East Side Historic Properties

Aerial View of Madison Place, the eastside of Lafayette Square
Aerial View of Madison Place, the eastside of Lafayette Square. The Dolley Madison house is at the left end of the block. Pennsylvania Avenue is on the right.

Madison Place, a one-block street, forms the east side of Lafayette Park. What follows are historical highlights of the storied properties that face the east side of the park, touching on their architectural styles and current uses. The townhouses, once endangered by the wrecking ball, were acquired by the federal government in 1957.In 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy successfully lobbied to retain the historic character of Lafayette Square and saved the houses from demolition. Between 1963 and 1971, the historic houses were rehabilitated. At the same time, new federal office buildings harmonious with the historic houses were constructed, retaining the area's special character.

Dolley Madison House (Cutts-Madison House)

719 - 715 Madison Place

Exterior, Dolley Madison House at the corner of Avenue H and Madison Place.
Dolley Madison House at the corner of Avenue H and Madison Place.

The Dolley Madison House, a simple, three-story buff colored stucco building, is a quintessential example of the reserved Federal style of the early Republic. The house, located at the southeast corner of Madison Place and H Street, was built in 1818-20 by Richard Cutts, Dolley's brother-in-law. Cutts borrowed the money for the construction from James Madison, who'd recently ended his tenure as the fourth President of the United States.

In 1829, after Cutts had lost most of his fortune in unsuccessful business ventures, ownership of the house reverted to President Madison, who never lived in it. Upon his death in 1836, his wife inherited it, and held on to it, with many financial struggles, until her death.

The restored building, now federally owned, is not open to the public.

Cosmos Club

725 Madison Place

The Cosmos Club, founded in 1878, was and is a private social club for men and women distinguished in science, literature and the arts or public service. Members come from virtually every profession that has anything to do with scholarship, creative genius or intellectual distinction. The five-story Cosmos Club, constructed between the Madison and Tayloe houses, dates from 1910 and is based upon designs of local architect and club member Thomas J.D. Fuller. Built to provide a connection between the two historic houses, it serves as a restrained institutional counterpoint to the abutting Federal style buildings.

Among its members have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners and 55 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Cosmos Club bought both the Tayloe House and the Madison House intending to expand. Ultimately, this plan was abandoned, and the Cosmos Club relocated. It now makes its home on Massachusetts Avenue.

Tayloe House

21 Madison Place

Tayloe House, 21 Madison Place across from Lafayette Square, Washington, DC.
Tayloe House, 21 Madison Place across from Lafayette Square.

This Federal-style house, like the Madison House, has seen many political figures pass through its doors, and even acquired the name "The Little White House." It briefly served as the headquarters for the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage from 1915 to 1917, which employed the radical techniques of the British suffragette movement and lobbied for the right to vote. The house was eventually turned over to the federal government. From October 1958 until November 1961, the house was the headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Following a successful struggle for the survival of the Lafayette Square town houses in the early 1960s, architect John Carl Warnecke, a friend of President Kennedy's, created a design for the square which would incorporate the new buildings with the old. Warnecke's design for the Howard T Markey National Courts Building created tall, flat structures in red brick which provided relatively dark backgrounds to the lighter-colored residential homes like the Cutts-Madison House.

Eventually, 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. This combined structure has remained part of the National Courts building complex ever since.

Last Reviewed 2016-11-04