The Cleveland Park Historical Society came to the Embassy residence on Monday evening, the 30th April. The rain kept threatening to dampen our spirits, but the weather gods were finally, kind, and the atmosphere, lovely. In cloudy weather, the light was quite special, making the green of the trees and foliage in the garden seem straight out of paradise.
We were lucky to have Henry Schoellkopf, grandson of American diplomat Walter Schoellkopf from who the Indian Government bought the residence in 1945, and his sister, come to the party. Turned out that he knows India well, having visited there 20 times.. Even spoke about his visit to Nathdwara and his darshan of Srinathji. The Schoellkopf family originally hailed from Buffalo in New York and made their fortune in hydro power in the late nineteenth century. They were also associated with the development of the area around Niagara Falls. Walter Schoellkopf bought the house from its original owner in 1930. He and his wife had the house renovated extensively and its present form dates from that refurbishment.
Everybody who came to our event, Cleveland Park residents all, almost seventy of them, referred to the residence as the Homestead – which translates from the Spanish La Quinta, which is the name given to the house when it was built in 1914. In two years time, it will be one hundred years old, one of the last great estates in this neighbourhood. All were unanimous in praising our Government for having preserved this jewel of a residence with its magnificent garden and the great trees that tower over it.
Nice experience, getting to know our neighbours, many of them very distinguished Washingtonians. They said it was the first time they had been to the residence in all these years. They were fascinated by the history of the house and the fact that it incorporates several interesting facets such as the Grinling Gibbons carving over the mirror in the dining room, the marble mantelpiece from the long demolished Dorchester mansion in London, the fireplace in the salon from Verdun, and the two centuries-old parquet floor from a French chateau also in the salon. A number of Washington mansions of the time, given the fascination that many wealthy Americans of the time had for European culture and history, incorporated such details of European design or origin.
We gave our guests a tour of the reception area of the house, including the salon and the dining area and they loved the Indian art and decor inside calling it a perfect balance of the American history of the house with an unmistakeable Indian identity..
The Cleveland Historic District is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The residents of the area are clearly passionate about the preservation of the natural beauty of the place and its history. No wonder that Cleveland Park is one of the most appealing and attractive places to live in this beautiful city. There is the Rock Creek Park that surrounds us, the Zoo is in the vicinity (on summer nights you can sometimes even hear the sound of the monkeys), and on snowy winter days, the deer come close to our fence in search of food to eat. Apparently, Mrs. Schoelkopf would say that she had heard the roar of the lions in the zoo from the window of her upstairs room! The architecture of the old apartment buildings and houses in this historic district is lovely and the eating places are a great draw for residents from all over town.
Our residence has witnessed the growth of the India-US relationship for over six decades now, and welcomed to its portals so many key players in that relationship. This lovely house has weathered the years well, its walls have taken on a beautiful patina with age, it has stayed that wonderful home on a hill, with its cloak of beautiful, strong, upright trees creating a magic and mystery about it that is truly unique.
As our cities grow and overflow, the preservation of the old, particularly buildings of artistic and architectural value, is an issue that should concern us all. The Cleveland Park Historical Society is clearly aware of the need of such preservation. They are setting an example that is worthy of emulation.