Who Lives Here: Nora and Allison

June 22, 2015

Restaurant Nora has long been a staple of the D.C. food scene, visited by a number of presidents and dignitaries — the Obamas dined there for Michelle’s birthday in 2010 — not to mention foodies. Vienna-born Nora Pouillon is the chef behind the restaurant, and a Georgetown resident to boot. She led the organic food movement by opening the first certified-organic restaurant in the country, where she has hosted numerous national movers and shakers not far from Dupont Circle. Now Pouillon has released a book, “My Organic Life,” a memoir with the subtitle: “How a Pioneering Chef Helped Shape the Way We Eat Today.”

Pouillon lives in a unique pink, modern house on Reservoir Road between 32nd Street and Wisconsin Avenue, though she says the architect was forbidden from building in Georgetown again after unveiling the place, which she describes as in the style “Old Miami.” She moved to Georgetown 19 years ago from Adams Morgan, and despite being apprehensive prior to the move, admits that she now loves the neighborhood, saying its strongest attribute is its “mix of commercial and residential.”

Georgetowners can catch her out walking through Dumbarton Oaks or along the canal, window-shopping on Wisconsin Avenue and M Street — her favorite stores are Hu’s and Hu’s Shoes — exercising at the Four Seasons, or during cooler months, ice skating along the riverfront. She’s also been known to patronize Malmaison, which she calls underrated; Chez Billy Sud; the Grill Room at Capella; and when her namesake restaurant is out of a necessary ingredient, the farmers’ market across from Safeway. She professes love for nearly all things Georgetown. However she is not “a cupcake person,” preferring “salty and spicy” tastes to sugary.

Allison Silberberg doesn’t live here, residing instead in the Parkfairfax neighborhood of Alexandria, but she is a longtime Georgetown Senior Center supporter and served as president of the board from 2010 to 2012. On June 8, Silberberg won the Democratic primary for mayor of Alexandria. Currently vice mayor of Alexandria, she defeated sitting mayor Bill Euille, who has held the position since 2003. She also beat former mayor Kerry Donley, whose campaign called for aggressive development throughout the city.

Many observers expected Euille to easily fend off his challengers, but he and Silberberg were neck and neck as precincts reported in. Far outspent, Silberberg nonetheless ended up winning by 321 votes. The Washington Post attributed her win to her “warm and personable” nature and opposition to development in Old Town and elsewhere.

Some of Euille’s supporters are calling on him to campaign as a write-in candidate during the general election, but the party has warned against the move, saying they will put their full weight behind primary voters’ chosen ticket. [gallery ids="102107,133845" nav="thumbs"]

Featured Property

June 18, 2015

1611 31st Street NW

Located near Tudor Place, this stunning residence in a coveted historic block has four bedrooms, five and a half baths and three fireplaces. On the entry level are an office with built-in bookshelves, a bedroom with an en-suite bath and a spacious family room. The generous main floor includes a renovated kitchen and a dining room/living room leading to a large patio. The stunning master suite is on the upper level. Outside, there is an enchanting garden perfect for elegant entertaining or escape.

Offered at $4,550,000
Washington Fine Properties
Nancy Taylor Bubes

Secor Group: On the Move at 125 years

May 22, 2015

Throughout its 125 years, the Secor Group, formerly known as Security Storage Company of Washington, has been led by just six individuals. Chuck Lawrence, who has been with the company for 26 years, is its current leader.

“We’ve reinvented it, while maintaining its history,” Lawrence said.

Secor Group recently revamped its logo and marketing campaigns to mark the milestone. But there will be no celebrations until the fall.

“This is our peak season,” Lawrence said of the summer. “We won’t have an anniversary party until September.”

A global force, the company operates in New Delhi, Belgium, 14 African nations and many other places around the world. About 40 percent of Secor Group’s business comes from D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Connecticut.

With its corporate headquarters on Florida Avenue, adjacent to Adams Morgan, Secor Group has large storage facilities at Dulles Airport and throughout the District, as well as 100,000 square feet of storage in Connecticut.

The company moved our most recent presidents into the White House. Its massive logistical operations support not only the movement of possessions, but also complete relocation services, including finding new housing at the destination, helping to close on the current property, locating schools and activities for children and setting up utilities for new homes.

The company motto has evolved along with its services: from “Keeping in safe custody” in its Security Storage Company of Washington days to “Assurance delivered” under the Secor Group umbrella.

According to Lawrence, it is the technology at the center of these operations that holds the company together. Secor Group is responsible for RedSky, the only software that creates a global database to track all elements of moving and relocation services.

This technology proved to be particularly important during the company’s involvement with shipping resources to West African countries on behalf of the U.S. government during the Ebola crisis.

The software allows clients, such as Anheuser Busch and the Department of State, to monitor the movement of their products and belongings, as well as to stay in constant contact with Secor Group staff.

Lawrence sees opportunities for growth through the acquisition of other companies. Secor recently purchased MilitaryOneClick, a website that receives two million hits a month and aims to provide military families with news and job listings. The company has also started working with Hiring Our Heroes to place veterans in positions throughout its transportation and relocation departments.

“We look to become more actively involved with the military,” Lawrence said.

Locally based and internationally minded, Secor Group appears to have hit on the perfect formula for continued success. All partnerships are highly integrated.

“It’s become like a family for a lot of us,” Lawrence said.

Who Lives Here:

May 21, 2015

Dubbed the “Queen of Laser” last year by the Washington Post, celebrity dermatologist Tina Alster lives in Georgetown with husband and lobbyist Paul Frazer. Their Federal-style townhome on N and Potomac Streets has been featured in the pages of Architectural Digest and the Wall Street Journal. In various earlier decades, it was a hideout for British spies, persons escaping from slavery and Confederate soldiers. One of its most famous owners was Herman Wouk, author of “The Caine Mutiny,” “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.”

Owners after Wouk, Alster and Frazer redesigned the interiors to be simple, modern, elegant and sunny. The N Street house has been on the market for a few months, since Alster and Frazer purchased the penthouse in the Anthony Lanier-developed condo building on Wisconsin Avenue next to the C&O Canal.

If Alster and Frazer end up moving closer to the canal, they’ll be neighbors with National Public Radio CEO Jarl Mohn, who just moved into the same building. Mohn began his storied media career with almost 20 years as a radio DJ, then jumped to an executive position at MTV in the mid-1980s. Years later, he became president and CEO of E! Entertainment Television, best known these days for “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” He served stints on the boards of XM Radio and the Southern California ACLU, and currently sits on the boards at ComScore (a web analytics company), KPCC Southern California Public Radio and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Another media powerhouse, Fred Ryan, has been living in Georgetown for several years. Ryan, who served as chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan and helped found Politico, transitioned to a new role as publisher of the Washington Post at the end of 2014. He last made news in the neighborhood when he bought the Guards sign that used to identify that famous restaurant, which closed in 2012. The Guards was located at 2915 M St. NW, now the address of Maxime. Ryan lives on Q Street near 30th Street.

Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley!

May 11, 2015

Ralph Blane, co-composer with Hugh Martin of “The Trolley Song” – made famous by the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis” – said he was inspired to write the award-winning song after he saw a photo of a trolley car in a 1900 newspaper, captioned, “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.”

The concept that trolley cars, or streetcars, are nostalgic reminders of a romantic past must be what caught the imagination of at least three recent mayors of Washington, D.C., and that of many of the city’s inhabitants. But before we commit to the current proposed trolley lines, maybe we should take a look at the District’s checkered history with this mode of transportation.

The first form of public transportation in many U.S. cities, including Washington, was horse-drawn trolley cars that had steel tires and ran on rails flush with the pavement. These were popular from the 1860s through the 1890s, when they were replaced with electric trolley cars – a lot cleaner and easier to keep than horses. And, unlike the horse-drawn streetcars, they could climb steep hills, leading to the ever-expanding boundaries of the city and up Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues to the new suburb of Chevy Chase.

When Congress approved the switch to electric streetcars, it prohibited overhead wiring and insisted that the electric cables be buried in the roads next to the tracks. This caused the system to suffer from the expansion and contraction caused by the summer heat and the winter cold. Historian Robert C. Post noted that the “demands of routine maintenance were relentless.” Nevertheless, streetcars were the main mode of public transportation for Washingtonians for many years.

The streetcars’ demise came about when a perfect storm of problems finally became insurmountable. By 1933, the consolidation of many streetcar companies resulted in the Capital Transit Company, which, in the beginning, had ample funds to deal with the constant repair problems, even though the increase in family-owned automobiles continued to chip away at streetcar ridership. As the number of riders decreased, the company was sold to a group of investors. Paying much less than the company’s value, these investors commenced to reward themselves with large dividends, depleting company reserves.

At the same time, the unions decided that their streetcar workers had gotten cheated out of their share of the riches. In 1951, they went on strike, creating what the AP reported to be “the biggest traffic jam in history,” with people abandoning their cars in the middle of downtown streets next to empty streetcars and trudging the rest of the way to work in the stifling summer heat.

After strikes erupted again in 1955, Congress decided to step in and take the company away from the greedy investors. It was sold to O. Roy Chalk, a New York entrepreneur who had to promise to close down the streetcar system and change it to 100-percent bus service, which he did. The last streetcar line went out of service in 1962. Schoolchildren were given the treat of riding on the last trolley, after which it was shrouded with black crepe and a mourning wreath.

We can only hope that if trolley service ever actually returns to the District, there won’t be a repetition of this history. Meanwhile, we can get in the mood to embrace the concept by singing “The Trolley Song” with Judy Garland, or the song in which Tony Bennett made the little cable cars of San Francisco so unforgettable.

Donna Evers is the owner and broker of Evers & Co Real Estate Inc., the largest woman-owned and woman-run real estate firm in the metropolitan area, and the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia. Reach her at devers@eversco.com.

84th Georgetown House Tour

April 28, 2015

This year’s Georgetown House Tour offers a wide range of residences in Washington’s oldest neighborhood. A star on the tour is at 35th and Prospect Streets: Quality Hill-Worthington House, built in 1798. Sen. Clairborne Pell, D-R.I., and his wife Nuala lived there from the 1960s to about 10 years ago. As with the other places on the tour, what a story this house with its occupants in mind could tell, besides the lesson in architecture and design. Books, such as “The Georgetown Set,” “Aspects of Georgetown” or even the novel, “Prospect Street,” can add to the conversation. Your chance to hear such whispers by the windows comes this Saturday.

With spring in full bloom, Georgetown has never looked better. Every year, the neighborhood charms locals and visitors alike with its historic buildings and distinct panache. The streets are famously colored with homes in every hue, from lavender to canary yellow – and classic red brick – but this diversity extends well beyond the playful color palette.

A closer inspection of Georgetown homes reveals the range of architectural styles that have influenced the neighborhood over the course of its rich history. The Georgetown House Tour, which celebrates its 84th anniversary this year, is a unique opportunity for people to go back in time and witness this stylistic diversity firsthand.

This year, the tour includes ten stops, each with its own architectural flair. Clues to each home’s time period and style can be found in many different places, from the design of the roof to the amount of cornice ornamentation.

“There’s really something charming and magical about being able to go into all these old homes in one day,” said the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, the new rector at St. John’s Church, which hosts the tour.

When Georgetown was founded in 1751, Georgian design was the ubiquitous architectural style. Up until the Revolutionary War, homes were classically designed, with square or rectangular facades and symmetrically spaced windows. Front doors were paneled and accompanied by decorative pilasters and a transom light. This year, the first stop on the tour is the Quality Hill mansion, built in classic Georgian style, with a storied history to match.

Federal architecture followed, influenced by the lines of its Georgian predecessor. Most homes were two to three stories tall, with box-shaped, symmetrical exteriors, yet there were several distinguishing modifications.

Larger panes of glass were used in the windows and louvered shutters were introduced. Front doors became more expressive, with semicircular or elliptical fanlights and narrow side lights. Entry porticos or porches were commonly added, as were three-part Palladian windows, generally on the second story above the entrance.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Washingtonians welcomed new architectural ideas and embraced worldly influences. One example of this is the Italianate style, a departure from classicism and an acceptance of artistic freedom. Italianate homes have a sense of romantic lavishness to them, with their elaborate moldings, overhanging eaves and high stoops. Stop #5 on the tour is a fitting example, with its rich ornamentation, including detailed cornice brackets and lintels.

Stop #7 is the Renwick Chapel at Georgetown’s famed Oak Hill Cemetery. Notice the gates and the gatehouse, which are Italianate in style, while the chapel design is Gothic Revival. The Gothic Revival style came about in the mid 19th century as designers became increasingly influenced by medieval motifs and themes. Inside the chapel, visitors will notice the pointed arches, steeply pitched roof, gilded decorative plaster ceiling bosses and stunning Gothic windows.

By the 1880s, many architectural elements of the Georgian era were being embraced and revitalized in a style appropriately known as Colonial Revival. This was a conscious return to American’s past architectural heritage and colonial beginnings.

Gerbasi loves the neighborhood’s rich history and is particularly drawn to St. John’s roots, which go back more than 200 years. The world has changed around it over the decades, but the church’s mission of serving the neighborhood has remained constant. Every year, the house tour helps the church maintain its historic building and supports its aid to communities inside and outside the parish.

“St. John’s is a de facto community center,” said Barbara Wolf, co-chair of the House Tour. Among the nonprofit community service organizations – with a focus on homelessness, education, workplace development and seniors – that the Georgetown House Tour helps provide for are the Georgetown Ministry Center, Bright Beginnings, Jubilee Jobs and the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project.

The 2015 Georgetown House Tour, on Saturday, April 25, is sponsored by TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, Beasley Real Estate, Christie’s Long & Foster, Doyle New York and Farrow & Ball.

Locations of the properties listed in the Georgetown House Tour book. Tickets are available online for $50 and at St. John’s for $55. GeorgtownHouseTour.com

Being Green: Building Museum Leeds The Way

April 23, 2015

Susan C. Piedmont-Palladino is an architect, a professor of architecture and a curator at the National Building Museum. Here she answers some of our questions on sustainability in D.C.:

The Georgetowner: At the National Building Museum, you tell stories of architecture, design and engineering. Is sustainable architecture historic or is this a new phenomenon?

Piedmont-Palladino: In many ways, sustainability is a rebranding of what we used to call common sense. For most of human history, we designed and built as if our survival was at stake, because it was. Had our ancestors not been so successful at sustainable architecture, we wouldn’t be here.

The coal-fired industrial revolutions, and then the age of oil, made it possible to do things we couldn’t do before: extract, transport and construct with materials from far away, heat and cool homes, chill food and water. Those are all wonderful achievements, but over the past few generations we forgot how to build sustainably.

One of my favorite examples of this forgetting – I call it “technology-induced amnesia” – is right on the outside walls of so many Washington houses: wooden shutters. Everyone loves how they look, but no one uses them anymore to do what they do best, which is keep the hot sun out, but let the breezes in.

The Georgetowner: What do you think the future of sustainable architecture entails, especially in D.C.?

Piedmont-Palladino: Washington is well positioned for a greener future for many reasons. First, the city has made green building a priority in new construction through a series of laws beginning with the Green Building Act in 2006, and more recently the 2014 Green Building Code. The city is home to the headquarters of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the organization that developed the LEED system. It’s not just single buildings, though, that make a difference in the environment. We have to address energy, water and air quality at the scale of the city. Public transportation, sidewalks with trees and rain gardens, bicycle lanes – all these are crucial.

The Georgetowner: What does LEED mean?

Piedmont-Palladino: LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Designing a building involves a mind-boggling number of decisions, so when you see that plaque on the wall, it means the team that designed and constructed the building made those decisions with energy and environmental stewardship as their top priority.
Designing to LEED standards prompts architects and their clients to think not only about energy efficiency but also indoor air quality, where all the rainwater goes, how the building’s inhabitants get to work, where all the materials come from. There are different levels of LEED certification, with LEED Platinum being the highest.

The Georgetowner: How do you think D.C. is doing as far as getting on board with the green movement?

Piedmont-Palladino: One of the important reasons that our city is increasingly seen as a leader in sustainability is that we’re experiencing a big change in attitude. That has to happen in order for sustainability to stick. Think of historic preservation: we now think twice before we demolish an old building. We have standards and institutions to help us assess the value of a building, to decide whether it deserves protection. That was a huge shift in attitude from the midcentury attitude of “tear it all down and make it new.” Not only is historic preservation a model for how we can recalibrate our opinions of what’s beautiful and valuable, it’s also an indispensable partner in sustainability.

The Georgetowner: If we took a green building tour in D.C., where should we stop?

Piedmont-Palladino: The USGBC’s website is a great place to start. You can search by location and see all the LEED buildings in that area. Many on the list are office buildings, where you might be able to peek into a great lobby, like the one that Gensler designed at 800 17th St., but there are also LEED charter schools, grocery stores and hotels.

My list of must-sees would include the embassies of Finland and Canada, the National Portrait Gallery and each of the District’s renovated branch libraries. What’s great about that beginning list is that these aren’t just environmentally responsible buildings, they’re wonderful places to be, and they contribute to the life of the city. That’s real sustainability.

For more information, visit nbm.org.

The Antiques Addict Cure-Alls in Colored Bottles

Distinctive bottles of many shapes and hues, displayed in the windows of medieval apothecaries, lured ailing customers to buy their contents. By the 18th century, England was producing more than 200 elixirs and serums, their secret formulas known only to their makers.

Called patent medicines, these “amazing cures” were manufactured under grants to those who provided medicine to the Royal family. Each medicine came in its uniquely colored, hand-blown bottle. By the late 1700s, these elixirs began to arrive in the United States with the first settlers.

After American independence, rising nationalistic feelings were exploited by U.S. manufacturers, who claimed that their potions were derived from plant products found exclusively in North America. Self-medication was alluring to early Americans, who often had limited access to medicines or doctors, and the patent-medicine business flourished. Remedies, often laced with alcohol, morphine, opium or cocaine, were virtually unregulated and available for every known ailment.

By the mid-19th century, doctors, tinsmiths and everyone in between promoted their “branded” concoctions, each with its unique bottle. Sold in retail stores and at traveling medicine shows, they relied on attractive bottles to promote their exotic ingredients. From the 19th to the mid-20th century, a variety of glass medicine vessels, numbering in the thousands, were manufactured to contain an equally prodigious number of brands.

The earliest of these bottles were made from natural sand, which gave them an opaque aquamarine color. In 18th- and 19th-century America, glass bottles were often hand-blown and misshapen or asymmetrical. Because they had to be detached from the blowpipe when finished, a round imprint on the bottom of the bottle – known as a pontil mark or scar – was created.

Early experimentation with additives in glass manufacturing resulted in green, amber or blue bottles. Colored, pontiled medicine bottles are scarce, and prices range from $100 to $20,000. These rarefied bottles are typically a color other than aqua or clear, with a pontil scar on the base. They are embossed with the name of the doctor or the type of “medicine,” as in “Cure,” “Bitters,” “Tonic” or “Sarsaparilla.” The more common aqua medicines with pontils sell for upwards of $20. (Clear glass was not perfected until the late 19th century; hence, a clear bottle is a later bottle.)

One of the clues for dating a bottle is the lip, as nearly all bottles made prior to 1870 had a hot piece of glass crudely applied to the lip. As a rule of thumb, bottles made from 1830 to 1850 have a flared or sheared lip and those made from 1840 to 1870 have applied round or squared lips. After 1870, a lipping tool was used to twist two pieces of glass clipped onto the sides of the bottle into a uniform shape. Bottles from the last part of the 19th century show evidence of this twisting motion.

One of the many popular patent products sold via elaborate traveling shows was Kickapoo Indian Sagwa. Featuring acrobats and Native American horse riders, the shows traveled the countryside, touting their cure-all as a blood, liver and stomach remedy. The richly embellished bottles claimed to contain special Native America herbal medicine, which was actually mostly alcohol, stale beer and a strong laxative. They did, in fact, contained a touch of herbs.

In 1906, the industry received its fatal blow when Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act. The U.S. government had finally stepped in to stop the sale of these “medicines,” the sellers of which made unproven, often outrageous claims about their curing everything from tuberculosis and colds to cancer.

Even so, a few patent medicines continued to be produced up through the 1950s. Some products continue to be sold even today, such as Father John’s Medicine. First produced by Father John O’Brien in Lowell, Massacheusetts, in 1855, its brown bottle still retains its familiar picture of Father John.

More than 10,000 types of patent medicine bottles were produced and distributed throughout the United States between approximately 1850 and 1906. Historians have estimated that more than 15,000 different medicines were available in these bottles.

In 1892, Owens Glass Company invented the semi-automatic bottle machine, which left a large ring, known as the Owens’ ring, on the bottle’s base. At around that time, the typical color of glass used for bottles changed from aqua to clear. Fewer bottles were embossed by the late 1930s and into the 1940s, and bottles lost their individuality as food manufacturers demanded more regular containers. The bubbles and the charming irregularities that collectors love disappeared as the 20th century progressed.

Michelle Galler has been an antiques dealer for more than 25 years. Her shop is in Rare Finds, 211 Main Street, Washington, Virginia. She also consults from her 19th-century home in Georgetown. Reach her at antiques.and.whimsies@gmail.com. [gallery ids="102039,134727" nav="thumbs"]

Featured Property

April 22, 2015

Fessenden House, one of the grandest homes in the Washington, D.C., for the first time since its construction, is for sale. The home exemplifies the finest elements of neoclassical architecture. This exquisite, one-of-a-kind residence was inspired by the work of 18th-century architects Robert and James Adam, who transformed English architecture by creating a lighter, more refined mode of Georgian design.

Designed by Leon Chatelain in collaboration with interior designer Antony Childs, Fessenden House represents the highest quality in residential construction. The grounds, designed by landscape architect James Urban, winner of the ASLA Medal of Excellence, envelop the home in the beauty and splendor of both formal and informal English gardens.

Bedrooms: 7
Full Bath: 9
Pool and poolhouse
Wine cellar with tasting room
Half-size sports court.
Offered at $22 million

Long & Foster
Christie’s International Real Estate
Nancy Itteilag

Quality Hill-Worthington House on Prospect Street for Sale at $11 Million

April 21, 2015

One of the most historic houses in Georgetown and Washington, D.C., is on the market, after it was sold 10 years ago by Sen. Clairborne Pell and his wife Nuala to Ralph and Nancy Taylor. The 3425 Prospect St., NW, Federal-style house sits on the northeast corner of Prospect and 35th Streets and was built in 1798. It is also significant because of its occupants, who were active in local and national affairs.

The gray two-story brick house is for sale for $11 million by agent Russell Firestone of TTR Sotheby’s International Reality, which confirmed the listing to the Georgetowner. The asking price — $11 million — is the same amount which nearby Halcyon House sold for in 2012.

While neighbors on Prospect Street may call it the Pell house, the 6,433-square-foot house was called Quality Hill by its first owner John Thomson Mason, nephew of one of America’s founding fathers, George Mason. Prominent physician Charles Worthington lived there for 25 years. His family also owned the Leonard Mackall House on 34th Street. For a time in the early 20th century, Albert Clemons, owner of Halcyon House, also owned Quality Hill and used it for storage. To the neighbors, it was known as the “haunted house.” In the 1940s, the house finally got electricity during a major renovation by Sir Willmott Lewis and Lady Norma Bowler Lewis. In 1961, she sold it to the Pells, who sold to the Taylors for $3.9 million in 2004. The Taylors had the house undergo a restoration and rehabilitation that reportedly cost as much as the selling price.

The house has eight bedrooms. Thomas Jefferson is said to have dined there. Arches in the center hallway supposedly came from the Francis Scott Key House on M Street. The house is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.