A HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD replica of a schoolroom the size of a shoebox and a six-foot-high, four-story dollhouse, complete with elevator and a pigeon coop on the roof -- these are only two of the attractions that bring thousands of parents and children to the Washington Dolls' House and Toy Museum every year.
In a converted two-story house just half a block away from the bustling commercial corner of Wisconsin and Western avenues, you can catch a nostalgic glimpse of another era -- a time when children arranged tiny furniture for Lilliput dolls instead of zapping spaceships on computer screens.
The toys and doll houses are displayed in the six downstairs rooms of the house. As you enter the museum, you purchase your ticket at an antique post office window. Then you go on a well-marked, self-guided tour that allows visitors to view at their own pace. Guides are available for group tours and there are stools in front of the displays so that smaller children can see every detail of the larger doll houses and toys.
The houses comprise a historical study of architecture and the decorative arts in miniature, according to Flora Gill Jacobs, who started the museum ten years ago. They also provided children with the perfect setting for pretending to be grownups.
Doll houses originated in Germany and England, and in the beginning were toys only for the rich. Estate carpenters made replicas of mansions for children of the manor to play with. The furnishings in the doll houses were often duplicates of the original houses, down to the smallest details, such as the silverware and the tea service. Early doll houses were about two to three feet tall, made of wood with exquisite drapes, carpets and
TAKE 208303 PAGE 00002 TIME 22:15 DATE 11-29-84 even miniature bathtubs. Examples of these are on view at the museum, fascinating both old and young visitors.
"Look at that quilt stand. My grandmother used to have one of those," says one young mother to her six-year-old daughter.
"That sewing machine -- my first machine looked like that one," says a grandmother to her two visiting grandchildren.
"I've never seen a refrigerator like that one," says one of the grandchildren.
"That's not a refrigerator, it's an icebox. The ice wagon used to come to our door and deliver ice. I remember feeding sugar to the horse that pulled the wagon," says grandma.
Meanwhile, a father and his eight-year-old son move from the toy zoo to focus on a New England Victorian doll house: "See that railing on the roof -- that's called a 'captain's walk.' When I was your age, I lived in a house in Maine that looked like that. We used to play up there and look for sail boats and fishing boats coming in to shore. My brother and I used to pretend we were pirate captains."
In another room, an entire Girl Scout troop from Tower, Pennsylvania, crowds around a huge Victorian doll house built by an estate carpenter in Burford, England. There's a tea set in almost every one of the four-story house's 14 rooms.
But the largest doll house at the museum is a seven-foot-tall Mexican hacienda with an iron-gated courtyard and fountain. Red-and- white-striped awnings decorate the windows. There's an elevator as well as stairs to connect the elaborately furnished eight rooms, which include a chapel and an aviary.
The museum isn't all dolls and doll houses, however. For instance, there's a turn-of-the- century model circus with a ring master, lady acrobat, trained bear and clowns with movable heads, arms and legs. There's also a 1930 Lionel train that runs on tracks attached to the ceiling. Be sure to ask the staff to run the train and blow the whistle.
While the downstairs part of the museum is run on a strictly look-don't-touch basis, the second floor has an "Edwardian Tea Room" set aside for birthday parties at which guests are allowed to play with some of the antique toys. Favorites are the windup ones, such as the merry-go-round and ferris wheel. (Reservations are required and there is a charge for parties.)
This time of year, the most popular exhibit in the museum is the glass case devoted exclusively to Christmas items for doll houses. Barbie's bubbling whirlpool bath, this year's de rigueur doll-house fixture, seems all wet by comparison.
And speaking of Christmas, the museum has a consignment shop for doll house furniture and accessories. And for the aspiring homeowner, there are books and kits on doll houses, including an antique pop-up book with five different rooms.
KIDS IN TOYLAND
The Washington Dollhouse and Toy Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 to 5, and Sunday noon to 5. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children under 14. Birthday party charges run from $9.50 to $11.50 per guest, depending on refreshments; there's a 12- guest minimum, 20-guest maximum. The museum is at 5236 44th Street NW, one block west of Wisconsin and Western avenues, near the Lord & Taylor store. If you're taking Metro, exit from the Red Line at the Friendship Heights station, take the Wisconsin Avenue exit, cross Wisconsin and walk south one block to Jenifer and turn right to 44th Street. 244-0024.