Party On: Top Reception Sites

By Margaret Foster
Special to
Tuesday, June 5, 2001


    'McLean Gardens Ballroom' Newlyweds dance in the McLean Gardens Ballroom. Photo by Shawn Thew/
Now that you’ve grown accustomed to the sparkle on your left hand, it’s time to start looking for a backdrop for your big day. First, decide what time of year and time of day you’d like to get married. Do you want a black-tie dinner party in a historic mansion, an afternoon garden party or a chic, downtown reception in a museum? Most venues in the D.C. area have yearlong waiting lists, so if you want the wedding of your dreams, it’s best to act fast.

If you have a limited budget, consider getting married off-season. In Washington, off-season means winter -- and July and August, too. Or pick a Friday night for your wedding; most places offer reduced rates on weekdays.

Our favorite sites around town:

McLean Gardens Ballroom
3811 Porter St. NW

This Georgian-style ballroom in Tenleytown is a convenient and elegant site for a wedding. Built in 1940 and used for official entertaining, McLean Gardens Ballroom has a 40-foot ceiling that creates Old World drama. Its white columns, fireplaces, chandeliers and antiques provide storybook elegance. Best of all, if you don't know the first thing about planning a wedding, an experienced event planner is on hand to offer free advice: Margaret McDermott is a fount of information about area caterers, florists, bands, cakes, limos, invitations and hotels. Whether you want an extravagant or a small, tasteful wedding for less, she’s a good ally.

Capacity: 150 seated; 350 standing

Meridian House
1630 Crescent Place NW

This historic 1921 French mansion, perched on a hill on a quiet street in Adams Morgan, is the Boardwalk of reception sites in the District. Designed by architect John Russell Pope, who designed the Jefferson Memorial, Meridian House was the home of an American diplomat, and the mansion has retained its ability to charm. Its dramatic Scarlett O'Hara-style staircase, breathtaking circular loggia and famous pebbled Linden grove are enchanting. The walnut walls, French doors and high ceilings create a luxurious but comfortable atmosphere. If you're looking forward to being king and queen for a day, this is the best palace in town.

Capacity of Meridian House: 200 seated; 300 standing

    Torpedo Factory The Torpedo Factory makes for artful nuptials. Courtesy of the Torpedo Factory
Torpedo Factory Art Center

Poised on a dock on the Potomac River, the modern Torpedo Factory offers a vast reception space. Built in 1918, the Torpedo Factory was just that -- a manufacturing center for torpedo shell casings. Today, it's a gallery and the location of several artist studios, so your guests can roam around and explore the sculptures, paintings and other artwork.

Capacity: 300 seated

Dumbarton House

If you're looking for a site with a garden courtyard that's perfect for cocktail hour, consider the 1791 Federal-style Dumbarton House in Georgetown. A museum during the week, on weekends Dumbarton House hosts weddings in the lower-level Belle Vue Room. The dance floor is a bit small, but your guests can wander back up to the terrace and throughout the grounds.

Capacity: 120 seated; 200 standing

Cherry Blossom Riverboat
205 the Strand, Alexandria, VA

Picture a bridal veil trailing in the breeze as this replica of a 19th-century riverboat floats slowly down the Potomac. Wedding ceremonies are permitted on board, so you can be married in Virginia, Maryland, or D.C. With its three floors decorated in brass and mahogany, the Cherry Blossom, docked in Old Town Alexandria, can transport you and your guests to another era -- although, thankfully, an air-conditioned one. Mark Twain would have approved.

Capacity: 250 seated; 400 standing

    Woodend Woodend, the Audubon Naturalist Society headquarters. Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt/
Audubon Naturalist Society
8940 Jones Mill Rd.
Chevy Chase, MD
301/652-9188, Ext. 38

A Woodend wedding resembles a party thrown by Jay Gatsby. On this 40-acre nature preserve in Chevy Chase stands one of the area’s most beautiful historic homes. Built in the late 1920s by Jefferson memorial architect John Russell Pope, the well-kept mansion has high ceilings, hardwood floors, majestic fireplaces and ornate chandeliers. Your guests (no more than 150) are seated outside under an adjacent tent, and they’re free to stroll the grounds. Best of all, you can have your ceremony in a grove of trees that has the feel of an outdoor church. Call the event coordinator, Rebecca Robinson, for her VIP treatment.

Capacity: 150

National Museum of Women in the Arts

A stately art museum and library, this building is a grand but often overlooked site for a downtown wedding. Graceful double staircases surround a high-ceilinged, marble mezzanine, a dramatic setting for a seated dinner. Your guests can explore the museum's permanent collection, which includes works by Mary Cassatt and Frida Kahlo.

Capacity: 500 seated; 1,000 standing

Strathmore Hall Arts Center

This 95-year-old mansion on a quiet lane off Rockville Pike offers French doors overlooking the 11-acre grounds and a well-tended garden dotted with sculptures and fountains. Inside, guests can wander the marble-floored foyer, sunroom, library and galleries filled with the work of local artists.

Capacity: 150 seated, 225 standing

Oxon Hill Manor

Oxon Hill Manor's impressive setting on a hill above the Potomac makes up for the 20-minute drive from the District. Built in 1929 as the country home of Sumner Welles, FDR's undersecretary of state, the Georgian-style mansion has 49 rooms that are ideal for entertaining. With its marble foyer, spacious rooms and terrace, the mansion exudes Merchant-Ivory elegance. If you'd like an outdoor wedding, Oxon Hill's formal gardens, complete with brick walls, fountains and a reflecting pool, are perfect for a ceremony.

Capacity: 210 seated; 300 standing

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