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George Oakley Totten

George Oakley Totten, Architect [1866-1939]

George Oakley Totten [†] was born in New York City in 1866. Upon graduating from the Columbia School of Architecture (M.A., 1892), he received the McKim Traveling Scholarship which allowed him to go to Europe. While there, he attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he continued his rigorous academic training in classical architecture. Totten returned to the United States in 1895 and took a position as Chief Designer in the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury a post which he held until 1897. While serving in this position, he was responsible for the design of the Philadelphia Mint and several post offices around the country.

By 1899, Totten was established in private practice in Washington, D.C., with Philadelphia architect Laussat Rogers. The firm Totten & Rogers received many commissions in highly visible, elite sections of the city. Their designs are generally historically inspired and take their vocabulary directly from the elegant European palaces of the past. Of particular note are their many buildings within the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District and its immediate vicinity. These include: 2131 R Street, N.W. (1889; home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1917-1919); 2228 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. (1903); 1742 22nd Street, N.W. (1904); and 2229 California Street, N.W. (1905). The partnership between Totten and Rogers did not last long and was dissolved in 1907.

At that time, Totten traveled to Turkey where he designed the American Chancery and the Turkish Prime Minister's residence in Constantinople. It was on his return from this trip that Totten's long association with Mart Foote Henderson began. Mrs. Henderson, wife of wife of Missouri Senator John Brooks Henderson, was active in temperance and suffrage movements. She hired Totten exclusively for the construction of her most important structures, and, over the years, became closely associated with him. Among these are the former Meridian Hill Club a complex of artists studios at 2633 15th Street, N.W. (1922); and 2801 16th Street, N.W. (1923).

Totten also developed buildings himself, acting as both owner and architect. In 1924, he designed his own residence at 2633 16th Street, N.W.

Totten was in high demand. He had many private clients who were interested in constructing large, elegant mansions in the styles he was designing on 16th Street (Meridian Hill).

Among Totten's other commissions are: 2221 and 2223 Massachusetts Avenue (1906- 1907); 2221-2223 R Street, N.W. (1908 and 1907, respectively); 2315 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. (1909); 1606 23rd Street, N.W. (1910, currently serving as the Turkish Embassy); and 1900 24th Street, N.W. (1922).

Aside from his design career, Totten had an interest in Mayan architecture, a subject in which he was an authority and on which he authored a book, Maya Architecture (1926). Active in professional organizations, he served as Vice-President and Secretary of the International Congress of Architecture (he was a delegate from 1896 to 1939). He served as President of the Washington Architectural Club (1896-189797) and the Washington Chapter/AIA (1932). He was married to the talented, New York City sculptress Vicken Von Post.

Totten died in Washington, February, 1939.

† Julie Mueller, Elizabeth Lampl and Judith Robinson, Traceries, Pink Palace (Inter-American Defense Board Headquarters, Washington, D.C., nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.