Georgetown Safe House

by Editorial
Irene and John Danilovich in their garden, where a Haddonstone obelisk is centered at the rear wall between a pergola-like gardening shed and a lap pool. [/caption]

Approaching from the front, it’s easy to understand how its design and construction in 1949 by syndicated columnist Joseph W. Alsop caused a neighborhood scandal. Although its stark, bunker-like appearance was softened by plantings of holly and clematis (a camouflage effect that remains today), there was, as Alsop wrote in his posthumous memoir I’ve Seen the Best of It, a fearful stir among the self-appointed grandees of taste in Georgetown.” So fearful, in fact, that outraged citizens passed a law soon afterwards that, as Alsop scathingly noted, prohibited further building that did not fit into the approved “pseudo-Georgian” style. The columnist, however, had few sympathizers. Even his wife, Susan Mary, the patrician hostess and historian who moved in after their 1961 marriage, called it “a hideous little gray place that looks rather like a Victorian girls’ reformatory.”

Alsop always admitted that his self-styled “Garage Palladian” house looked as it did because he needed to save money. Post-war construction materials were expensive and he preferred to allocate resources to the interior and garden instead. In that task he succeeded admirably.

Alsop would have appreciated Irene Danilovitch’s ability to look past the façade and realize the genius of his flowing floor plan of bright, airy chambers around a central courtyard garden. There is a flow of light from tall windows into every surrounding room that she calls “a blessing.” John Danilovich, on the other hand, “hated the house at first sight,” his wife recalls in the entrance hall as a Houdon-esque bust of George Washington looks stolidly on, oblivious to a jauntily-angled Harrow School hat plopped atop its head. Nonetheless, her husband soon gave in. “It’s a pig of a house,” he quipped, “but we’ll try to make it a prize pig.”

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