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1800s Architecture on N Street: A Lovely Archway and 12 1/2 Feet of Sweet Revenge

If you have ever eaten at the Iron Gate Inn on N Street NW, you have walked through an iron gate (duh) and beneath an archway. Above the archway is a . . . well, what is it exactly?

That's what Gail McCormick wondered. She heads up the archive at the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the nonprofit group that owns the buildings to the right and the left of that archway and the curious three-story structure that hangs suspended between them. The archive she oversees, the Women's History and Resource Center, is in a long, narrow room above the entrance to the Iron Gate. She's always wondered why the room was so oddly located and proportioned.

After some sleuthing, this is what she discovered: The house at 1734 N St. NW was built in 1875 by retired Rear Adm. William Radford. That was back in the days when nearby Dupont Circle was known as Pacific Circle (it was to the west, like that ocean). By 1884, the house was owned by Thaddeus and Augusta Markley. There were empty lots to the east of the house. The Markleys purchased half of the lot closest to them to make a grand driveway leading to the carriage house at the rear.

When the Markleys returned from an extended trip to Europe, they discovered that someone had bought the lot on the other side of their driveway and was planning to build a house with windows overlooking their own. Incensed by this perceived invasion of privacy, they threw up a wall. But building regulations limited how tall the wall could be, so they instead built an addition jutting out from the second floor of their house and extending all the way to their neighbor's.

Gail found a mention of the room in a New Orleans paper from 1899. Wrote the author: "it bears in the neighborhood the name of the 'spite room.' "

The room is 12 1/2 feet wide and 65 feet long. It's perfect for a library -- and was used as such by later tenants -- although that might have been an afterthought. "If it was built for spite, they probably figured out later what they were going to do with it," Gail said.

Why not just construct an entire skinny building, from the ground up? Gail figures that by classifying it as an addition, and not new construction, the Markleys could bypass more-stringent regulations.

That room and many others in the mansion -- which is stuffed full of handsome mantels, lovely carved molding, colorful murals and artwork -- will be open Saturday and Sunday during the annual Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk Weekend.

For information, visit http://www.dkmuseums.com. That little block of N Street is one of the loveliest in the city, and if you've ever wondered what's inside some of those grand houses, here's your chance.

By: John Kelly, Washington Post

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