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The Tayloe House, or Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House to give it its full name, is a Federal-style mansion house on the north east corner of Lafayette Square close to the White House in Washington, DC. The house was built in 1828 by Benjamin Ogle Tayloe at the request of his wife who wanted to move from their estate in King George County, Virginia to the city, where she was more comfortable. The city, though, in those days consisted of only a few blocks – from today’s 15th Street NW (one block east of the house) to 17th Street NW and from the White House (one block south of the house) up to what is today H Street (a block or so north of the house).
Although the house was completed in 1828, Tayloe and his wife did not move in immediately. Tayloe has a falling out with the newly elected President, Andrew Jackson, and refused to move into the home. He leased out the house for its first year, eventually occupying it in November 1829.
Tayloe was an influential political activist, especially in the Whig Party. The house became an important meeting place for politically powerful people. The list of important political visitors to the house is impressive to say the least – Chief Justice John Marshall, Secretaries of State Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Lewis Cass, and William Seward, as well as Presidents John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.
Benjamin Ogle Tayloe died on February 28, 1868, and Phoebe Tayloe inherited the house. After she died in 1881, more than 200 marble statues, bronze sculptures, items of fine furniture, and paintings in the house were donated to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Phoebe Warren Tayloe’s niece, Elizabeth H. Price, inherited the house in 1882.
In April 1885, the Cosmos Club, which we visited in a prior post, considered purchasing the house from the Tayloe family. The influential club already owned most of the block north of the Tayloe House, and was expanding rapidly. However, it declined to buy the home after an investigation found that the cost of upgrading the property for its use would be too costly.
The property’s political associations did not end with the passing of the house out of the Tayloe family. Senator Don Cameron of Pennsylvania purchased the Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House for $60,000 in 1887. About 1896, the U.S. Senate passed legislation which would have made the building the official residence of the Vice President of the United States, but the House of Representatives failed to act on the bill. Cameron, though, leased the house to Vice President Garret Hobart from March 1897 until the fall of 1899. No other Vice President had ever lived so close to the White House.
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One other important occupant of the house was the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage which leased the house in the fall of 1915, and made the building its headquarters for two years.
The Cosmos Club finally purchased the house on December 1, 1917. It used the home as its women’s annex, and converted the stables into a meeting hall. The Cosmos Club vacated the Tayloe House in 1952 to move to new headquarters at which time the building was purchased by the U.S. government and used for offices. From October 1958 until November 1961, the headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were in the Tayloe House. T. Keith Glennan, the first Administrator of NASA, also had his office in the building.
In 1960, the Tayloe House was nearly razed. The newly elected Kennedy administration joined the opposition against the plan to destroy the building, indicating on February 16, 1961, that it was anxious to retain the existing historic homes on Lafayette Square. Mrs. Kennedy enlisted architect John Carl Warnecke, a friend of her husband’s who happened to be in town for the weekend, to create a design which would incorporate the new buildings with the old. Warnecke conceived the basic design over that weekend. He worked closely with Mrs. Kennedy over the next few months to formalize the design proposal. Warnecke’s design for the Markey National Courts Building was to create tall, flat structures in red brick which would serve as relatively unobtrusive backgrounds to the lighter-colored residential homes like the Cutts-Madison House. The Cutts-Madison House, Cosmos Club building, and Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House were joined, and a courtyard built between them and the National Courts building. The Tayloe House has remained part of the National Courts building complex ever since.
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