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The Little Woman Who Started the Big Holiday

When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” he was reported to have said, “So you are the little woman who started the big war.” He fully comprehended the influence of her book — turning the national tide against slavery and making the war inevitable. Lincoln placed a lot of weight on Stowe’s influence and that of other women who advised him, whether the advice was solicited or not. Once such female advisor was an 11-year-old girl who wrote him a letter when he was running for president, suggesting he would look a lot better if he had a beard. Lincoln grew a beard, and it did improve his looks. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, advised him during their courtship and throughout their marriage, especially when it came to political matters. When he won the presidential election in 1860, Abe said, “Mary, Mary, we are elected!” Another persistent (if unsolicited) female advisor was Sarah Josepha Hale, a remarkable woman who was unrelenting in her drive to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. As it turns out, Thanksgiving was declared a holiday by numerous presidents in various ways, but Lincoln was the first to make it a national holiday by proclamation. Sarah Josepha Hale was a woman ahead of her time. Her mother insisted that she get a good education through home schooling, since colleges would not accept women at that time. When her brother went to Dartmouth, he shared his textbooks with her. At age 18, she began teaching school. Six years later, she married David Hale, an intellectual who shared her scholarly interests; the two studied and wrote together. When her husband died two weeks before their fifth child was born, she had to figure out how to support herself and her children. She started a women’s magazine, which she used as a forum for promoting women’s rights, including equal pay and property rights for women. Then she became the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” keeping that job for 40 years. It had a following of 150,000 — huge for that time. She also wrote cookbooks, children stories and poems, including “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was influential in the founding of Vassar College for women, raising funds to construct the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts and saving George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon. Hale’s family had always celebrated Thanksgiving with an elaborate feast and she promoted the holiday in her magazines and in her novel, “Northwood.” When war broke out, she urged both the North and South to celebrate Thanksgiving. Finally, after many letters to Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward drafted an official proclamation in October of 1863, assigning the last Thursday of November for the national observation of Thanksgiving. In making the proclamation in the midst of the last year of the Civil War, Lincoln said he hoped this holiday would “heal the wounds of the nation.” In “Northwood,” Hale described a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast similar to the one she had enjoyed with her own family: “The roasted turkey took precedence … and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing.” The rest of the meal included “a sirloin of beef, a leg of pork and loin of mutton, gravy and vegetables, a goose and a pair of ducklings, chicken pie, plates of pickles and preserves, wheat bread, sweetmeats, fruits and wine, cider and ginger beer, plum pudding, custards and pies including pumpkin pie.” Hungry yet? And just think of the leftovers … Happy Thanksgiving! Owner and broker of the largest woman-owned and woman-run real estate firm in the Washington metropolitan area, Donna Evers is the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted student of Washington-area history. Reach her at devers@eversco.com.

Inside Bill Dean’s Waterfront Miami Compound

After renovating his P street home and building the award-winning Oyster House in the northern neck of Virginia, Georgetown’s best-known bachelor Bill Dean set his sights on something bigger: a waterfront compound in Miami Beach. Dean checked out the sprawling $8 million property in Miami Beach, which was built by Sebastian Spering Kresge of K-Mart fame, for the first time in 2009. Shortly after, he flew in local architect Dale Overmyer, who spearheaded Dean’s earlier architectural projects, to take a peak. After the two talked over the necessary renovations, Dean bought the place and Overmyer got to work upgrading it, reportedly costing Dean over $32 million. “We ended up completely rebuilding every inch of it,” Overmyer says. Photos from the site in 2010 show something that looks more like a warzone than a construction site. (Overmyer says, “We saved two trees but there wasn’t a blade of grass left [post-construction.]”) The finished project, on the other hand, is unrivaled by even the Playboy Mansion, with 11 bedrooms (and even more bathrooms), a number of courtyards, several swimming pools, a tennis court, a Grotto, a nightclub, a spa, a gym and much more. (“Ballers,” a fictional show glamorizing the lives of NFL players, shot two episodes at the compound.) “I got to work with some wonderfully exotic materials,” Overmyer says of the project, touching on the handmade shells that cover the interior of the Grotto’s roof and the circular tiles that look like suction cups in the compound’s “Octopus Room” before noting the master bathroom’s Roman tub. Check out selected images from Bill Dean’s Miami villa below and be sure to read our feature on Overmyer architects in the Nov. 4 issue of The Georgetowner. [gallery ids="102336,125752,125755,125744" nav="thumbs"]

Georgetown’s Dale Overmyer

Dale Overmyer is a star architect in Georgetown. His tailored suit goes with the role, but his modest, soft-spoken demeanor seems out of place when he’s discussing the 100-plus renovations he’s done in Georgetown, the homes he has built in Palm Beach and the Hamptons and the architectural work he has done for Georgetown engineering executive Bill Dean, a.k.a. the “Jay Gatsby of Miami.” (Dean hired Overmyer to design both his Oyster House in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Terra Veritatis, his 11-bedroom Mediterranean-style villa compound in Miami Beach.) In Overmyer’s telling, he was born to build in Georgetown. His grandfather, a general contractor, passed on some carpentry skills to his father, who, says Overmyer, “was talented at drawing and painting but never pursued his artistic interests.” Overmyer was raised “with tremendous focus on art and drawing” — which came in handy growing up in West Africa without TV or radio. “Legos were the only toy I had,” he says. As Overmyer got older, he became more and more interested in building things: forts and tree houses and go-carts. When he was 8 years old, his dad gave him a jigsaw. “Who gives their kids power tools at 8 years old?” he reflects now. Born in Venezuela, Overmyer was always on the move with his family, which exposed him to breathtaking structures on several continents. He recalls being struck by architecture everywhere he traveled: by the majesty of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, by the mix of modern and traditional architecture along the Angolan coast, by the urban landscape of London, by the monumental and symbolic buildings at Dulles Airport, by Georgetown’s history and character. He came to the U.S. every year or so to visit his aunt, uncle and cousins on Reservoir Road in Georgetown, his “home in America.” That was when Overmyer fell in love with Georgetown. Ultimately, his family moved back to the U.S., settling in Houston when he was 13. Overmyer stayed in the area through college — he earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Texas — then moved to Georgetown with his wife Melissa “immediately after school.” For his thesis project, Overmyer had used Georgetown as a model for creating a pedestrian-based, sustainable community. While other architects may shy away from working in Georgetown, fearing the seemingly all-powerful Old Georgetown Board, Overmyer cherishes the challenges. “A lot of people consider it to be a real briar patch, but it’s my briar patch and I really enjoy it,” he says of the process of building and renovating homes in Georgetown. Though the rules can be burdensome, “they have made Georgetown, and kept it, a good place.” Lately, Overmyer has been dealing with the Old Georgetown Board on his own behalf, proposing renovations for his family’s new home on S Street. “The Old Georgetown Board described the new home as ‘a dog’s breakfast of a house,’ which only makes me happy, because I love potential,” he says with a smile. The new digs provide more room for his kids — ages 9, 19, 21 and 23 — and there is a first-floor master bedroom to accommodate him and his wife as they age. (Plus, it has a parking space, a hot commodity in Georgetown.) Excerpts from The Georgetowner’s recent interview with Overmyer, edited for clarity, appear below. The Georgetowner: How do you approach the renovation of an older home in a historic district? Is the process limiting? Dale Overmyer: It’s limiting, but it’s also educational. Everyone that lives in a house exerts some influence on it. We try to draw out things that are unique and creative about our clients with the architecture we do — of course, being mindful of the people that came before them and their expressions. It must be an intimate process. It really is. When we work, we want to understand how our clients want to live in their house. We think about who is in there, how many people and what are they doing. We want your environment to perfectly fit your lifestyle. That information must be important when you’re building a house from scratch too, right? When we build something new, we are looking back into our clients’ childhood dreams and fantasies. We imagine what a beautiful place to live in the new home could be. It’s really more of a guide service. We want to take people to places they’ve dreamed about but where they can’t take themselves. We want to take them farther than they imagined. Who is your typical client? Our typical client is somebody who always wanted to be an architect themselves. That is almost universally true. The typical client is someone who has been very successful and is very interested in being creative, but they are usually in a field that doesn’t yield the kind of creativity that they like. So they enjoy the creative process of design and building, and it gets that inner architect out of their system. We really enjoy working collaboratively with clients to draw out as much experience, talent and creativity as possible. It just enriches the project. If they have the capacity, what people find is that investing in good buildings is a good investment. It’s one they can enjoy personally and it adds value to their portfolio. If they can, they build as much as they can. It’s an expensive pastime but it’s a good investment. What is the typical project in Georgetown like? A lot will just have a small addition and need a lot of interior work. A house will really need to have a complete reworking every 50 years, especially if it hasn’t really had infrastructure done in the 20th century. Some previous owners have gotten away with doing very little in terms of air conditioning and plumbing. So we do a lot of gut jobs. In addition, some homes in Georgetown have been carved into the tiniest little rooms. Our effort is often to simplify those small, cramped spaces into fewer, bigger, simpler spaces. Fewer, bigger, simpler is my mantra. And what are the usual results? One of the things we do a lot of work on is rewriting the social equation for modern living. Since the late part of the 20th century, Americans moved into more informal lifestyles. We do our own cooking and we do our own cleaning now. Congregating in the house typically happens around meals, so the family room and the kitchen are really the new heart of the home. Those rooms used to be hidden away and given as little space as possible. Now they are the main area of living in the house. So we are rewriting a formula to respond to how people live now. In fact, I just interviewed for Julia Child’s house. I don’t have that job yet, but I would love to play out the possibilities there, because shows like hers turned the act of preparing a meal into part of the entertainment and the kitchen into a community space. That would be a neat way to tie up a lot of the things that have kept me busy over the years. What is your favorite house in Georgetown that you haven’t worked on? We are basically living in a museum. And the museum has so much variety of time and style. It’s entertaining that many houses are similar, but every one is absolutely unique and has a story to tell and has usually been taken care of by people that love them. I think of the whole neighborhood being the real gem. I describe it as a quaint village within a big city. It has the best of both worlds. It has everything that a child or teenager or student or young adult or someone in their midlife or someone aging in place could want. It’s a vital and relevant community wherever you are in life. It also has probably the most interesting collection of citizens past and present of any neighborhood in the world. I’ve always lived and worked in Georgetown. That’s the model for how people should live. [gallery ids="102345,125535,125546,125541" nav="thumbs"]

Who Lives Here…

Georgetown resident Charlie Rose was awarded the Fourth Estate award for excellence in journalism by the National Press Club last week. As a young newsman in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rose lived in Woodley Park in a home that previously housed Tom Brokaw. Rose passed the abode on to Tim Russert when he moved to Georgetown in the late 1990s. He has lived here ever since. He lives near the corner of 33rd and Volta Streets NW and can be found walking his beloved dog Barclay nearby. Lower on the journalistic totem pole but a Georgetown resident nonetheless, Luke Russert, Tim’s son, recently moved to the 3600 block of Prospect Street. He’s frequently spotted hopping around Georgetown, attending events at the George Town Club and grabbing drinks at Smith Point. Georgetowners may remember a 2010 incident when Russert walked a date from his car to her doorstep only to find a thief zooming away in the driver seat with his keys, which he had left in the ignition. Russert reports on national politics for MSNBC and was recently added to the lineup of “Meet the Press,” the show his father hosted before his death in 2008. Political operative and Georgetowner Pat Griffin never worked as a journalist, but you’ll learn something interesting from every story he tells. Griffin is most well known for his political work in the Senate, the Clinton White House and, later on, as a lobbyist. He also teaches a number of classes at American University. But friends, colleagues and neighbors know him best for his stories. Whether it’s a story about witnessing initial flirtations between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky during the 1995-96 government shutdowns, his work as a New York City cab driver or the Goodfellas-inspiring Queens neighborhood where he grew up, Griffin always has something interesting to say and some piece of wisdom to impart to his listeners. He and his wife live on Water Street across from the Georgetown Waterfront Park. On a nice night, they can be found picnicking in the park at sunset.

Who Lives Here

As Halloween arrives in Georgetown, thoughts turn to the Exorcist Steps, made famous by the 1973 film in which a priest self-defenestrates. Less well known is that Georgetown alumnus William Peter Blatty, author of “The Exorcist,” once owned a house practically in view of the steps at 3618 Prospect St. NW. Philanthropist and businessman Jack Davies, a founder of AOL and a part owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics, now owns the house, which boasts a grand vista of the Potomac. He has rented it out since 2014. Having bought the Bowie-Sevier House at 3122 Q St. NW for $24.6 million in 2007, when he was 37 years old, Robert Allbritton, owner of the Politico newspaper and website (and former owner of Channel 7 and NewsChannel 8) has the honor of spending the most ever on a home in the District. He and his wife Elena Allbritton bought the house from Patricia and Herb Miller, who developed Washington Harbour, Georgetown Park and Gallery Place at Metro Center. Public-spiritedly, the Allbrittons have decked the place out for Halloween. Art collector Isabel de la Cruz Ernst and her husband, Georgetown University professor Ricardo Ernst, bought the Hillandale Mansion at 3905 Mansion Court NW in 1998. At the time, it had sat empty for 20 years and had no electricity or running water. After restoring the home to its Tuscan villa appearance, the couple moved into it with their art collection. Isabel is the daughter of a family with an art collection so vast that her parents built a Miami museum to house it. Her brother, Alberto de la Cruz, recently donated funds for a new, 2500-square-foot Georgetown University art gallery, set to open in 2017.

Connelly’s Hidden Gem at 1200 Potomac Street Is All About Location

As far as real estate agent Jamie Connelly is concerned, the property for sale at M Street and Potomac Street is a “beautiful, hidden gem.” It sits across from Dean & Deluca an other prime Georgetown spots, one block from the historic Washington intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. Connelly is right, of course, as the property units sit atop a corner of Eton Court and have an unobstructed of the M Street bustle below. And, as the owner Lincoln Property Company makes clear, “this commercial property is centrally located in Georgetown’s prime business on the west side and a very short walk to all the fine restaurants and boutiques of Georgetown.” The units in question -- 1200 Potomac St., NW, as well as 3277 M St., NW -- are three floors of office space, totaling 7,800 square feet, with one unit sporting windows on three sides. There may be bigger, newer spots in town, but these Eton Court units provide proof to the real estate adage: “Location, location, loca- tion.” After all, the new occupants will get a chance to check out all the new retail along M Street, including the new stores at the former Georgetown Park, and also go to Prospect Street for a taste of Peacock Cafe, Morton’s Steakhouse, Cafe Milano or even Booeymonger’s. “Currently used as executive offices for 30 to 35 staff persons, this property is an incredible opportunity to reconvert the office spaces back into four luxury townhouses with parking in the heart of Georgetown,” Connelly says. “Built in 1980, this building has wonderful light-filled interior spaces ready for your business or live- work, in-town retreat.” Whether the units at 1200 Potomac St., NW, are sold or leased, someone or business could get a very nice Christmas bonus this year and a new place to move into in 2013. To add to his seasonal appeal, Connelly and his colleagues at Lincoln Property Company are hosting a Dec. 6 reception, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the property to benefit Georgetown Ministry Center, led by Gunther Stern. (GMC is located at 1041 Wisconsin Ave., NW.) For more information, call Lincoln Property Company and Jamie Connelly at 202-491-5300.

How We Live Now: The Demise of the Florida Room

Washington, D.C., has gone through a gigantic sea change over the past several years, from a city of modest middle-class incomes and homes to a metropolitan area having many huge homes with elaborate interiors, reflecting the opulent lifestyles of the people within. One way to see how our concept of informal living has changed is to trace the evolution of a Washington favorite, the so-called Florida room. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the first Florida rooms were considered a big improvement over the open side porches on the small redbrick colonials that dominated Northwest Washington and the suburbs of Silver Spring and Chevy Chase. Instead of sitting outside on your open side porch swatting mosquitoes, you could fill the open spaces between the porch columns with jalousie windows and screens, creating a seasonal addition to your house. These jalousie windows, made up of frames holding rectangular pieces of glass, had hand cranks to open and close the glass window slats, letting the air in through the screens but keeping the bugs out. When it got cooler in September, you could crank these louvered windows shut and still have the illusion of being outside. This was the spot where mom could bring dad his martini or scotch and they could talk over dad’s workday and enjoy the feeling of being, well, almost on vacation. Meanwhile, the kids could play in the semi-finished downstairs area called the rumpus room. We can guess where the term “rumpus room” came from, but where exactly “Florida room” came from is unclear. The name probably added to mom and dad’s feeling of being able to unwind in the balmy atmosphere of a summer’s evening. These Florida rooms were usually small, typically 150 to 300 square feet, and they were attached to two-story colonials that were also small, a total of 2,200 to 3,500 square feet. There was a living room, a dining room, a small kitchen and a porch or Florida room on the first floor, and three bedrooms and one or two bathrooms on the second. Of course, there were also much bigger homes in D.C. and its suburban neighborhoods, but colonials of this size and shape far outnumbered the larger homes. Now, let’s fast-forward to 2015, and take a look at the typical new home being built today in Washington’s close-in neighborhoods. Builders are continually looking for a home on a lot large enough to carve off another lot, or to tear down an existing house, to build the type of big, new home that is in demand. This new house will be 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, with a living room, a dining room, an expansive family kitchen with islands and table space, an adjoining family room and a den. The second floor will have a multi-room master suite — sometimes bigger than the entire square footage of the colonials described above — plus several bedrooms and bathrooms. The lower-level areas include such amenities as climate-controlled wine cellars, exercise rooms and home movie theaters. The humble Florida room has been replaced with scads of informal space, but this time it’s where the whole family congregates. Since both mom and dad work now, at the end of the day they want to share time and space with the kids. The kitchen is still “the heart of the home,” but it is open and spacious. With gourmet accoutrements, it adjoins a richly equipped family room with a large flat-screen television, a fireplace and a wall of glass windows and doors, opening to porches, decks and usually a small, but well-landscaped backyard. Currently, backyards are not used that much, since the children are pretty well booked after school with lessons of various kinds and the parents and kids go to interesting places on weekends. Granted, this is not everybody’s lifestyle, but it generally accounts for a growing number of people who are buying new luxury homes. This is a far cry from the lifestyle reflected in the 2,500-square-foot colonials. So, bid adieu, with an accompanying wave of nostalgia, to the Florida room. It served its purpose at a much different time in our cultural history. Come to think of it, couldn’t everyone use a climate-controlled wine cellar?

Elevated Living In Glover Park

D.C. real estate investment and management company Bernstein Management Corporation’s opened its latest residential venture, 2255 Wisconsin, in June — a luxury apartment building in the heart of Glover Park. One and two bedroom floor plans are available, ranging from roughly 460 to 900 square feet. Select apartments have patios and balcony views of Observatory Circle and the city beyond. The 81 units are equipped with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, oversized windows, and a full-size washer and dryer in every unit. A linear fireplace, modern art and comfortable furnishings surround, all of which give the space an air of sleek sophistication and warmth. A central community courtyard and resident lounge are equipped with a bar, TV, and WiFi. The location is within walking distance of many D.C. hotspots, including Sweetgreen, Town Hall, Whole Foods, Breadsoda, and Washington Sports Club, with on site parking available to tenants as well. BMC, founded in 1953, owns and manages 90 different properties in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, including the Lex and the Leo at Waterfront Station, two towering sister residences on the Southwest Waterfront, both of which are for lease.

Developer Pulling Out of M Street ‘Micro-Unit’ Project

Local developer SB-Urban has dropped its plan to convert the Latham Hotel at 3000 M St. NW in to a "micro-unit" apartment complex, according to the Current Newspapers. The Latham Hotel micro-unit project was one of three that SB-Urban is developing in Northwest Washington targeting affluent young people with small but well-furnished apartments located in desirable neighborhoods. The company's two other developments, slated for Blagden Alley in Shaw and at 15 Dupont Circle in the historic Patterson Mansion, are still a-go, with plans to begin construction on both this year. SB-Urban bought the Latham Hotel building in November 2013 for $45.4 million. After the purchase, the company went through a number of hoops, gaining the approval of the Old Georgetown Board and the Board of Zoning Adjustment to renovate the space into a development consisting of 140 units with 330 square-foot floor plans. SB-Urban's Mike Balaban told the Current, "At the time we acquired the site, the hospitality market in D.C. was quite depressed, and that has now long since changed," adding, "It's now a very strong market that's very actively being sought by investors and operators from literally all over the world." On the building's future, Balaban said, "We think it's a great site and something great will come of it."

Le Décor: Cool Off with Cool Blue Tones

As the dog days of summer reach their peak, stay cool with furniture and décor rooted in cool blue tones. Enjoy end-of-summer barbecues with coastal-inspired outdoor furniture. Or add a pop of color to plain walls with blue decorative touches. Not just for summer, these home furnishings will create a cool ambiance all year round. [gallery ids="102274,128205,128229,128224,128193,128219,128213,128235,128185,128199" nav="thumbs"]