Dear PoP – How Do I Know if my Home is a Wardman?


“Dear PoP,

I just bought a row house in Columbia Heights and I’m quite curious, how can I tell if my house is a Wardman row house? I suspect that it is, but do you have any suggestion on where I could go to be sure?”

That’s a great question. Can anyone help point the reader in the right direction?

23 Comment

  • Either go to the Historical Society (Mt. Vernon Sq) or the Washingtonia Room at the MLK library or the National Archives microfilm room to look up the building permits for your house. You will need to know the square and lot number. The permit will say if Wardman was invovled.

  • I’ve always wondered the same thing. Is the DC Historical Society of any help? Has anyone ever used their resources?

    I’m not so much interested in whether or not my house is a Wardman, but learning the history of my block would be fascinating. I’ve talked to many old timers in the hood, but I’d like to dig deeper.

    Where I’m from in Australia, buildings are pretty new, so old houses still amaze me.

  • The DC Preservation League did a lecture and an exhibit on Wardman houses back in 2005. They probably have some info.

  • Both the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. and the Washingtoniana division of MLK are excellent resources. The building permits database may be searched with your address alone and will tell you if Wardman was involved.

    There is also a copy of the database available at the Petworth Library.

  • The DC Historical Society has a sizeable collection of historical photographs and papers related to the work of Harry Wardman. You may be able to find reference to your property or your block there.

    The Library of Congress has some more obscure Wardman records. If I recall, though, you need to have a legitimate research purpose to gain access to the LOC reading room. Merely wanting to trace the history of your own home may not be enough, I don’t know.

    You could try but I doubt the National Archives would be of any help. The Archives maintains architectural records for Federal buildings and lands but not private sector.

    The city may be able to help you track down the origins of your particular address if you can’t find it in the Historical Society papers. The building department would have permits or the tax office may have records of deeds and sales. Wardman was a developer, not an architect, so his name would likely not appear on a building permit. Combining an architect’s name (Wardman often worked with Mesrobian, and Grimm) with a record of land sale may add up to a conlusion that a particular address is a Wardman. Of course, there were many developers building similar styles of homes, and many worked with the same architects.

  • The Library of Congress will let anyone with any research need use the collections, but you do need a reader card, which takes only a few minutes to get from the first floor of the Madison building.

  • Go to Washingtoniana Room at MLK Library and look up the building permit. Simple as that.

  • A trip to LoC won’t likely yield an answer. I made the Building Permits Database mentioned above. The archived building permits are the definitive source of who built what in the District from the 1870s to the 1950s. The names of the owner, architect and builder are included on most of the permits. The best bet for the curious is a trip to the Washingtoniana Division of DCPL at MLK. The database is much more readily accessible than the microfilm, which is also available at the National Archives.

    Wardman was by far the most prolific developer in Washington history, but built only a small fraction of what folks think. I lived in North Cleveland Park for a long time and everybody THOUGHT they lived in a Wardman, but he built exactly ZERO houses in that neighborhood. There is nothing special about a Wardman, but for the fact that so many people THINK there is something special about a Wardman.

    There is no “Wardman style.” Please bear in mind that a realtor’s job is to sell houses.

    Harry Wardman was a builder who became a developer very early in his career and is also often credited as an architect. So “Wardman, Harry” and “Wardman Const. Co.” show on the permits many times as owner (developer), builder, and architect.

  • Brian Kraft: With all due respect, did anyone actually mention the “Building Permits Database”? I mentioned LOC, but wasn’t referring to building permits but rather other records, which they do indeed have and AFAIK, are not available elsewhere. I’m only seeing reference to building permit records available through other sources.

    I agree with you that the value of a ‘Wardman’ is more in the idea than anything else. If anything, most of the buildings referred to as Wardmans would more properly be called Mesrobians, since Mihran Mesrobian was the actual designer of most of his buildings.

    Mesrobian also worked with other developers at the same time, so if a house wasn’t financed by Wardman, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is less ‘valid’ or ‘valuable’ than something built with Wardman money.

  • These are great comments. Going to MLK library tonight.

    Thanks all.

  • Mari mentioned ‘looking up building permits’ and, in response, I mentioned the ‘building permits database.’ It contains everything Brian said which will answer the original question – “Is my house a Wardman?”

  • Sorry to have slighted the LoC. Bad form on my part, and apparently incorrect. Knock yourselves out with a visit or two!

  • Oh, and Mihran Mesrobian designed probably fewer than a tenth of Wardman’s buildings. I made the database so that we can know such things. At least, as well as they can be known. The reason I hedge a little is because many Wardman projects had the company listed as the architect and Mesrobian probably designed some of those. Anyway, such things are easy to find out when you start poking around in the database.

  • I’m sticking with my Kennedy Bros. home … so much better than a Wardman.

  • for a little bit of money, you can get a very thorough house history:

    not just who designed it and built it, but who lived in it over the centuries and many other related facts. you never know – maybe a cabinet secretary or senator lived in your house!

  • You can also hire Kelsey Associates if you’re really into knowing more about your house at:

  • When will this Building Permits Database be available online? I Googled it, and all I could find was a Post article from back in June mentioning that it would eventually be put online.

  • Don’t expect too much from Paul Kelsey Williams (Anon 7:27 am). He charges about $600 to look up publically available information on your house. We got him to do a report, and it contained both grammar errors and frank plagiarism. (A past owner’s biography was copied verbatim from a website without an appropriate reference and also without fact-checking.)

  • As a real estate broker, I can admit to marketing one property as an actual Wardman, primarily because the owners had looked up the building permit and considered that a significant feature to be known about the home.

    What I find more interesting than whether something was built by Wardman or not is how DC was affected by what must have been several substantial building booms in different parts of the city during specific periods of time. Most of the time I applaud the late 19th century builders for things like light wells and cross ventilation. Occasionally, I come across one that makes me smile and think that minds of builders in 1895 weren’t too far off from current ones (like the house on second street that is corner shaped because the builder squeezed in one more unit.)

    Brian, thanks for chiming in. The building permit database is a great collection of information.

  • Will people 100 years from now ask how to find out if their home is a “Pulte” or “Ryan”?

  • Here’s a resource for Capitol Hill – it lists builder and architect by square:

    You can look up square at the real property database:

  • For anyone interested in learning how to research the history of their house themselves, the DC Humanities Council is sponsoring a workshop in the Washingtoniana Division on November 21st, 10am-2pm. The workshop will cover finding building permits associated with a house, tracing who owned and resided in a house, using plat maps, historic newspapers and census records to research both the house itself and the development of the neighborhood.

    If you aren’t up for a four-hour workshop (did I mention there will be snacks?), please stop in the Washingtoniana Division anytime and ask for help researching your house from one of the friendly, helpful Washingtoniana librarians.

    One of the friendly, helpful Washingtoniana librarians

  • I went to the library and found out that my house is Gruver built.

    Even more interesting to me is that the permit specified the original way the house was heated (a Latrobe stove), which explains a couple of mysterys about my home’s fireplace/chimney.

    Thanks for this very helpful post, PoP!

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