Travel

O de Vie A D.C. Mansion to Disappear For

  • The Delta Shuttle Sheet
  • -
  • February, 2001

by Karen Feld

odevie

If you’ve ever fantasized about spending a weekend in a luxurious but nevertheless bona fide log cabin right in the heart of Washington, D.C., or desired to occupy a room with an authentic Tiffany window, then the Mansion on O is for you. Guests check in and never want to leave.

The Mansion on O has been a well-kept secret in Washington since February 14, 1980, when H.H. Leonards purchased it to create her own world. “It’s a figment of my imagination,” says Leonards, the “proprietor and creator” of the house. “This is my vision. It’s like a huge Rorschach test.” Each room in the 30,000-square-foot property–three interconnected townhouses just blocks off the hustle and bustle of Dupont Circle–is a private retreat. It’s a total experience: a museum, an inn, and a conference facility, all with unbeatable ambience.

That’s why Chelsea Clinton celebrated her Sweet 16th there. And why actors Kim Basinger, Carly Simon, Sly Stallone, Melanie Griffith and Alec Baldwin; civil rights icon Rosa Parks; and top government officials and high-powered business travelers have stayed there. Most guests want to remain anonymous. Leonards doesn’t advertise the house; it is not listed in guidebooks; and the 1892 red-brick row houses have no signage. Even if you ask for a celebrated visitor by name, no such person exists unless you know the specific room in which he or she is staying. Codes to the doors are sent via e-mail to guests so they can get in and out discreetly. “High-profile people disappear here,” says Leonards.

Leonards combines tradition with technology. Each of the suites has at least two private telephone lines, voice mail, Internet connections and multiple televisions. The security room for VIPs is equipped with 12 TV monitors.

Mansion on O, 2020 O Street NW; 202-496-2000; e-mail: mansion@erols.com. B&B rates: $150–$1,000. Explore the 100 rooms in the Mansion and the dozen guest suites—by appointment only—and be sure to look up at the hand-painted ceilings. A $5 donation to the O Street Museum Foundation is requested.

The Mansion is not for everyone, but it is definitely for those with an artistic eye. Others may experience visual overload. Every niche is filled–with antique puppets, Remington bronzes or dime-store tchotchkes. What’s more, everything in the house is for sale–just ask.

Each room has a different theme, meshed with the unexpected. The two-story Log Cabin Suite features a fishtank in the headboard, a Frederic Remington sculpture, a flowered sink with a love story enameled around it and New Age music. The secluded Art Deco Penthouse Suite–with walls painted purple, peach and turquoise–has a private elevator, a patio, a full kitchen, six televisions, and two bathrooms as well as a Jacuzzi. The unconventional ceiling fan is built from bicycle gears and fishing poles.

“The house pulls people together,” says Leonards, who has also pulled together on the site high-tech conference rooms, an outdoor heated swimming pool, a garden and a fountain. “People are so singularly focused in this city, then they come here to forget who they are, and they go out and do something very cool.”

-KAREN FELD

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