Rowhouses, Early and Last Century in the Washington Metro Area
Anyone who has watched a movie or television show based in the Washington Metropolitan area is probably familiar with images of row houses. For those who actually live in the region, the side-by-side structures are an even more common sight with their staggered roof lines and eclectic nature. Built in a wide variety of styles, these are among the oldest properties for sale in the region, dating back to the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the modern era, these contiguously fronted buildings became prime candidates for restoration and conversion to townhouse condos for sale. From plain brick to brightly painted colors, these splendid residences dot the landscape throughout the District’s urban communities and in many parts of Northern Virginia.
Early and Last Century Rowhouses for Sale in the Washington Metropolitan Area
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It is not at all surprising that row houses are such hot commodities when it comes to homes for sale in Alexandria, Arlington, DC and other areas. The multilevel design adapt well to a variety of purposes—one building can become an amalgamation of residences. Refinish those hardwood floors, add or subtract walls, equip the kitchens with concrete counters and stainless steel appliances and you have the perfect combination of old history and modern living. Basements add another usable level, for living space or recreation.
The origins of these conjoined dwellings lies overseas, where they served as cost-effective housing going as far back as the 1600s and gaining in popularity during the industrial revolution. It wasn’t long before they sprung up in early American cities, built on long and narrow lots that were perfectly suited for maximum space efficiency.
“Gentry Row” in the 200 block of Old Town Alexandria’s Prince Street offers some of the oldest row houses (also sometimes spelled as one word, rowhouse), in Washington Metro, dating to the late 1700s in both Federal and Georgian architecture. In DC, “Wheat Row” is a surviving collection of four brick townhouses in the Georgian style, built around 1795. Georgetown in DC is also known for some very early examples of the genre.
As development increased throughout DC, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax County and Maryland, so did the proliferation of these narrow homes. But it was the mid-to-late 1800s that saw not only the biggest boom, but an astounding uptick in styles.
While the term Victorian is often used to describe the more ornate and varied detailing of terraced architecture in the late 1800s, there are actually a number of more specific subsets. These include Beaux Arts, Gothic, Queen Anne, Italianate, Eastlake and Richardsonian Romanesque. Common attributes include spired towers, turrets, pronounced front bays that can be rounded or multisided, and rooflines that vary from building to building.
You’ll find stunning examples in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and other popular neighborhoods. But there might be no finer example of the variety of shapes and sizes than the LeDroit Park neighborhood right next-door to Howard University. Here, an architect named James McGill built 64-row houses during a very short period between 1873 and 1877, and each one was different! Amazingly, 50 of these iconic structures are still standing.
But the most prolific developer by far was Henry Wardman, known as King of the Row Houses during the early 20th century. You’ll find his buildings throughout DC’s northeast, from Victorian styles to the later Second Empire and Eastlake forms, typified by a boxy shape, front porches, Mansard roofs and dormers.
You can also find semi-detached rowhouses in DC, Arlington, Fairfax and other areas, usually with two units per structure and resembling a cross between duplex, townhouse and single-family home. These hybrid structures came into prominence during the 1920s to early 1940s.
The same era also resulted in what is now known as the Arlington Village Historic District, right off Columbia Pike near the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse in South Arlington, VA. There are 657 contributing buildings here including 104 Colonial Revival rowhouses. The community was developed by Gustave Ring and designed by Harvey Warwick around 1939. Today, the structures serve as competitively priced condos for sale in an area going through a transformative revitalization.
So next time you catch the opening credits of House of Cards on Netflix and see those pastel-colored row houses drifting by in a cinematic haze, just know that you too could own a piece of restored history. And, given the urban nature of these homes, you’ll probably be close to great bars, restaurants and convenient transit.
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Listing information last updated on February 18th, 2019 at 12:03am EST.