By Janet Quigley
The Capitol Hill House and Garden Tour offers an enjoyable afternoon touring spectacular homes and gardens, renovations by prominent designers, antiques galore and an escape into history. The tour, now in its 57th year, attracts 1500 visitors to Washington’s largest historic district every Mothers Day weekend. Proceeds support the historic preservation efforts of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. This year’s route highlights twelve homes dating from the 1860’s to 1917, on and near the grand East Capitol Street in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.
The tour showcases an area that developed in the mid to late 1800s around the US Capitol and Washington Navy Yard. Residents of the period ranged from politicians to craftsmen, writers, musicians and socialites. Notable this year are two Civil War-era homes, built in the wood frame style before fire codes mandated brick construction.
One striking home on East Capitol was designed for entertaining in 1885 by the architect of the Vice President’s mansion at the Naval Observatory. Featured in House Beautiful, it oozes casual elegance from the carriage house to the chef’s kitchen. Another East Capitol grand dame, now a Quaker Center, features large curved windows, inlaid wood floors and a carriage house with a green roof. An 1893 home, filled with a remarkable collection of antiques, also possesses the third largest observatory in the city after the Naval Observatory and Georgetown University.
Anyone with an interest in renovation will not be disappointed. An 1860’s home with stable/carriage house is spaciously renovated and redecorated in the French country style. An 1884 house, restored after a fire, was redone in the arts and craft style and features a top of the line kitchen. Two houses from the 1870’s were joined into one; the new bath is done in a Pompeian theme with tile and artwork.
The gardens include a green roof garden atop a carriage house, a large and fully stocked koi pond, a garden professionally designed by the owner/landscape designer, a large garden behind two combined homes and several smaller, pleasant spaces.
The homes also tell stories of the lives of former residents. Miss Lizzie, the first owner of an 1870’s home and former operator of a “house of questionable character,” disappeared mysteriously and was never found; her husband continued residence in the home. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft lived in an 1870’s home with an enormous kitchen and a view of the Supreme Court; his piano playing could be heard from the street. Another home was renowned for social gatherings in the 1910’s-20’s; its new owner is an interior designer.
For more than a half century, tour goers have used this opportunity to check out restorations and renovations, to see what is new in interior design, to gather ideas for their own homes, enjoy stunning views and to spend quality time with their families and friends. Many have made it a Mothers’ Day tradition and return every year.
The event begins with a twilight tour of homes from 4-7 pm on Saturday, May 10 and continues 12-5 pm on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 11. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 on tour weekend, available at www.chrs.org, the Hill Center at Old Naval Hospital (921 Pennsylvania Ave., SE), the Eastern Market on weekends, and area shops. Sponsored by Washington Fine Properties, National Capital Bank, The Smith Team at Prudential PenFed Realty, Riverby Books and Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. Details: CHRS at (202) 543-0425. METRO: Union Station, Capitol South and Eastern Market.