The Location: A 16Th Century Mansion With A Tragic Tale (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Location: A 16th Street Mansion With A Tragic Tale

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week, we're hearing how people and places in the Washington region could've been and might have been as we explore the road not taken. But now, we'll visit a road many of you no doubt have taken if you've travelled much around northwest D.C., 16th Street, the prominent thoroughfare that begins just north of the White House and actually ends in Maryland at Georgia Avenue. Along 16th, you'll find plenty of notable buildings including a rather distinctive house.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:37
It's on the corner of 16th and Corcoran and looks a lot like a red brick castle with a giant turret on the corner and a massive for-sale sign out front. Because you see, after nearly 125 years of being inhabited by a cast of colorful characters, this grand elegant house is vacant. And we'll hear how it all came to be on "The Location," a regular segment where Washington history buff, Kim Bender, author of the blog "The Location," shares the often surprising stories behind lesser known locations across the region.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:11
And just this week, Kim and I went inside 1623 16th Street. Check out the staircase.

MS. KIM BENDER

00:01:17
It's very cool. Beautiful, detailed carved woodwork.

SHEIR

00:01:21
And headed up to that beautiful turret...

BENDER

00:01:23
Should we go all the way up to the turret?

SHEIR

00:01:25
I think we should go up to the turret.

BENDER

00:01:27
Okay.

SHEIR

00:01:27
I've fantasized about that turret while passing by this place. Where Kim began the story...

BENDER

00:01:32
So should I start at the top?

SHEIR

00:01:33
Let's start at the top.

BENDER

00:01:34
Okay.

SHEIR

00:01:34
From the top.

BENDER

00:01:36
The house was built by a man named Hampton B. Denman. Construction started in 1886 and he was called a damned old scoundrel by President Buchanan who refused him a government appointment.

SHEIR

00:01:47
Ouch.

BENDER

00:01:48
Yeah.

SHEIR

00:01:49
Do we know why?

BENDER

00:01:49
I'm not exactly sure why, but I know that he was in the circle of people that was high up in government political circles. His friends were close colleagues with Lincoln, Grant, Sherman. So he built the house. Within 10 years, he died. His wife and his son stayed on at the house and they died very soon afterwards. So in 1905, the house was sold to Eleanor O'Donnell-Hinckley who was estranged from her husband, painter Robert Hinckley.

BENDER

00:02:22
Robert Hinckley was pretty well known at the time in Washington D.C. He taught portrait classes at the Corcoran. Much of his work is found in the National Gallery and at the Capitol. His wife and children moved into this house, and I think the most interesting character who lived in this house and who I feel a kinship to as I was walking down Corcoran Street from Safeway, I thought about her, Gladys Hinckley. She entered society when she was 14 years old by throwing one of the largest teas of the season in the ballroom downstairs.

BENDER

00:02:54
And it actually is said to have redesigned the outside patio into its own interior dining room/ballroom for her grand coming out. She seems to have been a pretty outgoing and bold individual. In 1911, as still one of Washington's most popular society belles, was the first woman in D.C. to fly an aeroplane when she went 50 feet over the Potomac in a Racksmith (sp?) biplane. So she seems like she was a very adventurous young woman.

BENDER

00:03:28
She married a foreign service officer and travelled around the world with him. When her husband died suddenly at 44 in 1936, she came back to the 16th Street house and started her life as a society belle all over again. She moved in as the belle of the ball and stuck through the area, through its ups and downs, its downs in the '70s especially. Crime was up. People had moved out after the riots and she didn't. She stayed.

SHEIR

00:04:01
She was just so attached to the house.

BENDER

00:04:02
Throwing her parties. Yeah. She had told her son once, this is where she wanted to die, so she was sticking it out, and became a victim of that stubbornness in 1976. At the age of 81, she walked down Corcoran to 17th Street. There is a Safeway there. And on her way back was targeted by a group of very young kids who were sitting in the McDonalds across the street from the Safeway, stalking potential mugging victims. They saw her as one.

BENDER

00:04:31
Maybe she was all dressed up, I'm not sure. And followed her back down Corcoran Street towards her house and one of the boys, who was 12 years old, took a glass soda bottle and hit her over the head, resulting in her death. So she didn't quite get to die in this house. Her son is quoted as saying she wanted to die there, she almost got her wish. Her son had wanted to turn this place into a museum. She had collected artwork in her travels, but her son couldn't really afford and probably had no place to put most of the stuff she had here.

BENDER

00:05:03
So the estate sale, basically, was of 150 years of her family's history, her father's artwork. And I was check - can I read you a quote? Is that all right?

SHEIR

00:05:13
Yeah, sure, sure.

BENDER

00:05:13
I think this is really an interesting description of it. Okay. Included were family china, their portraits of grandfathers and great, great uncles and their Louis XV style furniture. Mrs. Rulik (sp?) had lined the walls of the bird room with thousands of books and magazines that came from her travels around the world. Mirrors in the dining room reflect the next room where the artworks of Robert Hinckley sit dusty and awaiting a buyer. In the living room are a traveling preacher's organ and chairs that were shipped from the Borghese Palace in Rome.

SHEIR

00:05:44
So after the estate sale, what became of the house then?

BENDER

00:05:48
It passed through a couple different businessmen, but pretty soon after became The Green Door, which is a community program that prepares people with severe and persistent mental illness to work and live independently. And they actually serve around 1800 D.C. residents per year and continue to do that, but now at their Taylor Street, Petworth (sp?) location. There was a slash in government funding and their budget couldn't handle this lovely historic building.

SHEIR

00:06:19
So now, here it is waiting for a new owner.

BENDER

00:06:22
Waiting for a loving owner who wants, I hope, to maintain its historic character.

SHEIR

00:06:28
Well, Kim Bender, thank you so much for the interview.

BENDER

00:06:29
Thanks for joining me in another wonderful historic location.

SHEIR

00:06:40
Kim Bender writes the blog "The Location." To see photos of 1623 16th Street in its early days and today, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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