Lost Washington: the McLean House

McLean House
The McLean House, located at 1500 Eye Street, NW, was perhaps the most opulent of the many great houses erected in Washington at the turn of the century. A Renaissance-inspired structure, the house covered one-third of a city block on the south side of McPherson Square.

The mansion incorporated the original house on the southwest corner of 15th and Eye Streets that was built in 1860 by Jonah Hoover. From 1865 to 1869, the house was occupied by Senator Edwin D. Morgan, a wealthy stockbroker and wholesale grocery merchant.

The house was leased by John Roll McLean — who purchased it several years later — in 1884. Subsequently, the home was enlarged in 1886, 1891, 1894, and 1896. McLean was the only son of Washington McLean, who started as a boilermaker in Ohio and made a fortune as a manufacturer of Ohio River steamboats.

McLean House, music room from staircaseThe younger McLean got his start at his father’s paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, taking charge when the family moved to Washington. In 1905, McLean purchased the Washington Post, which deteriorated under his leadership.

In his personal life, McLean liked to entertain on a grand scale. To this end, he commission John Russell Pope to expand the house (which he’d already added on to four times) into a block-long Renaissance in-town villa in 1907. For the interior decoration, the leading New York designer Elsie de Wolfe was engaged.

Upon John’s death in 1916, the house passed to his son Edward. Edward, a known alcoholic, had married Evalyn Walsh. Edward spent his last days in a Maryland sanitarium, where he died in 1941.

Evalyn Walsh McLean leased the house to the federal government in 1935 for use as office space for three of the New Deal agencies. In 1939, it was sold for $2 million and demolished for the  Lafayette Office Building.McLean House, staircase detailMcLean House, music room looking toward ballroomMcLean House, view of dining room showing mantel & cupboardMcLean House, view of ballroom showing fireplace and four tapestries

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