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Kalorama Will Be Home For Obama Family–Five Other Presidents Have Lived There

May 27, 2016

This is the type of news story I like to wake up to.  News, history, interesting personalities.

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The tony Northwest neighborhood perched above Rock Creek and just northwest of Dupont Circle is where the Obamas are expected to settle in January after leaving the White House. While their younger daughter Sasha finishes high school, the family will rent the home of Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton White House press secretary.  The nine-bedroom mansion on Belmont Road offers castle-like turrets, three fireplaces, parking for up to 10 cars — and a neighborhood dripping in presidential history.

Woodrow Wilson was probably Kalorama’s most prominent — and most tragedy-beset — ex-commander-in-chief. Largely incapacitated by a stroke in 1919 after a national tour stumping, unsuccessfully, for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and America’s entrance into the League of Nations, Wilson moved into 2340 S St. NW, a 28-room mansion, on the day he left office in 1921. There, at least at first, he lived an invalid’s life, tended to by private nurses and staying in his robe and slippers unless guests came.

Wilson gave his first and only radio address from the house on the fifth anniversary of Armistice Day in 1923, and it was his base while he plotted another run for the White House. Instead, he died there in 1924. Wilson’s wife, Edith, stayed in the house until her death in 1961, and it’s now a museum.

Eight years after William Howard Taft left the White House, he returned to Washington as chief justice of the Supreme Court — and settled into the mansion at 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, where he lived until his death in 1930. In 1931, the span of Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek Park near his home was christened the Taft Bridge. As the bill to rename the bridge noted, Taft “was a great admirer of said bridge, over which it was his custom to walk several times a week, especially on Sunday afternoons, at which time he would stop to talk with friends or acquaintances and especially with groups of children whom he met.”

Warren Harding’s relationship to the neighborhood as a future president may have been somewhat less avuncular. He lived just a block away, at 2314 Wyoming Ave. NW, from 1917 to 1921, when he was a senator from Ohio — and the home became “a social mecca for his friends, and there were many,” noted to a 2004 biography of Harding by John W. Dean.

“Word soon spread that a bored senator could find a first-rate poker game two or three nights a week, not to mention a good meal,” Dean wrote.

It’s possible he crossed paths during that time with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who rented a house at 2131 R St. NW while he was assistant secretary of the Navy under Wilson from 1917 to 1920. The 12-bedroom home was reportedly the scene of family discord after FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor Roosevelt’s social secretary. Even more drama during the Roosevelts’ stay: An anarchist bombed the house of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who lived across the street.

“I’ll never forget how unnerved Father was when he found me standing at the window,” James Roosevelt, 11 at the time of the bombing, later said, according to Jean Edward Smith’s 2008 Roosevelt biography. “He grabbed me in an embrace that almost cracked my ribs.”

Herbert Hoover also called Kalorama home during his pre-presidency years, buying a house at 2300 S St. NW when he was appointed Harding’s commerce secretary in 1921. Hoover left for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 1929 but returned to the 22-room house in 1933 after losing to FDR, and stayed there until 1944. The house is now the embassy of Myanmar.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Shawn permalink
    June 29, 2016 2:03 AM

    I was looking for the history of this neighborhood and where should I land but on a blog from Madison–where I studied at the University so many years ago. I browsed for a bit on your blog and am impressed with the scope of your postings. Well done! And thanks for the Kalorama historical trivia.

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