What’s in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC’s Most Prevalent Architecural Style

by Shilpi Paul

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 1
A semi-detached Wardman in DC.

Harry Wardman is responsible for developing huge swaths of northwest DC, from row houses in Columbia Heights to luxury apartment buildings in Dupont Circle. Busy throughout the first few decades of the 20th century, Wardman has arguably made a bigger impact on DC’s residential real estate scene than any other developer. Starting out with modest row houses, Wardman’s buildings grew in scope and luxury as the years went on and many iconic apartments and hotels around the city are, with the help of a variety of architects, his creations. Here’s a quick rundown on his work.

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 2
900 Block of Longfellow Street NW. Courtesy of Google Maps.

The Row House

Henry Wardman’s first known project was a series of six homes along the 900 block of Longfellow Street NW (map), designed by architect Nicholas Grimm in the late 19th century. The success of this first endeavor led to Wardman deciding to build several hundred row houses in Columbia Heights, east of 14th Street between Monroe and Spring Streets (map), starting in 1907. The “front-porch row house” style can now be seen on most blocks in the area.

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 3
A Wardman row house in 16th Street Heights

All told, Wardman is responsible for a few thousand row houses in Northwest DC neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Brightwood, 16th Street Heights and Petworth. He developed many of these homes during DC’s streetcar days, when the neighborhoods up 14th Street and Georgia Avenue were well connected to the rest of the city.

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 4
Row house flats

Wardman also tested out a few “row house flats” around Bloomingdale — two-story buildings with two identical units in them, one on top of the other. The idea apparently didn’t catch on (but this writer now lives in one).

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 5
Semi-detached Wardman on Rittenhouse Street NW

A Move Toward Slightly Grander Homes

In 1920, Wardman bought a plot of land in Brightwood, bounded by Peabody Street, Fifth Street, Underwood Street, and Ninth Street. Naming it Fort Stevens Ridge, he developed hundreds of semi-detached and detached homes on the land over the next few years, all with covered porches and plenty of yard space. (The project architect Mihran Mesrobian would go on to design the Carlton Hotel which would become the St. Regis, one of DC’s most revered hotels.) This marked Wardman’s move into single-family homes, examples of which can now be seen in tony neighborhoods like Woodley Park, Kalorama and Cleveland Park.

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 6
The Dresden

Notable Multi-Family Buildings

Wardman also built several large, multi-family buildings throughout the city, including The Dresden at 2126 Connecticut Avenue NW (map) and The Northumberland, a luxurious building just south of Meridian Hill Park, working with architect Albert Beers on both. The Dresden, which greets drivers coming off south off the Taft Bridge, has a uniquely rounded facade and was designed in the Georgian-revival style, while the Northumberland is more Classical. Wardman is also responsible The Wardman on 17th Street.

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 7
The Northumberland

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 8
Hay-Adams Hotel


Wardman didn’t want to leave hotels out of his property portfolio, and The Hay-Adams may be the most iconic lodging he designed in the city. Ornately designed and frequented by DC power brokers (the first family lived there before Obama’s inauguration), the 125-room hotel was designed by Mihran Mesrobian in 1928 in an Italian Renaissance style.

What's in a Wardman? A Short Overview of DC's Most Prevalent Architecural Style: Figure 9
Marriott Wardman Park

On the other end of the size spectrum is Wardman’s Park Hotel, now known as Marriott Wardman Park. Located at 2600 Woodley Road NW (map), the massive complex has more than 1,316 rooms and is the largest hotel in DC. Wardman developed the hotel in 1918 after the First World War, and it has since been home to presidents and other public figures.

Tragically, Wardman lost his $30 million fortune in the 1929 stock market crash. He went back to building single-family homes until his death in 1938.

Admittedly, this overview only begins to scratch the surface of the Wardman style, but we hope it helps provide some insight and context as you cruise around the city looking at properties.

See other articles related to: wardman, henry wardman, editors choice, dclofts

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/whats_in_a_wardman/5419


  1. Josh said at 8:36 pm on Tuesday April 17, 2012:
    Great piece, thanks! I've always wondered what exactly a "Wardman" house was.
  1. SL said at 9:20 pm on Tuesday April 17, 2012:
    Is there a map or list anywhere of where Wardman houses are? I'm just curious about how prevalent they are. I think a lot of people call houses a Wardman if it's in a general style...but then again maybe he did build a huge portion of DC's rowhouses...
  1. Shilpi Paul said at 9:33 pm on Tuesday April 17, 2012:
    Hi SL, I didn't come across a map, but you can find out if a particular property was built by Wardman by looking into the building's history at the Washingtoniana Division of the MLK Library. We've also noticed that "Wardman" is thrown around pretty liberally when describing DC homes, but he did construct a few thousand homes around the District. Shilpi
  1. Mari said at 1:48 pm on Wednesday April 18, 2012:
    Those 2 flat houses are not in Bloomingdale. They are in Shaw/Truxton Circle on the 1700 block of 4th St NW, which is south of Florida Avenue.
  1. Shilpi said at 2:11 pm on Wednesday April 18, 2012:
    Hi Mari, Yes, those "row house flats" are found around Bloomingdale, not just within the lines of the neighborhood. Shilpi
  1. Rebecca Miller said at 4:15 pm on Wednesday April 18, 2012:
    Local Architectural Historian Sally Berk wrote her graduate thesis on Harry Wardman and also produced with Caroline Mesrobian Hickman (daughter of architect Mirham Mesrobian), and DCPL a travelling exhibit titled Wardman's Washington that was displayed at several libraries across the city. The exhibit is currently at the Historical Society of Washington's Kiplinger Libray.
  1. John said at 4:39 pm on Wednesday April 18, 2012:
    For a list of some Wardman homes in Bloomingdale, check out this site. It's a bit dated but a great resource. http://www.bloomingdaledc.org/wardman.htm
  1. Brian Kraft said at 6:11 pm on Wednesday April 18, 2012:
    There is. No. Wardman. Style. The content of this article is good and my quibbles would be mostly trivial. The CONTEXT, however, is simply the perpetuation of a great Washington myth. One cannot simply look at a house and determine definitively that it is a Wardman. As the writer points out, Wardman did a bunch of different things around the city. He worked in the styles of the day. Wardman did a bit of everything. Who likes logic? EVERYTHING is not Wardman Style, so in fact NOTHING is. The writer implies that Wardman developed or popularized the front-porch rowhouse, but there is no evidence for it other than he was the leading developer at the time (1906-07) that front porches became de rigueur on Washington rowhouses. EVERY developer was doing it. And while he was by far our most prolific developer, the answer - ninety-some times out of a hundred - is, "No, you do not live in a Wardman." And the answer 100% of the time is, "No, you definitely don't live in a Wardman Style house."
  1. Allison said at 7:26 pm on Thursday April 19, 2012:
    Wardman also developed houses in NE DC, including mine at RIA NE and Lincoln. In fact the architect was Albert Beers. Wonder why that was left out? Also I think 'a few thousand' is an understatement - I believe his goal was 40,000 units and he built approximately 10,000. Interestingly, you can find out if your house is a Wardman by contacting the DC Architect.
  1. Home Builders in Metro DC said at 6:57 am on Tuesday April 2, 2013:
    Wardman building and houses are fantastic he's a truly great architect. Wardman style is one of the best.
  1. "Governor" said at 8:12 pm on Wednesday May 22, 2013:
    My grandparents moved into the Wardman Park Hotel prior to its completion. My grandmother lived there for about 40 years until the 1960s when late night conventioneers proved too much. The photo above of the hotel is actually the Annex, which was built after the inital hotel. It is the only surviving part, since the original was torn down and a new main building was constructed in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

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