When it comes to protecting privately owned historic places, one fundamental technique is the use of easements. Using easements is almost always contemplated early on in the process of considering how to protect historic sites, but is often dismissed just as quickly. Some perceive easements to be too complicated and too costly, and of late, too likely to invoke the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service. But certain properties merit the perpetual protection that’s gained by the use of this long-standing legal tool. When the National Trust considered the sale of its flagship Washington D.C., headquarters building, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, protecting this iconic Dupont Circle historic building with an easement was a given.
1785 Massachusetts Avenue was completed in 1917, and with its five-story limestone sidewalls, dramatic mansard slate roof, and elaborate wrought iron ornamentation, the building soon became one of the District’s most prestigious addresses. Political, financial, and social luminaries such as Andrew Mellon, Robert Wood Bliss, and Pearl Mesta flocked to occupy the building’s apartments. World War II brought a change of use and certain interior alterations to 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, and the building’s use as a premier residence ended. In 1976 the National Trust purchased and rehabilitated what had affectionately become known as the Mellon Apartment Building in recognition of the long-term tenant who had served not only as Secretary of the Treasury but the patron whose art collection—much of it assembled with the help of Lord Duveen while both occupied 1785 Massachusetts Avenue—formed the basis of the National Gallery of Art. The National Trust’s rehabilitation restored many architectural features that had been removed or altered over the previous 20 years, but importantly, also included a range of thoughtful alterations that would accommodate late 20th-century office use.... Read More →