Guest Author - Candyce H. Stapen
What do a log cabin, 20,000 books and a guitar signed by Bruce Springsteen have in common? They’re all part of the Mansion on O Street’s surprises. Fashioned from five connecting Dupont Circle townhouses, the Mansion not only offers hotel rooms and event space, but hosts teas, brunches, treasure hunts, blue grass jams and drag shows.
And did we mention that “everything without a heartbeat,” as founder H.H. Leonards says, except the signed guitars, is for sale? And that’s not a statement to be taken lightly. All 100 rooms of the Mansion overflow with stuff. The property’s many layers of items will either delight or dismay you.
The main floor, along with tables set for breakfast, brunch and tea, features such whimsical touches as a black and white striped Disneyesque rabbit, a wide brimmed turquoise hat worthy of Queen Elizabeth and a row of sequined and beaded guitars shimmering on a windowsill.
Just beyond, a floor–to-ceiling bookcase cracks open, one of the 32 secret doors the proprietors encourage you to find on a themed treasure hunt. These force you to focus, providing the best way to explore the property if you’re not staying overnight in one of the 23 guest rooms and suites.
As part of the Above & Beyond search, we must look at eye level or higher for “a moon with a roving eye, a butterfly serenading from above, a patriotic musical bear” and other oddities. On the fourth floor we discover the log cabin suite fitted with a fish tank framed by shelves to serve as a headboard; a four-foot high Smoky the Bear and, up the split wood steps, a loft with a leather couch, a kitchen and an oversized Disney telephone on which Mickey plays guitar.
In another room a white kimono hangs on the wall and a massive crystal chandelier towers over a table pressed into a bay-windowed nook. A different suite drops you back into fifties décor, complete with diamond shaped sinks in the kitchen and round red vinyl stools, black lacquer chairs and stacks of rose bordered china in the dining area.
Peeking into another bedroom, we spot a Pee Wee Herman doll atop pillows and a birdcage fronting a window. Almost hidden in a closet we catch sight of two black and white photographs of Marilyn Monroe.
Books pile up everywhere in the Mansion and paintings—more than a thousand-- line the walls. Our favorite space of the ones we discover is all about play: a billiard table anchors the center of the large room while juke boxes, brass barber chairs and an over-sized gumball machine line the periphery. And that papier maché butterfly we search for dangles from the ceiling.
Creative or cluttered, or maybe a bit of both, the Mansion is unique. To antique and collectible lovers like us, the place provides exceptional browsing, perhaps too much for one day or even several days. For minimalists preferring sleek lines and predictable order, well, the Mansion may provoke anxiety.
Stay overnight or sample the many-roomed fantasy on Sundays and Mondays when the Mansion opens to the public for breakfast, brunch, tea and treasure hunts. ($15 per person to sleuth on four floors). Who says D.C. is boring?