"Oakview" (or "Red Top"), the Grover Cleveland Summer White House (demolished)
photograph c. 1880s
Image courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
Remarkably, the first house that was built in the area, "Rosedale," survives. It was constructed in 1793 by General Uriah Forrest (1746-1805), a Maryland statesman and military hero, who was an aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. It is one of the earliest surviving houses in the city.
"Rosedale", photograph c. 1920
Image courtesy of the Cleveland Park Historical Society
Today "Rosedale" is owned by the non-profit Rosedale Conservancy, which rescued the house and its grounds in 2002. The conservancy, which was formed by residents of Cleveland Park to save the property from development, has restored "Rosedale" to its original appearance, and its grounds are open to the public.
Image courtesy of the Rosedale Conservancy
Another early survivor is "Woodley", built in 1801 by Philip Barton Key (1757-1815), a wealthy Maryland landowner and member of Congress, and an uncle of Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), the composer of "The Star-Spangled Banner". Technically the house is not in Cleveland Park, but sits immediately adjacent to one of its borders. I am including it here, though, because its grounds once extended well into the area occupied by what is now defined as the neighborhood. Grover Cleveland leased "Woodley" as his second summer White House during his second term as President in the 1890s.
"Woodley" c. 1892
Image courtesy of the Woodley Society
Grover Cleveland was not the only President to occupy "Woodley." Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) leased the house in the 1830s during his earlier presidency. Another famous resident was General George S. Patton (1885-1945), who rented it in the 1920s. "Woodley" remained in private hands until 1950, when it was sold to the Maret School, which owns it today.
The rear facade of "Woodley" today
Image courtesy of the Maret School
When Grover Cleveland bought "Oakview" in the 1880s it attracted a number of other wealthy Washingtonians to the area seeking to escape the city's oppressive summers, and they built large country houses there. One of the houses that remains is "Twin Oaks", built in 1886 by Gardiner Greene Hubbard (1822-1897), a financier and philanthropist, and one of the founders of the National Geographic Society.
"Twin Oaks", photograph c. 1915
Image courtesy of the Cleveland Park Historical Society
"Twin Oaks" has been occupied by the Republic of China (Taiwan) since 1937 and served as that country's Ambassadorial residence until 1978. It is thought to be the largest privately owned property in the city.
"Twin Oaks" today, photographed by Gary Landsman
Image courtesy of Washington Life magazine
By the end of the 19th century a minor building boom in the newly-named Cleveland Park was underway, which really took off in 1891 when streetcar service from downtown Washington was extended to the area. Development was largely completed within the next several decades, and most of the houses in Cleveland Park today date from between 1890 and 1930, a golden age of American homebuilding.
A typical Cleveland Park house of the late 19th century
Image courtesy of Localism.com
My family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1960, when my father was appointed to a position in the Kennedy administration. My parents bought a rambling, six-bedroom house in Cleveland Park on the corner of Macomb Street and 35th Street. I think they paid $40,000 for it. Built in 1917 in a hybrid Craftsman/Colonial Revival style, it was a comfortable, rangey house with a spacious front porch and pergola, and sleeping porches on the side and on the rear. It also had a large side yard, a rarity in the neighborhood, and occupied two city lots. We divided our time between this house and a forty-acre farm in Maryland that we went to on most weekends.
Our house on Macomb Street, early 1960s
Reggie standing out front
photo by Mummy Darling
Cleveland Park was, and remains, an affluent neighborhood. When my family lived there the husbands of the households were drawn from the professional classes and were employed as lawyers, diplomats, think-tank do-gooders, high-ranking government officials, newspaper editors, and the like. Almost all of the wives were stay-at-home mothers.
Image courtesy of zillow.com
Most of the houses in our part of Cleveland Park, one of the earlier sections developed, had wrap-around porches that people largely lived on during the warm-weather months, in the days before central air conditioning. When strolling through Cleveland Park on a hot summer's evening back then, one would see families out on their porches, which were fully furnished with sets of wicker furniture, porch swings, and lamps. It was a friendly and sociable neighborhood where people knew their neighbors, and where the doors were rarely locked.
Image courtesy of zillow.com
But the doors needn't be locked, since there was usually someone inside the houses both day and night, whether it be the families who lived in them or the domestics who worked there. For these houses were built with the expectation that the lady of the house would not be the one who did the cleaning, laundering, or cooking--at least most of the time.
Image courtesy of Redfin.com
In Cleveland Park in the 1960s, many of the houses still had live-in help of some kind--ours included--and almost everyone employed a maid, a gardener, or other support staff to help run and maintain the houses and properties. And there was a large population of people in the city engaged in such professions, mostly drawn from the African-American communities on the other side of town.
Image courtsey of Redfin.com
The company of maids and other staff who worked for my family was a vivid part of my day-to-day life as a boy, as it was for almost all of the other children I knew in the neighborhood. I, like many of my friends, spent more time in the company of the Annas, Ninahs, and Henrys who worked for my family than I did with my own mother, who was often away from the house engaged in charitable and social activities. And I have no complaints about this arrangement, for it was a nice life. I have fond memories of the friendships I developed with the people who worked for us then.
A typical Cleveland Park house of the early 20th Century
Image courtsey of Localism.com
When my parents sold our house in 1970, they did so to a family who hired the architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen (born 1929) to renovate and update it, and who, in my view, butchered it. He thoughtlessly stripped it of much of its exterior detailing; ripped off its handsome Craftsman-style porch and replaced it with an ungainly, brutalist one; and tore out the six-over-one sash windows and substituted gaping blank single paned ones. All in the name of "purifying" its architecture. A subsequent owner restored some of the original features, but the ghastly Jacobsen porch remains, as can be seen in this recent photograph:
A recent photograph of the house I lived in as a boy
Image courtesy of Washingtonian magazine
As you can see, the house really looks nothing like it did when my family lived in it.
One positive thing that later owners did was to add a swimming pool in the side yard. I suspect that I would have enjoyed having a pool on our property as a boy, rather than having to walk to the nearby Cleveland Park Club where we went to swim during warm weather. But now that I think of it I'm glad we didn't have a pool then. Because if we did our side yard would not have been the gathering place for neighboring children to play in as it was when we lived there, nor would I have had the pleasure of afternoons spent swimming at the Cleveland Park Club, where there were other children to meet and play with.
The Cleveland Park Club's clubhouse
Image courtesy of same
Today when driving through Cleveland Park one is met with a very different scene from what one would have come across when I was a boy. For one thing, there aren't as many people out and about during the day. Fewer families have stay-at-home mothers, and the population of domestics and gardners that once supported these houses has largely been replaced with cleaning and lawn services, or done away with altogether.
The difference that the intervening forty years has made is even more vivdly seen at night during the summer. As I wrote earlier, when I was a boy and when the weather was hot, the porches of Cleveland Park were full during the evening of families out enjoying the cool(er) air. Today when one passes through the neighborhood during a summer's evening there is not a single person to be seen on its empty porches. That's because everyone is locked behind hermetically-sealed doors in air-conditioned isolation, watching television, obsessing on their BlackBerries, or staring at a computer screen. I blame central air conditioning more for this development than I do the explosion of electronic media, but it's guilty, too.
Although Cleveland Park remains a lovely, leafy neighborhood today full of wonderful houses, I doubt there's as much a sense of neighborhood there now as there was when I was a boy.