What once was a modest boardinghouse in Georgetown became home to a princess.
Built in 1790, the brick house was one of many that offered rooms for rent. Then Elinor Glyn bought it, in part because novelist Sinclar Lewis lived one block over. Glyn was also a writer of some repute, but her books were more scandalous.
Her obituary in the 1943 Washington Evening Star noted “the writer established her literary reputation in 1907 with the novel ‘Three Weeks’ but she was perhaps equally well known as the woman who taught Rudolph Valentino, famous star of the silent movies, how to make screen love.” It went on to describe “Three Weeks” as “the foundation of the modern sex novel.” Her later book, “It,” was the harbinger for turning the word into a popular term for sex appeal.
According to the obituary, Glyn, who had dazzling red hair and bright green eyes, mingled little among Georgetown society, preferring to socialize with a small group of literary and arts friends, Lewis among them.
Glyn spent lavishly to transform the boardinghouse into a luxurious home, applying stucco to the 28-inch thick brick walls, topping it with a mansard roof and adding embellishments to the exterior. She painted it sunflower yellow, which led her neighbors to call it the “brightest spot in town.” In his biography of Glyn, her grandson wrote that the house in Georgetown was the most costly she had ever decorated herself. But he also noted that she never lived there. Shortly before the renovations were complete, Glyn went to England and never returned.
A who’s who of Washington continued to live in the home. Isabella Greenway, who was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first U.S. congresswoman from Arizona, rented it, as did Ray Atherton, a career diplomat who served at a number of posts in the Far East and Europe and was the first U.S. ambassador to Canada.
But it wasn’t until Cornelius Bretsch bought the house in 1947 that it became one of the more sought-after invitations in Georgetown society. Bretsch’s wife was Princess Emina Tousson, a cousin of Egyptian King Farouk. In 1952, the Bretsches gave a party that was the highlight of the social season. Tousson wore Parisian couture and the 36-karat pink Tousson diamond. The guest list included barons and baronesses, princes and princesses, and ambassadors from several countries, including Turkey, Sweden, France, Peru and Spain.
Even after the Bretschs left, the bold-faced names continued. Elizabeth Firestone, daughter of tire magnate Harvey S. Firestone, and her husband, Charles F. Willis, who worked for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, lived in the home. When sculptor Barbara Smith Herzberg bought the house in 1984 for $1.1 million, it was one of the most expensive homes sold that year. Smith Herzberg later added onto it.
In subsequent years, its owners have put their own stamp on the house. But it remains one of the truly elegant homes in Georgetown.
The five-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 8,852-square-foot house is listed at $7.5 million.
Listing: 3147 P St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Listing agent: Nancy Taylor Bubes, Washington Fine Properties
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