Skip to main content

tv   History of Dupont Circle  CSPAN  February 8, 2015 1:00pm-2:01pm EST

1:00 pm
now, the military is one of the most trusted institutions in the united states. but that wasn't the case in the 19th century. >> watch all of our events from corpus christi on c-span3 at 2:00 eastern. each week, "american history tv" brings your archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. >> a gathering of 10,000 before the memorial of the great emancipator in washington. president truman strongly advocates freedom and equality for all united states citizens. >> recent events have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to ensure all americans enjoy
1:01 pm
these rights. [applause] when i say all americans, i mean all americans. [applause] our immediate past is to remove to remove the last remnants of the barrier, which span between the millions of our citizens and their birth rights. there is no justifiable reason for discrimination because of ancestry or religion or race or color. . [applause] >> join american history tv as we visit the u.s. botanic garden at the foot of capitol hill.
1:02 pm
executive director ari novi discusses the history of the oldest botanic garden in north america originally proposed by george washington at a 1796 letter. that's today at 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. eastern time on american artifacts here on c-span3's american history tv. coming up next author and architectural historian steven hansen chronicles washington d.c.'s most famous neighborhoods, dupont circle. how and why weelth couples moved into the area in the guilded age and the 20th century. mr. hansen is the author of the history of dupont circle, center of high society in the capitol. the society hosted this event at the anderson house in washington d.c. it's just under an hour. >> good evening.
1:03 pm
i am kendall casey, the manager for the american museum institute. i'm pleased to welcome you here for our first program of our winter spring series. the american revolution institute of the society of cincinnati is a non-profit organization that works to promote the knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of american independence by supporting advanced scholarship, conducting programs, advocating preservation, and making resources available to teachers and students. if you are not on our public programs mailing list and would like to be you can fill out the form you found in your chair when you arrived and also you can pick up a copy of our latest calendar events out front. before this house became the headquarters for the society and its american revolution institute, it was the home of lars and isabel anderson. in the early 20th century, the andersons desired a home in washington where they could
1:04 pm
entertain american and foreign dignitaries in a grand setting. they purposefully selected a lot in a fashionable neighborhood of dupont circle to be in the center of social activity. tonight, we are pleased to welcome steven hansen to discuss his book on the socialites of dupont home and their homes in the guilded age, including the anderson house. mr. hansen is a long-time resident of washington d.c., he is a historian, preservation specialist, sometimes actor and an author. he is principal at the preservation firm d.c. historic designs, llc, in washington. he also served as a trustee for the committee of 100 on the federal city and authors the monthly column, what was once in washington d.c. for the newspaper. mr. hansen.
1:05 pm
[applause] >> thank you for coming tonight. and i'd like to start saying it's a major honor to be able to talk about my book in the ball room of the anderson mansion. would like to start off talking about how this book came to be. initially, i didn't want to write this book. i was writing for the in-towner monthly newspaper, a monthically column, and i was writing about areas all over the city but when i wrote about people in the dupont circle or history related to dupont circle and events i got a lot of positive feedback and i realized i was having a lot of fun writing articles about dupont circle, so i was writing more and more, and eventually colleagues and friends had said, you've already written a book on the history of the triangle, why don't you do it on the dupont circle which i thought it was a big task. you can probably a somewhat
1:06 pm
adequate and accurate history of dupont circle by selecting certain people and events over time. not all of them, but a string of them would give you a sense of the neighborhood over time upon so and i decided i would try to do it, and once i got into it, i started having a lot of fun and i signed a book contract with a publisher, and i was limited to 160 pages, and i was up to 160 pages in the first two weeks, so i kept fighting with the editor, and finally, they said, okay, 260, no more. so i had to start cutting things out and the result of the book, i couldn't go into any person or event in extreme depth like i wanted to. so that was a challenge, and i apologize to those who have written the book and have left things out. with that, i'd like to start talking about the book and i think a lot of you are familiar enough with dupont circle to know that it was once home to
1:07 pm
such noble people as james blain, theodore roosevelt twice, william taft and siszy patterson. but was it was also home to people you didn't know that they lived here, president grant's widow and entire family alexander graham bell and the bell clan, george hurst, senator george hurst who is william randolph hurst's father, and a cast of societies from the finest in the early 19th and 20th centuries, but i'm not going to talk about those folks tonight. they're in the book, and it's a lot of them. but i want to discuss the development of dupont circle also specifically how isabel anderson fit into the history of the neighborhood. but before dupont circle was born, i'd like to go back to about 1800 when the city itself was starting up, and there are
1:08 pm
basically two classes of folks in what was considered high society at the time. that was the residential society, and the official society. members of residential society consisted of land and southern slave owning and democratic families who came to washington during the first administrations, jefferson madison, and they just stayed, and some of the notable residential society members were stephen decatur, general talo and dolly madison. official society consisted of those holding political offices, presidential appointees, and members of the foreign diplomatic core. your status as an official society was dependent upon how long you were actually in town during a given year. those in town the longest, presidential appointees supreme court members who were at the
1:09 pm
top end of that pecking order, and it worked its way down to senators, and sometimes congressmen but they were only here briefly and much too busy to socialize. so that was basically the social make-up of washington until, up until the civil war. and as a result of the civil war, the democrats republicans took over power, and the cave dwellers, the residential society, were democrats, and a lot of them had lost their money and their lands during the war and they left town, but some decided to stay. and they had to go underground socially, because they were not in favor of the new incoming republican administration. so they became known as cave dwellers. they basically went under ground and only came to light once in a while when a grand daughter needed a cotillion or would host a small intimate tea, and would
1:10 pm
generally only socialize with each other at that point. so cave dwellers was an appropriate name. they also stayed where they had first settled, around lafayette square, and also when the official society members were moving to washington, they moved around as close to lafayette square as they could themselves. this is a map of the dupont circle area in about 1860. as you can see, there's not really a lot going on. woops. didn't want that one. down to the south, you see connecticut avenue. down here is lafayette square and that's basically where the cave dwellers were living. there are a couple of notable exceptions on the map i'd like to point out. first of all, the area was not very attractive. there was a stream running through, and it came down from 17th street, and down towards 17th street. it was called flash run, and it
1:11 pm
made all this land pretty mucky and swampy. additionally, john little, who was a butcher, put his butcher shop at the top of the stream at the top of the street, and he would throw blood into the stream and it would work its way down until it ended in rock creek down here. strangely enough in the second half of the 19th century, there was kind of a swamp that had formed here, which was now the site of the mayflower hotel, a very popular swimming hole. go figure, standards have changed since then. a notable resident, one of the first was willy o'neal or billy o'neal who was the proprietor of the franklin house, one of the boarding houses, where they stayed. he had a daughter, peggy o'neal
1:12 pm
who was the genesis of the petticoat scandal, which cost jackson his administration, due to an unfortunate marriage she had shortly after her first husband died. it was believed she was having an affair with this gentleman while her husband was overseas and he possibly committed suicide so peggy had an on and off again relationship with the society herself. also, to the very north, this is now what is florida avenue, which was then called boundary street and 19th is the burial ground or the western burial ground. that was started around 1801 and was one of two public cemeteries in washington. the other was congressional cemetery. so as you can imagine over the years, it filled up and was not a very large space. it was less than one city block. it was condemned in the 1870s, at which point, people were burying relatives 3 deep, and
1:13 pm
not always legitimately. they would sneak in the middle of the night and bury them. when florida avenue or boundary street was lowered, it left the cemetery 7 or 8 feet high above the grade of the street. so a lot of times, caskets would be falling into the street hitting carriages going by, and also by the 1870s, there were school children in the neighborhood, and people were upset to look out the window and find boys running around with human bones using the swords and at one point one boy had a skull on top of a bone that he was using as a standard, leading other kids down the street. anyway, the cemetery over the years had some notable burials. one was billy o'neill himself. another was james mcgurk, who was the first man hanged in washington. he was hanged in 1803. he was sentenced to death for coming home and brutally beating his wife. so he was buried there, because
1:14 pm
it was a public cemetery. relatives of those buried immediately around mcgurk were upset, so the night he was buried, they snuck him dug him up, and reburied him outside of the cemetery. mcgurk's clan, he was irish, found out about this. the next night, they went back down to the body and redeposited it back in where it was supposed to be. well, following suit, the next night, the same gentleman came back, dug up the body, and buried it in flash run never to be found again, they thought. but about four years later somebody was excavating for their house and their basement and found human remains, and those in the know admitted that that's where they had put mcgurk. also buried in the cemetery was lincoln assassination conspirator, lewis payne. and i just read the other day that john philips susa was buried here, but i don't see how that's possible.
1:15 pm
so don't always trust wikipedia. another notable thing in the neighborhood was hopkins brick yard. hopkins were two brothers from georgetown who set up a brickyard in the 1850s. as you can see, they just spread all over the area, because even though la fant had planneded it, the streets didn't go through. it was just basically a big field. so when they were extending massachusetts avenue, hawkins brick yard was right in the way, so they had to knock some of those out, put the avenue through, and then some of the more prominent early residents into the 1870s were complaining that the smoke from the kilns was coming through their homes at night so there was an act of congress to close down the hawkins brickyard. this is basically how everything looked until about 1871 when congress passed the organic act which gave washington a governor, presidentially-appointed governor, henry cook legislative assembly and a house of delegates, and it also
1:16 pm
created a five-member board of public works, of which alexander vause shepherd was on the board. he wasn't the director of the board. actually, the governor was. but shepherd was so strong and opposing, that henry cook just stopped going to the meetings, and shepherd got his way. he's probably best known for his time for his city-wide improvements, which involved paving streets, laying sewer drainage, lights planting trees. but he was very selective in where he did this. generally, when they were paving streets, they were generally ground stone, sometimes tar, which was kind of experimental at that point, and some of the prime streets were reserved for poured concrete, which was very popular and really took off later. so shepherd went on with his
1:17 pm
program, he was paving streets and planting here and there around the city. but suddenly, folks woke up one morning and saw connecticut avenue was paved with concrete five lanes wide with sidewalks, lights, water, all the way north to florida avenue. well, what's going on? at the same time, some of the silver miners who had made their fortunes in nevada and california had set their sights on washington and decided washington was the place to invest and settle. they formed a real estate syndicate, which was officially called the pacific pool. others called it the honest miners club, but i'm not quite sure how honest these miners were. and it was headed up by three gentlemen, judge curtis justin hiller, who is a lawyer, obviously, representative william stewart, from nevada, and thomas sutherland.
1:18 pm
but one of the problems is -- well, to start off they started buying up all the land around dupont circle. and they claimed they had no idea that alexander shepherd was going to be improving the area at the same time. actually, i do believe this, for some reason. but what happened was, the bottom fell out of the silver market, and there was a big push at the time to start making gold the standard, monetary standard. so the gentlemen really suffered from this and their fortunes were compromised. hillier survived, because he was a good lawyer and kept his practice in california, so he kept a steady income and could stay the course in washington. william stewart's fortunes were wiped out, and he had sort of an on and off again political career in washington and was forced to go back to nevada and work as a lawyer to try to make more money which he did amass
1:19 pm
another big fortune. so what happened was you have these three gentlemen still owning all this land and their fortunes were diminishing quickly. they thought, well, we've got to build something in the neighborhood that will attract investors and buyers to buy up all our lots and we'll start making back some of our money, and hopefully a huge profit. so they pressured william stewart into building first. so in 1873 he contracted adam clouse, who was former architect for the board of works. not that they didn't know what was going on with the public board of works. to construct a very large house, which was then one dupont circle. it was called stewart's castle and sometimes stewart's folly, because it was in the middle of nowhere, and people thought, well, you're trying to get investors, and you built a house out here. but it did become the center of
1:20 pm
social life, and people made the trip up to dupont circle for lavish dinners and parties. stewart lost his seat. he was up-seated by william clark, who was another story i won't get into tonight, and decided and went back to nevada. his wife got tired of the west coast and moved back to the house alone with a companion and it was in the winter. it was in december. so she was invited to the british ambassador's house for dinner new year's eve. she got there, got all settled, and someone was banging on the door saying, mrs. stewart, mrs. stewart, your house is on fire. so she went back to the house and found the whole house totally in flames. what had happened was no one had checked to see if water -- if there was any water in the boiler, so up to that point, it had been an unseasonally warm winter, so the house caught fire and had to be rebuilt.
1:21 pm
shortly after stewart had finished his house hillier jumped in too and built his house at the very edge of town on massachusetts avenue, and florida avenue, and he was -- and it was a fine second empire house. in the 1880s, stewart, in need of money, decided to rent out stewart's castle and rented the chinese ambassador and the litigation staff, which was quite an interesting period for the house. he wanted the guests to leave a burned red pepper in the room, which would burn the guest's eyes, to the point where they would be running out the front door, but the problem was years of burning red pepper left a lot of stains on the walls and the furniture.
1:22 pm
the chinese were opiate smokers which left a lot of stains. the fine european furniture brought back from europe, had been burned and soiled. while the chinese were there, they bake a public spectacle. they did things like take their laundry out to dupont circle and lay it out to dry. they will run around and play hide and seek in the bushes at night. they would come out and see if you could spot the chinese staff doing things. the problem was when they gathered on the balconies in the summer to get air, crowds would gather staring, so the police had to come along and shoo them away. so we have our first two big houses in dupont circle area, but things didn't really start to take off until 1873 when the
1:23 pm
britter minister at the time, that they decided to build a permanent litigation building in washington, and this was the first foreign building built in washington. before that, for years litigation had been on hay street next to st. john's church, and that building is still there sir what happened, they actually became the center of washington's high society. you weren't anybody until you were invited to a dinner at the building, which would knock your status off even higher, would be
1:24 pm
if british staff actually came to one of your functions in one of your homes. in 1880, a representative of maine, james lane, also decided to build in dupont circle. blain was a two-time presidential candidate, and basically a professional, under four presidents. by 1880, he had amassed enough money, probably legitimately. others would say otherwise, to build this large house at 2000 massachusetts avenue, which still stands today. but he had just been appointed secretary of state, and garfield, as you know, garfield was assassinated months later, so blain did not last very long in the new administration and did not have enough money to
1:25 pm
support this house the staff and the entertaining that went along with it. so in 1883 by 1883 he had bought a house on lafayette square, the stewart house, renovated it and rented it out then to a relatively unknown facially from chicago called the lighters. the leiters over time, would change the face of washington society. at the same time that blain was building his house washington was seeing a new wave of immigration. and this is two different sets of people. it was the military set and the nuvo riche. the military set consisted of high ranking military officers who followed the great union to washington, ulysses s. grant, philip sheridan, hoping to fill
1:26 pm
the high-paying positions in the war and navy department. that was one sector of the military. the other also followed the general to washington, but they were already weeltalthy and they didn't have to work when they got here. they came to become involved in political power, and this included the andersons, lars'father and mother from cincinnati, the boardmans from cleveland. william boardman's house still stands on the corner of p and 18th street, and is now the iraqi council. the other set of the nuvo riche. these people had made their fortunes either during, or based on the civil war either legitimately, or not legitimately. and they had a lot of money at this point. mark twain detested them in his 1872 book, "the guilded age," he
1:27 pm
named them parle vus, which is a corruption of the french verb, veneer, meaning, to have arrived. these people had suddenly arrived in society. he characterized the parvenus and one family patrick o'reilly, his wife and his daughter. patrick o'reilly had made a fortune selling overpriced shingle nails to the government during the civil war, so when the war was over, he packed up his family and toured europe with the sole purpose of learning to speak english with a foreign language. he returned to washington to take his new warranted place in society. now, the honorable patrick, and his wife was a lady, and they changed the name and spelling of o'reilly to what he thought was the french spelling of o'reilly, but is actually the french word arier, which i don't think he was aware of that year and he
1:28 pm
still continued to pronounce his name "o'reilly" but with the prevrn. the parvenous, were considered crass, tackless, and not accepted by the cave dwellers, official society or the military socially. as i said, lars's parents had moved to washington in 1880, they contracted the famous architect, henry hausen richardson to build this house on 16th and k street. this was right in the middle of the cave dwellers, intentionally, and they became cave dwellers themselves. the house no longer stands, and i was lucky to find an image of the house in a book. one of the first parvenus that moved to washington was anastasia patton and one of her
1:29 pm
five daughters. she had gotten her money from her husband, she was a widow, and had made his fortune in nevada in gold. it was much more stable basis for wealth than silver was at the time. she had five daughters, and after her husband died, she took them all to europe on the grand tour, which lasted about eight years. when they came back anastasia bought several, well, probably five or six house lots across the street from curtis hillyer, and contracted architect robert flemming to build this very large house. when they went to tear it down, it took three months. it was solidly rebuilt. one of the interesting things i found out about the five patton daughters is that they were everywhere all the time, and were socially interchangeable. and i was trying to tract them down in the society pages and wherever i could and the papers always included ms. patton as one of the attendees, or ms. patton hosted a tea.
1:30 pm
i was like, what's going o they were just interchangeable. no one knew which is which, and they were spread out, and they were all over the city and in the evening. the pattons became famous for their tea and you can guess they became spinsters and were serving tea into the 1930s. two of the patton sisters married. the first was augusta who married john glover, and made the mistake of moving into the house. so glover was the first male ever to live in the house. shortly thereafter, a big feud broke out with the glovers about augusta's inheritance, because apparently, anastasia had lent him money, not a lot, but she had lent him money. the sisters claimed that that was augusta's inheritance, and glover was claiming that was just a loan to cover a political campaign. the feud got so nasty they were kicked out of the house,
1:31 pm
excommunicated from the family and she never returned. another sister, edith, waited until 1901 to marry. a little late for her, but married general henry kor bin, a civil war general, he was older. the marriage lasted six years and he died. one of the interesting things about edith in 1901 was she still hadn't received her inheritance, and she was -- the sisters -- one of the thingsg in the mother's will was that no daughter could get their inheritance if they were going to get married, the other sisters had to give their blessing. well, they gave their blessing to general corbin but years before edith was engaged to somebody else, another gentleman, and the invitations had been sent out. it was in the paper, and at the last minute, the sisters decided they didn't approve and it was all called off.
1:32 pm
the leiters, i'm calling the parvenus, par excellence, because they would change the face of washington society. they were running the blain house in the 1880s for the absorbance of $11,500 a year. i haven't done the calculations as to how much that is in today's dollars, but it's a lot, and they were proudly telling everybody how much they were paying for rent, trying to give the impression that money was no obstacle. but everyone in town realized that they were just suckers and being taken in by blain. levi leiter was one of the founders of marshall field's -- what later became marshall field's department store. and when he died he was worth over a billion dollars in today's money. but that said, in 1891, the leiters decided to make this their social home, the social season ran from about ing in to lent, and
1:33 pm
everyone left town. they went to such places as newfort, the harbor, or if you didn't get an invitation to one of those places, you disappeared for the summer. the worst thing to do would be to stay in town and, of course, the cave dwellers had to stay in town. they didn't have any money, so they watched all these wealthy people come and go. anyway, mary leiter, mrs. leiter, was very ambitious. she was a school teacher before she was married in chicago, and she was famous for her mallowprops. several of them, you have probably heard. once, when she was coming back from a trip to europe, the press met her on the dock and said, mrs. leiter, how does it feel to be back in the united states? she replied that she was relieved to have her feet back on american terra-cotta again. [laughing] one of the favorite things to do was show guests in the house, one of the acquisitions in the house from
1:34 pm
europe, which was the bust of her hand by rodan. the daughter of the russian ambassador was at the dinner and she had her first taste of terrapin soup, which was always a starter course at the time. it was the delicacy. everybody had to have it. she didn't like it and pushed the bowl away. mary leiter was on the other end of the table and she stood up and said, you can't refuse my terrapin. it costs $100 a bowl. so that quickly made the press. but in the end people like to talk about the leiters and laugh about them, but everyone ended up loving them and was very happy to receive an invitation to their house. but at the same time, you were never quite sure how you would be received. if mary threw a ball, sometimes she would run a silk rope across the dressing room and on one side was her a list guest, and on the other side was everybody else. so you just didn't know which side you were going to be on. at one point, mary had a direct battle with the cave dwellers.
1:35 pm
when their youngest daughter daisy, it was time for her to come out, mary scheduled a cotillion ball. but it happened to be the same night the cave dwellers were holding their annual subscription dance. so the cave dwellers wrote to mary leiter and said, would you consider moving your date of the cotillion, because it's the same night of our event. mary wrote back in the same afternoon and said no, move yours. well, war broke out and society in washington was very upset because many were receiving invitations to both events and mary leiter made it very clear if you did not show up at her cotillion cotillion, you would be stricken from her invitee list. so the plan was to go to the cave dwellers ball first and then move on to mary leiter's. but when everyone got to the cave dwellers ball, the old women were blocking the doors so
1:36 pm
nobody could leave. [laughing] so general grant's grandson, received an invitation to both and bribed one of the waiters to let him out through the kitchen. and he ran across dupont circle and made it to mary lighter's in time. most people figured this out too and got out and later had his pocket stuffed full of money. a few didn't. they were left cowering on the other side of the door with the cave dwellers staring at them. but mary was so significant that the parvenus, who had been looked down upon for years actually became elevated to their own social set which was nicknamed the smart set, and mary was the reigning queen of the smart set. the lighters had four children two daughters and one son. the daughters were the -- were pages out of edith horton's,
1:37 pm
"the buccaneers," because mary lighter realized that to elevate her position in society even higher, if her daughters could marry titled europeans, all the better, so it worked. mary victoria, the oldest daughter, married george kurzon in 1885 with a huge wedding at st. john's church. the president attended. everybody attended. lord kuzon became the viceroy of india. so when she died in 1903. she was the highest ranking american in the british court at the time. nancy, the middle daughter, you can see, well, she got all the looks in the family. when she was visiting in india met colonel clark. they fell in love and got married. daisy married the older one,
1:38 pm
suffolk. when he graduate friday harvard, his father gave him a million dollars just to see what he could do with it. joseph used it, tried to corner the wheat market in chicago. other traders fell out and the bottom fell out of the wheat market and joseph lost a million dollars or more and his father had to bail him out. he earned it back multiple after that. and he also inherited the house as well. but he was known for extravagant spending, and at one point, he bought a thousand pairs of silk socks. at one point when he tried to buy the great wall of china, his sister daisy thought that was enough and sued him for mismanagement of the family estate. this was in court for years, and she ultimately lost. one person i find very interesting is the person who
1:39 pm
made the transition from cave dwelle to the smart pack, and that was a woman who spent many years on lafayette square. her father was a congressman from pennsylvania. he owned 25,000 jackson place. minnie married richard towns end, who was then period of the erie pennsylvania railroad. you can imagine how much the president of the railroad was making at the time. she decided she wanted to move back to washington to take part in society life again. they moved back into the father's old house which wasn't large enough, so she had an addition put on, a very large dressing room, because at the time, the thing to do was to haveining room, because at the time, the thing to do was to have large parties. you entertained as lavishly as you could at dinner, and the more guests, the better. that dining room proved not to be large enough, and mary went looking for another home. she set her eyes on hillyer's
1:40 pm
house across the street. now, what's interesting about mary was she had this incredible phobia. she believed if she ever moved into a new house, she would die. so the hillyer house, even though it's very large was still not large enough for mary's entertaining needs. she needed a ball room and basically a banquet hall. so she worked for the architects, took to hillyer's house, and encased it and expanded it so when you look at this this, when you look at that, the original house is somewhere inside of there, so a certain closet is inside, you can see the original house still. if you get around the back, you can see the carve of the original face. so mary had her wish. she had a large house, and it wasn't new, and she and richard moved in. but richard was riding a horse in rock creek that year that
1:41 pm
they moved in, and was thrown and killed. so maybe minnie didn't dispel the curse. minnie was wise. she made friends with the patton sisters across the street. you didn't want them against you. but they were quite prudish by this point. it was 1900 already, and they probably weren't privy to everything going on in the towns towns. many had a reputation for arranging and hosting trysts in the house. one notable one was sissy patterson, and a german diplomat. my guess is the patton sisters didn't really know about this. minnie was also known for lavish entertaining, and at one point her entertaining budget per year was said to be $240,000 in old money. and as i said, the kazos club, eventually acquired the building in 1950. minnie was a little distraught because during her first dinner
1:42 pm
party, she had to pull the guests away from her front window. they were all staring across the street wondering what was going on. and across the street, the anderson mansion was starting to go up. and minnie and the anderson were friends but often competitive socially about who could throw the bigger galas. so this was 1902. as i said, lars was the son of nicholas anderson, who was living on 16th and k street, or he had died at this point. his mother still lived in the house on 16th and k. lars and isabel could have moved into the house but at that point, this heavy estonian house was not stylish, and it was not in vogue in town, which was dupont circle. when lars married isabel she had recently inherited $17
1:43 pm
million. i've tried to spend time calculating what it is in today's dollars and came up with several figures. the low end is $307 billion. on the high end, buying dollars, buying power today, or in power and influence, it's up to $11.7 billion. anyway, isabel was the wealthiest woman in america when she married lars. so they had bought these house lots from the patton centers and said that the andersons never felt totally comfortable in the house because the patton sisters were spying on them. they'd look out the windows, keep a list of who was coming and going. they were known to be talking to the staff here about what was going on in the house and they would call lars's mother and tell her. lars's mother was a very proper society woman, cave dweller, and didn't approve and lars was
1:44 pm
getting an earful. it wasn't always the best to hear. lars had a distinguishly short diplomatic career. through his friend from harvard robert todd lincoln, he got an appointment in the court of st. james. from there, he became the first secretary of the embassy in rome, and then served one-year stint as a minister to belgium and japan, but after that, decided he had enough with working life and pretty much retired. but no one entertained like the andersons. it seemed like a shot out of "downtown abbey". they were outliers socially, and had their foot in all of washington's social steers. they loved to entertain and entertain the social society, cave dwellers, foreign dignitaries, all with the wealth and ostentatiousness that anyone
1:45 pm
could hope for. the andersons threw huge dinners, and the staff would be dressed in full costume, white wigs, tail coats buttons and knickers and pattoned shoes. isabel was not only a society woman. she was also an author and wrote several children's books and plays. she wrote a book about her life in washington called "presidents and pies," and it's kind of an interesting read. it's written from to the top down from society. and she seems very innocent describing all the events and the wonderful people and what they were wearing and where they went and what they ate, and she seemed to kind of miss the darker underbelly of washington society but in her book, she does innocently mention introducing the italian duke of brushgs tsy to kathryn elkins,
1:46 pm
who is the daughter and representative of steven elkins someone in official society. this started aature turrid affair. everyone assumed kathryn was going to marry her childhood friend, william or billy hit. the affair went on for years. she would disappear to europe and there would be reports of a tryst in baden or wherever, she'd come back and deny it and the duke would deny it. at one point, they were planning on getting married supposedly but the queen of spain refused to letvq! get married. he tried to renounce his title. that didn't work. elkins tried to offer a dowry of a million dollars, but that didn't dissuade the queen. after one of their last trips, kathryn came back to washington and suddenly in a surprise to
1:47 pm
everyone married billy hitt. the duke died brokenhearted years later. i mean, he died -- there was one photograph photograph in his collar and that was of kathryn elkins. the marriage to billy hitt did not last very long. she took a boat to paris, and he was notified she was in paris seeking a divorce. he took the boat over, met her there, they got divorced. on the way back, they not only shared the same boat but shared the same cabin and other passengers were like, are you sure they're divorced? so they came back, lived separate lives, and two years later got married again. [laughing] billy hitt grew up in a house which is no longer there across from the lighters. his mother was a cave dweller. the house is now the society of
1:48 pm
another place in the '60s. during world war i, everyone was expected to contribute to society and women were no exception. during the war, naval boardmen, whose houses were as i mentioned now the iraqi council, was heading up the american red cross and was organizing a society in town to the war effort, sewing clothes sending packages to the front. she was having a meeting one afternoon with isabel anderson, and i'm not really quite sure how this came about, but suddenly, maybell boardman came up with the idea of the washington refreshment corps, which in her mind would feed soldiers passing through washington. i'm not sure if she was serious about this or just trying to find something for isabel to do. isabel took it and ran. she started off with 36
1:49 pm
volunteers and ended up with 150 in charges of daily stocking a kitchen trailer and a sandwich truck, as you can see this is the staff in the backyard of the anderson house preparing sandwiches, and this is her famous traveling kitchen truck. she also housed the truck overnight in the anderson carriage house. and isabel took her sense of responsibility further than most of the washington society did. she left for europe and spent months on the front lines servicing the american red cross, working hospitals in both belgium and france on the fronts. she was later awarded the french courtier, the royal belgium medal of the red cross and the american red cross canteen
1:50 pm
medal. it was funny, because i had read "presidents and pies," and every once in a while, she'll mention the front or on the front, but never a description of any of the horrible experiences and sights she must have seen there, so i think for the folks, she just wanted to focus on pleasant life in washington. after the war, the andersons were barely in washington, hardly at all. they rented the house out to foreign dignitaries, ambassadors and their staff, lars died in 1937, and isabel having no use for this wonderful house according to lars's wishes, donated it to the society of cincinnati. and isabel died in 1948 at the age of 72, and at the washington
1:51 pm
national cathedral. so just to close up on personages in the neighborhood, lars had a cousin, nicholas longworth, a representative from ohio and long-term speaker of the house. nicholas married alice roosevelt roosevelt, teddy roosevelt's eldest daughter, and in 1925, they bought the house, at 2009 massachusetts avenue. they moved in with their one-year-old daughter paulina. paulina, this is by alice's own admission, was not nicholas's child. alice had been having a long-term affair with senator william bora and this was his child. when alice was carrying paulina, she was thinking of calling her debra, and that was a play on the name debra and abora. debora. but people got wind of this and referred to her as aurora bora
1:52 pm
alice and she became simply pauline a [laughing] nicholas died in 1931, and alice stayed in the house and became pretty much a political power house and broker. she could make or break a political career. if you wanted a political career, you got to try to get on her good side, which was not easy. and to keep your career, you stayed on it. at one point people said that she cost duey the presidential election because she referred to him publicly as that little man on the wedding cake with a pencil mustache. speaking of equipped, one party, joe mccarthy walked up to her and said, i think i'm going to call you alice. and she responded the trash man and the policeman on my block call me alice, but you may not. she told lyndon johnson that she
1:53 pm
wore wide-brimmed hats to keep him from kissing her. [laughing] at one point, he insisted on showing her his appendix scar and she turned around and bloated out, thank got it was not his prostate. [laughing] so of all her quips, i think one alice is most noted for which made it to the needle point on her cushion was, if you can't say something good about somebody, come sit here by me. there are several versions of this, and i think this one got boiled down so it could actually fit on her pillow. alice stayed in the house for years. she stayed in the house on massachusetts avenue during the riots of the 1960s. one night, she opened her window and got a face full of tear gas and police were out trying to dispel demonstrators, and they said, well, mrs. longworth how did you deal with the tear gas? and she said that it clears her sinuses.
1:54 pm
[laughing] eventually, she adopted her granddaughter, lila, it was quite a legal battle with the father's family. and the granddaughter became the daughter alice never%had.@&hlc iĆ” had earlier committed suicide, sadly, and always had a torrid relationship with her mother so the granddaughter took it over and really kept an eye on her, especially in her last years. one of the last talks i gave, a woman came up to me afterwards and she said that she had interviewed alice roosevelt longworth on the occasion of her 90th birthday in her house. i said oh, my gosh. she said well, she was a new reporter for newsweek, and this was her first assignment and she went over. alice could never remember who she was or why she was there so it was hard getting an interview out of her. alice died in 1980 at the age of 96. she was the first of teddy roosevelt's children to be born
1:55 pm
and the last to die, so a long span. and also, to me, she was the last surviving sion of the dupont circle's guilded age, and she actually survived it by 60 plus years. and so with that, i'd like to conclude and be happy to answer any questions that you might have. . [applause] yes i think there's a microphone. >> . [indiscernible question] >> yes. they socialized with everybody. >>. [indiscernible question]
1:56 pm
>> yes it is. it's currently under scaffold home to an international law firm. >> around dupont circle. >> yes. the question was, did alice go on midnight rides with her friends around dupont circle? margaret frinny, the ambassador's daughter, had a car, and she would sneak out of the house laelt at night, get in the car, take off, swing by the house, pick up alice and pick up a couple of other friends, sissy patterson, at one point and the police stopped her several times for speeding around dupont circle for going over 15 miles per hour. >> they would go on horses, gallop on horses around all this area? >> i know it was a car, and i know that cassini liked to ride
1:57 pm
in rock creek park. >> i can also just talk loudly. so what was alice's relationship with f.d.r.? i know there was a bit of tension between the two sides of the family. do you know anything about that relationship? >> yes. alice really, to put it mildly, did not like f.d.r. alice was a republican. f.d.r. was the other side of the family. elaneor was alice's cousin and franklin was a second cousin, and alice, for most of all of his life was not very kind to her either and quite vicious. but in their later years, they kind of mended ways and became friends, but she never supported f.d.r. and was very outspoken about it. >> hi. i know that you spoke about some
1:58 pm
members of congress that came and frequented dupont circle, but i know that some supreme court justices also frequented the circle. did your research turn up anything about that? >> yes, there were several supreme court justices who did live in dupont circle, basically along massachusetts avenue between 17th and circle, and with so many people staring at me, i can't tell you which ones. [laughing] >> how many of the great houses of that age remain now in washington? >> in washington? >> you know, the brewmasters castle, this house, like how many of the houses are still here and have not been bulldozed and made into office buildings? >> well, tonight, specifically, i focus right around dupont circle, but if you go up new hampshire, which was the prime spot after the lighters had
1:59 pm
first built at the foot of new hampshire, there's still grand bozar's mansions up there. coming out this way, there are probably five or -- well, not the grand bozart's palaces, but some very significant brick houses still stand, you know, like the philips' house. so it depends. anything south of dupont is gone, basically. >> >>. [indiscernible question] were they accepted everywhere too or just part of the old cave dwellers? >> that's a good question. christian, technically, i could you could say he was part of the
2:00 pm
smart set. but also, he was a foreigner. he was a part of the diplomatic set, and he tended to be a workaholic, so he wasn'ti don't think he fit into much into the social life in this part of the circle. he was very wrapped up in the german community. i think that is where his social energies went. [applause] >> with live coverage of the u.s. house on c-span and the senate on c-span 3, we complement that. on weekends, it is home

14 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on