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Hope Diamond connection adds luster to history of Georgetown house

HOUSE OF THE WEEK | This four-bedroom, six-bathroom house was once part of an estate owned by mining heiress and Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean

The entryway opens to a living room. (Eric Angelus)
4 min

The Georgetown property on which this house stands was originally part of an estate called Mount Hope. Perhaps it is only fitting, then, that the same estate, though under a different name, would have become home to what is now the Smithsonian’s Hope Diamond.

The owner of the jewel, socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, was sole heir to a mining fortune. Her husband, Washington Post heir Edward Beale McLean, purchased the 45.52-carat blue diamond from a New York-based jeweler in 1911, despite reports that it was cursed.

The couple resided in what was then the most expensive house in the city, a neo-baroque mansion on Massachusetts Avenue NW. They gave lavish parties, entertaining such friends as President Warren G. Harding and first lady Florence Harding. But trouble eventually caught up with them. Edward’s highly publicized infidelity and other erratic behavior led to divorce proceedings and a declaration of legal insanity. He died in a Maryland psychiatric hospital in 1941.

The following year, Evalyn bought the Georgetown estate and renamed it Friendship House. According to an account by party guest Birne T. West, “all Washington sooner or later drifted through the house.” The guests included movie stars, members of Congress and, during World War II, patients from what was then the Army’s Walter Reed General Hospital in D.C. The diamond was “passed around gleefully from hand to hand,” West said.

Evalyn bought the estate from Alexander Kirk, an American diplomat stationed in Berlin who went on to serve as ambassador to Italy near the end of the war. The house that was on the property then had been built for an early mayor of Georgetown, before Georgetown became part of D.C.

Evalyn, reputed to be the last private owner of the Hope Diamond, died in 1947, and the Hope Diamond was donated in 1958 to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Her house was razed, and the property was subdivided around 1951. This house, more than 2,300 square feet, was built on what had been gardens and a pool.

Soula Proxenos said the property’s history was only one of the attractions when she and her husband purchased it in 1997. Like Evalyn, she loves to entertain.

“We can seat 14 around one table if we’re having a formal dinner,” Proxenos said. “We’ve had a lot of formal dinners and crazy parties and engagement parties and our own wedding party.”

She has hosted overnight guests in the carriage house behind the main residence. It has a kitchenette, a bathroom and a bedroom.

“We love having people to stay, and we love having guests, but it’s really kind of nice if they don’t feel like they’re underfoot,” she said.

The carriage house was renovated when the current owners bought the property. They also finished the top floor of the main house, renovated the kitchen and created a more open floor plan. Much of the built-in cabinetry was made by Proxenos’s husband, who does carpentry as a hobby.

The Colonial-style house has four levels, including finished upper and lower levels, and is semi-attached to a neighboring house; three open sides let in light through oversize windows. Stairs on both sides of the front stoop lead up to the main entryway, which opens to a living room with a powder room. Then there’s a family room, where French doors and a couple of steps lead to a bluestone-paved terrace and the backyard.

On the lower level, a kitchen is next to a formal dining room with a fireplace. French doors lead to the exterior. There’s a one-car garage below the carriage house, although Proxenos said she uses the space as storage, because there is “such great street parking.”

There are two bedrooms on the second level (not including the lower level), each with an en suite bathroom. One has a fireplace and access to a Juliet balcony through French doors. The third level has two bedrooms that share and have direct access to a bathroom. One is now used as an office.

Proxenos said one of the things she likes best about her house is the wisteria, planted in 1998, that blossoms in the spring on some of the outside walls.

“We literally have people lining up to photograph it,” she said. “It’s taken decades to establish, because wisteria do not flower for many, many years after being planted. So it’s kind of fun to be reaping so much joy from it now.”


A previous version of this article gave the incorrect approximate square-footage of this home. It is approximately 2,300 square feet. This version has been corrected.


1689 34th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

  • Bedrooms/bathrooms: 4/6
  • Approximate square-footage: 2,300
  • Features: This 1951 Colonial-style house has a brick exterior and is detached on three sides. It has a one-car garage and a bluestone terrace. The residence has four levels, including finished upper and lower levels, and there is a carriage house with living quarters on the property.
  • Listing agent: Michael Rankin, Sotheby’s International Realty.