3900 Watson Place, a 141-unit cooperative housed in two adjacent buildings, is tucked away in a tranquil corner of Cathedral Heights, sharing the grounds and gardens of the magnificent Westchester cooperative and close by Glover Archbold Park.
Despite its estate-like setting, Watson Place is within walking distance of the many shops in Glover Park and a new commercial hub, Cathedral Commons, anchored around Giant on Wisconsin Avenue, and the National Cathedral and other churches and synagogues. Buses to and from downtown stop directly in front of the Westchester’s main gates on Cathedral Avenue, as well as along close-by Wisconsin Avenue for easy access to Georgetown, Tenleytown, Friendship Heights, and downtown DC. On-site parking and an underground garage, with spots available for a low monthly rental, add to the array of amenities for gracious in-town living.
Pets are welcome at Watson Place. Each apartment features a wall of windows, spacious balconies or terraces, and central air conditioning and heating with individual controls in every room. Each building has short, wide, and light hallways with no more than eight units per floor, two elevators, and entrances fronting both the Westchester and Watson Place. There is round-the-clock front desk service, and each building has a package room and a system for notifying residents of package deliveries. A general manager is on site, overseeing day-to-day operations and supervising capital improvement projects that support and update the facilities.
The history of Watson Place recapitulates many of the important milestones in the development of the Cathedral Heights area, prized in the 18th century as farm and grazing land, as a summer refuge for prosperous Washington families throughout the post-Civil War era, and as a magnet for real estate developers in the early 1920s, when apartments became an attractive alternative for home owners.
The site of Watson Place had been a cattle farm owned by the Kengla family, successful Georgetown butchers, before it was sold to a developer in 1921 who planned to erect an apartment building on the 10 acres. He died before the plans were finalized, but in 1929 Gustave Ring, developer of the historic Colonial Village in Arlington and the Woodmont Country Club, purchased the land with the intention of building what he said would be “the largest apartment south of New York City.” By 1933, four buildings in the Westchester complex were completed, at a cost of $10 million. Financing dried up during the Depression, leaving the remaining four planned buildings undeveloped on the southeastern portion of the property.
In the late 1950s, a New York City real estate company purchased the land, planning to build a “modern,” double-towered cooperative on the site, to be called the Eastchester. Before construction began a road was cut between Fulton and 39th Streets. The name Watson Place was selected from several choices offered by the city. Before the first building was completed in 1960, the cooperative’s name was changed from Eastchester to 3900 Watson Place to differentiate it from the Westchester coop and to emphasize the new coop’s mid-century modern style and unique amenities. These included “scientifically coordinated Hotpoint electric kitchens,” “automatic electric washers and dryers” in the basements of both buildings, and surface and underground parking.
3900 Watson Place still offers “gracious living in a country estate atmosphere near the heart of the city,” as the first marketing brochure promised. Over the years, Watson Place has been home to many Washington celebrities, including Perle Mesta, who hosted many of her legendary parties in a grand penthouse that combined four apartments. Other long-time residents included Ellsworth Bunker, the last US ambassador to South Vietnam; Economist Eleanor Lansing Dulles, the first finance director for FDR’s new Social Security System and sister to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles; Haynes Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post; General Curtis E. LeMay, commander of the Strategic Air Command and chief of staff of the Air Force; and Mike Mansfield, the Senate’s longest-serving majority leader and later ambassador to Japan for 10 years.