The Sevareid House was designed and built by Charles M. Goodman (November 26, 1906 – October 29, 1992), a noted Washington, DC architect in 1941. Goodman made a name for himself with modern designs in suburban Washington, D.C. after World War II.
While his work has a regional feel, he ignored the colonial revival look so popular in Virginia. Goodman was quoted in the 1968 survey book Architecture in Virginia as saying that he aimed to “get away from straight historical reproduction.”
Goodman, who designed the original National Airport outside of Washington, D.C. and served as main architect of the Hollin Hills neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, attended the Illinois Institute of Technology. He came to D.C. in 1934 to work as the designing architect in the Public Buildings Administration. He later served as head architect at the United States Treasury Department and the Air Transport Command. After World War II he worked closely with Robert C. Davenport designing and site planning most of the Hollin Hills, where his firm, Charles M. Goodman Associates, designed over 14 models of house.
Before the “builder houses”, Goodman designed more than a dozen custom homes for prominent people. The Sevareid House was one of his early efforts.
“The house, with extremely wide overhangs and long banks of windows, was yet another example of Goodman’s interest in a “passive solar house.” Goodman strongly believed in using the latest in heating and cooling technologies when budget permitted; he thought that a closed Colonial house was an absurdly illogical model for 20th-century living. In the Sevareid House, Goodman also highlighted his talent at putting as much living space as possible on one floor in a house that was banked on a steep hillside. He provided a brick base - inclusive of a full height, glazed ground level - that supported a platformed story above it and an open floor plan. Goodman left as much space as possible open to the outdoors, via decks, patios, and operable windows, some on a grand scale. As he would do one year later in Hollin Hills, his first builder project, Goodman had all the Sevareid House woodwork milled on site with a portable saw. This simple step significantly reduced the cost of the project.” National Register of Historic Places, SUBDIVISIONS AND ARCHITECTURE PLANNED AND DESIGNED BY CHARLES M. GOODMAN ASSOCIATES IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND
Although later known in architectural circles in Washington DC as The Sevareid House, we now know that the house was originally designed and built for Emile and Joanna Despres. Emile Despres was a pre-eminent Harvard-educated economist who came to Washington to work in the Office of Strategic Services and the State Department as an economic advisor for Germany. After WW2, He was a delegate to the Potsdam Conference and contributed to the State Department’s creation of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War 2. His wife, Joanna was an internationally recognized artist who’s work was exhibited in galleries in Europe and later in northern California where the Despres’ ultimately relocated for Emile’s appointment to the economics department at Stanford University.
The Despres only lived in the house for a few years when Emile accepted a position in the economics department at Williams College in Massachusetts. By the time Professor Despres came to Stanford in 1961, he already held a unique position in economics. Little known to the public and even to many academic economists, he was a quasi-legendary figure among the leaders of the discipline and among enlightened businessmen and public figures. Among the letters supporting his Stanford appointment, was a famous statement by the later Nobel laureate, Paul Samuelson: “Since Stanford cannot hope to appoint Adam Smith, it may do well to set its cap for Despres.”
The most noted resident of the house and the one for whom it’s named is Eric Sevareid, an icon of broadcast journalism who’s career spanned nearly 70 years. Eric and Lois Sevareid purchased the house from the Despres in 1946, the same year that he penned his autobiography “Not So Wild A Dream”. They had 6-year old twin boys, Peter and Michael, who were born in Paris when Sevareid was stationed there as a war correspondent.
Sevareid entered the scene as one of a group of elite war correspondents hired by Edward R. Murrow making him one of the famous “Murrow Boys”. He covered the fall of Paris when it was captured by the German’s in World War II. In the 1976 edition of Sevareid’s book, he wrote, “It was a lucky stroke of timing to have been born and lived as an American in this last generation. It was good fortune to be a journalist in Washington, now the single news headquarters in the world since ancient Rome. But we are not Rome; the world is too big, too varied.”
“Sevareid always considered himself a writer first and often felt uneasy behind a microphone, even less comfortable on television. Nonetheless, he worked extensively for CBS News on television in the years following the war and the decades after. During the mid to late 1950s, Sevareid found himself on television as the host and science reporter of CBS’s Conquest. He also served as the head of the CBS Washington bureau from 1946 to 1954 and became one of the early critics of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communism tactics. It was during the early 1950s that Sevareid caught the attention of the FBI in its attempts to identify and root out American communists.”
Wikipedia entry He was not alone among his neighbors on the Hill to be targeted in the Red Scare. He provided testimony on behalf of one of his neighbors, George Eddy, who was being investigated as part of the round up of government employees accused of communist sympathies.
Emile Despres was also named as one of those suspected in that witch hunt. Eddy was cleared but his career tarnished and he spent the rest of his years trying to clear his name and those of his colleagues and associates.
The house on the hill was at the “end of the road” in those days. To look out on Seminary Valley was to look out on the forests and farmland of what was then part of Fairfax County. The Sevareid property included 4 acres and a barn for their horses which Eric rode throughout the neighborhood. The neighbors stuck together. Among those neighbors were local officials, a Supreme Court Justice, and noted government executives. The men commuted into Washington for work and the wives carpooled to the Burgundy Farm School that Lois and Eric Sevareid helped to found. Burgundy is celebrated for being the first racially integrated school in the Commonwealth. Sadly, Lois suffered from what would now be likely recognized as bi-polar disorder and that, along with other marital difficulties resulted in the marriage ending in divorce.
The Doctor & The Musician
In 1958, Dr. Robert Syme and his wife, Suzanne bought the house from the Sevareid’s. Dr. Syme, an OB/GYN who delivered more than 6000 babies in his career, was a fan of modernist architecture and design and furnished his new home accordingly. The Syme’s liked to entertain friends and extended family so they hired Goodman’s firm to convert the screened porch to a formal dining room. Sometime later they also added an in-ground pool and expanded the lower level with an additional TV room, bathroom with sauna and a bedroom. They raised their son in the Mormon faith as Alexandria grew around them. As a member of the Alexandria Ward of the Mormon Church in the mid-1950s, he helped construct the Alexandria Chapel on King Street, the second Mormon Church building in Virginia. He later served as bishop of the Colonial Ward, a large adult congregation in Northern Virginia. Suzanne died in 1994.
Through his work with the Mormon Church, Dr. Syme met and married a fellow missionary, Miriam “Suzi” Darden Arnold. Suzi, stage name Suzi Arden, was a native Virginian who spent most of her life as a musician and singer of country music. Although she was born in the Tidewater area, her family roots lay in the hills of North Carolina. Suzi and her sisters formed a family band and were soon heard on local radio singing the old time and bluegrass music that was her family’s legacy. They were featured on the popular Richmond radio program, The Old Dominion Barn Dance. Suzi met her best friend in those days, fellow Virginian and singer, Patsy Cline. She did a stint on “Red Foley’s Ozark Jamboree” TV show in the late 1950s. Her popularity led her to travel the country with “Review” style shows featuring many of the country greats of the past including Cline, June Carter and Johnny Cash.
Suzi started her own band in 1959, traveling with them around the country until she settled down to start her family and to be the star of the one of the longest running shows in Las Vegas history. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she eschewed the Nashville scene and stayed on in Vegas raising her children and providing steady employment for her loyal band members.
“Suzi Arden! She’s the dynamite entertainment package who jams the Mint Hotel’s Merri Mint Lounge with crowds so big it takes two uniformed security patrolmen just to keep the aisles clear. Suzi Arden is a whole line of Rockettes rolled into one. Those who have seen Miss Arden cavort ‘on stage’ will attest to the fact she’s the hottest lounge attraction on famed Fremont Street here in America’s Entertainment capitol.” Record label promotion copy.
Another one of Suzi’s claims to fame is that she once owned one of the famous guitars ever made. Guitar geeks can follow the links to the story of where Suzi and the quiet Beatle converge.
The Syme House on Syme Hill
The Sevareid House is unique in the Washington, DC area and is an excellent example of the mid-Atlantic mid-century modern vernacular.
The property was acquired in late 2013 with the idea of restoring the house to its former splendor and to fill its rooms with music in the tradition of Suzi Arden. After one year of planning and permitting and 2+ years of construction, the house is in “better than original” condition. Thanks to the extraordinary vision of Michael Cook and his associates at Cook Architecture, the original architect’s intent has been preserved and the house has been improved and expanded for a 21st century lifestyle.
The craftsmanship of David A. Lewis and his colleagues at Perpetual Home Improvement is evident in the careful stewardship of the property’s renovation and the spectacular new garage building addition.
Thanks to Jennifer Horne Landscaping and her associates, the property has been vastly improved with the addition of new planted garden areas and outdoor spaces to enjoy nature in the middle of an urban environment. Rarely will music lovers get the opportunity to enjoy original live music in a venue with such an interesting history and awe-inspiring setting.