Stoneleigh Court was designed by prominent Washington architect James G. Hill, who was also responsible for the original Bureau of Engraving and Printing building and the Washington Loan & Trust Company building, among many others. For this one he chose the leading architectural vocabulary at the turn of the last century: pressed red brick was out; the limestone look was in--stone-like tan brick, that is, augmented by actual limestone where it was most noticeable. The building's style had clear Beaux Arts leanings, including some wonderful sculptured terracotta panels high up on the eighth-floor facade, but it also harked back to the waning Romanesque Revival through its inclusion of a row of stolid semi-circular arched windows on the seventh floor.
A distinctive feature of the original design was the large open courtyard created by the building's horseshoe shape, which also accommodated plenty of windows for each apartment. There were originally 93 units, ranging from a single bedroom and bath to nine bedrooms and bath, with many units being very generously sized. The halls were lined in marble, trimmed with oil-finished birch and oak, and the lobby was finished in marble mosaic. Stoneleigh Court marked a rising tide of large luxury apartment houses in Washington. The Washington Times marveled in January 1906 how quickly such dwellings had taken hold: "For a newspaper to have predicted ten years ago that in 1906 Washington would have in the neighborhood of 200 commodious apartment houses would have subjected it to ridicule." James Goode notes in Capital Losses that many of the city's social and political elite, including Supreme Justice Louis Brandeis, lived at Stoneleigh Court.
|View from across Connecticut Avenue (Source: Library of Congress)|
The building was sold to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1933, and a complete renovation of the interior was undertaken the following year, under the direction of architect Jarrett C. White. Noting that it was "one of the best known and most fashionable apartment buildings of the city," The Washington Post moved quickly from the fact that the renovation "involves the division of the central portion into smaller, delightful apartment units" to admire the "sumptuous new lobby arranged in classic moderne motif...and...paneled from floor to ceiling in American walnut interspersed with gold plated mirrors."
|Stoneleigh Court's renovated lobby (Source: Library of Congress)|
A number of key amenities were "modernized" (i.e., eliminated) at this time. In addition to the larger units being broken up, for example, the grand entrance courtyard was filled in at the first floor, providing additional frontage for retail space on Connecticut Avenue, and the original high ceilings were lowered to save on heating costs. The twenty-four decorative cast-iron balconies also were removed from the facade. The result, if somewhat less elegant, was perhaps more practical for the Depression era. And there were significant enhancements, such as in the bathrooms, where "ARCO duco steel panels, in colors" were installed around new chromium shower fixtures. "The baths will be improved by the newest types of closets with flush valves, tub with shower, built-in cabinet units, indirect lighting, tiled floor and full-length mirrors on the doors," reported the Post.
In a separate article on the same day in September 1934, the Post felt compelled to trash Victorian tastes: "This apartment house was built in the late Victorian era, and was adorned with all the fancy work that made for elegance in that day. It has grown increasingly drab and dowdy with the years. But the most discouraging thing about these apartments was the unattractiveness of the bathrooms and kitchens. In the bathrooms ugly tubs reared on their curly legs; the chillness of the walls and decorations discouraged cleanliness; the kitchens were large and infinitely dreary." --Little did the Post's writer realize how folks in later years would yearn for those claw-foot tubs and spacious, high-ceilinged kitchens.
After World War II, the character of the neighborhood began to change, as office buildings increasingly replaced apartment houses. Stoneleigh Court outlasted other buildings by gradually converting apartments to office space. An attorney for owners who bought the building in 1953 stated, "It was unanimously decided by the owners and their architects to retain the present building because of its extremely sturdy construction, its adaptability to modernization, and the express desire of many of the present tenants to remain in the dignity of their present surroundings." That was all well and good for a few years, but the building changed hands again in 1957 and was sold a third time in 1962 to Blake Development Company, signaling that the end was near. The building was on a prime tract of commercial real estate and it was the 60's after all, so it had to come down. In 1965 the building was finally taken down. In a freak accident, part of the semi-demolished structure fell on to L Street in November 1965. The rear end of a passing car was crushed, and a woman in an adjacent office building was struck on the wrist by a wayward brick that came flying through her window. No record on whether she asked to have her desk moved.
The Blake Building, designed by renowned modernist architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith, went up on the site of the Stoneleigh Court in 1966. Smith designed the profile of the office building to recall the shape of the elegant apartment building that it replaced. The Blake is one of three office buildings that Smith designed for this intersection; on the southwest corner is Washington Square, which was completed in 1982. Charles Atherton once called that building, with its great polygonal glass towers, the "best office building in Washington."