The Argyle Apartments in Mount Pleasant

Completed in 1913, the Argyle apartment building was conveniently located at the northern terminus of the Mount Pleasant trolley line. Today it is an aged and humble-seeming structure, yet it was constructed with quality materials and elegant finishes and marked a turning point for its developer, who would go on to build two of Washington's most notable landmarks.

Postcard view of the Argyle around the time it opened (author's collection).
The Mount Pleasant community, which The Washington Post recently termed "a sought-after, happy sort of neighborhood known for its leafy streets and great jogging areas," was a fast-developing bedroom community at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Civil War, Washington City had burst out of its early L'Enfant borders (marked on the north by Boundary Street—now Florida Avenue) and was rapidly filling the rest of the District of Columbia. The community of Mount Pleasant was one of the earliest of the suburban neighborhoods to be developed, beginning in the 1870s as a village of frame country houses with spacious yards. Thirty years later, the country village was quickly evolving into an urban neighborhood with brick row-houses replacing the earlier frame structures and apartment buildings springing up at central locations.

The corner of Park Road and Mt. Pleasant Street (the "old" 16th Street before a straighter extension of 16th was built just to the east) was one such central location, the spot where the 16th Street trolley turned around. A large apartment building called the Park Regent, still standing at 1701 Park Road NW, had been completed there in 1909 by renowned developer Harry Wardman. Wardman would go on to build the elegant Northbrook Apartments at 16th and Newton Streets in 1917. Between those two projects, the relatively modest Argyle was constructed by the Kennedy Brothers in 1913.

The Argyle circa 1921 (Library of Congress).
Edgar S. Kennedy was a large-scale developer during the real estate boom days of the early 1900s. Born in Virginia at the dawn of the Civil War, Kennedy came to Washington as a young man and got involved in the building trade. Kent Boese has written an excellent paper about Kennedy and his work in the Park View neighborhood, another suburban development in the former Washington county. Kennedy had built blocks of relatively modest houses, both in Park View and in Mount Pleasant, but the Argyle was his first large apartment building.

The building presumably got its name from the country estate of Thomas Blagden (1815-1870), also called Argyle, which was located just north of Mount Pleasant on the hills beyond the Piney Branch valley of Rock Creek Park. Designed by Alexander H. Sonnemann (1872-1956), Kennedy's long-time collaborator, the building featured costly detailing to appeal to upper middle class Washingtonians of the day. The four-story structure was elegantly finished in tapestry brick with terra cotta trim, and almost all of the forty apartments had at least one bay window, many with sweeping views of the city and Rock Creek Park. The larger apartments, which could have as many as six rooms, included sleeping porches, a highly sought-after amenity in the days before air conditioning. All the apartments were finished in mahogany trim with "double quartered" oak floors and featured the latest Chicago Jewel gas ranges in their kitchens. The lobby, main stairway, and corridors were trimmed with expensive snow-white Colorado Yule marble, the same marble used for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Beneath all of this elegance, in the basement, were "sufficient servants' rooms to accomodate all the servants who will be employees in the apartments," according to the Washington Times. Monthly rent on a three-bedroom apartment was $28.50. Five-bedroom units went for $32.50. Such rates were competitive but not cheap.

Advertisement from the October 11, 1913 Washington Herald (Library of Congress). 
Part of the first floor space was designed specifically as a "modern" pharmacy, with marble countertops and elegant mirror-back glass shelves to show off hundreds of shiny bottles. The strategically-located Argyle Pharmacy served as a tea room in its early days and later had a soda fountain, which historian Mara Cherkasky notes would become a favorite neighborhood fixture in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Argyle Apartments today (photo by the author).
Whether it was a deliberate shift or not, the Argyle served as a turning point for Edgar Kennedy and his brother William, who lived in Mount Pleasant. The pair would go on to build two of Washington's very finest apartment complexes. In 1915, just two years after finishing the Argyle, the Kennedy Brothers swapped the property for a parcel of land at 16th Street and Crescent Place, where they built the Meridian Mansions apartment complex, a lavish apartment hotel, now called the Envoy, across from Meridian Hill Park. James Goode has written that Meridian Mansions, which first opened in 1918, was for many years one of the truly great apartment houses in the nation's capital.

Postcard view of Meridian Mansions, circa 1923 (author's collection).
One of the few apartment buildings that could possibly outdo Meridian Mansions was another Kennedy Brothers project, the Kennedy-Warren at 3133 Connecticut Avenue NW, which opened in 1931. It stands to this day as the finest Art Deco apartment house ever built in Washington. Alexander Sonnemann, architect of the Argyle, was involved in the design of both of these structures. While the humbler Argyle, tucked away in Mount Pleasant, is often overlooked, it was an important springboard for these two later landmarks.

The Kennedy-Warren (photo by the author).
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Sources included Kent Boese, "Houses With Novel Points: Kennedy Brothers, Princeton Heights, and the Making of Northern Park View" (2009); Mara Cherkasky, Mount Pleasant (2007); James Goode, Best Addresses (1988), and a number of vintage newspaper articles.


Comments

  1. I've never seen the Argyle Apartment postcard before in 20+ years of collecting, thus showing once again that you never know what's "out there!"

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  2. Just curious, with all the other name sources identified, who was Warren in the Kennedy Warren?

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    Replies
    1. The "Warren" is Monroe Warren, Sr., another prominent D.C. developer who had previously built the Tilden Gardens complex further up Connecticut Avenue.

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  3. Great post! You should write more about the lovely, tucked away buildings in happy sorts of neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant. I had always wondered about the Argyle. Maybe more on those Wardman buildings...

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  4. I was a pharmacist at the Argyle Pharmacy on the ground floor of the apartment building,all through the 1960s.I watched much history pass by the front doors of the pharmacy.I watched Ron Reagans daughter who frequented our lunch counter,meet and then marry a beat cop.I was a witness to looting and burning following Martin Luthern Kings assasination.The list goes on and on.I could write a book! I was told that Al Jolson's brother once owned and worked the store,and Al would visit.If anyone has or knows any additional information regarding Argyle Pharmacy,please contact me..

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