The sprawling fieldstone house with a Spanish tile roof in Friendship Heights was built for a man who never lived in it.
John Herbert Tonge spent his entire career in railroads. In 1925, the Ohio native was appointed manager of the Washington Terminal Co., which owned and operated Union Station.
Reaching the pinnacle of his career, Tonge wanted a home that reflected his status, and so he started building this house. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at age 60 in August 1926, a few months before it was completed.
“A House That Is Different,” proclaimed an advertisement in the Washington Star in April 1927. The ad noted that the “beautiful stone structure on a corner lot” had been built for Tonge, who was deceased.
Morris Simon, a prominent Washington lawyer and insurance executive who was also president of the Woodmont Country Club, lived in the home until his death in 1942.
The next several owners had connections to medical fields. Brig. Gen. Neal A. Harper was the former head of dental services at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Thomas R. Rees was a doctor specializing in ear, nose and throat ailments. Rees, one of the last surviving sons of the Mormon pioneers who worked with Brigham Young, wrote two books, “I Prescribe Laughter” and “Rambling Thoughts in Verse.”
Earl H. Look sold the home to Ulf R. Rapp, who was head of the laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, as well as an adjunct professor of genetics at George Washington University Medical School, in 1980. Rapp and his wife lived there until they returned to Germany in 1993.
The current owners, Sally and Paul Amoruso, bought the home in 1996. They undertook a massive renovation that was featured in a Washington Post Magazine article in 2005. During the remodel, they discovered how solidly built the house was.
“The construction of the home is a little bit unusual: steel girders, foot-wide granite foundation and walls,” Paul Amoruso said. “Maybe it was typical of construction back then, but it seems a little bit excessive.”
They also uncovered a secret room behind a sliding panel in the back of a closet. No one knows the origins of the room or its purpose. The Amorusos turned it into their son’s bedroom.
The original floor plan had two bedrooms on the first floor, including the master suite. The Amorusos moved the master suite to the second floor, widened doorways, added oak beams in the living room ceiling and created a better flow between the rooms.
Since the magazine article ran, they have turned a screened porch into a family room and updated one of the bathrooms.
Because of the home’s size and layout, it has been ideal for all types of entertaining, from intimate gatherings to large parties. The Amorusos have hosted Halloween parties for 65 children and charity functions for more than 100 adults.
The seven-bedroom, six-bathroom, 9,100-square-foot house is listed at $3.5 million.
Listing: 5226 39th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
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