“Okay, it’s a Washington Colonial, which it is,” Weiss said. “But then you walk in, and it’s Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory magic. There’s all kinds of wonder and surprises.”
Horace B. Smith, a senior military aide at the White House from 1929 to 1941, and his wife, Elizabeth Z. Smith, built the house in 1948. The house was designed by a well-known Washington architect, George L. Howe. But to call Howe simply an architect is to do the man an injustice.
Howe served in the Navy in World War I, and later went on two archaeological missions, to Carthage, in Tunisia, and Egpyt. He was employed by the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, working with agents behind enemy lines. The novel he wrote based on his war experiences, “Call It Treason,” was published in six foreign languages and made into a movie. In the midst of these adventures, he earned a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in 1925.
The Smiths sold the house to Mike and Mary Ellen Monroney in 1951, after he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma. Monroney served in the U.S. House from 1939 to 1951 and then in the Senate until 1968.
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The Monroneys lived in the house for nearly three decades and did the most to make it into what it is today. They hired Howe to come back in 1961 and design an addition that featured a wall of glass overlooking the backyard. They hired noted landscape architect Perry Wheeler to design the backyard. Wheeler — who also helped design the White House Rose Garden, Washington National Cathedral’s grounds and John F. Kennedy’s gravesite — was adamant that his designs include not just the plants but the pool.
He wrote in a 1961 letter to Mary Ellen Monroney that is on file at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens: “I don’t want ever to have any part of another pool job where I don’t have complete control of the entire set-up. In other words, I would like very much to help you if you want me to do a complete plan of the whole layout, including terraces, walks, steps — in fact, everything from the house wall out.”
Not long after the Weiss family moved into the house in 2004, Smithsonian officials came by the house to verify that Wheeler’s plantings still existed. Although Weiss has added several rose bushes, most of Wheeler’s design continues to flourish, with plants sequenced to bloom year-round.
Besides the rainbow shaped pool, one of the more unusual aspects of the backyard is how level it is for the neighborhood. Most yards there are steeply pitched.
“According to what we were told, they were dredging out the Tidal Basin, and they took the fill from the Tidal Basin and leveled our backyard,” Weiss said.
Although Weiss calls the backyard “the most important room,” the inside of the house is unexpected.
Circular stairs form the spine of the house. Weiss said they remind her of a ballerina’s pirouette.
“That’s the heart and soul of the house,” Weiss said. “It spirals up from the main floor to the top floor. It gives you a sense of motion and light and dynamism and connectivity. . . . I feel like I raised my children around that spiraling sense of motion and joy.”
Walking into the house, the formal living room is to the left and the library is to the right. The bedrooms are on the top floor. The main floor and hub of the house is the lower level. A wall of glass overlooks the gardens.
“The house is about connectivity, connecting to nature, connecting to each other,” Weiss said. “That dynamism, grace, like a ballerina turning, continues into the yard, that 360-degree panoramic whirl because the pool also arcs and the bright sweep of plantings bloom through the seasons.”
Weiss said the house evokes a feeling of joy in those who live there and visit.
“Houses have personality,” she said. “This house looks on the bright side — like it suffers from chronic cheerfulness. It’s uplifting.”
The five-bedroom, six-bathroom, 4,500-square-foot house is listed at just under $3.2 million. An open house is scheduled for Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.
Listing: 2760 32nd St. NW, Washington, D.C.
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