The Kennedy Homes of Georgetown
Holy Trinity Church
Welcome to my tour of the past homes and haunts of U.S. president John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie Kennedy here in the historic Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. I’m your guide, Rick Snider, and my family has lived in Georgetown for more than a century.
We’re starting at the church John and later Jackie attended – Holy Trinity Catholic Church. John often attended Sunday mass. Indeed, the Kennedys attended mass here for the last time before his November 22nd, 1963 assassination. They walked down these steps where you are now. Can you feel it?
This church was founded in 1792 by the Jesuits who also started nearby Georgetown University. In the early days, parishioners rented a seat or brought their own. In 1862, it was used a hospital for Union Soldiers after the Second Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.
Let’s get going. If you’re facing the church, head to the corner on the left towards O Street.
You’re going to turn right here onto O Street, but before you do, look over to your left to see Georgetown University. It’s considered one of the world’s leading medical and law schools with nearly 12,000 students. They have a pretty good basketball team, too.
We’re now heading to 1400 34th Street, where John Kennedy and his sister Eunice lived. John, who was called Jack by his friends, lived in Georgetown from 1949 till he became president in 1961.
Maybe the neighborhood’s old English style reminded him of his Boston roots. After all, both were once British colonies with Federal style rowhouses remindful of London’s residential areas. Some of the stone you see even comes from England. Georgetown was a deep-water port when founded in 1751 – 40 years before the city of Washington was created. British traders would fill their ships with stones for ballast, then unload them along the Georgetown waterfront when taking on cargo. Locals then used those stones for building materials. The same occurred in other major colonial cities like Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina.
John liked the walkability of the neighborhood, which also had streetcars that took him to his Capitol Hill office. Indeed, you’ll see some of those old rails in streets we’ll cross later. Little has really changed since Kennedy’s time. You’ll see a new home occasionally, but many in this area were built in the 1810s and 1820s. It was once the poorest part of town, but is now the richest thanks to Kennedy’s legacy of Camelot.
John often rented upscale homes. The only one he bought was the last home he lived in, with his wife, before moving to the White House. Of the seven homes in which John lived before marrying Jackie, all were within walking distance of each other.
John once said, “It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” That quote was about history, but it certainly could have pertained to Georgetown, too. An old rooted area that still holds promise for tomorrow.
Start looking for 34th Street. We’re heading to the nearby corner, where we’ll find number 1400.
1400 34th Street
John came to 1400 34th Street in 1949 to live with his sister Eunice for two years until she became engaged to Sargent Shriver. The Georgia-style mansion was nicknamed “Big Red” for its massive 3,940 square feet, which is rather large for this neighborhood. The home was built in 1900 with three bedrooms and four baths and is now assessed by city tax rolls to be worth $4.2 million. Wow. There are more expensive homes nearby, but not many.
Eunice didn’t always get the attention her brother did, but she was a leader in creating the Special Olympics for those with disabilities. Eunice died in 2009.
Let’s get started on our journey to 3321 Dent Place, which is the longest trek in our tour. Walk one block back to 35th Street and turn right. I’ll tell you more about John and Jackie during our travel plus a few places to see. It will take about 10 minutes to the next home, but luckily there’s much to talk about along the way.
Turn right onto 35th Street
We’re turning right onto 35th Street. I wanted to take you this way because it’s an interesting street in terms of architecture and historic places. We’ll continue straight to Dent Street so it’s an easy route to walk.
Let’s talk about John and Jackie for a few minutes while we head to their honeymoon home. This Georgetown neighborhood is where John came of age in Washington. He was a young Massachusetts congressman while living here, having just finished his first two-year term. John enjoyed being around his younger sister at the previous home we saw, often playing cards into the night. But, John certainly wasn’t without female attention. He was the most eligible bachelor in town. He was good looking, wealthy and a war hero, which made him irresistible for many. Women wanted to be with John, men wanted to be like him.
Legend has it John and Jackie met at a dinner party in 1951. But in Washington there are always two versions of stories. The two first met on the street about six months earlier when Jackie was working for the Washington Times-Herald newspaper as a “camera girl” who interviewed people for the day’s topic and took their photo. It was a beginner’s job, but she came across John one day.
But when they met the second time, John took a much longer look at his future wife. She was beautiful, college educated, Catholic, and most importantly, a Democrat.
John later recalled: "I leaned across the asparagus and asked for a date,” while later saying, “I'd known a lot of attractive women in my lifetime ... but of them all there was only one I could have married -- and I married her."
Speaking of young ladies, you should be nearing the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School on the left. It’s considered the elite girls school in Washington with many students later attending Georgetown. Let’s just say tuition costs rival college costs.
Volta and the Kennedy's
To your right on the corner of Volta Place is a large yellow two-story building with massive stairs where famed inventor Alexander Graham Bell once developed technologies for the hearing impaired. Indeed, it still does. Bell opened the facility in 1880 and created the photophone that was a precursor to wireless technologies. He also created the artificial respirator after one of his sons died of lung failure.
Okay, back to the Kennedy’s. John’s father Joseph Kennedy approved of his son’s interest, feeling Jackie would one day make a fine First Lady. Indeed, she might have been the best since Eleanor Roosevelt a generation earlier.
John’s problem – Jackie was engaged to a stockbroker. Well, you don’t succeed in politics without being able to change people’s minds and sure enough John and Jackie were married in Sept. 1953 before 800 guests.
They were a young, beautiful couple. John was 12 years older than Jackie when he married at 36. John’s famed Naval career in the Pacific during World War II would lead him to write his acclaimed “Profiles in Courage” while living in Georgetown and rising from Congressman to Senator to President. Jackie grew from college student and young journalist to devoted wife and mother while influencing fashion for a generation.
We’re actually headed to the first home the couple shared. Their dinner parties were a major catalyst of change in Georgetown. The area had become impoverished in the 1890s when the canal failed and river silted up, leaving the port useless. It stayed that way until the 1940s, when president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal convinced many poor blacks to leave Georgetown for new federal housing and sell their homes to incoming whites.
When the Kennedys began hosting parties, everyone who was or wanted to be important began moving to the area. Today, it is the richest part of town. Many of the homes cost about $750,000 per bedroom. During the housing boom of the early 2000s, it was $1 million per bedroom. Even today, many homes cost between $1.5 million to $3 million and some even more.
So this is where “Camelot” began, a term Jackie coined after Jackie’s death, partly because the couple loved listening to the Broadway show Camelot’s tunes.
OK, we should be nearing Dent Street on the right.
Turn Right onto Dent Street
Turn right now, onto Dent. Notice the crosswalk. A South African friend says they call them zebra crossings because the black and white stripes. This isn’t a busy street, but definitely look both ways carefully when crossing.
After crossing the street onto Dent Place, cross over to walk on the left hand sidewalk. 3321 is near the end of the block. Watch your footing because the sidewalk isn’t the best.
The Kennedys spent the first six months of their marriage here before John was forced to return to Boston. He needed surgery and extensive recovery for back problems he suffered in World War II.
“The Red House” was built in 1942 and is still owned by the same family. It has 2,488 square feet and is worth an estimated $1.25 million. Jackie used to tend the garden in front and learned to cook from her housekeeper Mattie Penn, including John’s favorite French cuisine dishes. When health problems caused John’s weight to plunge from 175 pounds to 150, he teased it was Jackie’s cooking. He began smoking Cuban cigars, which Jackie joked offset the taste of her cooking.
The Kennedys loved listening to their 78 records on a Victrola – you know, the phonograph where the dog stares at the speaker? One of Jackie’s favorite songs came from the musical Camelot that ended with the lines: “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot for one shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
OK, we’re almost at the Kennedy’s honeymoon home. Keep walking along Dent.
3321 Dent St.
3321 Dent is on your left. We’re carrying on past it, to take the next right onto 33rd Street. Our next stop is my favorite stop on the tour: 3307 N Street where the Kennedy’s lived until they moved to the White House.
Walking down 33rd Street provides more of a look of old Georgetown and some of the oddities that make it feel historic. For instance, you’ll see some black iron stars on the sides of homes. Believe it or not, there are metal rods in the center of those stars that connect that wall to the one on the other side of the house. Instead of nails, those early 1800s builders used rods to connect homes. Theoretically, you could pry off the bolts and the house would fall apart, but I somehow doubt that would really happen. Those black stars are often a designation of a historic home.
You’ll also see a single black letter on some homes. It’s usually a colonial designation for the founding owner’s occupation. Now they’re usually a little stretched because the marks were made by a blacksmith, not a graphic designer.
The homes on this street are a little larger and newer than where you started, but it’s every bit the colonial section.
The rich and famous have certainly walked these streets. Long before the White House opened in 1800 and the U.S. Capitol in 1801, Georgetown is where “society” leaders dwelled. George Washington reportedly liked to buy his whiskey from Georgetown merchants before becoming the nation’s biggest whiskey maker himself after retiring as president.
Third president Thomas Jefferson lived in Georgetown. 18th president Ulysses S. Grant, the northern general who won the American Civil War, had a summer home on R. Street More than a century later. Successive presidents Harry S. Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon all lived in Georgetown and ate at Martin’s Tavern, which we’ll soon visit.
And, the great actress Elizabeth Taylor lived on S Street in the 1970s and early ‘80s while married to U.S. Senator John Warner. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell created the earliest switching office for the Bell System and it’s still a telephone facility in Georgetown.
The 2010 U.S. Census says the average Georgetown resident earns $88,000 annually, about twice the city average. But, that’s skewed because so many university students rent homes. To afford these homes, household income is often $250,000 or more.
Georgetown was part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War that funneled slaves from the South to freedom up north. And, many blacks moved into the area after the war until the 1940s.
You’ll see a plaque noting a one-time tavern on the right after crossing over P Street where early colonists debated the King’s taxes. Remember, Georgetown opened 40 years before the city of Washington was founded in 1791 so this is where the Revolutionary War leaders met. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson sometimes worked out of Georgetown. George would later meet with Pierre L’Enfant to plan Washington’s layout at Suter’s Tavern, which is sadly no longer standing and beneath a highway off ramp.
Georgetown was started by a pair of Scotsmen named George Beale and George Gordon. Beale was a son of a Scottish officer exiled after fighting against Cromwell in England while Gordon was a sheriff who invested in tobacco warehouses along the water.
Now no one knows exactly for whom the town was named. Some say it was British King George III given Georgetown was a colonial port dating back to 1632 when trading with local indians. Some say Beale and Gordon were both promised the name when selling 60 acres to create the downtown core. It wouldn’t be the only political double cross in this town, though maybe the first.
Georgetown was annexed into Washington by Congress in 1871. The locals didn’t want to do so, but Congress didn’t care.
Now you should be coming up to the Stables of Georgetown on the right. Look up for the sign by a gap of land behind the brick wall. This is where horses were once stabled, especially to haul street cars in the late 19th century. The two buildings were sold a decade ago for $2.4 million and turned into a bed & breakfast. You can find ratings on TripAdvisor.com by those who enjoyed the quiet atmosphere and close proximity to downtown.
Anyway, we’re nearing N Street where we have five stops in a short period of time. John lived in two homes and Jackie lived alone in two after the president’s death. We’ll also pass by Martin’s Tavern where the couple got engaged and dined regularly.
3307 N Street
Take a right here, and look out for 3307 N Street, the jewel of the tour. It’s a stand-alone red brick building where the Kennedy’s lived from 1957 till leaving for White House. Stop in front of it while I tell you about it.
3307 N Street is one of the nicer homes and where John and Jackie lived.
This is where Kennedy lived while he campaigned for president. He held press conferences on the steps by the sidewalk and interim Cabinet meetings in the back yard. This is also where his daughter Caroline was raised and son John John was born, just 17 days before moving to the White House.
The federal-style mansion was built in 1811. It has 4,100 square feet, four bedrooms and 3½ baths. John bought it for $79,000 in 1957 and sold it for $105,000 just months after becoming president. Can you imagine negotiating a home sale with the president? Today, the home is worth $3.2 million after extensive renovations in 2001.
Jackie liked to joke the house leaned to the left a little. John kidded of being a prisoner of beige that Jackie preferred. Some of the furniture later went to the White House.
This is a great spot to feel a sense of history. Of famed CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite walking in to do a big profile on John. Of vice president Lyndon B. Johnson standing with Kennedy at the door for photos. Of Jackie heading to the car in her gown trying to duck the heavy snow for the president’s inaugural ball. Of a steady presence of Washington’s who’s who passing these steps to see the Kennedys.
This was where it all happened.
We’re now moving on to 3260 N Street. Cross the street, and then head along N Street on the right-hand sidewalk.
3260 N Street
As we make our way to 3260, check out the “garden apartment” steps to the right that lead underground to many units. I’d have to lose weight to squeeze down some of those stairs. Yes, people really live down there. And, I’ve heard stories of those who were buried under plowed streets for a week during heavy snowstorms when the snow piled up on the sidewalks. Makes me shudder just thinking about that.
OK, we’re reaching 3260. It’s a rather bland place when it comes to Kennedy’s homes. He lived here as a bachelor from 1951-53 after staying with his sister Eunice. Kennedy lived here when meeting Jackie, though there’s no record of her ever staying here. Why, think of the scandal?
This home was built in 1819. It has 2,300 square feet and five bedrooms. It last sold in 1995 for $400,000, but city tax rolls now assess it at $1.1 million.
You’ll notice this part of town is a little more commercial as we approach Wisconsin Avenue. I kind of doubt there was a Kinko’s/FedEx when Kennedy walked passed, though. We’re now heading straight down the street to the corner where Martin’s Tavern lies.
The smells of the Irish menu lingering down the street will probably get you walking faster.
Martin’s Tavern is on the corner here. There is a sidewalk section for warm months and the door is around the corner on the Wisconsin side. Four generations of Billy Martins have run Martin’s Tavern since the first was opened by an accomplished Georgetown athlete for working class folks to dine on Irish fare. Today, the clientele is more upscale, but there’s no dress code if you’d like to come for lunch or dinner after the tour. For now, let’s keep moving. Head around past the door, cross the street and continue on N Street to 3038 N St about two blocks down while I keep talking about Martin’s.
John ate here on Sunday mornings after attending early mass at Holy Trinity. He sat in Booth 1, the first one on the right, because it was half booth known as the “Rumble Seat” named after early vehicles that had one bench as a back seat. John sat on the only bench so nobody could slip into to talk to him. He liked to read the paper in peace while eating his favorite, Eggs Benedict.
Legend has it that John proposed to Jackie in Booth 4, known now as “The Engagement Booth” where wedding proposals still happen today. John proposed on June 24, 1953 and the couple married in September. It sometimes seems hard to believe such a classy couple was engaged in a bar, but it’s a nice neighborhood place where they were comfortable.
Booth 2 was President Richard Nixon’s favorite spot while serving as a congressman, senator and vice president. Meat loaf was his favorite meal. And no, the booth isn’t crooked.
Booth 6 was Harry and Bess Truman’s choice. The president dined there while serving as a senator earlier.
Booth 24 was president Lyndon B. Johnson’s choice while serving as Senate Majority Leader.
A spy ring also operated out of Martin’s during the 1930s and ‘40s. Baltimore lawyer Alger Hiss was imprisoned for 3½ years for being a Russian spy, though the formal charge was perjury.
So what do I recommend when dining at Martin’s? I’m a sucker for Shepherd’s Pie. It doesn’t seem like a large portion, but even a big eater like me is stuffed when finished.
Brunch is big on Sundays. Oyster Stew and Brunswick stew are delicacies, and the Fried Green Tomatoes, Welsh Rarebit and Onion Ring Loaf shouldn’t be missed. For lunch or dinner, the roasted turkey chili, Caesar salad and crab cakes are winners. And for desert, New York-style cheese cake is delicious.
There are plenty of ales and beers from Ireland and England plus American beers like Coors and Bud so it’s not all fancy. The hot buttered rum is pretty good, too.
3038 N Street
House for two weeks before accepting the invitation of Undersecretary of State Averell Harriman to stay at 3038 N Street for as long as needed.
Unfortunately, Jackie didn’t feel safe because the front door opened into the street that was often filled with mourners and tour busses so she left after several months to another home more off the street a few houses away.
3038 N Street was built in 1805. It’s 7,300 square feet with nine bedrooms, 7 ½ baths and a dining room table that seats 18 people. The children’s bedrooms were modeled after the White House so Caroline and John John wouldn’t feel displaced.
One last stop. Cross the street where possible and near the end of the block is 3017 N St.
3017 N Street
Our final stop of Kennedy homes is undoubtedly the most impressive. 3017 N Street is known as the Newton Baker House. He was the Secretary of War during 1916-20 while overseeing the country’s entrance into World War I.
The home was built in 1794 and is believed to be the second oldest in Georgetown. Jackie liked that it was far from the street for privacy. It has three stories, 14 rooms, an elevator and 6,258 square feet.
Some of John John’s toys, and some fabric Jackie wanted to use for curtains, are still in the basement. They only lived there three months before moving to New York in 1964.
If you turn around, the house on the other corner was once owned by Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln.
Well, that’s it. There are two places you should visit nearby: the Old Stone House and the canal. The Old Stone House is at 30th and M Streets, just a block down from here. The canal runs along the bottom of town just a short distance below M St.
The Old Stone House is the oldest colonial structure in Washington, built in 1765. It was mistakenly thought to be George Washington’s headquarters and purchased by the National Park Service. Turns out it wasn’t and is now a museum simply for its age.
Thanks for coming on my tour of the Kennedy homes in Georgetown. For more information on other tours, visit voicemap.me or my website capitalphotohistory tours.com. I’m Rick Snider, thanks for listening.