There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
If you ever make it out to far Northwest, and happen to turn right off Reservoir Road on to Foxhall, you’ll notice a vast open hillside, veined with stone walls waiting to enclose gigantic new mansions, for all the world like a little piece of McLean had been transposed to Washington.
The 17-acre parcel at 1801 Foxhall Road has a curious history. In 2001, the Casey Foundation tried to donate the former Brady estate to the District for use as a permanent residence for the mayor, but neighbors objected to the foundation’s attempt to annex adjoining federal parkland—and besides, the idea of a mayoral manse in the wealthiest part of D.C. started to look unseemly at a time of rapid gentrification.
Instead, the Casey Foundation decided to sell the land and donate the proceeds to the Salvation Army. In 2004, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School won the bid, and will be using about half the site for new school buildings and recreational facilities. The remaining eight acres were sold to residential developer Elm Street, which planned to build 27 super-luxe homes to order.
So far, only one—a demonstration home on Hoban Road—has actually been built. It’s the nicest new construction I’ve seen, complete with an elevator and master bathroom so large you’ll get lost in it. The developer expects it to command a commensurate price, at upwards of $3 million. Perhaps that’s why only one of the actual home sites has sold since Elm Street started marketing last November.
The blank new subdivision is a bizarre sight in D.C., where housing is dense enough that single new homes and apartment buildings are as big as you get. But to see what 1801 Foxhall will look like in a few years—assuming those homes ever sell—just travel a bit further uphill, to Phillips Park, where another set of obscenely large homes built on streets named “Chestnut” and “Deerfield.”
Much of the area was originally developed in similar subdivisions. In the 1920s, the W.C. & A.N. Miller company built dozens of homes in the planed neighborhoods of Wesley Heights and Spring Valley, attracting wealthy residents from the closer-in neighborhoods with the prospect of greenery and peace. The primary difference between those old developments and how Elm Street is marketing is choice: Today, you can get whatever you want built by an array of architects. Back then, the Miller Company took pride in developing all the sites in a harmonious relationship with each other. “It was seldom that he planned a single house,” it was said of the architect. “Instead, he planned a street.”
What remains the same, however, is the marketing of exclusivity. In the 30s, the Miller Company did this with explicit racial covenants. Today, Elm Street is doing it through the concept of “prestige.”
“For generations the Foxhall neighborhood has been home to a who’s who of notable Washington residents,” the website promises. “Neighbors include the socially prominent, blue-chip business and professional leaders, and members of the diplomatic corps and political community. Now you can make the most of this privileged domain for personal living and entertaining at 1801 Foxhall.”
Historical information from Washington at Home: An illustrated history of neighborhoods in the nation’s capital.