Historic Structures

Larz Anderson House (Society of the Cincinnati), Washington DC

Date added: August 27, 2010 Categories: House

Originally a private residence commissioned for lavish entertaining, this limestone, detached structure is one of the largest and costliest homes in the city. The dissimilar facades of the north entrance with its court and the south garden elevation are attributable to the English manner during the first half of the 18th century. In addition, each major interior space is designed as a stylistic entity.

City and telephone directories list the following tenants:
1906-1937 Larz Anderson
1938 Mrs. Isabel Anderson
1939-19A2 Society of the Cincinnati
1943 U.S. Joint Radio Board
1944-1972 Society of the Cincinnati

Anderson House was used during World War I for Belgium Relief work, for Red Cross work for the blind, and as housing for French officers. At the time, Larz Anderson was a member of the first Central Belgian Relief Committee, and also a member of the original Red Cross Council of the District of Columbia.

June 18, 1917 the Belgian mission arrived in Washington and stayed in the Anderson's home for three weeks. The Andersons had turned the building over to the mission while they were out of town.

Larz wrote that "Anderson House has had a good deal of experience In entertaining foreign guests, and it has proved a fine setting for the purpose. It was arranged for stately functions of a limited size, and its approaches and successions of rooms make a suitable background." (Larz Anderson: Letters and Journals of a Diplomat, p. 606.) In the spring of 1929, the Andersons gave several dinners before leaving the city for the summer. The French and Japanese Ambassadors were the guests for one and the Italian and Belgian Ambassadors for another. Larz wrote:

"Our dinners proved successful. The house was full of flowers, - azaleas, orchids, miles and tulips. We remained, I believe, the only house in Washington, except the Embassies, which turned out the servants in full-dress livery, shorts and stockings, buckled shoes, and braided coats. These dinners were swan songs to the old order."

The Andersons again gave up their house for visiting dignitaries. In 1931, while on a cruise through the Far East, they received a telegram from Secretary of State Stimson requesting the use of Anderson House for the King and Queen of Siam during their visit to Washington. The King and Queen arrived April 28 and left May 2. During their stay at Anderson House, a succession of royal functions took place. President and Mrs. Hoover were received in the English drawing room. "Vice President Curtis, Chief Justice Hughes, and big wigs were placed according to precedence in the long gallery and then introduced in order by State Department officials into the drawing room."

The Society of the Cincinnati continued the Anderson tradition of offering the house for charitable uses and official government functions. In 1941 the Washington Committee for Refugees in England worked there to prepare warm clothes for a half million needy English. (Times-Herald, 7-31-41) Then in January 1942, the Navy Department took over the house for the duration of the war.

Members of the Society use the house for private parties, dances and teas; and the President, Vice President and members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court may give official functions there. Otherwise, Anderson House is now a museum of portraits, sculpture, flags, swords, and other relics of the American Revolution and the Anderson family.

Overall dimensions: The three-story-plus-basement structure measures 66'-6" from sidewalk to roof ridge. The "H"-shaped plan is 137'-8" wide by 106'-0" deep. The front, symmetrical, eleven-bay north elevation (Massachusetts Avenue) has a deeply recessed seven-bay carriage court which is 79'-8" side by 38'-7" (two bays) deep. It is flanked by a pair of two-bayed wings. The court has a centered, three-bay, two-story portico and an entrance screen with gates having segmental pediments.

The eight-bay south elevation has a first-floor conservatory below a second-floor terrace measuring five bays (63'-0") wide by one bay (12'-0'') deep. Flanking the conservatory, the wings, measuring 30'-3" wide, have only one bay each (unlike the north elevation). To the east, a three-story, single-bay extension (15'-4" wide) breaks back 9'-0" on the south elevation. On the east elevation there is a mezzanine fourth floor.

Floor plans: The first-floor centered entrance hall of the "H"-shaped plan is entered from the south side of the carriage court. Flanking the hall are the west "chapel" (an anteroom for the west reception hall) and the east stair hall. A serving room with access to a ballroom (the "Great Hall") south of the entrance hall lies between the east hall and a southeast library. The northeast wing and the area east of the serving room and library is given to kitchen, pantry, servants. South of the ballroom, the conservatory has three linear chambers-central winter garden, east breakfast room, and west smoking room, the latter with access to the southwest billiard room on axis with the west reception hall and northwest stair aisle and hall.

The northwest second-floor stair landing is on a north-to-south axis with an anteroom and two drawings rooms. Overlooking Massachusetts Avenue to the north, the gallery runs east from the anteroom and first drawing room. The gallery gives access to a secret passage at the southwest; the ballroom balcony (beyond which is the second-floor terrace) and its stair; and the southeast dining room. Further to the east are the hall stair, servants' quarters, pantries, and a northeast study.

Larz Anderson (1866-1937) was the son of General Nicholas Longworth Anderson and Elizabeth Coles (Kilgour) Anderson of Cincinnati, Ohio. Larz's great grandfather, Colonel Richard Clough Anderson (1750-1826) was a founder of the Society of the Cincinnati, In 1891, after one year at Harvard Law School, Mr. Anderson was appointed Second Secretary of the U.S. Embassy at London by President Benjamin Harrison. In 1893 President Grover Cleveland appointed him First Secretary of the Embassy at Rome. While in Rome he met Isabel Weld Perkins, whom he married in Boston on June 10th, 1897.

From 1898 to 1899 Mr. and Mrs. Anderson stayed with his parents at 1530 K Street, N.W. General Anderson's home had been designed about 1882 by his college friend, Henry Hobson Richardson. The house was destroyed around 1925, and the Carlton Hotel built in its place.

During the Spanish American War, Larz Anderson served as a Captain and then as Assistant Adjutant General of the Second Army Corps. After the war "until 1911 he devoted himself to outside interests, passing most of the time with his wife in Washington and Boston, where they were prominent in society."

In 1911 President Taft appointed Larz Anderson Minister to Belgium. One year later, he was appointed Ambassador to Japan. In addition to their tours with the diplomatic service, the Andersons went on several cruises throughout the world - including: South America (1927); Africa (1928); the Mediterranean (1929); the East, including Indian, British Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Siam, Indochina, and Borneo (1931); the South Seas (1934); and Central America (1935).

Also, the Anderson's were "eventually to travel into every state of the Union, as well as into Canada and Mexico."

Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson (1876-1948) was heir to the $17 million fortune accumulated by her grandfather, Stephen Weld, in his East Indian tradings.

Mrs. Anderson was the author of plays, poetry, fiction and accounts of her travels. She also edited her husband's journals and the letters and journals of Larz's father, General Nicholas Longworth Anderson. Her poetry included: "The Welds", "William Gordon Weld", and "William Fletcher Weld" ("The Weld Trilogy"); "Angkor Thorn"; and "Cambodian Lullaby" - all published in 1937. Two of her plays were: "Freedom", which deals with a few episodes in the life of her father, George Hamilton Perkins; and " A City Built in a Night" - published in 1933 and 1937 respectively.

Washington. Then in September 1917, she left for Europe for eight months of service in the Red Cross canteen at Epernay and in hospitals on the Belgium and French fronts. For her service Mrs. Anderson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, the Royal Belgian Medal of Elizabeth with Red Cross, and the American Red Cross Canteen Medal.

The Society of the Cincinnati After Mr. Anderson's death in 1937, Mrs. Anderson gave the house and its surrounding land to the Society of Cincinnati to be used as a museum and national headquarters. A resolution made at the annual meeting of the Virginia Society of the Cincinnati on October 30, 1937 stated:
"Mrs. Larz Anderson, Litt. D., LL.D. nee Isabel Weld Perkins, daughter of gallant Commodore George Hamilton Perkins...in carrying out the wishes of her late husband, has offered the Society of Cincinnati their beautiful home in Washington ..at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue..."

An act of Congress passed February 24, 1938 granted the house exemptions from local taxation provided it was maintained as a "national museum for the custody and preservation of documents, relics and archives, especially those pertaining to the American Revolution, accessible to the public...at reasonable hours."

The Society of the Cincinnati is a non-political body organized in 1783 by the officers of the American Army who had served in the Revolutionary War. General Washington was the first President General of the Society. Membership is hereditary. One male descendent of each qualified officer in the Continental Army or Navy is eligible for membership in one of the thirteen state Societies or the French Society.