A Brief History of the Tour
by Aileen Moffatt
At the March 2, 1955, meeting of the newly-formed Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS), “Mrs. Railey called attention to the Tour of Capitol Hill Homes on March 12 for the benefit of Friendship House as a good means of advertising our area and asked that as many as possible attend.” The tour fit neatly with the purpose of the new society, which was, as outlined in its inaugural press release, “to accelerate the private restoration work that has begun in this locality, to offset the flight to the suburbs with encouragement to remodeling, and to foster a civic and national pride in a distinguished and charming section of our city.”
While Friendship House originated the Capitol Hill house tour in 1955 and sponsored another successful event the following year, the organization elected not to do a tour in 1957. In June of that year, CHRS approached Friendship House to inquire about the society taking over the tour, because as Mrs. Railey had noted only a few years earlier, the popular tour was a great promotional tool for life on Capitol Hill. The two organizations reached an agreement, and CHRS assumed responsibility for the Capitol Hill House Tour.
In October, while looking for a partner to assist with the tour, CHRS approached St. Mark’s Church to assess their interest in linking the tour to the church’s antique sale. Both parties agreed and set the date for the first week of May 1958. However, in February, CHRS President Dr. Charles H. Wirth reported that St. Mark’s had encountered “so many snags, fees and technicalities” in organizing their antique show, that the church had decided to withdraw. CHRS members chose to go ahead, and a May tradition for the Annual House and Garden Tour was established.
The first two-day tour featured 16 homes, including the home of Rep. and Mrs. Chet Holifield, D-Calif., of Carroll Street, SE. The tea was held at St. Mark’s Parish House at a cost of 50 cents per person (tea is now covered in the price of the tour ticket) and included a show of paintings and stained glass. In 1959 the tour was only one day, but the area covered was larger than before. Slowly the boundaries expanded, and by the late 1970s, houses in the Lincoln Park vicinity were on view. Since that time, numerous homes located along what were once considered the outer fringes of the Hill have been included on the tour to rave reviews. The United States Capitol Building and the Botanic Gardens have even been on the tour.
In 1994 the tour’s title was “Houses of the House and the Senate.” Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., Porter Goss, R-Fla., Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and John Linder, R-Ga.; and Sens. Trent Lott R-Miss., Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, Connie Mack, R-Fla., John Breaux, D-La., and Pete Domenici, R-NM, opened their homes for tour-goers. The tour was chaired by Harriet Pressler, wife of Sen. Larry Pressler, R-SD.
Other notables have put their homes on the tour, but what we all really care about are the houses themselves — what remains unchanged, what has been restored or modified, what is new and “all the rage” these days. Mostly, however, we want to get inside the houses we walk by and admire every day from the sidewalk. And we want ideas for our own homes.
© Copyright 2001-2008, Capitol Hill Restoration Society. All rights reserved. Last updated January 13, 2008.
Website hosted by DC Access.