seven full baths, two half-baths, a 12-foot-wide Palladian center hallway that runs through the house, ornate fireplaces and a library with some original paneling and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
A third-floor bedroom has one panel of original wall plaster with the embedded outline of a child's handprint. A tavern room in the basement is not original but was built with antique timbers.
Behind the house and an attached three-car garage are landscaped gardens. The lot is about a half-acre.
The Lindens is one of nine historic properties in the Sheridan-Kalorama area featured in the Washington section of the National Park Service's Web site on the National Register of Historic Places ( http:/