Georgetown Current

Georgetown Hotel’s Plan to Convert Row Houses Prompts Mixed Reviews

December 21, 2017

By Kirk Kramer
Current Staff Writer

The Rosewood Hotel at 1050 31st St. NW, overlooking the C&O Canal, is expanding around the corner and down the street. The Georgetown hotel will soon operate six historic row houses in the same block of 31st Street and nearby on South Street as luxury short-term rental properties.

It’s a move that makes Elsa Santoyo of the Citizens Association of Georgetown feel a trifle apprehensive. She praised the Rosewood as a classy addition to the neighborhood since its 2013 opening, but expressed concern about the character of the neighborhood changing.

“We would be opposed to setting a precedent of large landowners buying up private houses and turning them into short-term rentals,” Santoyo said. “We want to ensure that the individuation does not disappear.”

Michael Winstanley, the architect for the hotel’s project, discussed the plans at this month’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith). Among the alterations he outlined were the installation of awnings and repainting all six houses the same color, plans that commissioners opposed.

Lisa Palmer, whose single-member district includes the hotel and row houses, also wants to ensure that the buildings each retain their individual character.

“We want to make sure they respect the history of the block,” Palmer told The Current. “Those are multiple townhouses built in the 1800s.”

The houses in question are at 1026, 1032, 1040 and 1042 31st St., and 3103 and 3105 South St.

Palmer said that in general, however, the project looks like a good thing. “That area of 31st Street would benefit from the care that will come from this project,” she said. “Generally we welcome it. We want to have a conversation about the details.”

In an interview, Winstanley said the owner of the structures, 31st Street Townhouses LLC, has already agreed to some of the changes ANC 2E had asked for at its Dec. 4 meeting — dropping the proposed awnings and agreeing that the houses can be different colors. Winstanley also presented the revised plans to the Old Georgetown Board on Dec. 7, which took no formal action.

“The concept review before the OGB was generally very positive,” he said. “They asked for some revisions and want more specifics.”

Pascal Forotti, the Rosewood’s managing director, said the hotel hopes to fill a niche market with the townhouses, making them available to guests starting in the last quarter of 2018.

“People like the services of a hotel but want more independence,” Forotti told The Current. “The houses could rent for a day or two, a week, a month, a year.”

He said that the charge for renting one of the houses has not been determined, but a night’s lodging in a suite at the hotel currently runs between $1,000 and $3,000.

The houses are about a thousand square feet each, Forotti said, with a ground-floor living room, a kitchen area, and a single bedroom and bathroom. Each house will have outdoor garden space with “room for a bistro table and two or three chairs.” Meanwhile, “two houses that are close to each other would connect so a family could have two bedrooms,” he said.

The Old Georgetown Board will continue to review any changes the hotel proposes for the buildings’ exteriors, and ANC 2E has the option to make further comments as the plans develop.

This article appears in the Dec. 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Tudor Place, Other Historic Local Homes Showcase Seasonal Exhibits

December 17, 2017

By Robin Eberhardt
Current Staff Writer

Historic houses around the District are lighting up their Christmas trees, putting out poinsettias and proudly displaying their seasonal exhibits as December brings in the holidays this year.

In several local properties showcasing more than 100 years of history, the curators welcome visitors with breathtaking holiday displays that accompany a history lesson about the holiday traditions of the historic families that lived in the homes a century ago.

One of D.C.’s oldest historic houses — Georgetown’s Tudor Place, at 1644 31st St. NW — debuted its annual holiday installation earlier this month. This year’s display features furniture, decorations and household items laid out how they were in December 1914, when the Peter family had recently modernized the home with electricity and a gas line and was preparing to celebrate the holidays.

Grant Quertermous, the curator for Tudor Place, said people should be excited to visit the house and experience Christmas traditions from more than 100 years ago.

“I really like all our holiday installations to reflect a significant time period in the life of the house and the family,” he said, adding that the different themes allow visitors to see something distinctive every year.

This year’s theme — the period when the family was returning home after completing major renovations two weeks before Christmas — represents a turning point for the house and the family. The servants would have had to adjust to the new appliances that had just been installed, such as electric lights, a telephone and a Duparquet gas and coal stove.

The holiday decorations in Tudor Place also reflect the preferences of the Peter family, which traces its ancestry to Martha Washington. The owner at the time, Armistead Peter Jr., was interested in filling the house with the latest technology, some of which was state-of-the-art at the time. But he was also a traditionalist and decorated his Christmas tree with candles instead of electric lights.

Quertermous said the Peter family kept meticulous records, which assists the curators in presenting the house in different time periods. They kept their grocery receipts and other notes, with an “eye for the future” and a desire to share their lives with their future generations and the public, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to see holiday traditions from this time period,” said Quertermous. “People like that it looks at a Christmas from 103 years ago.”

At Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Forest Hills, the former home of D.C. style icon Marjorie Merriweather Post is the site of an annual holiday celebration, including themed Christmas trees and and a family-friendly annual Russian Winter Festival.

At this year’s winter festival — which took place Dec. 9 and 10 — fortunetellers and mummers roamed the estate to entertain the kids and families traveling around the estate. In addition to exploring the mansion, families could visit the “Spectacular Gems and Jewelry” exhibit and witness authentic Russian dancers and folk music. The luxurious china, jeweled Fabergé eggs, priceless Russian chalices, artwork and elaborate decor that regularly fills the 4155 Linnean Ave. NW property is also on display to visitors.

Meanwhile, five Christmas trees displayed around the mansion and estate are adorned with decorations inspired by the diamonds, rubies, pearls and other gems owned by Post. Live orchids, icicle ornaments and themed decorations also hang from the trees.

“This year, we have a jewelry exhibition,” said Lynn Rossotti, the director of marketing, communications and visitor services at Hillwood, standing in the visitor’s center at the estate. “We just have some dazzling jewels, blinged-out trees both here and in the mansion.”

The annual Russian Winter Festival has also included a children’s show “Grandfather Frost & the Snow Maiden” for the past 18 years, according to Rebecca Singer, the youth audiences manager for Hillwood. The show takes families in the audience to a Russian village and engages children in the audience by speaking to them directly and involving them in a snowball fight among the actors. It leads up to an arm-wrestling competition between Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus.

Singer added that the fortunetellers and the actors who dress up as a circus master and a bear, the national animal of Russia, add another fun and family-friendly element to the festivities.

“That is one of my favorite things actually, just to sort of catch them out there in costume, bringing the estate to life,” Singer said.

One of the main holiday events for three historic houses in D.C. is the Holidays Through History open house, which took place on Dec. 2 and allowed members of the public to tour Anderson House, Dumbarton House and the Woodrow Wilson House in one evening. The event included tours of the houses, which were decorated for the holiday season, plus signature cocktails relating to the drinks the historic families would have had at the time.

Anderson House, the current headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati and the former home of Larz and Isabel Anderson, is located at 2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

For the open house, organizers served milk punch — a staple at the family’s New Year’s parties, according to Kelsey Atwood, the weekend supervisor at Anderson House. The drink had milk, cream, vanilla, rum and brandy, she said.

The house is decorated with multiple Christmas trees, greenery, red ribbons, mistletoe and poinsettias added to the everyday furnishings of the home.

Dan Devlin, a docent at Anderson House, said visitors enjoy learning about the Anderson family.

“I think what people love to hear about is the lifestyle, how they entertained, who they entertained, the formality of it,” Devlin said. “The level of the people who came through here, the way they worked in a diplomatic spirit, it’s just really unique.”

Anderson House offers free public tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Dumbarton House and Woodrow Wilson House, located at 2715 Q St. NW and 2340 S St. NW, respectively, offer tours costing $10 for general admission tickets, with cheaper or free options for students, children and senior citizens.

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Georgetown Debating 'One-Side-Of-The-Street' Parking Rule

December 8, 2017

By Grace Bird

Current Staff Writer

As Georgetown grapples with ongoing parking pressures, the area’s residential and business communities are squaring off over the idea of reserving more spaces for locals.

Several members of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) want to ask the city for Enhanced Residential Permit Parking, an arrangement that reserves one side of each residential street for vehicles with Zone 2 parking permits during certain hours. The other side of the street would continue to allow vehicles without that pass to park for up to two hours, but the change would add fresh restrictions to about 2,000 parking spaces.

Proponents said such a change would make it easier for residents to find spaces near their homes. But at ANC 2E’s meeting on Monday, droves of business owners voiced outrage at the idea — which they said would devastate the shops and restaurants that rely on customers who drive to the neighborhood.

Billy Martin, owner of Martin’s Tavern at 1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW, said Georgetown’s limited transit access makes street parking essential for local businesses.

“We all need to work together,” Martin said. “I have people tell me they won’t come to Georgetown because of parking.”

The D.C. Department of Transportation has worked with Georgetown for years on the idea of addressing its parking pressures, where meetings aired a host of possible solutions. These include the “Enhanced RPP” restrictions that ANC 2E discussed Monday — which would mirror the system employed in various neighborhoods with high parking demand, including Logan Circle and Sheridan-Kalorama.

However, the process for making any change remains in its infancy. Bowing to public requests for more time to consider the issue after initially scheduling a vote for this week, ANC 2E hasn’t even taken a position on whether to petition the D.C. Transportation Department for new parking rules. Even at that point, the agency would need to study the issue, put out a recommendation and then solicit further public comment.

Monday’s meeting also aired a lack of consensus among the ANC 2E members. Commissioner Ed Solomon — a Burleith resident who owns a business in Georgetown — reiterated his long-standing objections and said ANC 2E previously voted against such a scheme. However, the commission saw significant turnover after last year’s elections, and the latest proposal came from two newly elected members: Jim Wilcox and chair Joe Gibbons.

Wilcox cited a Department of Transportation study finding that only 1 to 2 percent of residents can regularly park on their own block in Georgetown.

“We felt that it was an important objective for the residential community to be able to park somewhere near where you live,” Wilcox said. “I’m not saying this is perfect, and we are going to consider alternatives.”

The Georgetown Business Improvement District, which strongly opposes Enhanced Residential Permit Parking restrictions, endorsed other options.

BID president Joe Sternlieb said a clear solution would be to allow only vehicles registered within ANC 2E to receive special parking privileges in Georgetown. Currently, anyone eligible for a Zone 2 permit is treated equally as a “resident” under the neighborhood’s parking restrictions. (The same would apply under Enhanced RPP.) However, the Transportation Department declined to shrink parking zones while recently overhauling its Residential Parking Permit regulations.

The BID also suggests increased parking enforcement; extending the hours of existing two-hour parking limits; and using the ParkMobile app to collect parking fees from vehicles without Zone 2 permits.

However, a statement by the BID’s board states that the one-side-the-street restrictions would drive out businesses, in turn hurting property values and diminishing Georgetown’s “social health.”

The Citizens Association of Georgetown also has concerns, saying that parking restrictions should reflect the widely varying needs of different local streets.

ANC 2E is scheduled to continue its parking debate early next year.

This article appears in the Dec. 6 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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