“There Are No Words to Describe This Place:” Adventure at the O St. Mansion

The O Street Mansion is an enthralling combination of hotel, art gallery, used-bookery, floor-to-ceiling kitsch, and Hogwarts that you simply must visit and explore sometime soon.  I’m not sure what to call it, just a building that is so quirky and odd and un-DC that it begs exploration and discovery!

The Mansion as it stands today is five old row houses converted into one dwelling, located on O Street between 20th and 21st Streets NW.  Its main function, as far as I can tell, is as a hotel, with rooms ranging in themes from the John Lennon Suite (complete with a chessboard in the bathroom and white jeweled pillows) to a log cabin style loft to Victorian-style homey and decorative.  Oh, and many of the rooms have bidets.  Bidets!  The epitome of luxury!

Not only can you stay at the Mansion, you can literally buy anything contained within it.  Everything is for sale, from the $5 hardcover of “The Bridges of Madison County” that I bought to $5,000 pieces of art on the wall to the carpets to the jukebox to the original Remington sculpture.  It really adds to the allure, to know that any piece of beauty/kitsch that you lay your eyes upon and discover can be yours.

And I have not even mentioned the most alluring part of the O St. Mansion, that there are over 30 secret doors concealed throughout the place.  Now, some of these must be truly secret, as I only discovered about 10, but it is quite titillating to discover that the mirror in which you are checking out your hairstyle opens up into a staircase.  Make sure you ask your tour guide or the friendly concierge to show you the wine cellar—you’ll never find it on your own!

If this sounds like a terrible model for a hotel—curious visitors peering into your private space—fear not.  The only rule on the self-guided tours of the Mansion is not to open doors marked with “Do Not Disturb.”  In fact, friends have told me that it is common for covert agents and other seeking the surreptitious lifestyle to stay here, as you can truly not be found if you are trying to hide.

History of the place is a bit difficult to track down, but most recently the houses were purchased by art collector H.H. Leonards  in 1980.  She continues to be proprietor, and hosts music, art, and cultural events almost every day of the year.  Famous folks have visited, from Rosa Parks to guitar legends to foreign dignitaries.

The O Street Mansion is one of those rare places that you feel like you are the first to discover, that no one else has set foot in the rooms besides you—the feeling I imagine those children got stepping through the wardrobe in the “Chronicles of Narnia.”  If you are looking to lose yourself in somewhere completely unexpected, that changes every time you visit, it’s high time you head over to your quirky neighborhood Mansion.

To visit:  many ways, from overnight to $5 self-guided tours to brunch to Martini Mondays to becoming a full member.  See the website for options and details.  Sundays and Mondays are the easiest and cheapest days to visit.  2020 O Street NW, Washington DC.

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