Tilden Gardens was developed by Monroe and R. Bates Warren, brothers who were successful Washington real estate developers during the 1920s. They are best remembered for their co-operative apartment buildings. Begun in 1927 and completed in 1930, Tilden Gardens was the city’s largest apartment house built as a cooperative until the Watergate complex opened in 1965. In fact, it was one of the five largest and most luxurious apartment buildings in the city until the 1950s.
Completed at a cost of $3 million, these Tudor Revival buildings were constructed of rough textured “tapestry” brick with Indiana limestone trim, used in conjunction with half-timber and stucco. The use of hipped roofs, dormers, gables and chimneys, along with projecting wings, create a skyscraper effect, even though the buildings are only six stories tall. Each of the buildings has a garage, some equipped with the first automatic electric doors in the Washington area.
The grounds encompass five acres, three of which are covered by extensively landscaped gardens, with gravel walks connecting the buildings. Elaborate arches and terraces enhance the grounds; the original landscaping included fountains and pools as well. The gardens and grounds are still among the most beautiful in the city.
The floors plans, taken from the Alden Park in Philadelphia, called for a cross shape design which enabled many of the apartments to have the maximum light and ventilation of three exposures. While the original design called for a total of seven buildings (two double and five single structures), two of the single buildings were combined into one double building (3900 Connecticut Avenue) to give the complex a more impressive appearance along Connecticut Avenue.
All the apartments were to have decorative fireplaces, but many were omitted due to the constraints of the Depression. The same constraints eliminated the plans for a swimming pool, tennis courts, outdoor café and gymnasium. However, a public dining room, two private dining rooms and a small ballroom were completed in the main building at 3000 Tilden Street. The dining rooms closed in 1970. Adjacent space has been made into guest quarters for the residents of Tilden Gardens.
3016 Tilden Street and 3020 Tilden Street both opened as coops in 1927 and 1928, respectively, each becoming a separate corporation, each with its own board of directors. These two buildings remain individual corporations today. Original prices in these two buildings ranged from $10,600 to $16,165, about the same price of a Cleveland Park home!
The remaining four buildings were completed in 1929 and 1930, but because of the Depression, they opened as rentals and remained so until 1939. At that time, they combined to form a cooperative, Tilden Gardens, Inc. Among the distinguished residents during the 1930’s were Senator and Mrs. Harry S. Truman, who lived at Tilden Gardens from 1935-36, and then again from 1939-40.