The most visible landmark of Takoma Park’s Victorian past is the grand three-story Queen Anne residence sitting on the hill at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Piney Branch Road. Constructed in 1887, it survives into the 21st century thanks to the dedication of recent owners to preserve this architectural gem.
In its early decades it was known as Lucinda Cady’s house, though today it is popularly called the Cady-Lee, reflecting the lives of both Lucinda and her daughter.
The story begins in 1886 when Takoma Park was a fledgling suburb of 100 people and 16 completed houses. Lucinda and her husband Henry A. Cady arrived from Ashland, Virginia, and commissioned Leon Dessez, an up-and-coming Washington architect, to create a residence modeled on their Virginia home.
Local builder Frederick Dudley turned the design into a family home, with 12-foot ceilings, ornate mantles, carved woodwork and an elegant curved staircase.
Takoma Park founder Benjamin Franklin Gilbert was thrilled to have such an imposing residence visible from the railroad tracks acting as a gateway to his sylvan suburb. A row of large houses soon joined the Cady along the street then called Magnolia.
In 1887 Henry and Lucinda settled in their new house with five young children: three girls (Mary, Elizabeth, Ida) and two boys (John and Smith). Henry A. Cady sold insurance and real estate from offices at 520 10th Street NW, just a few blocks from Gilbert’s Washington office.
The couple joined other Episcopalians to organize Sunday services, which sometimes met at the Cady house. The November 19, 1888 Washington Post reported that “A concert to raise funds for the erection of a new Episcopal Church at Takoma Park, was held at H.A. Cady’s residence on Saturday night and quite a sum realized.” Trinity Episcopal Church was completed in 1893. Lucinda Cady would later head the Ladies Guild for 16 years.
Henry died in 1906, and the widowed Lucinda remained in the house. Several of the grandchildren, now elderly, remember spending summers with their grandmother.
As the years passed, Magnolia Avenue was renamed Eastern Avenue and the extension of Piney Branch Road claimed Chestnut Avenue.
The Cady family gathered on the steps of the house for this 1920s portrait. Lucinda Cady is in the back row on the right, next to her sister Mrs. Noelle. Middle row: B.K. Lee, Smith Cady, his wife Ruby, Dr. Daniel Mattingly (in black suit), his wife Elizabeth Cady Mattingly, Walter Groansell (in white hat), sitting behind his wife, Ida Cady Groansell. Front row: Mary Cady Lee (the second owner) and Mida Cady, sitting next to her husband, John Cady. Photo Courtesy of Historic Takoma
When Lucinda died in 1934 at the age of 80, her daughter Mary, a Takoma teacher, inherited the house. Mary’s husband was B.K. Lee and gradually it became known as the Cady-Lee. One of the first things Mary did was install electricity and indoor plumbing.
In later years, there was little money for maintenance. After her husband died, Mary created a three-room apartment for herself in the first floor ballroom, and invited other elderly relatives to move into the rooms on the upper floors. Although the outside of the residence deteriorated, the lack of money to make improvements ensured that the original interior remained unaltered.
Mary’s death in 1973 created a crisis on several levels. Three relatives still lived in the house, including Doctor Daniel Mattingly, the Takoma Park pharmacist who had married Elizabeth Cady. Mary’s will named several beneficiaries including Trinity Episcopal Church, setting the stage for selling the house.
This was a time when developers were pushing to tear down the old and modernize Takoma Park. All the other original homes along Eastern Avenue had been razed and replaced by garden apartments. One of the developers targeted the Cady-Lee, claiming they were doing the community a favor by demolishing the old “firetrap.”
Ellen Marsh remembers being alarmed at the thought of losing this premier example of Takoma’s heritage. She rallied her Save Takoma (MD) and Plan Takoma (DC) friends to fight the impending sale.
They hit upon a brilliant strategy – to seek National Register status as a way to protect the house. The application was submitted and status granted in 1975. It was the first step in creating the Takoma Historic Districts.
But the Cady-Lee still needed a buyer to step forward.
Enter Sandra and Gerald Kurtinitis. “We were young professionals willing to embrace the challenge to acquire the house and save a historical treasure,” recalls Sandra. For $68,000 they became the new owners in 1975.
Over the next ten years, they tackled the renovation, one room at a time. “We had very little money to spend, and did most of the work ourselves,” Sandra said. “It was incredible how much stuff was still there. The ballroom mantle had been moved to the basement when Mrs. Lee divided up the ballroom. The three family portraits were on the walls.” But the years took their toll. “We pulled it back from the brink, but a house like that needs ongoing attention, especially outside.”
In 1985, Sandra took a job in Massachusetts, and Gerald struggled to maintain the progress they had made. When Frances Phipps, who specializes in house rescue, approached Gerald in 2000 offering to buy the house, Gerald agreed.
Frances could afford the kind of repairs that were beyond the Kurtinitis pockets. She found a Hungarian craftsman to repair the stained glass window on the staircase and gave serious attention to the exterior repairs. But Frances did not intend to take up residence in the house.
“It’s not enough to love a house,” Frances explained recently, “You have to find a new economic life for it. There can only be so many house museums.” Frances looked elsewhere — to the many non-profits that proliferate here. She found a solution two blocks away.
Frances had recently renovated a house for Karen Pittman on Holly Avenue, Karen ran an “action tank” non-profit with Merita Irby called Forum for Youth Investment. They had worked together on youth issues since 1990, and realized that creating effective youth programs would require a unique kind of mindset, working across traditional bureaucratic divisions. They set up the Forum in 2000 to assist communities looking for cohesive ways to frame youth projects: evaluating what assets already existed, what else was needed, where the stumbling blocks were and how to bring disparate agencies under the same tent.
The Forum purchased the Cady-Lee in 2002, and moved its 25-person staff into the space. Merita’s brother, Galen Irby, took on the role of protecting the building’s heritage as he dealt with configuring office space or removing the 100-year-old dead oak from the front yard, or, most recently, the need to replace all the copper gutters along the curved porch and repair the roof tiles.
After more than 120 years, this grand old lady continues to grace the Takoma Park community..