Mount Pleasant Historic District
The Mount Pleasant Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
Mount Pleasant was traditionally a rural community centered in the vicinity of today's 14th Street and Park Road, N.W. This central area became the Village of Mount Pleasant around 1850. As new neighborhoods grew, particularly Columbia Heights (13th Street east to Georgia Avenue), the new development of Mount Pleasant was pushed to the west. In 1901, the extension and relocation of 16th Street redefined the Eastern boundary of Mount Pleasant. The Mount Pleasant Historic District, a product of 20th century design, has a distinct identity apparent in both its natural and designed features. The area is situated east of Rock Creek Park, which defines its north and west boundaries. To the south, the curved, sloping route of Harvard Street delineates its boundary. To the east, the wide avenue of 16th Street separates it from the rest of the city. The high elevation and rolling terrain further distinguishes this district. From the highest grade along the fall line at Park Road, the land slopes downward, breaking into a severe drop to the north and west. The wooded acreage of Rock Creek Park and the National Zoological Park further define the district. The natural boundaries of the district are easily distinguishable when walking through Mount Pleasant where steep grade, stone retaining walls and high steps abound.
Mount Pleasant has its origins with the large land patents of the 1700's. James Holmead first settled near the present day southern and original eastern boundaries and built Holmead Manor in 1740. In the 1800's large estates, such as Anthony Holmead's "Pleasant Plains," Robert Peter's "Mount Pleasant" and Hiram Walbridge's "Ingleside," divided the rural countryside. Samuel P. Brown's assemblage of property into a new "Mount Pleasant" estate took place after the Civil War. It was in this period that Brown, an astute real estate investor, recognized the opportunity to successfully develop his land into a suburban village.
Located on a high plain extending from Rock Creek east across to today's 13th Street, far from the swamps and marshes of the District's basin, the beautiful wooded area was easily recognized for its contribution to an idyllic life style. A commentator of the 1870's wrote, "it is perhaps the most healthy suburb in Washington." Despite the beauty of the country setting, Brown was able to sell only five of his lots. But with the city's growth, the advent of the electric streetcar in 1888 and the maturing of Mount Pleasant's own community resources, the area advanced and by the 1920's Mount Pleasant was densely developed. [see Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928 ]
Like their founder, S.P. Brown, a native of Maine, many of the early residents of Mount Pleasant Village are said to have come from New England stock. As their public spirit, values and pride permeated life in the area, Mount Pleasant developed into a cohesive community with a full complement of social, spiritual and utility services and institutions.
In 1901, Congress authorized the extension of 16th Street, dividing the community into two parts. What had been the broad expanse of Mount Pleasant across the entire ridge, now was reduced to the area west of 16th Street. The resulting community was boasted by the renaming of 16-1/2 Street as Mount Pleasant Street, the development of Mount Pleasant Street as a commercial area, and the introduction of the Mount Pleasant trolley.
This consolidation augmented Mount Pleasant's identity by strengthening its direct physical connection to the downtown, enhancing it as a close-in suburb, and drawing notice to its suburban beauty and healthy atmosphere. The concurrent extension of the streetcar to within Mount Pleasant's boundaries, and a public concern for a healthy environment resulted in a surge of growth in Mount Pleasant. The original single-family houses were followed by a combination of large detached houses, semi-detached townhouses, rowhouses and apartment buildings, which quickly filled in the area's terrain and firmly establishing Mount Pleasant's urban character within a rural setting. Schools, a library, churches, and a concise commercial strip completed the development of the district.
Today, the Mount Pleasant Historic District has a street plan composed of a pattern of straight (predominantly east-west), curved, and diagonal streets. The plan conforms in spirit to that of the L'Enfant Plan as required by the Highway Act of 1898, but is also responsive to the roll of the terrain. Buildings sited along changing grade have been handled very well in nearly all cases. Despite urban density, the district has a peaceful character as a result of the terrain, siting, and abundance of trees and shrubbery. There are three public park areas within the district.
The hilly terrain and straight and curved streets work with the building set-backs to create a gracious streetscape terminating in a distant vista. Because of the natural relationship between Mount Pleasant and Mount Saint Albans, the National Cathedral (began construction in 1907) serves as a compelling focal point visible from many vantages. Trees, sidewalks, retaining walls, front yards, porches, stairs, bays— all work together to add dimension and visual interest to the streetscape.
Dominated by early 20th-century town and row houses, Mount Pleasant remains a densely developed residential community complete with a variety of building stock, all well-sited and scaled along wide streets and broad vistas. Built primarily of brick, as is so much of Washington, the row urban dwellings exhibit design elements composed and articulated in a variety of ways to form cohesive facades. Bays, porches, columns, fenestration, roof types and materials, dormers, brackets and other materials and textures are repeated and adapted in a manner that enriches the architecture and streetscape. Scale and proportion complement the street and maintain visual order.
Interspersed between the brick row houses are many detached and semi-detached residences. These buildings are of a variety of materials, and are of grand or modest scale. They reveal a high level of craftsmanship and style. The products of this period, roughly 1870 to 1910, are Victorian shingled farmhouses, and Colonial Revival brick mansions situated grandly above Park. There are a number of large apartment buildings from the early 20th century. All are located at key points throughout the Historic District. They serve to firmly anchor its boundaries. A carefully constrained commercial corridor provides, as it has since the 1900's, the services and products necessary for a self-sufficient community. Primarily of vernacular design, these buildings provide insight into the development of commerce and taste.
Institutional architecture, the product of 20th century growth, includes an Italian Renaissance style public library; several churches in a variety of styles including Romanesque Revival and Neo-Classical, a Spanish Revival mission serving as a day care center; an Italian Renaissance style public school.
The Mount Pleasant Historic District represents the development of Mount Pleasant from its origins as large parcels of farm land, its early village years, its heyday as the home of prosperous merchants, to its development as a solid middle-class community within a larger urban framework. Eighteenth-century "Ingleside," the Victorian Carpenter Gothic frame houses, the large Colonial Revival residences of the north side of Park Road, the gracious townhouses of Lament Street, the rows of attached houses along rolling streets give Mount Pleasant its distinct character, one representative of every major period of development.
Mount Pleasant's history dates to the early 1700's. Its beginnings are rooted in colonial times when, in 1727, James Holmead received a patent from Charles Carroll, Lord Baltimore, for a large parcel of land that included the area to the east of Rock Creek and south of Piney Branch. In 1740, just beyond the contemporary boundaries (approximately the 3500 block of 17th Street) of Mount Pleasant, Holmead built "Holmead Manor." Anthony Holmead, a British nephew, came to America to inherit the estate in 1750. Naming his large tract "Pleasant Plains," he lived there until his death in 1802. Holmead's estate was divided in two and the western portion that embraced contemporary Mount Pleasant went to his son, John. John's heirs gradually sold off large portions of the original estate. They did hold on to that small portion that would become the site of the village of Mount Pleasant. The Holmead family retained the mansion and lived there as active members of the Mount Pleasant community into the 1890's when the house was demolished.
In 1802, the Washington Jockey Club rented part of the Holmead property for their Washington Race Course, but in 1840 when the Club failed to renew its lease, William Holmead attempted to subdivide the land into five-acre lots suitable for country house construction. Despite an advertisement in the October 29, 1836 Washington Globe describing the area as "well suited for the residence of a gentleman of fortune, having a commanding view of the city and surrounding country, and every advantage for the display of taste in improvement," these efforts to create suburban lots were premature and proved unsuccessful.
1850 found a portion of the Holmead estate in new hands: first, of J. Ross Brown, a famous traveler, and then, a month later, sold to William Selden. This property comprised 73 acres of land lying north of Linnean Hill Road (now Park Road) and set between Fourteenth Street to the east and the estate of "Ingleside" to the west. Selden had served as Treasurer of the United States and in 1850 was Marshal of the Supreme Court. He built a large house on what is now Mount Pleasant Street and lived there for close to 12 years. The onset of the Civil War was difficult on the Southern sympathizer. Cut off from the income derived from his extensive Virginia landholdings, Selden was forced to sell his house and property at a very low price, while he returned to his native state.
On the 30th of May, 1862, Selden released various deeds of trust on his property and conveyed it to Samuel P. Brown. In 1862, this land and its house was occupied by Northern military troops, but as soon as the soldiers were withdrawn, the new owner set to improving his holdings. Brown expanded the house into a 30-room mansion boasting three drawing rooms; he planted fruit trees and ornamental shrubbery; and soon he moved his family into their new house, named as Robert Peter's estate to the south had been, "Mount Pleasant."
When Brown purchased Selden's land, the war had greatly depressed prices. At the war's end, when real estate began to recover and business returned to normal, Brown recognized an excellent opportunity to sell some of his holdings for a sizable profit. In May, 1865, he surveyed and subdivided a portion of the land. Opening up one street, to be named Sheridan Avenue, permitted the creation of one-acre lots with 130 foot frontage and 330 foot depth. One lot was sold at a public auction and four at a private sale. Despite poor sales at first, it is this effort that is recognized as having "inaugurated the movement which has resulted in the building up of the beautiful suburban village of Mount Pleasant.
Samuel P. Brown was a native of Hancock County, Maine. His early career was spent in the survey and exploration of timberland, and later in the lumber, granite and shipbuilding businesses. Elected to the state legislature of Maine intermittently between 1845 and 1859, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Congress in 1860. In 1861, he moved to Washington and was appointed a naval agent. He is believed responsible for building several large residences in the District. In 1863, Brown organized and started to build the horse-drawn Metropolitan Street Railroad and served as its President through the early 1900's. Continuing an active interest in politics, Brown was appointed a member of the Levy Court and served as a member of the District's Board of Public Works.
Brown's ability in real estate investment is evident in his shrewd purchase of the Selden holdings. When, after the war, prices returned to normal, Brown is credited with thinking, "that he might do good service to the public and to himself" by selling off a portion of his farm in lots suitable for suburban residences. Brown's public-spirited efforts were soon duplicated by the developers who founded Kalorama in the 1880's. Massachusetts Avenue and Chevy Chase also were being subdivided into building lots during this era. As an astute businessman, Brown was involved in many investments throughout the District and took an active interest in the future of his city. As a Presidential appointee to the District's Board of Public Works, Brown was part of the body which, under Alexander Shepherd's lead, was to alter the appearance of the Nation's Capital. As a large-scale re-investor like Shepherd, Brown was subjected to many of the same charges, including conspiracy to secure public contracts. Like Shepherd, Brown probably did use his position to enhance his own real estate holdings. An 1879 article in The Evening Star reported that Mount Pleasant's roads "are neatly laid into streets, are macadamized and are kept in good condition the year round, making one of the finest suburban drives adjacent to the City." But no evidence came forth to prove that he used his position wrongfully.
The original purchasers of Mount Pleasant lots included J.S. Brown (lots 4 and 5, fronting on Park Street); Isaac Bond (Lot 28, fronting on Sheridan Avenue); W.C. Lipscomb, Jr. (Lot 6, fronting on Park Street); and Ephriam Wheeler (Lot 14, fronting on Park Street). By 1867, each of them had built a house on their lot. These five lots were located in the section of 14th Street and Park Street (Road) closest to downtown Washington via the 14th Street route.
After these Initial sales, no lots sold for one year. Then, in the summer of 1866, a group of government clerks banded together to purchase land to be used as home sites. After considering several possible suburban properties, they selected Brown's Mount Pleasant subdivision. To accommodate these men, Brown made his second subdivision. This added Howard Avenue, Brown Street, Center Street, Meridian Avenue, and Oak Street. Sheridan Avenue was reduced from 60 feet to 45 feet in width and acre lots on the north side were reduced to half-acre lots, extending from Sheridan to Howard Avenues. Acre lots were laid out on the north side of Howard Avenue, extending through to Meridian Avenue. Of the 30 men in the original association, these remained in the deal — James S. Delano (lots 19-20, one acre on the northwest corner of Howard Avenue and Brown Street); J.W. Buker (Lot 38, 2 acres next to Delano's, north extending from Brown Street to Piney Branch Road); S.H. Goodman (Lot 39, one acre north of Buker between Brown Street and Piney Branch Road); E.S. Turner (Lots 36-37, 2 acres, fronting 132 feet each on Howard Avenue, and extending along Brown Street to Meridian Avenue); E.A. Pratt (Lot 35, one acre, 132 feet on Howard Avenue, next east to Turner); P.H. Folsom (Lot 34, next east to Pratt); B.P. Davis (Lot 32, Howard Avenue); A.L. Sturtevant (Lot 31 to the East of Davie); T.M. Exley (Lot 24, 1/2-acre, on Howard Avenue extending to Sheridan Avenue); and H. Baldwin (Lot 27, next to Bond).
Brown was not the only developer. Other investors bought and sold lots north of Howard Avenue and west of Fourteenth Street before and after Brown's subdivision. Thomas Quinter, married to a Holmead heir, sold off a portion of his wife's holdings. John Eggleston, a Baltimore native and butcher, purchased two acres in 1861. Abram Elkins, Jr., a clerk in the Treasury Department bought one acre in 1867. Samuel W. Estern, a native of Maryland, purchased one acre in 1872. Following Brown's lead, in 1867 Ohio's Senator John Sherman and his brother General William T. Sherman, purchased a tract of land lying between Fourteenth Street and the Joshua Pierce Estate, Park Street (Road) on the east and west, and the Columbian College property on the north and south. They immediately subdivided the land into lots and proceeded to sell.
During the year 1871, Samuel Brown purchased a second tract of land lying south of Park Road and west of the Sherman property. He subdivided the land and offered it for sale in 1872. The first lot sold was used for the second Mount Pleasant public school building. The original school house, built in 1869, was quickly outgrown by the small but increasing population and by Spring of 1872 a new building capable of holding several hundred students was constructed. Other lots sold quickly and more new houses were built in expanding Mount Pleasant.
Alongside the growing village were several large estates. James Eselin, an innkeeper who in the 1820's had purchased 40 acres to the west of Piney Branch Road, had come to the area from Prince George's County, Maryland. Eselin's son, Columbus, occupied a portion of the estate while his daughter, Mary, married William Holmead and lived on the 60-acre Holmead estate which formed the easterly limits of the old Mount Pleasant area. Near 14th Street, Francis Mattingly, a native of Maryland, was regarded as one of the area's most respected citizens. A successful manufacturer and retailer of hats, he moved to Mount Pleasant in 1866.
West of and adjoining the holdings of Samuel Brown and Piney Branch Road was the estate known as "Ingleside." Called the "most exclusive home in Mount Pleasant," Ingleside is believed to have been built for Henry Ingle, a friend of George Washington and secretary to Stephen Girard. The original occupants of the mansion were Congressman and Mrs. Chester Walbridge who lived there from 1850 until around 1890. The estate was then reduced in size as the Walbridge family subdivided one portion while selling the mansion and remaining grounds to Chapin Brown. Frank Noyes, Treasurer, editor and then president of The Evening Star owned Ingleside from 1896 until 1904. Ingleside was then owned by the Presbyterian Home. It is now known as the Stoddard Baptist Home and is a District of Columbia Historic Landmark. Its major significance is its architecture. Constructed about 1850 to the design of Philadelphia architect Thomas Ustick Walter, it is in a composite Italian Villa/Italianate design that Walter considered one of his most important works. Its terraced grounds were landscaped by the renowned Andrew Jackson Downing and epitomized Downing's philosophy of the interrelationship of architecture and nature.
To the west of Ingleside, forming the westerly boundary of Mount Pleasant was the estate of Robert C. Fox. An elegant summer residence, "Rosemount" consisted of 17 acres. Fox was a native of Virginia who came to Washington in 1855 as a tutor in Greek and Latin for nearby Columbian College. In 1872, Fox purchased Rosemount and continued to reside in Washington as a successful real estate broker. This area is now the site of the "House of Mercy," building designed by Nathan Wyeth. By the 1870's, Mount Pleasant existed as an idyllic rural village with sparsely populated rolling hills, surrounded to the north and west by the rich woodlands. Striking views from Mount Pleasant of the growing city and countryside could be matched only by those from Mount Saint Albans, its sister hill to the west.
While not the sole means of transportation to downtown, public transportation did provide Mount Pleasant residents with a relatively dependable connection to city life.
Life in Mount Pleasant was dubbed "utopian" by the amiable Star correspondent. With a population composed primarily of government employees, many with New England background, the homogeneity and sense of community ran strong. With "two good stores in the village which supply the necessities of everyday life," a four-room school with the capacity of 200 to 300 students, and proximity to downtown and car systems, Mount Pleasant residents seemed to enjoy the best of both country and city life.
But winter's severe weather served to isolate the village. The "Annals of Mount Pleasant" relates: "In the winter of 1867 and 1868, the little community at Mount Pleasant, finding themselves without any easy communication with the City, and virtually separated from all their former associations, began to feel the necessity of promoting social intercourse and enjoyment in their own neighborhood." This need, organized in its beginnings by S.N. Goodman and his sister, Harriet, resulted in community Bible classes and regularly scheduled parties (rotating through the neighborhood) with music, dancing and refreshments. The Oak Street school house was soon the location of many functions, including meetings concerned with the District's original home-rule organization.
By 1878, Mount Pleasant boasted an Opera House, a debating society known as the Mount Pleasant Lyceum, a literary society—the Philomatic Society—and a youths' debating club with ... all of these associations providing a general way for the amusement of the villagers."
But as proof of the sincerity and wholesome spirit of these social endeavors, residents took great pride in the prohibition of alcohol within their boundaries. "The fact that there is no spirituous liquor sold in the village betokens a temperate, industrious and thrifty little settlement where there is little sickness, few deaths, quiet nights and pure atmosphere to breathe unfreighted with the nauseous gases of the asphalt nuisances which make life better for city people."
In barely 10 years, Mount Pleasant had been transformed from agricultural land spotted with isolated homes to a healthy, self-sufficient, civic-minded community with a strong identity — indeed Washington's first suburb.
The turn of the century marked a new beginning for Mount Pleasant. Building came to a halt in 1893 in the District's suburban areas as Congressional regulations were proposed requiring both existing and new development to conform to a grid street system. As early as 1878, the "Annual Report of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia" mentioned the growing problem of development of streets outside of the L'Enfant Plan. There was a need to set standards for streets throughout the District of Columbia. Subdivision developers had no obligation to follow set patterns, or conform to existing streets until 1888 when Congress acted to halt the spread of "inharmonious subdivisions. This act required new streets to confirm with "the general plan of the City." The Board of Trade fought to enforce a permanent street system that would call both extant and proposed streets to conform to the plan. The 1893 Highway Act required this, but after five years of preparation and then ensuing battles, the 1898 Highway Act was passed requiring a permanent system but exempting streets which existed prior to 1893. Building resumed, land values soared and with regulated streets simplifying the extension of sewers, water mains and street lighting into the County, potential purchasers eagerly sought the opportunity to live in the new suburbs.
The act resulted in Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. drafting the first layout of the District's northwestern suburbs and the adoption in 1900 of a permanent street plan for future Washington. This was followed in 1901 with the establishment of the Park Commission by the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia. Historian Constance Green states: "...those measures constitute the first conscious attempt to guide the suburban growth of an American Community along lines that would ensure harmony between new developments and the parent city."
While a good portion of the eastern section of Mount Pleasant had already been platted (laid out haphazardly by Brown in 1862), the area west of 16th Street was only lightly developed. This western area had to conform to the city's grid plan though it was allowed to follow the natural terrain, if necessary. This was to have a dramatic effect on the boundaries of Mount Pleasant.
In 1890, the Walbridge family took steps to develop their landholdings around Ingleside. Chapin Brown, son of S.P. Brown, purchased 60 acres to the north of Park Road. The Walbridge's moved toward subdividing the area south of Park Road between today's Adams Mill Road, 17th Street and Harvard Street. It was not until after the Highway Act of 1898 that any progress was actually made. But once the subdivision and streets were legally established, the development of the western portion of Mount Pleasant could begin.
The beginning of street car service into Mount Pleasant had a critical impact. In June, 1900, Congress authorized the Metropolitan Railway Company to extend its line north via Columbia Road and Mount Pleasant Street to Park Road. As S.P. Brown was president of Metropolitan Railway company, this was not a surprising development (the route terminated in front of his house), but it did assure Mount Pleasant of a "necessary link to downtown Washington" and made commuting infinitely quicker and more convenient than earlier routes. Capital Traction Company (which had taken over the Washington and Georgetown line) ran an electric car line up 14th Street as early as 1892. Two public transportation systems certainly improved Mount Pleasant's image for the potential homeowner. Noted architectural historian Anatole Senkovich writes: "As the transportation network improved, the city boundary dissolved," and Mount Pleasant became firmly ensconced into the urban environment.
This change required new orientation for the neighborhood. The old 16th Street extension, running diagonally from the intersection of Columbia Road and 16th Street northwest to Park Road, replaced 14th Street as the commercial corridor for the new area and was renamed Mount Pleasant Street. When the streetcar line was installed, the new Mount Pleasant Street was established as the hub of business activity. According to the city planners, the new 16th Street was designed to "solve the need for an improved entrance to Rock Creek Park." The Park had already shown itself to be a valuable asset in attracting potential home buyers to Mount Pleasant, and the concept of a grand avenue filled with elegant mansions only added to the neighborhood's appeal. Working closely with Mrs. John Henderson, the well known promoter of 16th Street, Sherman was able to push through the widening and grading of this street right through his own property, and subsequent subdivisions.
This change altered Mount Pleasant. It altered traditional social routines, reorganized its commercial patterns, tightened its boundaries and boosted its real estate value. Prior to 1900, the majority of residential development had been heavily concentrated along 14th Street and to the immediate west along Columbia Road and Irving, Monroe and Newton Streets. Concurrently with the extension of 16th Street, the land to the west subdivided in the 1890's was now developed. This was the beginning of a new wave of subdivisions between 16th Street and Rock Creek Park. Though often called a streetcar suburb, the heart of Mount Pleasant was well-established by 1900 when the street railway system was first extended into the area. It was the western section of Mount Pleasant that was to experience a development boom when public transportation arrived. Now with a street railway, the elegant promise of a wide 16th Street, public services, and a beautiful, healthy natural setting. Mount Pleasant was ripe for complete development. Promotional pieces boasted of "the fresh, sweet atmosphere of the old woodland...in vivid contrast to the bustle of the city at the very back doors of these homes. Beautiful residences, protection, convenience, accessibility..." The residents of Mount Pleasant lived in a variety of housing—products of architects and developers, privately commissioned as well as speculative. Regardless of their architectural massing or style, they were all "city-country homes" in an "excellent location."
The "City Beautiful" movement was the product of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Seeking order, grandeur and classicism in architecture, proponents of the movement had a tremendous effect on the aesthetic thrust of the United States. This movement conformed to the general mood of the Progressive Era. The Progressives, believing it was possible to improve the world through positive action, altered many traditions of the 19th century. Senator Robert M. LaFollette, one of the major Progessive leaders and a candidate for president on the Progressive ticket in 1924, lived in Mount Pleasant at 3220 16th Street, N.W. People like LaFolletto and Mrs, John Henderson looked to the Nation's capital as the promise of better life, both socially and aesthetically. In Washington, the movement was followed at several levels. In 1898, plans for the District of Columbia Centennial Celebration brought citizens and members of Congress together. At that meeting, early plans to look to L'Enfant's original plan for the Capital were aired. In 1900, the American Institute of Architects, newly moved to Washington from New York City, followed local architect Glenn Brown's lead to capitalize on the Centennial event "as an ideal time to generate nationwide interest in the improvement of Washington as well as to emphasize the contribution of American architects." Stressed was "Washington's role as a national capital suggested a different standard, a 'world standard' reflecting the dignity, order and continuity of national, even an imperial state." From this, the McMillan Commission and its "Plan of 1901" was born. This concern for the aesthetics of cities, and the sister movement to free urban environments from the disease and squalor, so prevalent to the Victorian city, had national impact. Cities across the country retained designers to develop their master plans. In Washington, an outgrowth of the Plan was the "Bureau of Fine Arts" of 1909. By 1910, "The Commission of Fine Arts" was legislated into existence by Congress.
Washington boomed during these early years of the 20th century. Buoyed on by feelings of grandeur, pride, and satisfaction in the potential of their city as a bonafide "City Beautiful," residents and developers alike sought out the opportunity to be part of communities that represented these ideals. By 1907, the growing consciousness of the "City Beautiful" movement found Washingtonians bragging of their city — "...delightful climate, magnificent physical layout, an ample supply of pure water, efficient local government, and moderate taxation..." The move to the suburbs was regarded as almost tantamount to a healthy, productive life. Mount Pleasant typified this sensibility while still allowing government workers proximity to their jobs. The area grew intensely through the 1920's. For example, between 1906 and 1909, 23 houses were constructed on Lamont Street alone and in 1909 plans were developed to build 41 new houses on the block of 18th and Lamont. Serving a middle-class working population, the smaller row houses were designed to respond to 20th century ideals, while the large detached houses still housed the prosperous merchant class. Mount Pleasant was at the height of its popularity. Long-awaited public services were functioning. New subdivisions were put on the market. And the "City Beautiful" movement had brought a new aesthetic sensibility into American thinking ... one custom made for Mount Pleasant. It is this first quarter of the 20th century that marks Mount Pleasant's major historical significance as a unique urban suburb.
Mount Pleasant's history is well-documented. Throughout its past, efforts have been made to record the events that have impacted its direction as a neighborhood. Its recorded history dates to 1876 when the residents of the original village responded to President Ulysses S. Grant's call for historical sketches of towns and counties as a part of the United States' celebration of its centennial. The "Annals of Mount Pleasant" related the story of the area from the time of the formation of the District of Columbia through its development into a small community.
In 1931, the Historical Committee of the Mount Pleasant Citizens Association held its first meeting. Collecting old maps, historic photographs of the neighborhood, and information on old houses and early residents, the Committee was able to prepare an exhibition on the Community's history to honor the Citizens Association's 25th Anniversary in 1935. Through the years, the citizens associations, other groups and individuals have collected and often donated historic materials to the Mount Pleasant Library. In the past ten years Mount Pleasant has been the subject of two major university studies: Professor Dennis Gale's research for the George Washington University's Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and Professor Anatole Senkovich's study for the University of Maryland's Department of Architecture.
Mount Pleasant is a visual historical document. "Ingleside" stands as a monument to the estates of the area's earliest days. The charming Victorian country houses at Oakwood Terrace and Brown Street are examples of the few remaining detached houses of the early village days. The elegant residences of Park Road serve as reminders of the height of middle-class affluence in Washington, D.C. The distinctive townhouses on Lament Street symbolize the ingenuity of the urban resident and developers who desired to capitalize on the best of both urban and rural living. Mount Pleasant Street is filled with the variety of commercial corridor architecture demonstrating scale appropriate to neighborhood living. "The Kennesaw," "The Embassy," "The Argyle," "The Al-Roy," and the "Park Regent" are examples of the grand apartment buildings which serve to anchor the district. Gunton Temple Memorial Presbyterian Church, Sacred Heart Academy, Mount Pleasant Library, and Rosemount Center serve as institutional pillars both visually and spiritually. And the rows of carefully sited, skillfully composed "builder" houses that economically provided their residents with attractive, spacious, solid homes reflect the aesthetic sensibilities and ideals that made this environment a better place to live.
The neighborhood has undergone relatively little change or development since the 1930's. The building of the 1930's and 1940's continued the Mount Pleasant pattern of set-back, sensitivity to terrain and uses. All vacant privately held land was developed by the 1950's. Structures built since the 1950's replaced former structures and have generally not maintained the same style and sitings. Thus, the Mount Pleasant Historic District honors and preserves this specific and important period of the city's development and remains a testimony to the successful transformation of a suburban village into an urban neighborhood.
Mount Pleasant is the product of work by prominent architects and developers. Noted designers as Glenn Brown, Frederick B. Pyle, A.H. Sonneman, B. Stanley Simmons, Norman Grimm, Harding and Upman, and Nathan Wyeth share credit for shaping Mount Pleasant's architectural identity with developers such as Kennedy and Davis, Lewis and Henry L, Breuninger, Cahill and Dunigan and James Martin, several of whom chose Mount Pleasant as the location of their personally designed residences. The architects' work is particularly significant for the impact it had on the architectural development of the district as a whole. Their work appeared in the early stage of development, it represents a sophisticated level of design and sets design precedents that were later incorporated in various derivations in the speculative architecture of the area.
Glenn Brown's work as an architect is exemplified by the two double houses he designed in 1899 for 1711-1713 and 1715-1717 Lament Street, N.W. They are the earliest examples of architect designed houses that have been identified in Mount Pleasant. These houses illustrate the transition from Victorian to Classical Revival and are significant for their simple massing and careful detailing that represent the move away from the ornate Victorian styles. Brown was internationally known and was instrumental in convincing the U.S. Congress to create the McMillan Commission which resulted in the Plan of 1901 for the future design of Washington, D.C. and in keeping with the L'Enfant Plan. He worked with the AIA for over 40 years and lead the move to purchase "The Octagon" for the Institute's headquarters. He also designed the Dumbarton Bridge, the National Insurance Building, restored Gunston Hall and published a portfolio of documentary drawings of "The Octagon."
Clarence Harding and Frank Upman designed six buildings in Mount Pleasant between 1903 and 1910. The three extant: structures are 3305-07 18th Street, N.W. (1905), 1725 Lament Street, N.W. (1903) and 1827 Park Road, N.W. (1907). These buildings illustrate a very high development of the Georgian Revival style. Harding and Upman was a successful Washington firm responsible for such buildings as the Woodward Apartments, Woodward and Lothrop department store, the old Y.M.C.A., and the Mount Pleasant M.E. Church at 15th Street and Columbia Road, N.W. in 1905.
Frederick B. Pyle designed buildings all over the District of Columbia in a variety of styles from late Victorian Queen Anne in Cleveland Park to sophisticated Beaux Arts townhouses in Kalorama. His work in Mount Pleasant includes two adjoining rows of attached houses; the first group, constructed in 1902 at 1735-1743 Park Road, N.W., is a bold row of well-sited brick Georgian Revival houses featuring large rounded and pentagonal bays and heavy dentiled cornices. The second group, designed in 1904, uses a similar vocabulary and equally undulating bays, but it is not identical in style. These rowhouses have a more restrained look despite towers on two units. Together, the two groups create a rhythmic wall along the streetscape. Pyle designed two major detached houses: one at the northeast corner of 18th Street and Park Road, and one at the northwest corner of 18th Street and Park Road. 3303 18th Street is in a Dutch Colonial variation with intersecting gambrel roofs and a wrap-around porch. Its distinct style references the country-type architecture of the suburban village and the large massing of the grand residences on Park Road. 1801 Park Road, known as the "Adams House," is one of Mount Pleasant's most distinguished residences.
William J. Palmer, about whom little is known, contributed one of Mount Pleasant's most successful rows — 3321-3357 18th Street, N.W. (1905). An elegant drawing of these adjoining porches, found with their building permit, attests to Palmer's expertise. Palmer also designed rows at 1715-53 Kilbourne Street, N.W. (1906) and 1849-57 Newton Street, N.W. (1910). The group at Newton Street is highly stylized and is atypical to Mount Pleasant; that on Kilbourne Street, a vertical composition using square bays and heavy door pediments illustrates a use of design elements common to Mount Pleasant and Georgian Revival style, but used in an unusual manner.
Appleton P. Clark—who was responsible for many Georgian Revival residences in the city, the Home Savings Bank, Garfieid Hospital and John Eaton School in Cleveland Park—designed two houses in Mount Pleasant, 1833 Park Road, N.W. and 1852 Monroe Street, N.W. The large brick house on Park Road is in a "Cottage Style," while his 1902 house on Monroe street represents the Colonial Revival in a modest, though poised, rendition. He was also the designer of a major group of Colonial Revival double houses at 1742-66 Park Road, N.W.
Alex H. Sonneman began his career as an architect in 1895. His father is believed to have helped design the dome of the U.S. Capitol and that of the Library of Congress. Sonneman practiced as a principal in the firm, Sonneman and Justement. Most of his work was for the Kennedy and Davis Real Estate Company. With Kennedy and Davis as the developers, Sonneman designed the "Kennedy-Warren Apartments," the "2400 Hotel," and the "Kew Garden Apartments." He was responsible for many homes in Kenwood.
Mount Pleasant's identity as a historic district is dependent on the dominance of the rowhouse. This seemingly ubiquitous building type acts as a unifying force, tying together streetscapes and merging diffused elements. The residential architecture of the district is a medley of diverse building types, styles, forms, massing and details, yet the application of a common vocabulary and scale gives definition to this unique place. Contributing to the harmony is the gracious contour of the land, the wooded surroundings, a street plan of curved and straight roads that is sensitive to the hilly terrain, and the adaptation of traditional forms to unusual building sites in response to this topography.
† Ed Hughes, Historic Mount Pleasant, Inc., Mount Pleasant Historic District, Washington, D.C.. nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.