The Townsend House is one of the many elegant and often ostentatious mansions that lined Massachusetts Avenue in the early decades of the 20th century.It is located on the corner of Florida Avenue, Twenty-second Street, and Massachusetts Avenue and has a paved semicircular driveway defined by a guilloche balustrade leading to the marquise. Completed in 1900 for Richard H. Townsend, a railway magnate, the mansion was designed by the well-known firm of Carrere and Hastings. Reflecting the taste of the period, the house incorporates Louis XV elements on a Beaux Arts facade. The Cosmos Club, a club whose membership includes distinguishes men in the fields of science, literature and the arts, purchased the house in 1950.
The Townsend House, which incorporated the walls of the Hillyer House, was begun in 1898 and completed in 1900. The earlier house was built in 1873 by Curtis Justin Hillyer, an attorney engaged in mining speculation in California and Colorado. It is said that part of the Hillyer House was incorporated in the new mansion because of Mrs. Townsend's superstitious fear of inhabiting a totally new home.
The house was the center of Washington social activity, and it was said that Mrs. Townsend spent as much as $240,000 a year for entertainment. After the death of her husband in 1902, Mrs. Townsend continued to live in the house with their daughter, Mathilde. Mathilde's first marriage to Senator Peter Goelet Gerry ended in .divorce, and in 1925 he married Benjamin Sumner Welles, who was to become Under Secretary of State. Mathilde inherited the property from her mother, and it was during tier ownership that the mansion became the temporary residence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a few weeks before he entered the White House. During World War II, in January 1942, the American Women's Volunteer service used the stables as a canteen. In 1943 the above group moved out, land the house was occupied by the Canadian Women's Army Corps Headquarters Detachment.
Built 1898-1900; Carrère & Hastings, architect;
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
National Register: April 3, 1973
Within Massachusetts Avenue and Dupont Circle HDs