“It blew us away that she wrote when she comes to this house, she feels so safe,” Nelson said.
Undoubtedly it had less to do with locks and alarms than the feelings evoked by the stately house, as well as by her grandparents’ love and affection.
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The 1927 house was designed by architect George N. Ray, who designed more than 50 homes in this area and several branches of the former Riggs Bank. The house was built into a terraced hillside by general contractor Allen C. Minnix, using stone quarried nearby.
The first owners were Herbert and Margaret Adair. He was president of Southern Corp. Their sons became the first of many boys who lived in the home to attend St. Albans School.
Samuel and Eugenia Schwartz bought the house in 1937 and remained for nearly 30 years. Samuel Schwartz was the son of Charles T. Schwartz, founder of Charles Schwartz & Son Jewelers. The Schwartzes hired Rose Greely, the first female architect licensed in D.C., to design the gardens. In her 40-year career, Greely designed more than 500 landscapes. She is known for integrating houses with gardens in her designs.
Greely created five terraces, added specimen trees and boxwood shrubs, stone walls and steps, wisteria vines, azaleas, rhododendrons, irises, tulips and roses. Her notes and drawings for the garden are at the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library. House and Garden magazine featured the gardens in 1947.
True Davis, former ambassador to Switzerland and president of Washington National Bank, took ownership in 1966. His sons also attended St. Albans. Davis was known for his lavish dinner parties, one of which was written up in Bon Appétit magazine in 1972. Dinner guests included Elizabeth Taylor and Vincent Price. The 1977 movie “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” was filmed in the living room and foyer. Davis added the swimming pool and terrace.
Perry O. and Diane Barber bought the house in 1985. Their family, too, was a St. Albans family.
Michael Minkoff, who bought the property in 1987, caused an uproar in the neighborhood when he tried to subdivide the property into three lots.
Bill Frist, a U.S. senator (R-Tenn.) who was majority leader from 2003 to 2007, was another owner of the house who sent his sons to St. Albans. During the Frists time here, from 1995 to 2007, the house made an appearance in the annual St. Albans Christmas House Tour. They added the climbing wall in the west yard and the pool house.
Steve Shafran, a Treasury Department undersecretary in the Clinton administration, bought the house in 2007 and sold it four years later to the Nelsons.
“We just fell in love with it and thought it would really be so much fun to steward this property,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s word choice is apt. Many of the owners of this house seemed to feel a certain responsibility or stewardship of it. Throughout the years, they have kept and passed down meticulous records about it.
The Nelsons undertook a renovation in 2012, hiring architect Ankie Barnes and interior designer Susan Beimler. They updated the kitchen and added an elevator but were careful to preserve the house’s many original details. The renovation was featured in a 2017 issue of Home & Design magazine.
The result is a comfortable house that’s not pretentious. Most importantly, the house feels connected to its natural surroundings.
When the Nelsons’ three children come for a visit with their spouses and the five grandchildren, the house never feels overcrowded.
“When we all gather under this roof, the house accommodates them,” Nelson said.
For Nelson, leaving the house is bittersweet.
“We really have a love affair with this house,” she said. “It has shared so much happiness with us. [My husband] and I look at each other and have said countless times, ‘Aren’t we lucky to live here.’ ”
The six-bedroom, eight-bathroom, 10,350-square-foot house is listed at just under $11 million.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Michael Minkoff bought the property in 1991. He bought it in 1987.
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