Built in 1922, Cathedral Mansions South is one of the three apartment buildings constructed by Harry Wardman as part of the larger Cathedral Mansions complex. Located in D.C.’s scenic Woodley Park, Cathedral Mansions South was designed by Wardman, Eugene Waggaman, and Mihran Mesrobian. It was the first building of the Cathedral Mansions complex constructed and may be the first project in which Armenian architect Mihran Mesrobian participated. Today it is known as South Cathedral Mansions and independently owned and operated.
Walking toward the National Zoo from the Woodley Park
Metro, locals and visitors alike are greeted by the grand South Cathedral
Mansions. The building, then known as Cathedral Mansions South, was one piece
of Harry Wardman’s vision for luxury living in Woodley Park.
Cathedral Mansions was Wardman’s first venture into
construction after Washington, D.C. established its first comprehensive zoning
laws in 1920. These laws created districts each with their own regulations
controlling size and situation of buildings, yards, and courtyards. An
ever-resourceful developer, Wardman considered the new regulations and decided
to create the Cathedral Mansions Apartment Buildings in order to test his
theory for how to take the new regulations and still turn a profit with housing.
Cathedral Mansions South, originally called the Five Courts Mansion in planning
documents, used the name “mansions” to reference English landscape
Though construction on the South building of the
apartments had begun in March of 1922 with a temporary permit, Wardman gained a
full, official permit in May of 1922. Excavation involved removing 125,000 tons
of earth to flatten the forty-foot hill. The South building was completed
around September of 1922, and the other two buildings were by 1924. Thankfully for Wardman, his experiments with
the new zoning codes were a success, and the Cathedral Mansions Apartment
Buildings were hugely popular, with a long waiting list for those wanting to
live in them.
Along with Wardman and Eugene Waggaman, Cathedral
Mansions South was designed by Mihran Mesrobian, an Armenian from Turkey.
Mesrobian was trained in Beaux Arts architecture and left Turkey during a time
of Armenian persecution. He may have made plans to work with Wardman before
emigrating. The Cathedral Mansions project ignited Mesrobian’s career, and by
1926, he worked as Wardman’s chief architect. His designs are throughout the
Woodley Park neighborhood, the Wardman Tower, the Sedgewick Gardens, and the
Dupont Circle Building.
Cathedral Mansions South is a V-shaped structure with
several projections. Built with red brick and limestone details, South Cathedral
Mansions has a classical design. Its entrance at the corner of Connecticut
Avenue and Cathedral Avenue has a neoclassical flair with large columnns. The
towering magnolia tree that rains pink blossoms in the springtime is a fine
example of the Cathedral Mansions’ incorporation of organic landscaping design.
The courtyard provides beautiful greenspace for its urban residents. included a
separate dining room and a sunroom, with some first-floor apartments including
Despite his project’s success, Wardman suffered financial
problems and declared bankruptcy in 1931. Cathedral Mansions remained steadfast
and changed hands over the decades. The South building was purchased by the
Calomiris family. In 2014, Cathedral Mansions South was purchased by
Commonwealth Cooperative. The building underwent extensive renovations to bring
the apartments up to date while retain the building’s historic character. The
renovations reconfigured apartments, updated amenities, and added new
apartments from unused attic space. The historic hardwood floors were restored.
The carriage house was converted into a multipurpose community space with a
dining room, kitchen, and coffee bar. Other community amenities include a
concierge, media lounge, fitness center, dog grooming station, spa, and outdoor