A couple of weeks ago, one of DC’s most ostentatious homes hit the market. Sitting on a prime piece of real estate at the corner of Massachusetts and 30th St NW, the nine-bedroom and 14.5 bathroom nouveau classical was built in 2008 for the venture capitalist, Republican fundraiser, and philanthropist Melvyn J. Estrin.
Biz Journal appropriately quipped that “unless you were tied in with the Grand Old Party or D.C.’s social or arts scene, chances are you never saw the inside.” Now you can—whether by reading this or by going and making a visit yourself while it’s on the market.
Estrin built the house smack dab in the middle of Embassy Row, between Rock Creek Park and the Naval Observatory. It seems appropriate that someone with a net worth comparable to the GDP of a small country would build a home in a neighborhood that largely caters to nations. Must be nice.
However, Mr. Melvin J. Estrin passed away last year after a long battle with Leukemia. He was survived by his wife, who’s now put up the house for $1.8 million more than the most expensive neighbor’s house to date—a $13.7 million home of similar style by former millionaire Herbert Haft. If this one goes for asking price, it would become the 7th most expensive house in the DC area, according to the Washingtonian’s 50 Most Expensive Homes list—and the 4th costliest in the District.
However you slice it, this limestone edifice is mammoth by any standards. Its 13,900 square feet include ornate columns inside and out, crown moldings galore, a wood-paneled library, a 500-bottle cellar, and shower-curtains that are fancier than my normal curtains. The entrance starts you under a two-story portico with urns on the roof to match the Corinthian columns, and plops you into a ballroom-looking foyer with Greek sculptures, cast-iron and gold leaved railings, and marble—well, marble everything else.
It’s modeled after a Vanderbilt home in Newport, RI called Marble House. If that’s all not enough, there’s a hidden door that gets you to the bar and the movie-theater. And yes, there is a mural reminiscent of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam—cherubs and all.
While I don’t aim to speak ill of the deceased—the building was designed to symbolize excess. Specifically, it is the quintessence of the DC specific wealth spawned by a mixture of politics, lobbying, the arts, philanthropy, and power. The nation’s capital requires a lot of money to work—and not all through taxes.
Mr. Estrin was a successful business man in his own right. His presence in DC, and that of an entire political and economic system, can be viewed through this pre-Great Recession period piece. Both political parties have increasingly called on financial resources to fund—and sway—political campaigns. The house and the parties it has hosted represent the widening funnel for those funds.
The wealth it took to build this massive home came out of the schism between the classes and an unprecedented concentration of wealth in American society. It was built the year the Great Recession began—and the year of the greatest socioeconomic division in American society since 1929. And it’s no coincidence that the building is reminiscent of a (supposedly bygone) era of classist opulence.
While this incredible home still pales in comparison to DC’s most expensive homes. For example, “The Falls,” owned by AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey is estimated at $45.5 million. It is so big, that its guest house is a full sized Frank Lloyd Wright house (sounds kinda like a “your mother’s so fat” joke—that’s how you know it’s excessive). And there are plenty of far more excessive homes in DC, New York, San Francisco and farther afield.
However, not all of them have the same stylistic and public significance of the Estrin home. The Falls, for instance, is set into a hillside overlooking the Potomac in McLean. Estrin, on the other hand put his home in the center of it all—as if to show the world his wealth, shoulder to shoulder with sovereign nations and at the doorstep of America’s seat of power. It’s the culmination of capitalism and social or philanthropic duties, while also being a show of excess and a nose-in-the-air example of excess. That said, I wouldn’t mind hanging my hat there.