I was recently invited to Washington D.C. to attend a wedding and reception staged at the St. Regis Hotel, located in the Sixteenth Street Historic District on K Street. Stunned by the beauty of the interior I decided to look into the origin of the building, its history and architect. What followed was an almost unbelievable stream of consciousness-type intersection of serendipitous connections to well-known figures on the World stage, historic happenings and architectural legacy.
First, here are some interior photos:
Next, here is some history:
The St. Regis originally opened in 1926 as the Carlton Hotel. It was the dream child of Henry Wardman, a successful real estate developer who wished to create a sophisticated establishment that would surpass the very best European luxury hotels of the time. The hotel quickly became popular with Washington’s elite politicians and their families, serving as the residence of Secretary of State Cordell Hull in the 1930’s, a receiving venue for President Truman’s official guests and a place where President Reagan came to get his hair cut by the hotel barber. It was also the hub of the capitol’s social scene where Washington socialite Perle Mesta hosted her celebrated pink-themed galas. Joan Crawford, Jacqueline Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Cher and countless other luminaries have been loyal guests. Howard Hughes kept a permanent suite at the Carlton during World War Two, which he famously made available at no cost to uniformed servicemen during his absence.
The Great Depression forced a bankrupt Wardman to sell the hotel in 1930 and then it was resold in 1953 to Sheraton Hotels. The Sheraton-Carlton Hotel was closed in 1988 for an extensive $16 million renovation, renamed The St. Regis in 1999, and then renovated again in 2008 to become once again the capitol’s most luxurious hotel.
Now comes the part about architecture:
The hotel was designed in The Beaux-Arts and Neo-Renaissance style by Wardman’s in-house chief architect, Mihran Mesrobian in 1925. The design of the building closely resembles the Palazzo Farnese with a structure consisting of strong and stylized quoins and a structural base that's rusticated. After the opening in 1926, Mesrobian received an AIA award for excellence and in 1929 another from the Washington Board of Trade. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
The architect, Mihran Mesrobian was an Armenian who received an education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ottoman Constantinople. He served as the palace architect for the last Sultan, Mehmed V, renovating much of the royal palaces and properties before being conscripted into the army to serve in World War I. He became a highly decorated officer, serving as a tunneling and fortifications engineer during the Gallipoli Campaign under the direction of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the future first President of the Republic of Turkey. He and his military unit were later captured by the Arab Army during action in Syria, but released through the intercession of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
During the War, the Ottomans began what later became known as The Armenian Genocide. In spite of his service to the Sultan, Mesrobian’s Armenian family was deported and never heard from again. With the fall of the Ottomans and the anti-Armenian atmosphere, Mesrobian immigrated to the United States in 1921, becoming a prominent architect in the Washington D.C. area. Much of his architecture was done in the Art-Deco style, but a few of his projects were done in Italian Renaissance and Moderne style, usually incorporating middle-Eastern and Arab motifs and details.
After the success of the Carlton Hotel, Mesrobian and Wardman collaborated on the Hay-Adams Hotel on Lafayette Square in D.C. opening in 1928 and an expansion of the Wardman Park Tower, a 1,500 room residence-hotel in 1929. Now known as Wardman Tower, it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Hay-Adams Hotel The Wardman Tower
In 1931 Mesrobian designed the Dupont Circle Building, located along Connecticut Avenue on Dupont Circle. Originally designed in the Art-Deco style as an apartment building, it was converted to an office building in 1942. The American Institute of Architects’ Guide to the Architecture of Washington DC assesses the Dupont Circle Building's bas-relief ornament as "genius" and judges that in respect of the interplay between ornament and geometry, "it outdoes New York's famous Flatiron Building."
Dupont Circle Building ca. 1930’s Dupont Circle Building Today
Following World War II, Mesrobian designed numerous apartments and buildings in and around Arlington, Virginia to accommodate the post-War housing boom. All designed in Art-Deco and Moderne styles, 3 more of his projects are listed on the National Register: the Glebe Shopping Center, Calvert Manor Apartments and the Lee Gardens North Apartment Complex. Mesrobian died and was buried in Chevy Chase, Maryland in 1975.
Calvert Manor Apartments
Posted by John Wilhelm, RA, Project Manager
As many of you know, Amy (Huff) Gilbertson and I have been doing Race for the Cure together for over 10 years to help honor our mothers who we each lost to breast cancer.
We both thought this was a great way to honor our mothers and this time together each summer allowed us to reflect on our past and to help ensure that other children wouldn’t have to deal with the loss of a mother.
Of course, life doesn’t always work out the way you think. We never imagined that, within one calendar year, three women connected to our Trivers family would be inflicted with this disease. Lisa Brinkmann, Lara Thiel, and Melissa Fuoss have all been battling stage II breast cancer over the past year and a half. These women are spouses, loved ones, mothers, and friends to all of us at Trivers and to many, many others.
I am extending an invitation for you to join us in the walk (you don’t have to run at all) not to just raise money for the Komen foundation, but as a time for us to support Lisa, Lara, and Melissa along with 60,000 others and walk in solidarity to honor those we’ve lost, and to celebrate these strong women and others who have faced this disease and have come through the other side as survivors.
If you can make it on June 13th, we’d love to be with each of you. We will send out meeting time and location details to the team prior to the race.
The deadline for joining our team is June 1st at noon. You can click on the link below to join or donate to our team and thank you for your support.
Posted by Joel Fuoss, AIA, LEED AP, Associate
I often wonder about the role “Starchitecture” plays in the profession of architecture. Everyone is intrigued with “Starchitecture” because it is different, it breaks new ground, and in that respect, it fulfills an important function for the profession. How else would the form of architecture advance and new ways of expressing function develop? After all, architecture must respond to changing technologies, materials and new forms of living, which are constantly advancing. New forms of expression with the way we live, work and play are constantly with us. While new forms of architecture are important to society, there are other equally important aspects of architecture that are constantly in play. As has been said, architecture is not frozen music. Architecture consists of architects, buildings and people all in a delicate interplay, that when choreographed together, can be extraordinarily beautiful.
An important part of the design process is programming the building. Programming is the part of the design process where everything about the building is determined. This would include a definition of every space in the building, its size, function, unique characteristics and interrelationship to other spaces. The most important component for the architect during the programming phase is listening, and understanding the physical space requirements as well as the psychological and emotional needs of the occupants. Creativity and the design concept should grow out of this fundamental understanding of the client’s needs in every respect. In order to achieve a successful program, the level of communication can often be intense, for in this process a high level of understanding is the ultimate goal. It has been said that the design of a building can only be as good as the program. It is because the program defines all aspects of the building, including function, and the function grows out of the specific needs of tenants, residents, or occupants. As long as you have deep empathy for the people you want to serve and they are at the center of the design process, the most successful buildings are usually achieved.
“Starchitecture”, because it is usually about breaking new ground more than it is about listening, is often deemed important but not necessarily successful. The real success in architecture occurs when ideation, the development of the design concept, grows out of careful listening and the basic needs of people and program are addressed.
Posted by Andrew Trivers, FAIA, Chief Executive Officer
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao