Here the Somoza Family Still Ruled

Limestone for Ayrlawn's front entrance has something in common with the Capitol.
Limestone for Ayrlawn's front entrance has something in common with the Capitol. (By Beth Gilbert For The Washington Post)

By Beth Gilbert
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 29, 2006

It's a long way from Nicaragua, but a Potomac estate became home for the only daughter of the founder of the Somoza family dynasty that ruled that Central American nation for four decades.

The 16,000-square-foot house, called Ayrlawn, will be this year's National Symphony Orchestra Decorators' Show House. Over a few months, 25 interior and landscape designers will transform the house and make over some of its dated aspects while retaining its architectural integrity.

Ayrlawn, which sits on two acres in the Kentsdale Estates neighborhood, has been on the market for four years; the asking price is $3,595,000. The owners are hoping the attention it gets as the show house might lead to a sale.

Ayrlawn was built in 1991 by Eduardo Sevilla Somoza, now Nicaragua's ambassador to the United Nations, for his parents. His mother was Lillian Somoza de Sevilla Sacasa, the daughter of Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the founder of the Somoza dynasty, who was elected president in 1937 and assassinated in 1956. Her husband was Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States for 36 years until the revolutionary Sandinista National Liberation Front took control of the country in 1979.

Lillian was the sister of two other Nicaraguan rulers: Luis Somoza Debayle, who succeeded his father, and Anastasio Somoza Debayle, who first took office in 1967 and fled his homeland in 1979. He was assassinated in Paraguay in 1980.

Eduardo Sevilla Somoza and his eight sisters and brothers now own Ayrlawn; their father died in 1997 and their mother in 2003.

He said the 11-bedroom house, which has 10 full bathrooms, a heated pool, expansive kitchen and servants' wing, was built for entertaining and as a place for the large family to gather.

"My mother finally felt fulfilled in this house. She had a place for her family, and my father, having spent his entire life in diplomatic service, now had a place to display all the mementos he had accumulated over the years," he said.

"My parents' home always possessed a presence and quiet elegance," his sister Lorena Sevilla Somoza said. "We look forward to seeing how the designers will interpret the rooms."

Four solid limestone columns, quarried from the same place that supplies the U.S. Capitol, flank the entry doors of the brick Georgian-style home, which won an award from the Masonry Institute for its intricate detailing. Inside, the first floor has 12-foot ceilings; Brazilian hardwood floors with black granite borders; generously dispersed European crystal chandeliers; marble bathrooms, some with padded fabric walls; and custom handcrafted, hand-fitted millwork that includes all the moldings and the main, floating staircase. The library with floor-to-ceiling bookcases of antique Nicaraguan mahogany evokes the house's grandeur and the owners' personalities.

Eduardo Sevilla Somoza said building the home during the real estate slump in the early 1990s gave him many advantages. "We brought in the best craftsmen and provided them with top-quality materials," he said.

The symphony's Women's Committee, which oversees the show house program, has designated certain areas of the home for makeovers. Designers will submit proposals that will be reviewed by both the committee and the family, who together will decide which plans best complement the architectural integrity of the home.

Black and pink bathroom fixtures detract from the marble in the bathrooms, so they will likely be replaced. The commercial kitchen also has some dated elements and could use some warming up. Many of the updates will remain with the home, or be available for the new owners to purchase.

One room of the house, painted a deep red, had several photos of Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa. "The house used to be filled with pictures of my father. I remember pictures of him with Presidents Johnson, Kennedy and Nixon," Edda Sevilla Somoza, another of the offspring. "He also had a letter from Neil Armstrong with a little piece of a moon rock inside the frame."

The 2006 NSO Decorators' Show House will be open from Oct. 8 to Nov. 5. Ayrlawn is listed for sale with agents Sean Satkus and Kendra Carey of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Alexandria.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company