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Laird-Dunlop House showcases a history of sophistication

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Real Estate,Mike Unger
Eighteen cornerstones were placed along the edges of a sleepy tract of land in 1751 to delineate the boundaries of George Town, as the now-iconic Northwest Washington neighborhood was known at its inception.

Like the neighborhood, whose original inhabitants primarily were farmers, the coach house built adjacent to the famous Laird-Dunlop House had humble beginnings. Built in the 1790s by wealthy tobacco baron John Laird, it was not until Helen Burgess, granddaughter of J.P. Morgan, added a ballroom and separated it from the original home that its grandeur as a residence began to emerge.

At a glance
» Laird-Dunlop Coach House: 1248 30th St., Georgetown » List price:$9.995 million
» Size: 6,631 square feet
» Layout: 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, pool, ballroom, library
» Brokers: Washington Fine Properties, Eileen McGrath, 202-253-2226 or Jamie Peva 202-258-5050
» Web site: wfp.com

Today, 1248 30th St. is one of the most notable properties in the nation's capital, but while its pedigree and great location are obvious, its exterior provides few clues to what lies inside.

"The thing I've learned about Georgetown over the years is so little is known about the house from the street view," said co-listing agent Eileen McGrath of Washington Fine Properties. "This house looks understated. You never would guess its level of sophistication."

But step inside and right away, to the left, is that grand ballroom with 14-foot vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows -- perfect for formal entertaining. French doors lead to an expansive outdoor living space that includes a large lawn, 40-foot heated swimming pool, built-in grill and cabana with full bath.

When the autumn leaves fall from the soaring oak tree, one of the oldest in the area, views from the cozy den, master bedroom and bathroom extend across the river to Virginia.

The home, on the market for $9.995 million, was gutted and renovated after the current owner purchased the property in 2004. Modern elements shine brightest in the kitchen. Touches like heated limestone floors, a six-burner range with double ovens, large island and breakfast area are accented by other top-line appliances.

The second level has four bedrooms, including the master suite that features two walk-in closets, a private sun deck and bathroom with soaking tub and steam shower.

One of the upstairs bedrooms was once a hayloft, and just outside the window is a hoist long ago used to raise bails.

"The Laird-Dunlop Coach House is important because the original 20-by-16-foot stable (part of the larger 1248 30th St. home) is one of the oldest surviving late 18th century coach houses in Georgetown," said Jerry McCoy, special collections librarian at Washington's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. "The beam with pulley attached to the north gable reminds passersby standing on the corner of 30th and N (originally Washington and Gay streets) of an earlier era."

The lower level has space for an exercise room, home theater or children's play area, as well as direct access to one of the two one-car garages. There also is plenty of additional parking in the private driveway.

Despite a colorful history, the home has maintained its original unassuming character.

"The house is really intimate," McGrath said. "It's not a shiny mansion. When you get inside, there's nothing intimidating or off-putting about it."

The Laird-Dunlop House has had some famous owners, including Abraham Lincoln's eldest son, Robert. After the property was subdivided, the coach house was owned by Arnold Sagalyn, one of Eliot Ness' "Untouchables."

"The structure is also one of 111 properties that has a conservation easement on it with the Foundation for the Preservation of Historic Georgetown," McCoy said.

The only remaining original George Town cornerstone, post No. 2 in the northeast sector, rests behind the coach house, a monument both to a once-modest neighborhood and the prominent heights to which it and one of its premier properties have soared.

"It's really one of the houses Georgetown is defined by," McGrath said.

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