In the spring of 1905, Anderson House was completed and took its place as one of the capital city’s most fashionable mansions—a “Florentine villa in the midst of American independence” as a local newspaper declared. The firm of Arthur Little and Herbert Browne of Boston designed the mansion as the winter residence of Larz Anderson, an American diplomat, and his wife, Isabel, an author and philanthropist. For more than thirty years, the couple enjoyed their Washington home as a showcase for their art collection, a backdrop for high society galas, and a home from which they explored what they considered “the most beautiful of American cities.”
At a cost of nearly $750,000, Anderson House included a walled garden, tennis court, and three-story carriage house and stable. The fifty-room mansion is Little & Browne’s finest architectural achievement. Its eclectic interiors, dominated by English and Italian influences, feature the painstaking work of craftsmen who adorned the house with carved wood walls, gilded papier-mâché ceilings, ornate iron staircases, and intricate marble floors. Anderson House was also outfitted with all the latest conveniences, including electricity, central heat, telephones, and two elevators.
Larz and Isabel Anderson intended their Washington home to be a grand setting where the rising diplomat could entertain American and foreign dignitaries. The Andersons would distinguish themselves among the capital’s most sought-after hosts. During the Washington social season—generally between New Year’s Day and Easter—the Andersons held diplomatic and inaugural receptions, formal dinners and luncheons, concerts, and dramatic performances. Their guest lists included Presidents William H. Taft and Calvin Coolidge, Gen. John J. Pershing, Henry A. du Pont, and members of the Vanderbilt family.
To the Andersons, their Washington home represented the culmination of what America’s founders, including George Washington, hoped their capital city would become—a grand, modern city to rival European capitals, but with a patriotic identity and a sense of history that would make it distinctly American.
When Larz Anderson died in 1937 with no children, his widow oversaw the gift of Anderson House and its contents to the Society of the Cincinnati, of which Larz had been a devoted member. Since 1939, this National Historic Landmark has been open to the public as a historic house museum where the Society has continued the traditions of collecting, entertaining, and patriotic service that the Andersons began one hundred years ago.