Frederick H. Brooke

Frederick H. Brooke with Harry Wardman (cropped photograph of the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Embassy, from the Kiplinger Library, Historical Society of Washington DC)

Frederick H. Brooke with Harry Wardman (cropped photograph of the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Embassy, from the Kiplinger Library, Historical Society of Washington DC)

The on-site architect Frederick H. Brooke (1876-1960) came to play a pivotal role in the Lutyens’s British Embassy. Stamp and Greenberg, in their important study published in Lutyens abroad (2002), give him a significant amount of credit, relating how he was caught between the most often-absent British architect and the constraints of both the Treasury and the financial failure of Wardman. But Brooke’s part in the story has been mostly relegated to a minor supporting one. Indeed, the Royal Institute of British Architects, reporting on the presentation of Lutyens’s original plans by Ambassador Manning in 2006, asked in a headline in their Journal, “Who was Frederick H. Brooke?” The rather dismissive answer: “He’s the Washington architect who, by forgetting to return a set of working drawings to Lutyens’ office in London, unwittingly saved them for the nation.”

Harry Wardman, c. 1895 (Kiplinger Library, Historical Society of Washington, DC)

Harry Wardman, c. 1895 (Kiplinger Library, Historical Society of Washington, DC)

In contrast to Wardman, who arrived in America penniless and as a garment worker, Brooke was born to wealth in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania (and managed in his career to be director of both the Birdsboro Steel Company and of the Brooke Iron and Water Company). To the end, Wardman considered himself a carpenter and a builder, proudly telling a House subcommittee during an embarrassing financial investigation: “I am a builder and engineer, a constructor. Books are a bore to me.” Brooke, on the other hand, graduated from St. Pauls’ School and Yale University (in 1899), followed by architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania. After one year, he left to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, staying for three years (1903-06). William A. Delano, the New York architect whose office the Fine Arts Commission met in to approve the British Embassy project, was one of Brooke’s references on his 1925 application to practice architecture in the District of Columbia.

Amongst the considerable intertwining over the years between Dumbarton Oaks and the British Embassy was Brooke. He worked on the major reconstruction of the Georgetown estate from 1921 to 1923. He is primarily responsible for its present form, as James Goode points out in Capital losses, having “stripped the mansion of all its Victorian detailing, razed the wings, and rebuilt the walls, to form the present Georgian Revival mansion.” Beatrix Farrand, recounting her most famous work in the journal of Landscape architecture (1944), “Dumbarton Oaks: An historic setting for the making of history,” wrote “The changes to the house were made by Mr. Frederick Brooke, a Washington architect, who worked in close collaboration with Mr. and Mrs. Bliss.”

Dumbarton Oaks (Historic American Buildings Survey, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Dumbarton Oaks (Historic American Buildings Survey, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Early British accounts and American newspapers acknowledged Brooke. Hussey, writing in Country life (1939) noted “Mr. F. H. Brooks [sic] of Washington was the associate architect on the spot, and the late Harry Wardman of the Wardman Corporation, the builder from the English specifications and a remarkable set of sixty-eight sheets of drawings that constituted a masterpiece of detailing.” Brooke is often referred to as ‘associated architect’ hired to be onsite, interpret Lutyens’s plans and guide the commission through American procedures and regulations. Butler wrote in his extensive Lutyens’s biography of 1950 that “Mr. F. H. Brookes [sic], the Washington architect, was responsible for the carrying out of this work and the careful translation into structure of quite complete drawings–down to those of the smallest detail–made by Lutyens and sent from this country.” Local press, not surprisingly, gave him more prominence (and correctly spelled his name): “Frederick H. Brooke, assistant architect and the local representative of Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect for the English government” (The Washington Post, 29 January 1928). Earlier the same newspaper details the financial constraints and delays of the project:

Efforts of architects and builders to keep within the $700,000 mark, authorized by the British foreign office at London, has delayed the building of the new British Embassy on Massachusetts avenue.

Revisions of plans and figures has engaged the attention of Frederick H. Brooke, local architect, for several weeks to meet the limit set by the British government. Simultaneously, engineers for Harry Wardman, low bidder on the contract, have been paring down their figures to conform with the specifications outlined by the British authorities. Within the next 30 days alterations in the plans are expected to be completed so that construction can begin before cold weather delays operations (Washington Post, 2 November 1927).

Professor Stamp (Lutyens abroad), acknowledging the responsibility of the American architect, quoted a letter of November 1930 from Brooke to Lutyens in the files of the Office of Works (now in the Public Record Office of Great Britain):

I beg to recall the fact that the present work is demanding one year more than I expected to give; that Wardman’s failure has led to exasperating complications and occasional unpleasant interviews, nor will these matters be ended for me for several months or more. Several commissions have been refused, due to the fact that Embassy matters were taking up so much of my time … Please don’t read the above as a dismal complaint. On the contrary, our association has been most pleasant and my acquaintance with your manner of construction and design most interesting and beneficial. It is with considerable regret that I must write the above.

And, in defending Wardman to Lutyens, Brooke wrote: “While he had funds, he was more than liberal in all adjustments of expense. Even if the building is not perfect, has not the British Nation gotten its money’s worth? In my opinion they have.”

3003 Massachusetts Avenue, former Houghton House and Iranian Ambassador's Residence; designed by Brooke (J. Blakely)

3003 Massachusetts Avenue, former Houghton House and Iranian Ambassador’s Residence; designed by Brooke (J. Blakely)

The British Embassy, arduous as it was, led to significant work for Brooke. He was architect of Alanson B. Houghton’s home at 3003 Massachusetts Avenue. The brick and limestone Georgian home for the former United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James (1925-1929), and friend of the Lindsays (the first ambassador and his wife to occupy Lutyens’s Residence), has blank niches flanking the main entrance, an articulation of Lutyens’s found at the garden pavilion of the Embassy Residence, nearly opposite. Here, as well as in the Observatory Circle houses and 3041 Whitehaven Street, are further echoes of the British Embassy: urns highly placed, round niches, tall chimneys, broadly sculpted pediments. The Houghton gardens were designed by landscape architect, Rose Greely. Unlike the Embassy, the Houghton house was built with old bricks taken from Clouds Mill, near Alexandria, dating from 1785. Brooke had more diplomatic commissions: the Chanceries of the Netherlands, New Zealand and Swedish Embassies, as well as the United States Consulate in Bluefields, Nicaragua, and additions for the Embassies of Iran and New Zealand.

Portico of the British Embassy as seen from Whitehaven Street (J. Blakely)

Portico of the British Embassy as seen from Whitehaven Street (J. Blakely)

Brooke died at the age of 82 at his home in Georgetown, where he was one of the early pioneers in the neighborhood’s preservation efforts and a former president of Historic Georgetown, Inc. Fittingly, as Lutyens’s later work came to be dominated by war monuments in England and abroad, Brooke, although hardly in the same league as the British architect, is best remembered today for the District of Columbia War Memorial (1931), part of the National Mall in West Potomac Park. In contrast to Lutyens’s somber geometric abstraction of the Cenotaph in Whitehall (1919), Brooke’s monument is a conservative, classical domed Doric tempietto that seems to have been inspired from the Temple of Peace in an earlier Embassy plan for the complex (where a swimming pool was eventually built).

District of Columbia War Memorial, West Potomac Park (n.d., Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

District of Columbia War Memorial, West Potomac Park (n.d., Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

The English-Speaking Union in 1991 presented to the Embassy the stone from the old British Embassy that Brooke had salvaged from Wardman’s destruction in 1931. Hardly sentimental, Wardman gave up his own magnificent Spanish-style house in 1928 (unbeknownst to his wife on a trip to Paris and vacated within 48 hours) at Connecticut Avenue and Woodley Road to make way for the luxury Wardman Tower (now on the National Register of Historic Places), connecting with the Wardman Park Hotel (now the Marriott Wardman Park, it was once known as ‘Wardman’s Folly’ for its “remote” location). Brooke’s stepson, Elliott Bates McKee, had been former president of the Union and had passed the artifact on to the organization. Now a seat in a secluded area of the gardens, surrounded by shrubs and perennials, the cornerstone with the VR royal cipher can be seen as memorial to Brooke and as a reminder of the association of the Washington architect and the builder. One, preservation-minded and keenly interested in Washington’s history; the other, while looking to press his vision into the city, always looked forward. Their names are enshrined in another stone at the Embassy, the one laid on 3 June 1928, with copies of Lutyens’s plans; Brooke and Wardman had both attended the ceremonial dedication (although not Lutyens).

Notes & Bibliography
Secret garden, Ambassador's Residence. Bench with base from stone salvaged from the old British Embassy (J. Blakely)

Secret garden, Ambassador’s Residence. Bench with base from stone salvaged from the old British Embassy (J. Blakely)

The author is grateful to local architectural historians, Pam Scott and Brian Kraft, and James Carder of Dumbarton Oaks, for some of the background information on Brooke.
There is the legend that the bricks from the old British Embassy were used to construct a row of townhouses in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.
Green Street in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia (J. Blakely)

Green Street in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia (J. Blakely)

Butler, A. S. G. The architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens. With the collaboration of George Stewart and Christopher Hussey. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collector’s Club, 1984. Originally published by Country life in 1950.
Cahill, Thomas M. “Houghton to build 30-room residence,” The Washington Post, 24 November 1932, p. 16. “Erection of the largest private residence to be started locally within the past twelve months may follow the opening of bids by Frederick H. Brook.”
27 Observatory Circle, designed and built by Brooke and Wardman as a private home. It later became the first New Zealand Embassy in Washington, now the Ambassador's residence (J. Blakely)

27 Observatory Circle, designed and built by Brooke and Wardman as a private home. It later became the first New Zealand Embassy in Washington, now the Ambassador’s residence (J. Blakely)

Farrand, Beatrix. “Dumbarton Oaks: An historic setting for the making of history.” Landscape architecture. July 1944, p.131-135.
Goode, James. Capital losses: a cultural history of Washington’s destroyed buildings. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.
Hussey, Christopher. The British Embassy–I. Washington. Country life. 1939 January 14, p. 38-42. The British Embassy–II. Washington, Country life. 1939 January 21, p. 64-68
Hussey, Christopher. Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collector’s Club, 1989. First published in 1950 by Country life.
Miller, Hope Ridings. “Iranian government to have new headquarters here,” The Washington Post, 9 December 1943, p. B5.
Stamp, Gavin and Allan Greenberg, “’Modern architecture as a very complex art’: the design and construction of Lutyens’s British Embassy in Washington DC,” in Lutyens abroad: the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens outside the British Isles. London: the British School at Rome, 2002. Edited by Andrew Hopkins and Gavin Stamp.
3041 Whitehaven Street built 1927, Frederick Brooke, architect (J. Blakely)

3041 Whitehaven Street built 1927, Frederick Brooke, architect (J. Blakely)

Whitehill, Walter Muir. Dumbarton Oaks: the history of a Georgetown house and garden, 1800-1966. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.
“Who was Frederick H. Brooke?”, RIBA Journal 2006 Nov., v. 113, no. 11.
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