Historic Gentlemen’s Club Reinvented—Again
Former meeting place of George Washington is reborn as four luxury condos.
The centuries-old building at 555 South Washington St. has had many lives before becoming an Old Town residence as the General Washington Club Condominiums.
According to Linda St. Pierre, owner of Ryan-Corcoran, LLC, the condos’ developer, the oldest part of the property was originally built in the 1700s at Hunting Point, just south of Old Town, as a free-standing farm house known as “Broomlawn” or “Broomilaw.” It later became a gentlemen’s club, a private meeting place for political leaders such as George Washington and Virginia patriot George Mason. Around 1790, the original part of the clubhouse was moved to its current location on the corner of South Washington and Gibbon Streets in Old Town, onto a parcel which already contained a small brick structure reportedly used as an office for Washington’s Alexandria surveying business.
In the late 1700s to early 1800s the property transferred to the family of Thomas White, chief clerk for Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, and stayed in that family for more than 125 years, during which time it was expanded several times, St. Pierre related. In the 1940s, the building was converted to a restaurant. It went through a variety of identities as a dining establishment, the last being “The Old Club,” which closed in the 1980s. Since then, it was vacant until 2004, when St. Pierre’s company bought it with a vision to restore the building and convert it to homes.
St. Pierre first became interested in the restaurant property because her yard abutted one of the vacant lots that was used for restaurant parking. She inquired about buying only that lot in order to expand her own yard, but after being put on hold—the owner wanted the lot to remain with the building—St. Pierre purchased the entire parcel. Since St. Pierre’s renovation of the property into four upscale condominium residences, Broomlawn, the original historic farm house part of the structure, has been featured on the Alexandria Historic Homes Tour.
“When I walked into the building it excited me because I could see the possibilities,” said St. Pierre about her plan to convert the building into upscale, traditionally styled condominiums. “The City was happy about the idea, and the neighbors were very supportive of making that corner residential instead of commercial….I think it softens our city.”
Working with Alexandria architects, Dimond-Adams Design Architecture, St. Pierre said she “worked hard not to let the exterior of the building change very much. The changes are very subtle.”
One change was fencing around the property. “We found an old postcard of the building that showed there was a Kentucky white fence around it, so we did that,” St. Pierre said.
She also called upon the past for the property’s exterior walkways. “When we were excavating the front yard we uncovered a lot of Tennessee slate from old patios that had been there,” St. Pierre said. “We gathered it up and used it for the walkways and porch floors.”
While changes to the exterior were understated, the interior of the building was gutted. St. Pierre soundproofed and insulated the building, then created four very different condominium units, ranging in size from 4,100 square feet to approximately 2,200 square feet. Three of the units are now occupied; Unit 101, one of the larger homes at 3,812 square-feet, is currently on the market.
St. Pierre said that while dismantling the interior, she was careful to save many of the original features, including old windows, fireplaces, and flooring. Those materials have been reused in the four units. Because the building went through so many iterations over the centuries, the age of some of the materials is not known, although the original, 1790s fireplace—the one that many believe George Washington and other patriots once gathered around when visiting the Gentlemen’s Club—is in Unit 103, the building’s large, front condo.
The three-bedroom, 2.5 bath Unit 101 includes several reclaimed features. The brick fireplace in the 24-foot by 19-foot living room is from the original building, probably dating from the 1800s, said St. Pierre; its surround is hand-cut timbers. Original windows from that same period are used as see-throughs along the wall dividing the living and dining rooms from the kitchen and family room.
The 10-foot by 21-foot kitchen includes top-of-the-line modern appliances such as an Imperial six-burner gas stove and a Sub-Zero refrigerator. But, its roots to the past are reflected in a striking patterned floor crafted of slate taken from the property’s old carriage house. The kitchen, which connects to an open family room with a fireplace and an exposed original brick wall, has granite countertops and light-colored, paneled cabinets. “It was important to me that the kitchens in each of the units be different, so you wouldn’t walk into one unit and see it had the same kitchen as another,” St. Pierre noted.
The wood flooring through most of the home, along with the custom-made stair hand rails, is a rich, dark walnut that was reclaimed from old buildings in Southern Virginia.
Where reclaimed materials were not available, St. Pierre created the illusion of age. Since the home’s wood beams were not sufficient to meet code requirements, she used structural steel beams. However, she hired faux painter Bryan King with Artifice Inc. Decorative Painting Services to make the beams appear to be old wood.
The home has 9.5-foot ceilings, some vaulted, and an extra-wide second floor hallway. The 16-foot by 20-foot master bedroom includes a gas fireplace and a master bath with a steam shower.
Unit 101 includes a 16-foot by 19-foot lower level media room that was carved from the old property’s former boiler room. A private, 9-foot by 12-foot flagstone patio with a gas fireplace, along with the covered front porch, offer outdoor living spaces.
“Working on this building has been an honor and a privilege,” St. Pierre said. “It is a wonderful feeling seeing the lights shine brightly again on a fabulous piece of history.”
Unit 101, which includes a detached, two-car garage, is for sale for $1,550,000 through Michael Manuel of Long & Foster Realtors.