Museums that Women Love – Fifth in a Six Part Series
I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like the O Mansion in Washington D.C. You can wander around for hours, and still not see everything. In fact, you can visit it over and over, and you will find areas and items that are different, because this is truly a living, breathing environment that exists to tickle your eyes and your mind.
It’s hard to tell you what The O Mansion is, because it is so many things all at once. It is a museum, a B & B, a location for events, and it is also a place of curiosities, all jumbled together. There are over 100 rooms in the Mansion, and all are filled to the brim with antique to modern art, books, musical instruments, and knick-knacks. Most of the items in the Mansion were donated by visitors, and all are available for purchase. And I can guarantee you—there is something there for everyone to see.
O Mansion History
The O Mansion is located in a series of five interconnected town houses near Dupont Circle, in Washington D.C. Designed in 1892 by Edward Clark, an architect for the US Capitol, the original buildings were interconnected and served as a home for himself, his brother James “Champ” Clark, Speaker of the House (during Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidency), and a third brother, known as “the artist.”
Originally spanning three row houses (it now spans five), the residence was connected through the basement and main floor, while providing separate sleeping quarters for each brother upstairs. The Mansion, which is believed to be the last intact private residence of that period in Washington D.C., has many unique architectural flourishes, with detailed woodworking and grand chandeliers. On the main floor, guests will find an colorful Tiffany Door which leads into a small meeting room.
After a period in the 1930’s when the home was converted into three separate rooming houses for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s G-men, the house was taken over by student protesters in the 1960’s. The property was purchased in 1980 by H.H. Leonards, with the intent to restore its original character by reconnecting the row houses. Ms. Leonards is a music aficionado, and is heavily involved with the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so the Mansion is a music venue as well as a retreat for working musicians.
Music and the arts are the themes of The O, and there is memorabilia in abundance, from guitars signed by famous musicians to thousands of books from the last century. In a large game room with a full-sized pool table the walls are lined with framed posters signed by the Beatles, as well as the Grateful Dead and other icons of music. You will find vintage sheet music scattered around various rooms and can even listen to rare studio cuts in some rooms.
Many of the rooms have clothing in the closets associated with the period of the various musicians. There are no ropes in this museum, so you can touch the art and look through the closets to your heart’s content. There is also a smattering of newer craft clothing items that fit the ambience of the Mansion. Remember that the clothes are for sale, so you can try them on, and purchase a unique souvenir.
A Very Unusual B & B
Perhaps the best part of the Mansion is that you can stay a night or more in one of the themed rooms. I loved the two-story Log Cabin which was decorated in cowboy art and has a small balcony overlooking the gardens of the area. The most stunning room, however, was a secluded Art Deco room with colorful Japanese kimonos hung from the ceiling, and a bathroom almost as large as the bedroom.
However, my favorite room was a “John Lennon” room which has his face woven into the bathroom carpet, and signed photos of the Beatles over the tub. On the bathroom door hangs hippie clothing of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era, including a purple vest.
It is somewhat surprising to come across a suite of room that is saturated in history: Rosa Parks stayed in the Mansion for over a decade when she came to the nation’s capital. She entertained friends, dignitaries and guests while there, and hosted a Sunday gospel brunch each month. You can see her room on the third floor along with many of her signed letters and artifacts.
Scavenger Hunt for Secret Doors
When the Mansion was being restored, HH Leonards decided to incorporate some mystery. She has hidden over 70 secret doors which lead to staircases, hidden rooms, and even a medieval wine cellar.
You can take a special “Espionage Tour” which is a nod to the J. Edgar Hoover G-men days, and be a super sleuth to find clues to the secret doors. The secret doors are hard to find, however, and the Mansion says that if you can find five or more that you have done a great job!
While it’s fun to explore the Mansion on a solo tour, also consider taking your teenage grandchildren along to search for the hidden doors, or enjoy exploring the closets.
You’ll want to come back every year or so, as the items in the rooms change as items are purchased, and more are donated to fill the space. If you can, try to time your visit to include one of the many musical events held at the Mansion by a visiting musical artist, or have Afternoon tea under the chandeliers with a group of girlfriends. There’s many ways to enjoy this unique treasure in D.C.!
O Mansion Details
• Be sure to buy your tour ticket on-line at www.Omuseum.org as you will save $5. You will need to pick a tour time, but during weekdays the museum is fairly flexible on entry time. Plan to spend 3-4 hours at the Mansion exploring the rooms.
• O Mansion also offers a variety of really unique opportunities, including a “Mustache Madness” tour and another focusing on the “G-Men” history of the house. You also might want round up a crowd and do the “Rock & Roll” tour to see how many icons you can spot. See the website for details and pricing on all these extras.
• If you are a musician yourself, be sure to attend a Bluegrass jam session, held on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month. Musicians of all levels of skill are invited to bring an instrument and jam with professional musicians. It’s free for those who participate, and only $15 to watch. The Mansion uses 100% of the proceeds to support their artists/heroes-in-residence and other arts programs. More details at www.omuseum.org/visit.
• For more information on staying at the O Mansion, go to www.omansion.com/hotel. Rooms are $350/night and up, depending on the size and décor of the room. Be sure to book a valet space if you have a car, as there is minimal parking in the residential area.
• When you are ready to have lunch, you can walk a few blocks to Dupont Circle, where you will find a variety of lunch options. My personal favorite is la Tomate, at 1701 Connecticut Ave NW – (202) 667-5505. This is one of Bill Clinton’s favorite restaurants so try to scope him out if he’s in town!
Read the first article in this series by Marcy, Yummm Visonary Art Museum.