The Location: A 16th Street Mansion With A Tragic Tale | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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

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The Romanesque house at 1623 16th Street NW has a colorful, and tragic, history.
Rebecca Sheir
The Romanesque house at 1623 16th Street NW has a colorful, and tragic, history.

Kim Bender, blogger behind The Location, takes Metro Connection's Rebecca Sheir to a storied home on 16th Street NW. The mansion most recently housed The Green Door, a community program that assists people with severe mental illness. But the home once belonged to one of Washington's favorite early-20th-century society belles, who became the first woman to fly in an "aeroplane" over the Potomac, and whose love affair with the house was cut short in the 1970s, when she was attacked just 200 feet away from her front door. Following are highlights of their conversation.

Bender on mansion's early beginnings: "The house was built by a man named Hampton P. Denman. Construction started in 1886. And he was called a 'damned old scoundrel' by President Buchanan who refused him a government appointment... So, he built the house. Within ten 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 Eleanora O'Donnell Hinckley, who was estranged from her husband, painter Robert Hinckley."

On Gladys Hinckley: "I think the most interesting character who lived in this house... is 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. And actually is said to have redesigned the outside patio into its own interior dining room-ballroom for her grand coming out."

On Hinckley's life: "In 1911, as still one of Washington's most popular society belles, was the first woman in D.C. to fly in an airplane when she went 50 feet over the Potomac in a Rex Smith Biplane. So she seems like she was a very adventurous young woman. 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."

On Hinckley's death: "In 1976, at the age of 81, she walked down Corcoran to 17th Street--there was 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. Maybe she was all dressed up; I'm not sure. And followed her back down Corcoran Street toward 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, but her son has quoted her saying, 'she wanted to die there; she almost got her wish.'"

On after her death: "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, so the estate sale basically was of 150 years worth of her family's history--her father's artwork."

[Music: "Turn Your Face" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "House Theme" by James Tabije from Tabije Techno]

Photos: 16th Street Mansion

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