NW Quadrant, East of Rock Creek, NW Quadrant, West of Rock Creek, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Architecturally Significant, Female, Also of Interest

Evalyn Walsh McLean
(August 1, 1886 – April 26, 1947)

Walsh Mansion, 2020 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Dupont Circle neighborhood, DC. Now the Indonesian Embassy Chancery.

McLean is the co-author of a memoir, Father Struck It Rich (1936), written with Boyden Sparkes. She was raised in the first address in Dupont Circle, one of the largest mansions in DC, built by her father in 1903. Walsh was a poor Irish immigrant who made a fortune operating one of the richest gold mines in the world, located in Colorado. Evalyn McLean was raised as nouveau riche royalty, with trips to Europe and private schools. But from a young age, she was considered wild. In her memoir, she wrote, “An agreement was reached in our family for me to go to Paris to study—music, French and other parlor tricks of ladies. By some school magic, I was to become a lady!”

In 1908, against her family’s advice, she eloped with Ned McLean, the publisher of the Washington Post, and a notorious alcoholic, playboy, and host of gala parties. They built two mansions, since destroyed, a family estate called “Friendship” (now the site of the McLean Gardens apartments off Wisconsin Avenue) and a house for formal entertaining off Lafayette Square (now the site of the Import-Export Bank at 811 Vermont Ave. NW). During their marriage, the McLeans had four children, Evalyn became addicted to morphine, and they managed to decimate two family fortunes worth millions. The couple divorced in 1929, and McLean moved to the Georgetown address. (After her husband’s bankruptcy, the Post was auctioned in 1933 to Eugene Meyer, who restored the newspaper’s reputation and financial health.)

McLean was famous for her jewels. On her honeymoon, she purchased a diamond called the Star of the East. But she is perhaps best known as the last private owner of the Hope Diamond, said to carry a horrible curse. The Hope Diamond is now in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History. McLean is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, in the Walsh family tomb.

Walsh Mansion Architect: Henry Anderson.
Year: 1903.
The most expensive house in the city when built, the Neo-Baroque mansion retains its original Y-shaped grand staircase, and has a large slab of unrefined gold ore built into the front porch, which came from Thomas Walsh’s famous Camp Bird Mine in Colorado.


Friendship House, 3308 R Street NW, Georgetown neighborhood, DC.

Friendship House Year: 1818
Originally called Mount Hope and built for an early mayor of Georgetown, McLean renamed this 5-story Beaux Arts mansion Friendship House when she moved here in 1942 following the death of her husband. After her death, the property was divided into four houses.

Links

Jazz Age Stories of the Rich & Scandalous! (PDF Tour Brochure)
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: Hope Diamond

Author photo courtesy of Library of Congress.