The nouveau-riche crowd has made many an eyeball roll reflexively skyward. Call them robber barons or captains of industry, dub their heyday industrial or gilded, today we can revel in the Beaux-Arts grandeur of Washington’s Massachusetts Avenue, better known as Embassy Row. We’ll begin at Dupont Circle and introduce you to the families who decided to showcase their fortunes in the nation’s capital: members of the first ranks of mining, railroads, banking, publishing, politicians and speculators in the 1880s and 90s. Spendthrift offspring, the Great Depression and other misfortune eventually drained the resources of many families. Only 50 years later, embassies, clubs and other institutions were buying up their mansions for as little as 10 cents on a dollar.
In between, the high life and high architecture has made for some great stories. Alice Roosevelt Longworth delivered her famous line here — “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit next to me” — and spirited chum Evalyn Walsh McLean lived a few doors up where she kept the Hope Diamond. Our walk ends outside the magnificent Anderson House, destined by its original owners, diplomat Larz Anderson and his wife Isabel, to become the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati, the nation’s oldest patriotic organization.