Sunday, February 12, 2006

HEURICH HOUSE: An Accidental Tour Guide

I SPENT A GOOD CHUNK OF MY WEEKEND at the Heurich House. Like the previous Friday evening, I volunteered my time at an open house at the house, stationed in the Dining Room, where the best examples the woodcarving and craftsmanship of my great-great grandfather August Grass can be seen. Friday's event was sponsored by the American University history department, staffed with grad students and entertained by a string quartet. Unfortunately, the Musicians' Balcony above the Dining Room and Music Room was a bit too warm (as in 30 degrees warmer) than the ground level, so the quartet set up in the Conservatory, which was just as nice.

I've said this before, but it's so nice to see people coming to the house, out of curiosity or out of a yearning to save the house. So keep the donations coming. There are a couple days left.

ON SATURDAY, I was intending to accompany a few journalist friends from New York on a tour, but when we arrived a few minutes before the 1:15 p.m. tour, more than 100 people had shown up for a tour, crowding into the front entry area and down and outside through the Porte Cochere. So Gary Heurich asked me if I could help him give room-to-room tours. So we gathered the visitors in the Conservatory and broke the group into two smaller clumps. Gary started on the main level, while I brought people upstairs to the Master Bedroom and Moorish Room.

I WILL ADMIT that with certain rooms, I had to give myself a crash course in the house's history, but once I was downstairs in the Dining Room, I was back in familiar territory. Over the past two weeks or so, I've learned some interesting things about August Grass' work at the house. Although the workshop of August Grass & Son was located just a few blocks away at New Hampshire Avenue and M Street NW, between 1892-94, much of my great-great grandfather's operation was moved to the backyard of the Heurich House, a sunny, green space enjoyed by many office workers in the Dupont Circle area during lunch hours. And that makes sense. When you're in the Dining Room and see how massive the fireplace (above) and sideboard woodcarvings are, you recognize that those items couldn't have been carted up New Hampshire Avenue. So they were carved and installed on site.

Some other interesting tidbits. If you look to the left side of this photo, you'll see an odd piece of furniture with a curtain and an oil lamp. A few people on Friday asked about the item and I had no idea what it could have been used for. I asked Gary the background of the piece and he told me the Heurich House had brought though a Smithsonian decorative arts expert a few years back to identify the piece's origins. The expert had never seen anything like it. So there's one odd mystery. It'll be a shame if the piece of furniture is auctioned off.

Also, according to a longtime butler's account, Christian Heurich would be promptly seated at the Dining Room table preciously at 5:47 p.m. most evenings for dinner. The meal, often featuring a big crock of sauerkraut on the sideboard, would be delivered at 6 p.m.

We are encouraged -- but guarded -- with our fundraising efforts. There is still a ways to go in the closing days of our fundraising efforts. From an e-mail Gary Heurich wrote to our Save the Castle listserv about Saturday's tours:
The response continues to be very heartwarming for us all, with many kind words, many handing over a 10 or a 20 and not wanting change back, many saying they will spread the word, many saying they will come back...
Now there's the black tie Champagne and Truffles event on Valentine's Day at the house, which I had mistakenly thought last week was this weekend. I got my tuxedo ready to go.

Please donate, if you can, at


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