Travel

Quick Escapes: Disappear at a D.C. Mansion

  • The Alexandria Times
  • |
  • February 27, 2007

by Karen Feld

Want a retreat from your daily routine? How about a night in a bona fide two-story Log Cabin? You’ll sleep in a four-poster timber bed with an aquarium built right into the headboard and bathe in an environmental habitat room – all this in the heart of D.C.?

Or are you in the mood for a cruise? Try the windowless Stateroom, with its king-sized waterbed and nautical detail. Beatles fans can soak in the tub immersed with not only the sounds of John Lennon, but his face reflected on the bathroom floor of the Lennon room. I hunkered down in the magnificent Fifth Dimension suite while my house was undergoing renovation. After a whirlpool bath and a dreamy nights sleep in a hand-finished mahogany Sleigh bed from Milan, I worked out on my private treadmill.

Regardless of your preference, you’re immediately enveloped in the warm, homey and grounding atmosphere of the Mansion on O. Each of the 100 themed rooms in the five connected 19th century row houses is unique. The thousands of gewgaws among countless chandeliers, Remington sculptures and rock star-signed guitars are all for sale. The objects sing a different song to each guest but together they create a harmony.

Designed and conceived by owner-proprietor H.H. Leonards- Spero 27 years ago, the Mansion on O is a private museum, club, luxury inn (rates from $250 to $2,000) and corporate retreat. Located a short walk from Dupont Circle, there’s no sign, and they’ve never advertised. Hotel guests, many of whom wish to remain anonymous, are presented with a secret code to enter. They have use of the red leather Amnesia room, make their own breakfast in the kitchen, and can play billiards on the circa 1800 pool table, be their own bartender or call the staff to satisfy their food whims at any time. Many of the guests are high profile and “they just disappear here,” says the discreet Leonards-Spero, who operates the Mansion with her husband, Ted Spero.

You won’t find a newspaper but if you must tune in to something other than XM radio, the place is wired for high speed internet and state-of-the-art TV. The guest suites are suited to a number of fantasies but all support an individual spirit. You’ll undoubtedly find the perfect room or suite for your mood so be sure to explore and don’t forget to gaze at the hand-painted ceilings and investigate the clandestine hideaways behind bookcases and mirrors. Whether you’re looking for an altar of passion or a retreat to renew your creative and spiritual energy, you’ll find it here.

My favorite room is the wine cellar. Plan a personal or business dinner there for up to 16 guests and while you’re relaxing with fine wine around the fireplace, the chef meets with you to create the evenings menu. The circular room has two stained glass windows – one from a church; the other from a synagogue. With its steel ceiling and unusual hand-carved stone walls that actually glitter, it could double as a recording studio.

“It’s about the vision, the spirit of the place,” says Leonards-Spero. “People are at peace here. They are enchanted by the place,” she adds. Many of the guests are CEO’s, musicians and artists.

Academy Award-winning composer Paul Williams was married there. Guests have ranged from author Studds Terkel to folk legend Arlo Guthrie and rocker Al Kooper. It was civil rights icon Rosa Parks who inspired the Sunday gospel buffet brunches, which are the most lavish and at $40/person the best value in town.

The incredible thing about the Mansion on O is just when you think you’ve seen it all, it changes. “It’s about letting go of everything you thought you knew,” said Leonards-Spero, “because nothing stays the same, not words, images, memories, people or places.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed – the place is still magical and a well-kept secret – and it represents one woman’s vision which is larger than life. “The Mansion is a way of life, not a business,” says the elusive Leonards-Spero, who uniquely combines brainpower, imagination and spirituality. “It’s about soul. It’s a place where creativity and artistry come together sometimes in ways that we can’t fathom.”

The Mansion is at 2020 O Street, N.W. in Washington. Visit omansion.com, or call (202) 496-2000.