Modern Crestwood

Mid-Century Neighborhoods Tour

Beginning in 1950, when Black Washingtonians began moving into Crestwood--formerly an all-White, racially restricted neighborhood--they not only altered its socio-racial character, but they also introduced a new and Modern design aesthetic and gave Crestwood one of the most important collections of Mid-Century Modern residences in the District.

Crestwood—a residential neighborhood of single-family homes tucked between 16th Street NW on the east and Rock Creek Park on the west—was largely developed in the 1920s through the 1940s in a traditional suburban manner with detached dwellings designed in a variety of 20th century Revival styles. Throughout this period, the developers of Crestwood touted the residential subdivision for its hilly and wooded terrain, its prevailing Colonial aesthetic, and its racial restrictions that would "guarantee the proper environment for your family."
Within a year of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1948 ruling that deemed racially restrictive deeds unenforceable, Black Washingtonians with the financial means began moving into toney Crestwood. Some of these newcomers bought the stately Revival-style dwellings on the market, while others commissioned Black architects, many of whom were professors, or former students, at Howard University School of Architecture, to design new ones. These practitioners were heavily influenced by European Modernism and introduced a Modern aesthetic to the traditional neighborhood. To begin with, the Modern houses with their low-lying profiles, flat roofs and minimal ornamentation, were located on the few remaining vacant lots sandwiched between existing Revival-style dwellings, but eventually, entire streets would be developed exclusively with Modern house forms, contributing to the new identity of the neighborhood.

Several notable Modern houses in Crestwood include: 

Ralph Urciolo House, 4215 Argyle Terrace NW, 1951
This house was built by Ralph Urciolo, an attorney and real estate investor who played a major role in challenging the legality of racially restrictive covenants in the city. Urciolo commissioned Howard Mackey, dean of Howard University School of Architecture and established practitioner in DC, to design his house. Although the house retains traditional form and materials, its horizontal massing, flat roof and limited ornamentation are indicative of a more Modern design aesthetic. 

Mazique House, 1824 Upshur Street NW, 1952
Mackey designed this house for African American and civil rights activists Edward and Jewell Mazique. Like the Urciolo House, the Mazique house is architecturally transitional with a traditional form, but includes Modern features, like natural and contrasting wall materials, horizontal emphasis and the integrated carport. 

Zellan House, 1624 Taylor Street NW, 1951
This house with its flat roof, stone and brick wall cladding is one of Crestwood's first Mid-Century houses. It was designed by Edmund Dreyfuss, a native Washingtonian, George Washington University graduate, and prolific local designer.

4222 Argyle Terrace NW, 1958
Designed by Modernist French architect Jean-Pierre Trouchaud, this house features a Mid-Century Modern profile with sloped roof, integrated carport and banks of clerestory windows under the wide eaves. Trouchaud had a short, but prolific career in DC where he designed several Mid-Century houses along Chain Bridge Road and University Terrace NW and also one at 2900 Fessenden Street NW.  

Charles Bryant House, 4350 Argyle Terrace NW, 1963
By the 1960s, it was the second-generation graduates of Howard University School of Architecture who would make a significant mark on Modern design in Crestwood. Architect Charles Bryant, a Howard alum, designed his own family house in the neighborhood in 1963. The deceptively low-lying house as viewed from the street, actually has three levels designed to take advantage of the steeply sloping and wooded site. The house boasts several Modern elements including a variety of materials (brick, wood paneling, decorative concrete blocks), wide eaves, exposed rafters, an integrated carport, rear balcony and a patio that merges the interior and exterior. 

4231 Mathewson Drive NW, 1966
4245 Mathewson Drive NW, 1968
These two nearby houses were designed by architect Yettekov Wilson. The house at 4231 Mathewson, atop the wooded hillside, is defined by its horizontal emphasis and geometric massing with an inset porch. The low-lying 4245 Mathewson Drive house features a sloped roof and brick chimney stack on its front wall, both characteristics of Mid-Century residential design. Wilson graduated from Howard University School of Architecture in 1955, then worked for former School of Architecture professor, Robert Madison in Cleveland, Ohio before returning to DC to strike out on his own. (See Modern Hillcrest tour stop for more information on Yettekov Wilson.)

4223-4243 Blagden Avenue NW, 1965
1900 Quincy Street NW, 1965
While many of the Modern houses in Crestwood were custom designed, many others were the product of small-scale speculative ventures. The six houses along a heavily wooded Blagden Avenue with their variety of flat and wide A-frame roof forms and exposed rafters, were designed by Herbert G. McDonald, a graduate of Howard University School of Architecture, for Edrow Engineering, Inc. MacDonald had years of experience working as a draftsman for Daumit & Sargeant and for Brown, Chapman, Taher and Miller, both Modern design firms in the city, before striking out on his own and establishing Herbert G. McDonald & Associates. McDonald also designed a distinctive butterfly- and flat-roofed house for Edgar Weisman, president of Edrow Engineering, at 1900 Quincy Street NW in Crestwood at the edge of and visible from Rock Creek Park.