The thrills began when the concert audience — made up of ambassadors, Irish Embassy officials, fans of renowned Irish tenor Anthony Kearns and a mix of D.C. residents — braved a heavy rainstorm on March 3 to go in at the carriage entrance of the wedge-shaped mansion on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and 18th Street NW, two blocks from Dupont Circle.
Few if any in the crowd had been in the Beaux-Arts mansion before. The Perry Belmont House, current world headquarters of the General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, has been accessible only to members and a resident for over 75 years.
But on that Sunday, the admiring crowd of concertgoers crossed the gleaming marble floors and climbed the broad staircases with gold banisters — or took a small elevator lined with polished wood paneling — to the palatial ballroom, sitting room and dining room on the second floor.
The mansion had been built in 1909 as a center of social events by millionaire congressman from New York Perry Belmont and his wife Jessie. Designed by French architect Eugene Sanson, known especially for his chateaus, it reportedly cost $1.5 million at the time. It served as a guest house for foreign dignitaries, including the Duke of Windsor, before the U.S. government purchased Blair House opposite the White House as the official presidential guest house.
The event was co-emceed by well-known D.C. interior decorator Barry Dixon and former Fox 5 anchor Will Thomas, now a real estate agent.
The Eastern Star organization plans for the mansion to become again a venue for private and public cultural events and tours.
Tenor Kearns, a member of the double-platinum “Irish Tenors,” filled the exalted space with lilting and sonorous Irish songs, along with classical and popular works. Accompanied by pianist David George of Louisville, Kearns gave a rendition of “Danny Boy” that brought the audience to their feet.
Among the crowd enjoying the music, the ambiance and the trays full of petits fours and, later, champagne flutes, were the ambassadors from the Czech Republic, Malta and Slovenia, as well as from Ireland. Perhaps the most enthusiastic audience members, however, were a group of ladies to whom Kearns often directed his smiles and his songs: Grace Czajkowski of Seattle, Annette Czajkowski of Chicago and Diane Tracy Sutton of Savannah, who call themselves “Anthony’s Groupie Grannies.”
The trio has been following the tenor since 2002, even attending his concerts in Dublin. They agreed that the Perry Belmont House was the most elegant venue yet.