Looking Back On The Biggest Sale In DC History

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On the occasion of this $22 million Forest Hills home hitting the market recently, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the BIGGEST SALE IN DC HISTORY.  (Sorry, caps lock got stuck.)

The biggest sale in DC history took place back in 2007 (of course it did), in Georgetown (ditto).  Built back in 1800 by Washington Bowie, by a godson of George Washington (what a passive-aggressive way to force a famous person to be the godfather to your kid; “Hey Channing, I named my kid Tatum, so you kind of have to be his godfather now”), this ridiculously lavish mansion is known as the Bowie-Sevier house after the two families who lived there first and longest.  It stayed in the Sevier family until 1953, when Ella Sevier passed away and left the house to the Episcopal ministry.  It stayed in the hands of the church until 1997, when they sold it to local developer Herbert Miller, the man behind Gallery Place, Georgetown Park, and Washington Harbour (sic), among other projects.  Miller overhauled the place amid howls of protest from his fellow Georgetowners but, as it usually does, money carried the day, and the Millers spent the next ten years extensively renovating the place before flipping it in 2007, juuuuuuust before the crash.  (I guess it pays to be “in the loop.”)

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Miller sold the house for a record-breaking $25 million to Robert Allbritton, who owns Channel 7, NewsChannel 8, and the website Politico, bringing the total journalistic merit of all his holdings to approximately zero (kidding!  kind of.).  But this house is as luxurious as Allbritton’s media properties are tawdry;  at the time of the sale it boasted seven bedrooms, twelve bathrooms, and an eight-car garage, also known as the “I don’t care if my grandchildren are desert subsistence nomads because of global warming, I want a Hummer for every day of the week!” special.  On top of all that, there’s a solarium, an indoor pool, a cylindrical staircase, and a semi-detached townhouse with four more bedrooms, three-and-a-half more baths, and a basement apartment.  The house even has a page on the Library of Congress “Historic American Buildings Survey” where it’s described as “adamesque,” “well-proportioned” and “monumental,” which are all coincidentally terms that Keira Knightly uses to describe my naked body in that recurring dream I have.   It also comes with an annual property tax bill of just over $200,000, or about the average decade’s total income for a high school graduate.  I don’t care how rich you are, that’s got to be a tough check to write every year.  It almost excuses how demanding and foot-stompy the wealthy tends to get when the government blocks them from, like, chopping down an old-growth owl habitat to build their nanny a meditation yurt.  (Almost, but not quite.)

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Of course, the ironic part about this house, and especially the present high-dollar house on the market mentioned above, is that while both are owned by quintessentially American self-made men (this one by a muckraking media guy, the $22 million Forest Hills house by the owner of Giant supermarkets), both houses are built in a style that draws heavily on British influences, a country in which even today a grocer and a tabloid publisher probably wouldn’t be allowed to climb to the top of the society pile.  Then again, what’s more American than the rich adopting Continental pretensions once they “make it”?  Isn’t that what “The Great Gatsby” is about?  That question wasn’t rhetorical, I’m actually asking.  I only skimmed enough of the Cliffs Notes in high school to write a C-minus paper.  (Which I believe is the second-most American thing to do.)

Photo credits:  Bob Narod

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