Second in a six-part series entitled “Museums that Women Love”
As I turn down the residential streets in Northwest Washington DC, the houses get further apart and more elaborate. I am driving along the edge of the famous Rock Creek Park, approximately five miles north of the White House, where hiking and biking trails are filled with young government workers taking advantage of the sunny autumn day.
I am searching for Hillwood Estate, the residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post, an intriguing and complex woman in American history. Over the course of her public and private life during the last century, she entertained and influenced wealthy and powerful people the world over. Her private home, along with her famous art collection, is now open to the public–and it might be the only museum in the country where you can hike or bike up to the entrance.
Whatever type of transportation you use, the view as you approach the mansion will take your breath away. The home, a Georgian-styled home remodeled in the 1950’s to include every modern convenience available, sits on twenty-five acres of woodlands, including thirteen acres of formal gardens designed to extend the gracious living of the home into the outdoors.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was the only heir of the Post cereal fortune and she inherited, at the young age of 27, a $20 million cereal company that would later become the General Foods Corporation. Over the course of a long and storied career she was a wealthy businesswoman, an infamous Washington hostess and philanthropist in the 1920’s, and later the wife of the US Ambassador to Russia in the tumultuous years before World War II.
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
The Hillwood Estate and Gardens, the last home of Ms. Post, are now open to the public, and are a treat for women of all interests. The home is full of period furniture, decorative items, and treasures from her many years of traveling the world. As you enter the home, a sparkling chandelier and ornate staircase highlight Russian icons, pictures of the last Tsar and his family, and even Faberge eggs.
Ms. Post modeled her public rooms after those at Versailles. The formal reception room and ballroom show off 18th Century French furniture and decorative items. Several rare pieces of Serves china are on display, as well as beautiful wood in-laid tables. The formal dining room, complete with crystal, china and silver done in subtle shades of pink, complements a luxurious tapestry rug.
You can imagine the rich and famous gossiping in the corners of the room while smoking cigars and sitting on antique French settees. It was fun to spy pictures of famous people spread about casually on the tables, including one antique frame of Marie Antoinette.
Marjorie Merriweather Post – The Personal Side
Personal items, including pictures of Ms. Post with illustrious figures of the 20th Century, are placed around the rooms for sharp-eyed guests to discover. Displays of silver and china are laid out in lavish display in the dining room, ready for an evening of rich food and entertainment. Upstairs there is a 1960’s version of a “media room” where Ms. Post frequently showed movies after dinner.
While I enjoy seeing the wealth of the public rooms, the real joy for me comes when I climb the stairs to tour the private boudoir of Ms. Post. A true “grande dame” of Washington society for several decades, she revealed her status, taste, and sophistication through her lavish sense of style. She acquired and preserved many of her exquisite dresses, gowns, and accessories, which today fill the closets. The costume collection houses more than 175 of her garments and over 400 accessories, including shoes, hats, gloves, purses, and jewelry.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes to walk in the gardens, whatever the weather is when you visit. My favorite garden is the Japanese waterfall which looks over a long terrace gently sloping off into the distance. In the warmer months there are patio chairs sprinkled around, and guests can picnic in the gardens. If you are lucky, a wedding will be taking place during your visit and you can watch a photographer pose the wedding party.
The current Special Exhibit (running through late January 2017) is “Art Deco Japan”. The exhibit explores how the Japanese interpreted the European Art Deco style. They then transformed it through their own rich art and craft traditions. The Mansion is always decorated richly for the holidays. And in the spring there are often costumed musicians strolling in the brightly blooming gardens.
Important Information to Know:
• Hillwood Estate is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is an $18 suggested donation for adults at the door, or $15 weekdays when purchased in advance online.
• Address for the Estate is 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008. Be aware that many GPS systems do not give accurate directions due to the nearby Rock Creek Park. So be sure to check the Estate’s website at www.hillwoodmuseum.org for specific directions.
• There is a great small restaurant onsite which serves lunch and snacks. If you want to go off-site to eat, try Ripple Restaurant (1/2 mile) at 3417 Connecticut Avenue NW in the nearby Cleveland Park area of DC. More information at www.rippledc.com.
• More information on the biking and hiking paths of nearby Rock Creek Park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/rocr.
The first post in this series can be found at MilesGeek, Art Museum of Baltimore.
Photos courtesy of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens