Cleveland Park Tour --
The fifth annual Cleveland Park House Tour will take place April 26, 1-5 p.m. The walking tour of eight homes, including Rosedale and the Elizabeth Faulkner house, begins at the Georgian Revival school, 3209 Highland Place NW. Tickets are $7 in advance and $8 on the day of the tour. Call 363-8777 for more information.
IT'S BEEN more than 70 years since the famous photograph was made of Elizabeth Coonley. She was a tiny little girl, then, playing in the pool reflecting the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house.
The picture may well be the most famous ever made of a Wright house, and it is surely the most charming. Wright designed the house for her parents, the Avery Coonley, in 1908, in Riverside, Ill.
Mrs. Faulkner still vividly remembers Wright:
"My mother was the one who wanted Mr. Wright to design their house. My father said he wanted a Georgian house, he liked green shutters. Mr. Wright said, 'Avery, what you like is green,' so he made a tile frieze to go around the outside wall. When my father complained of the expense, Wright used bathroom tile.
"The house wasn't universally admired. We forget now how strange it seemed back then. The wife of one man wouldn't let him go by the house because it made him sick.
"There were all sorts of tales about the house, some said the pool was for the horses to swim in. I remember I was 4 when the house was built. I carried bricks and thought I had made a great contribution.
"Of course people talked about Mr. Wright and his women friends. My mother wouldn't hear anything against him. She said, 'Well, he only had one at a time.'"
Near the house, Wright built a school with a theater for Mrs. Coonley, who practiced what then was called "progressive education." The school originally had wonderful stained glass. Three of the panels are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "I'm afraid it's sadly changed now," Elizabeth Faulkner said.
Mrs. Coonley was also a Christian Science practioner. Mr. Coonley was information officer for the Christian Science church.
Mrs. Faulkner laughed when she told an old story of her father's. Her mother came in one day and said she thought perhaps they should look into vegetarianism, since it was too bad about animal slaughter. "My father said, 'We're Christian Scientists, women's suffragettes, we live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and you have a progressive school. Let's not look into vegetarianism.'"
The Coonleys sold the Wright house because Mr. Coonley was appointed to the church's committee on publications with headquarters here. Leaving the Wright house was a wrench for the family, but especially for 14-year-old Elizabeth. In Washington, the family rented and later bought a dramatically different house in Cleveland Park -- Rosedale, a farmhouse that dated from 1793, built by Gen. Uriah Forrest, a friend of George Washington. Wright visited the Coonleys at the house, and admired its honesty and forthrightness.
Wright was the first architect Elizabeth Coonley knew, but far from the last. Today she is 78, the widow of one of Washington's best known architects, Waldron Faulkner. Her two sons, Avery and Winthrop, are both award-winning architects, and at least two of her 10 grandchildren are thinking about the profession.
In 1936, she and her husband built a house that today is counted as one of the earliest modern houses in Washington. Their house, as well as Rosedale, will be on the Cleveland Park home tour April 26 (see box on Page 2).
The other day, we drove past Rosedale, at 3501 Newark St., noting the houses on the block carved out of the original estate. Five houses on Ordway and 36th Street were designed by Winthrop Faulkner, who lived successively in three of them. Waldron Faulkner (who earlier restored the Blair Lee House and designed the original quadrangles and campus of Madeira School, among many other commissions) designed his own house at 3415 36th St. and the one next door. Avery Faulkner designed the dormitories behind Rosedale, now owned by Youth for Understanding, a student cultural exchange group. Every time Elizabeth Faulkner looks out her window she sees the work of her kinfolk -- it's a good thing she likes their styles.
Going down the street, the Faulkner house still stops people, after all these years. The flagstone walk begins at the curb, crossing the more mundane concrete sidewalk. The house is a square white cube. It's rigidly formal, with windows balancing neatly on either side.
Unlike many of today's houses, there's no doubt where the front door is. The day we visited, Elizabeth Faulkner met us at the door. We were glad of her escort, because the door is imposing, if not frightening. It says firmly, with a distinct air of importance, "I am the front door, and only those sufficiently worthy, are allowed into the temple of mysteries."
Brick frames the door. Above it is a cast concrete pediment that looks Chinese but is, according to Mrs. Faulkner, Greek honeysuckle. The cupola, rises out of the pyramid roof, influenced perhaps by the King Tut discoveries. The cupola windows, with Chinese Chippendale block grill, light the attic by day and are a lantern by night. "I always turn the light on when we're having a party to guide guests," the lady of the house said.
At such a front door, you might expect a high priestess, ready to read a devine prophesy. Elizabeth Faulkner, instead, is a tiny woman, friendly and bright, not one to giver herself airs. (But you'd be ill advised to mistake her elegant politeness for lack of firmness. She is formidable, with a career of service on various charitable boards. She's known for keeping not only her wits about her, but also her wit. She can not only turn a phrase but make it do somersaults.)
As we looked at the facade of the house, Mrs. Faulkner said, "My husband built many larger houses, but none that takes itself so seriously. Back then we thought it was a Modern house, but he designed it to be harmonious with the classical architecture of Washington -- the Capitol, the Treasury Department and the Lincoln Memorial" (then only 14 years old). t
"Nowdays people call it Art Deco, but we'd never heard the term then. I suppose its really a transitional style, because it has other motifs. The frieze of small blue and yellow tiles that goes around the upper part of the wall is Greek.
"The screen doors, like the cupola, have Chinese Chippendale motifs."
The screen doors cleverly double as a grill to give privacy. The glass doors and inner wood doors are set into the entry hall. "I said to my husband when we were building this house, 'I suppose you'll never let me have screen doors.' But he said, 'I'll design some I like.'"
Inside, the entry is a warm shrimp red. "It's not really a coral," said Mrs. Faulkner. "My husband was very interested in color. He wrote a book about it, 'Architecture and Color,' published in 1971. When we went to repaint the rooms, my son pointed out that the colors had faded, so we had to look for a bit of paint that was protected to get the proper color."
The elder Faulkner was also concerned with termite control and fire prevention, his widow said. For these reasons, the foundation is concrete. "The only wood in the house is in doors, cabinets, trim and the attic floor," his wife explained, "none of which touch ground. Even the structure is steel with a brick exterior. Since I have allergies, he specified linoleum floors instead of carpet." The marblelized linoleum tile is bordered by a brass strip with a Greek Key design in the corners, all very '30s.
The floor plan, the house's chief glory, begins to be revealed as you come in, though it offers surprises with every door. To the right is a cozy library with a powder room. "In our innocence, we thought the children might enjoy entertaining their friends in here, but they always wanted to be with us in the living room," Mrs. Faulkner said. "I suppose that was a good thing." To the left is the kitchen.
The front entry is small, making it more of a surprise when we came into the reception hall. Its wonderful staircase curves upstairs in the hopes that Ginger Rogers will sweep down it. "When we had the party for the workmen, they all gathered in the hall to talk about how hard that curve was to do," Elizabeth Faulkner said.
Both the reception hall and its mate, the bedroom hall above, are covered with Japanese tea box paper, a tarnished metallic. An urn, designed by Faulkner, throws its light up the stair. A fine Ming vase sits on a console table, also designed by Waldron Faulkner. "In those days," his widow said, "it wasn't unusual for an architect to design furniture as well as lighting fixtures."
On the north side of the hall is a coat closet, and that wonderful rarity, a telephone closet, for privacy for the phoner, and peace for the rest of the household.
The living room has bookcases at one end, balanced by a fireplace at the other. Its mantel is elegantly simple, polished black slate.Lighting is built into the mantle, below the glass shef, throwing light up on the mirror over it and Elizabeth Faulkner's handsome Japanese-style flower arrangements. Two pilasters frame the fireplace. The walls are almost a celadon green.
The Oriental style is carried further by side and coffee tables. Two wing chairs flank the fireplace. The handsome sofa's pineapple upholstery is repeated in the pineapple-based lamps. On one wall is a charming painting of the entrance to the studio of Herbert Faulkner. Waldron's father, a well known artist. Many of his paintings -- "soft, American impressionistic -- add grace notes to the house. Some are watercolors, not easy to do, in the opinion of Herbert Faulkner, Mrs. Faulkner said. "My husband said sometimes when they came in the house, his mother would admonish them: 'Sh-h-h, your father's doing water colors.'
"Once when there was an architecture convention here," said Mrs. Faulkner, "I told my husband that all of those women would have contemporary furniture in their houses and I thought I should too. He never gave me much help about the furniture, but he agreed.
"So we went out and bought some low modern furniture for the living room. I sold this sofa, which had belonged to my mother, to Michael Arpad. After a time, I decided the new furniture really didn't fit this room.
"Winthrop agreed. He said, 'This room sneers at contemporary furniture.' So I gave it away and bought a sofa as close to this one as I could find. But later, Mr. Arpad called me up and said he had my sofa back, and did I want it, I certainly did."
The dining room, adjacent to the living room, has a wall with elaborate built-in-storage, some sections cabinets, others drawers. Doors on either side, leading to the butler's pantry and the telephone closet, have a closed Chinese Chippendale design, matching the front screen doors. Dragons inset into the swinging doors were carved by Waldron's father.
The dining table is another Waldron Faulkner design. "When I looked at the drawing," Mrs. Faulkner said,"I told him the table looked to flimsy. He said 'It's the best dining table I'm capable of designing at this time.' And of course, I liked it when it was built." The painting on one wall is her husband's great-grandmother from St. Ives in Cornwall. The matching grandfather hangs in the living room.
French doors from the living room and the dining room lead to the courtyard.
"My husband thought a Greek or Roman house in a climate like that of Washington would have a secluded court for out-of-door gatherings," Mrs. Faulkner explained. The three French doors are shielded by Chinese Chippendale blocks on the screen doors, like the front doors.
Two wings extend on either side of the living room to form two sides of the court. The wings are extended by lower wall on each side. "We used the court more, before we had air conditioning," she said. It has an awning that cleverly recesses into the wall.
The court is closed across its back by a still lower wall, which defines the view across the park with it glorious spring flowering trees. The house sits on about an acre and a half, carved out of the Rosedale estate. "This was the cow pasture," Mrs. Faulkner said. "My parents kept chickens as well. I remember one time when I was out cutting the grass, the nieghbor said, 'Is it possible that your mother gave you too much of Rosedale?"
One wing is the guest room and bath, the other -- originally the servants' suite -- is a rental unit. "The wings were planned to be one story so they would have no footstep above them," Mrs. Faulkner said. But two upstairs bedrooms have doors to the decks formed by the wings.
Showing the guest room with its redder-than-coral walls, Mrs. Faulkner said with a grin, "When my daughter, [Celia Faulkner -- Mrs. Raymond -- Clevenger] said she was painting a room Pompeian red, I had to take an aspirin and go to bed."
The room is decorated with paintings by a man from Chappaqua, N.Y. "What was his name?" said Mrs. Faulkner. "I'm like the Library of Congress, it takes me 20 minutes for the book to come down." The painter's name was Charles John Lindenthaler.
The room, used for 18 years by Waldron Faulkner's mother, is well equipped with not only double closets, but a dressing table between the mirrors that pull out from the wall. Upstairs, Mrs. Faulkner's dressing room has a similar mirror along with other built-ins. In the other three bedrooms and study are more of Waldron Faulkner's furniture designs.
As we left, Elizabeth Faulkner recalled the time the gas clothes dryer in the basement caught fire. The fire department came and quickly put it out. As the fire marshall left, he remarked, "I've been interested in this house. I'm glad to know that it is a house. I'd always thought it was a monument."