Ottoman Splendor In Washington

With the turkish flag softly fluttering outside the front door, the grandeur of the Everett House brings to mind the Ottoman palaces adorning the shores of the Bosphorus thousands of miles away.

Located on Sheridan Circle in the heart of Washington’s Embassy Row, the elegant mansion is now home to the Turkish ambassador. The building was constructed almost a hundred years ago for Edward H. Everett, a business tycoon who amassed a serious fortune as a glass manufacturer during the Industrial Revolution.

To build his mansion, Everett commissioned George Oakley Totten, Jr. an architect with curious Turkish connections. In 1908, Totten had designed additions to the American Embassy in Beyoglu, and his talent had attracted the attention of the imperial court, earning him an invitation by Sultan Abdulhamid II to work as his private architect. Yet, to Totten’s dismay, the Sultan was soon toppled by the Young Turks, and the opportunity never materialized.

When designing Everett House, Totten incorporated many elements of Turkish architecture, in which he had developed a keen interest during his stay in the Ottoman capital. Adjacent to the ballroom, the glass dome of the conservatory, bearing the signature of the leading glass manufacturer, Tiffany Studios, “reflects Totten’s professed fascination with the domed mosques that have dotted Istanbul’s skyline for centuries,” explains Caroline Mesrobian Hickman, an art and architectural historian and a contributor to the forthcoming book The Turkish Ambassador’s Residence and the Cultural History of Washington, DC. After Everett’s death in 1929, the mansion was leased to the Turkish government, and was eventually bought with all the furniture within. In 1935, Mehmet Munir Ertegun, Turkey’s second ambassador to Washington, moved into the house with his family. At the time, Ambassador Ertegun’s two sons, Ahmet and Nesuhi, were still teenagers. They both had a passion for jazz music; however, pursuing jazz was not an easy mission for two Turkish boys in a deeply segregated city. Ahmet’s friendship with Cleo Payne, an African-American janitor at the Turkish Embassy, became instrumental in his introduction to black culture in Washington. With Payne, he went to see concerts at the Howard Theatre, a famous performance venue in the African-American part of the city, and invited the musicians he met backstage to come and play at the Everett House on Sundays. Among them were legendary names such as Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Henry “Red” Allen and many others. Later in life, the two brothers founded Atlantic Records, the legendary independent record label that brought to prominence musicians such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Led Zeppelin.
With Munir Ertegun’s passing in 1944, the famous jam sessions came to an end. However, Namik Tan, Turkey’s current ambassador to Washington, is determined to keep the tradition alive. In partnership with the Boeing Corporation and Jazz at Lincoln Center, he has hosted a number of concerts at the Everett House, featuring emerging and established jazz artists such as Roy Hargrove, Orrin Evans, Jonathan Batiste and The Stay Human Band, and Gretchen Parlato. Tan joyfully points out that in April of this year, more than a hundred years after Totten’s first visit, Istanbul will host the Second UNESCO International Jazz Day. “Could there be a better means than music to bring people together?” he asks.

Everett instructed Totten to model the portico on the 23rd Street side of the house after that of the White House, the city’s world-famous presidential residence. For a long time in Washington, the building was known as “the Little White House.”

Turkey Ambassador to United States Namık TAN
“When the Republic of Turkey’s second ambassador to the U.S., Mehmet Münir Ertegün, moved into Everett House with his music buff sons, Ahmet and Nesuhi, little did he know what he was starting. The boys, who were still adolescents in the early 1940’s, brought their love of jazz with them to America when their father was appointed. Thanks to the friendships they forged over time with the leading musicians of the day, Everett House was turned into a concert venue where black and white musicians performed together at a time when racial segregation was still common in the U.S. Jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges and Henry “Red” Allen were in the vanguard of those who made Everett House a place that conveyed a message of brotherhood through music as well as politics.”

Totten designed large reception areas and a grand staircase featuring a music alcove. Priceless antiques, teakwood floors, ornate fireplaces and gold-plated doorknobs transformed the interior into a majestic space akin to that of a chateau.