January 11, 2019

Preservation Personals: Adopt a Storied Former Artists' Home in Vienna, Virginia

  • By: Rebecca Gale

With the start of a new year, you might be looking for a new project to give you purpose. If you’ve already tried every sport and hobby on your list, and that Great American Novel isn’t writing itself anymore, then what about bringing a historic property back to life?

I am an 18th-century brick house named Lahey Lost Valley that is part of Fairfax County, Virginia Park Authority’s Resident Curator Program. This program preserves northern Virginia’s historically significant properties by allowing individuals, nonprofits, or businesses to occupy a historic building free of rent on the condition that they care for and rehabilitate the property.

I know I may not look like much or have fancy finishes like a lot of other houses out there, but I’ve got a great story to tell—and I’m sure you’ll have great stories to tell your friends if you choose to “adopt” me. Plus, my Vienna, Virginia, location is a convenient 30-minute drive from Washington, DC, and right next to the scenic Meadowlark Botanical Gardens and the revered Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

At a little over 2,000 square feet, I was first built sometime in the second half of the 1700s (my archival documents are vague on that point, so historians can’t quite pin down the date) by the Gunnell family, who owned the property through the 1930s. My next residents were Richard and Carlotta Lahey, artists who cared for me until they both passed away at the end of the century. Carlotta was a sculptor and Richard was a painter, trained in the “Ash Can School” in New York City.

Fittingly, the two of them moved the wood-framed kitchen (added around 1915) away from the house to make a freestanding artist studio. Then they added a two-story brick addition, making me a little more spacious! Carlotta was also careful to preserve the 22 acres surrounding the house in the midst of rapid expansion of nearby suburbs. Inside, I still boast many historic features from my early days, such as decorative hand-carved Federal-style molding, built-ins, six fireplaces, and wide-plank wood floors.

I’m a little rough around the edges, but I have lots of great details to admire and a beautiful setting to enjoy. If you are up for being part of preserving a storied, if overlooked, building like myself, consider applying to be my “curator” (applications are currently being accepted). Read more about me here.

photo by: Fairfax County Park Authority

Vienna, VA 22182.

photo by: Fairfax County Park Authority

I have many neat, classic historic details that have survived after all these years, like my detailed fireplace surrounds.

photo by: Fairfax County Park Authority

22 acres of land offer privacy and scenery to pursue your hobbies in the kitchen-turned-artist-studio on my property!

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Rebecca Gale is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. In her spare time, you can find her visiting local museums, photographing historic buildings, or playing guitar.

Announcing the 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List