38th Annual Historic House Tour highlights city’s hidden gems

One of the houses featured on this year's 38th Annual Historic House Tour, which is Sunday, May 21. Photo courtesy of Hyattsville Preservation Association

BY MARIA D. JAMES — Whether you’ve been on the tour several times or not, the Hyattsville Preservation Association’s (HPA) 38th Annual Historic House Tour offers a new opportunity for neighbors to learn more about their community and each other.

The annual event will be held on Sunday, May 21, from 1 to 5 p.m. Tour participants may start the tour at the city’s Municipal Building, located at 4310 Gallatin Street, where they will receive an informative booklet that includes a map of the houses on the tour. All of the houses featured on the tour are within walking distance and may be seen in any order at the visitor’s own pace. The city also provides a bus that continuously circles the tour route to assist those who need a ride.

This year, the self-guided tour will feature nine homes of various styles and periods, and will include new elements.

For Ron and Bonnie Gardiner, showing their home to the community was a chance to display Ron’s artwork and their renovations. Their two-and-a-half story Queen Anne style frame house was built around 1904. The couple purchased the home in 1994. Bonnie Gardiner fondly remembers the first time she walked into the home.

“When I walked into the house the first time, I was immediately struck by the light from all the windows,” said Bonnie. After that moment, she immediately called her husband and shared that she had found the house for them.

The light-filled home is three bays wide and four bays deep on a double lot. Each level inside the home showcases a unique feature, either as part of the original structure or due to its interior design. For example, a three story octagonal tower with squat bell-shaped roof dominates the northwest corner, and the tower’s third floor fenestration consists of three small casement windows. Visitors will also have a chance to see Ron’s artist studio, which is located on the sleeping porch at the back of the house.  

“Virtually every piece of art hanging on the walls was created by Ron,” said Bonnie. Visitors are welcome to make an offer on the artwork on display around the house. The art was inspired by trips to southern France, where the Gardiner’s spend their vacations. Bonnie described the three-panel painting behind their bed, saying it illustrates the landscape and vacation pastimes in Provence.

The home has undergone several renovation projects throughout the years, including: replacing the siding and porch rails; a small landing created at the backdoor; newly remodeled kitchen and baths; the dining room was re-plastered and stencil applied about 10 years ago; and the upstairs offices were redone this year. According to Bonnie, the final project will be the living room where the wallpaper is currently holding up the deteriorated plaster. She says their gardens are an ongoing project, too, with an emphasis on vegetables and fruit trees, as well as flowers and water gardens. All the garden sculptures are Ron’s, too, and the visitors can peek into his sculpture studio in the garage.

Newcomers join the tour

“We have gone on the tour multiple times since moving to Hyattsville and loved the experience of meeting neighbors,” said Ashton Harp. “After finishing a first floor renovation, we decided this year would be a good year to open our doors.”

Harp shares that her home, which is believed to have been built in 1915, went through a number of owners over the years and was in a significant state of disrepair the year before she and her husband Bryan moved in.

“Although a lot of original details have been lost over time, we have tried to renew the character as we continue to refurbish our historic home. The staircase is our favorite feature that has stood the test of time,” said Harp. Inside the home, her husband designed and installed all of the woodwork, which includes the wainscoting, crown molding, baseboards and built-in shelves, and the backyard shed.

The Harps found inspiration for the decor inside their self-described eclectic home from their travels. Their furniture has a mid-century modern flair. “Our neighborhood stores like Community Forklift, Tanglewood and Peg Leg Vintage also provide a lot of inspiration and some of their pieces have found special places in our home,” said Harp.

Architectural beauty and historical significance isn’t limited to just homes. This year, the HPA welcomes a newcomer to the mix: the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center (PAAC), which is located inside the Arcade Building at 4318 Gallatin Street.

This 13,000-square-foot facility offers printmaking, papermaking and bookbinding studios, a woodshop, classrooms and an art gallery. While PAAC is not a house in the traditional sense, it does serve as a home to 19 private artist studios and two organizations: the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area Inc. (ATHA) and Neighborhood Design Center (NDC).

“We wanted to show off this building’s historical significance and architectural beauty and welcome those who haven’t yet visited,” said Gretchen Schermerhorn, who serves as PAAC’s artistic director.

Schermerhorn says that visitors can expect to see portions of the building created during its church and theater era, such as the arches and buttress, the door cavity between the building sections, the little shield at the center of the front facade, and the decorative capitals.

“It was our intention to remodel/remove as little as possible. No change has been made to the exterior of the building, except for a new coat of paint. On the inside, we were interested in keeping as much of the historical integrity as possible,” said Schermerhorn. “We wanted to show off this building’s historical significance and architectural beauty and welcome those who haven’t yet visited.”

Selecting houses for the tour

Neighborhoods in the city contain many historic gems. The process of deciding which homes are featured in the annual house tour takes some planning.

HPA Board Vice President Randy Fletcher says there are many ways a home can end up on the tour. “A board member may solicit the homeowner, say, if there is a specific house we hope to be on the tour. Sometimes the homeowners approach us and volunteer to be on the tour.”

Once homes are committed to the tour, the board then reviews the tour route to have a better idea of what the flow is, and which other homes to seek out to be included. Having a minimum of eight homes is the goal.

“We like to have a minimum of eight homes on the tour and we try to get different architectural styles, too,” Fletcher said. “Variety, flow, architectural interest, and of course the individual aesthetic of each homeowner, which gives us a glimpse into the personal lives of Hyattsville residents.”

Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 the day of the tour. Advance tickets can be purchased at Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store. Cash or check only. Visit www.preservehyattsville.org/tours or call 301.699.5440 for more information.