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Taft House in Georgetown was home to history and A-list parties

(Photo by Sean Shanahan One of four fireplaces is in the wood-paneled library.)
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Since it was built circa 1870, the Georgetown home has been the scene of countless elegant parties, sophisticated dinners and stylish fundraisers where political leaders, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and ambassadors rubbed elbows with business tycoons, socialites and celebrities.

A senator, a socialite and a real estate agent to the rich and famous were among those to call the three-story Victorian their home, and each of them took advantage of the house’s grand rooms by entertaining to the fullest.

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22941 Foxcroft Rd., Middleburg, Va. (Roman Caprano/Sky Blue Media)

The house was built for attorney Joseph Henry Bradley. His father was the celebrated D.C. lawyer Joseph Habersham Bradley. Father and son defended John Surratt against charges that he helped John Wilkes Booth murder Abraham Lincoln. Although Bradley died four years after the home was built, his wife, Mary, lived there until 1901.

When Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio), son of the 27th president, William Howard Taft, moved to Washington in 1940, he and his wife, Helen, leased the home, which had recently been vacated by Capt. Pierre Benech, a naval attache at the French embassy who also had been renting it. The Tafts bought the home a year later.

During a private luncheon in the home, Taft talked with Maj. Gen. Courtney Whitney, former staff officer to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, about the general joining him as vice president as he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1952. Taft died a year later, and when it came time to sell the home, the listing agent was Col. Alf Heiberg, husband of the former wife of MacArthur.

David Ginsburg, a prominent lawyer and liberal activist, bought the house in 1956 and spent two years and $125,000 extensively renovating it. It was during the renovation that workmen, ripping out a section of wall around a fireplace, discovered a stash of three bottles of champagne, vintage 1931 and 1937, sealed behind the wall.

Ginsburg redid everything “from garret to garden,” according to a 1956 Washington Post article. Several changes were made to the exterior, including reconfiguring the mansard roof and removing a corner tower and bay window. After the renovations were completed, House Beautiful featured the home on its cover in 1960.

Ginsburg’s wife, Ina, who fled the Nazis and became a doyenne of Washington society, cemented the home’s reputation for lavish entertaining. A founding member of what is now the Washington National Opera and an avid arts patron, Ina Ginsburg was also friends with Andy Warhol. His silkscreen-on-canvas portrait of her hung in the home.

Pat Dixson, real estate agent for Washington’s power elite, bought the house in 1982. Dixson’s fall soiree to welcome everyone back to Washington after the summer holidays was an annual not-to-be-missed event, in part because of its eclectic guest list. A 1998 Reliable Source item noted that while Pierre Salinger played piano inside, guests boogied in the disco outside. Betty Friedan was among the 300 or so invitees.

Because it is one of the rare detached homes in Georgetown and because of its location between two grand estates, Dumbarton Oaks and Tudor Place, the 8,840-square-foot house is attracting significant interest despite its price tag.

“For a house of this size and history, it is really extraordinary,” said listing agent Michael Rankin, principal and managing partner at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, about the number of inquiries he has received. “It speaks to what a terrific house it is. You wouldn’t normally get that [level of interest] for a house half that price.”

The seven-bedroom, five-bathroom home is listed at $6.5 million.

Listing: 1688 31st St. NW, Washington, D.C.

Listing agent: Michael Rankin, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

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