by Barbara D. Bates
The Mediterranean-style house at 3020 Albemarle Street, NW stands at the side of the Soapstone Valley Trail, and its landscape slopes down to the valley.
This attractive structure was designed in 1924 by an accomplished and internationally-known architect in a landscape setting that respects the valley below it.
Up for sale for the first time in 60 years, it is hoped that the buyer will also respect the fine architecture, history, and landscape setting of this house
The architect, Horace Whittier Peaslee (1884-1959), established his own practice in Washington in 1918. He became a member (1921) and fellow (1936) of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and served as its second vice president from 1930 to 1934. He was a founding member of the Committee of 100 in 1923 and was its vice chairman at the time of his death. He organized the Joint Committee on the National Capital in 1932 with the mandate to serve as a “watchdog of the historic structures, natural resources, and scenery of the city.” Also recognized as a landscape designer, he was an honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Peaslee is best known as principal designer of Meridian Hill Park (completed in 1930) and his work on the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (1954) in Arlington, Virginia. He also designed many homes in Washington, and a number are in Forest Hills. Another example in this community is the late Georgian-style house at 3001 Garrison Street, built on a 25-acre property of the Civil-War era Battery Terrill for Charles H. Tompkins in 1925. The site was selected to not interfere with the shape of the Battery. Bought by the Peruvian government in 1944, today it continues to serve as the residence of their ambassador. The many accomplishments of Mr. Peaslee can be viewed on the AIA website in The AIA Historical Directory of American Architects.
The house at 3020 Albemarle Street was built for Colonel William Robert Davis (1871-1934) and his wife Irene Nesbit Davis (1881-1960). They are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Davis entered military service a year after receiving his medical degree from Vanderbilt University in 1898. He was also a graduate of the Army Medical School and School for Flight Surgeons. He served his country in three wars: Spanish American, Philippine, and the Great War. According to Ann Kessler’s The History of the Forest Hills Citizens Association: Service to the Neighborhood for 75 Years (2004), he was a career Army officer with the Medical Corps and was Chief Surgeon of the Army before his retirement in 1927. He became a charter member of the Forest Hills Citizens Association (1929).
The house has had a series of occupants over the years with the most recent owners being Arthur Schach (1913-2007), his wife Elizabeth G. Schach (1924-2014) and now the sons. The house has probably been owned by members of this family for the past 60 years.
A review of the indexes for building permits issued for 3020 Albemarle through 1958 indicates that the house remained intact up to this time and probably during the Schach family ownership. Now that this property is up for sale, it is listed as “an opportunity to renovate or build your own dream home…” (emphasis added). It is recommended that any new owner choose renovation to retain the architectural integrity of this exquisite gem of a house with extraordinary views of Soapstone Valley – preferably in a way that also preserves the property’s trees so as to prevent erosion and runoff into the Soapstone Valley so treasured by the community.
The houses at 3020 Albemarle and 3001 Garrison are showcased in Forest Hills by Margery L. Elfin, Paul K. Williams, and the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance (2006). The artist Mary Belcher includes the 3020 Albemarle residence in depicting the rich diversity of architectural styles in Forest Hills for her painting on the fire call box at Ellicott Street and 30th Place, NW showing “Forest Hills at Home.”
The Landmarks Committee of the DC Preservation League has stated that 3020 Albemarle “is representative of the large number of architecturally-accomplished houses erected in the neighborhood during the 1920s and 1930s… 3020 would undoubtedly be a contributing structure in a Forest Hills Historic District.”
Short of historic districts, a new tool for preservation is needed for Forest Hills – one that can help solve the question of how the community can preserve architectural gems such as 3020 Albemarle. A possibility is to have Forest Hills or parts of it designated Conservation Districts (CDs), a concept being implemented in neighborhoods in cities across the nation to prevent unwanted tear-downs or oversized mansions, and to protect the use character and geography while providing for managed neighborhood development. A conservation district does not have the restrictions of historic districts and neighborhoods participate in defining the criteria. These should be capable of being tailored to the specific neighborhood.
The DC Office of Planning is well aware of the concept. The 2016 District of Columbia Historic Preservation Plan refers to CDs as a new tool and recommends exploration as a pilot project. Forest Hills residents and its neighborhood organizations as well as representatives from the DC Preservation League and Rock Creek Conservancy should be included on any study team established by the DC Historic Preservation Office and Office of Planning for this neighborhood.
ANC 3F has invited Barbara D. Bates to speak about 3020 Albemarle at its meeting on Tuesday, April 21st, 7:30 p.m., at Forest Hills of DC (4901 Connecticut). She will also discuss conservation districts.