It seems there was a time you could barely swing a cat-o’-nine-tails around here without hitting a castle. There was Boundary Castle, built by Sen. John Henderson and his wife, Mary, across from Meridian Hill Park. There was Rossdhu, the Chevy Chase, Md., manse of Clarence Crittenden Calhoun and his wife, Daisy. And there were the whimsical battlements of Forest Glen, Md., just a few miles away from Rossdhu.
In last week’s column, a reader raised the notion that during World War II Rossdhu was used by convalescing veterans. Several readers pointed out that soldiers actually recuperated at the former National Park Seminary in Forest Glen.
The complex began in 1887 as a resort hotel called Ye Forest Inne, designed by architect T.F. Schneider. Schneider later created the sky-scraping Cairo Hotel, whose construction prompted District officials to pass height restrictions.
Developers hoped the Forest Glen hotel’s location on a train line would entice city dwellers to rest in bucolic luxury. City dwellers preferred resting elsewhere and Ye Forest Inne was Ye Olde Bust.
In 1894, a couple named John and Vesta Cassedy turned the property into a finishing school for young women. They called it the National Park Seminary, although it had no connection to any religion.
The school grew from 48 students in 1894 to 230 in 1911. The Cassedys felt the scenic environment and a curriculum that embraced the arts would have a salutary effect on the girls. Spring was welcomed with maypole dances. Buildings that were added to the campus featured fanciful designs: a pagoda, a Greek temple, a Spanish mission, a windmill, a castle. Some were built to house sororities that flourished at the school.
“It’s a small castle, for a castle,” said Bonnie Rosenthal, executive director of Save Our Seminary, a group founded in 1988 to keep the site from falling into ruins. “It has stone and stucco, and is more like an English folly castle.”
After Vesta Cassedy’s death and John’s remarriage (to, ahem, a former student, 35 years his junior), the school was sold to a Pittsburgh oil magnate who hired James Ament to run it.
In 1937, the school was sold to Roy Tasco Davis. His attempt to transform it into a business school called the National Park College was unsuccessful. In 1942, the Army paid Davis $890,000, took possession of the property and started building barracks.
The National Park Seminary became the Forest Glen Annex of Walter Reed, the military hospital in Washington. During World War II, amputees and other wounded GIs who needed rehabilitation were treated at the annex before returning to civilian life. The Korean and Vietnam wars brought more patients.
The former girls school must have been an odd place to rest. You weren’t just far from the battlefield, you were in a setting pulled from a fairy tale.
When a big new hospital building went up at Walter Reed in the 1970s, there wasn’t as much need for the Forest Glen Annex. Personnel moved out and maintenance suffered.
The most historic parts of the complex had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, so the buildings couldn’t be demolished. But time and the elements can be as unforgiving as a wrecking ball.
“The buildings were really almost abandoned,” Bonnie said. “There was vandalism. In 1993, there was an arson fire and the theater building was lost.”
The efforts of Save Our Seminary convinced the Army to “excess” the property, allowing Montgomery County to work with private developers to transform it into a residential enclave. The historic buildings have been turned into homes. Townhouses have been added. The colonnaded gymnasium is full of condominiums.
Driving along Linden Lane and happening upon Forest Glen is like falling into a whimsical picture book. From time to time, Bonnie said, veterans who convalesced at the annex, or nurses who worked there, stop by. Bonnie remembers a one-armed Army vet who arranged to bring fellow members of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club over for a meeting in the grand ballroom.
That turned out to have been a friend of Answer Man’s named Ace Rosner , who recuperated at Forest Glen after being severely wounded during the invasion of Italy.
“He said he deliberately did not adjust to his artificial arm because he enjoyed being there so much,” Bonnie said. “He wanted to stay [at Forest Glen] longer so he pretended he couldn’t do things.”
Ace drove his Rolls-Royce — and his dozens of other collector cars — with one arm.
The annex castle is one of the school buildings that have yet to be restored. It shouldn’t be confused with another “castle,” at Forest Glen Road and Capitol View Avenue. That castle is a two-story commercial building fronted with a crenelated facade. It once housed a Hungarian restaurant on the ground floor.
And upstairs? It sure wasn’t a girls school. Nor was it a military hospital, although in the 1950s, many soldiers spent time there. It was an infamous bordello.
(Save Our Seminary offers monthly guided tours of Forest Glen. The next is March 24 at 1 p.m. For details, visit saveourseminary.org.)
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.