Building History

The Westchester

( Southwest Corner of Cathedral Avenue and 39th Street )

ARCHITECT:  Harvey H. Warwick, Sr. – 1930

( 86 efficiencies,  324 one–bedrooms,  110 two–bedrooms,  and 36 three–bedrooms )

STATUS:  Opened as a rental in 1931;  Converted to a co–op in 1953

     Planned to cover twenty–eight acres on Cathedral Avenue, this large apartment house complex was conceived in 1929 by Washington developer Gustave Ring. He recruited his former employer, Morris Cafritz, and architect, Harvey H. Warwick, Sr., as junior partners.

     The first Westchester building was begun in March 1930, but the financial pressure of the Depression permanently halted the master plan midway through construction. Nonetheless, the four completed buildings made The Westchester the largest luxury apartment house in Washington for nearly twenty years until the slightly larger Woodner was completed on 16th Street in 1951. While the Woodner has fallen on hard times and can no longer be considered prestigious, The Westchester has never lost its footing. Although a number of even larger luxury apartment houses suceeded The Westchester in the 1950s and 1960s – such as The Westchester's neighbor, the Towers, the famous Watergate on the Potomac, and others in the suburbs, including the Rotunda in McLean, Virginia, and the Grosvenor Park in Rockville, Maryland – they can never quite equal the character of The Westchester.

     The site of The Westchester had been the cattle farm of the Kengla family, Georgetown butchers, who kept animals there until ready for slaughter. In 1921 developer William M. Kennedy bought the farm, with it's simple Victorian frame house, as the site for an apartment house. After his sudden death in 1927, the Kennedy estate rented the Victorian house there for two years to Mrs. Albert J. Myer, nee Baroness Irene Ungern, who used it as a finishing school for girls. Although Kennedy did not live to develop the site, he was responsible for having the address changed from Jewett Street to the more imposing Cathedral Avenue.

     When Gustave Ring bought the site in 1929 from the Kennedy estate, Cathedral Avenue was still largely undeveloped, and land in the area was relatively cheap. The immense scope intended for The Westchester was unique in Washington. It was to have been the largest apartment house south of New York, with eight buildings – containing 23 million cubic feet and costing more than $10 million – designed around a spacious quadrangle with its front end open to Cathedral Avenue. Ring pointed out when construction began that the depth of the quadrangle would be equivalent to two long city blocks. The Depression, however, interrupted construction and only four buildings were completed.

     Throughout the 1930s and 1940s The Westchester and the Wardman Tower reigned as the two Washington apartment houses with the greatest concentration of distinguished residents. At the beginning of World War II, for instance, The Westchester's residents included two cabinet members, thirty–one congressmen, twelve senators, and fourteen judges.

     Cooperation among The Westchester residents has always been noteworthy. The Westchester Club continues to organize an annual tour of apartments at The Westchester. These tours are particularly popular, since few apartments are identical. Although six basic floor plans were originally used, architect Harvey H. Warwick, Sr., made numerous different variations in different buildings and different tiers. In addition, many owners have joined two or more apartments, so that a single floor plan on one floor may be unrecognizable in another. Some eight apartments on the top floors have their own private roofdecks—an unusual design in any apartment house. But then, The Westchester has never been typical.

Text and photographs reproduced from:   'BEST ADDRESSES'
James M. Goode – A Century of Washington's Distiguished Apartment Houses
1988 © Smithsonian Institution Press


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