Mary Scott Townsend bought Curtis Hillyer’s substantial residence and property at 2121 Massachusetts Avenue in 1898. She hired a leading New York firm, Carrère and Hastings, to enlarge and so completely rebuilt the house that none of the original 1873 structure is visible, although some of its walls were incorporated. Construction of the Townsend House was begun in 1899 and essentially completed by 1900, although some modifications were made over the next decade.
Like its contemporaries along Massachusetts Avenue, the Townsend House is a product of the Beaux-Arts school. Of design and architecture, John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings, both received their architectural training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. After stints as draftsmen with the prominent New York firm of McKim, Mead and White, they formed a partnership in 1885.
By the time the Townsends selected Carrère and Hastings to design their Washington residence, the firm had built hotels, churches and estates along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and had won the competition to design the New York Public Library. In Washington the firm is also represented by important institutional buildings: the Senate and House Office Buildings (1905-06), the Carnegie Institution (1906) and the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery. The historic Townsend House interiors, still largely intact, were designed by the Parisian firm Jules Allard & Sons, famed for its high style French interiors, working in collaboration with Carrère and Hastings. The Foundation guided and largely funded the meticulous, award-winning restoration of the Townsend House ballroom. It has also funded restoration of the entrance lobby and replicated in kind the deteriorated original flooring of the adjacent reception room and the dining room.
The Foundation works with preservation and community organizations in the Dupont Circle area, and has contributed to the restoration of the Q Street Bridge buffalo sculptures, the enhancement of historic call boxes and the installation of historic markers. The Foundation funded the high-resolution scanning of the Library of Congress’s collection of forty circa 1910 historic photographs of the original Townsend house so that they would be available to the public online through the Library’s website.
The Townsend House’s architectural and historic significance is formally recognized. It is individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is also included in the Historic American Buildings Survey District of Columbia Catalog and is designated as a District of Columbia Landmark.