Kalorama History

Rich with history, this neighborhood has been home to eight Presidents — more than any other place in the country (except for the White House, of course). Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower all called Kalorama home. President Barack Obama currently resides in Kalorama.

The origin of this neighborhood dates back to the mid-1600s, when during the reign of Charles II of England the hill-top now known as Kalorama was granted to John Langsworth. Anthony Holmstead, who subsequently took possession, dubbed the property “Widow’s Mite.” And so it was called until 1807, when diplomat Joel Barlow (1754-1812) purchased Widow’s Mite, by then a run-down estate, and changed its name to Kalorama, which means “beautiful vista” in Greek.

Barlow led a rich and distinguished life that included an ivy league education at Yale, a career as a political essayist/author, friendships with prominent men of his time such as President Thomas Jefferson and author Thomas Paine, and finally service as the U.S. Ambassador to France. Barlow has the dubious distinction of becoming the first American diplomat to die in service to his nation, after catching pneumonia during trade negotiations with Napoleon on a treaty to end the blockade of American ships. Not surprisingly with Barlow’s vast array of influential friends and notable literary acquaintances, Kalorama quickly became a social epicenter. By the end of the 1800s Washington city proper was rapidly outgrowing its original boundaries. The city needed space to expand and when people looked for a glamorous enclave, Kalorama fit the bill. In fact, in 1882, a National Republic magazine article called Kalorama “the choicest investment offered to the public.” And it still is 135 years later!

Thanks in large part to the creation of the Taft Bridge — which at the time of its construction in 1907 was the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete bridge — as well as the subsequent public transportation system that ran up Connecticut Avenue, Kalorama was forever subdivided into two distinct neighborhoods: Kalorama Triangle to the east and Sheridan-Kalorama to the west. The Sheridan side, which takes its name from Civil War Gen. Phillip Sheridan (1831-1888) whose statute resides at the circle on Massachusetts Avenue, has been home to many of Washington’s power brokers. These grand residences include stately detached single-family homes ideally sited on expansive lots, turn-of-the-century row houses, as well as luxury condos and co-ops. This elite enclave is also home to numerous embassies, parks, and boutique museums. In addition to residential properties and parks, the more densely populated Kalorama Triangle includes several restaurants and shops.

Kalorama Triangle was designated an historic district and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, Sheridan-Kalorama was designated two years later in 1989. The boundaries of Kalorama Triangle, not surprisingly, form a triangle which stretches from Connecticut Avenue to Columbia Road to Calvert Street. The Sheridan-Kalorama boundaries are Connecticut Avenue on the east, Rock Creek Park on the north and west and Florida Avenue on the south.

Justin Levitch