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Three Fascinating Stories From the History of Dorchester House in Kalorama

Discover three fascinating stories from the history of Dorchester House in Kalorama, from a robbery at gunpoint to a house fire that killed an elderly woman to a ban on dogs in the building.
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The massive structure at 2480 16th St. NW dominates the Kalorama block across from Meridian Hill Park. Most D.C. history nerds know that John F. Kennedy lived there with his his sister Kathleen from October 1941 to January 1942, sharing apartment 542 (some sources say apartment 502).

The building has a rich history ever since it opened in 1941, just prior to World War II. Here are three stories about the iconic apartment complex that Ghosts of DC has dug up.

Dorchester House - 2480 16th St. NW
Dorchester House – 2480 16th St. NW

1. Elderly woman robbed at gunpoint

Poor Hattie Griffin, Dorchester House resident, was robbed of $500 in her own 8th-floor apartment apartment. Below is the article, published in the Washington Post in June 1965.

Two men forced their way into a Dorchester House apartment yesterday, robbed a 75-year-old woman of about $500 and then fled after binding her and ransacking the apartment, police reported.

Mrs. Griffin told police she answered a knock and was greeted by a man who asked, “Are you Hattie?” When she answered yes, she said, the man told her “If you don’t want to get hurt, do as we say.”

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The man produced a revolver, police said, and was joined by the second man. As they forced thei way in, they asked “where’s the money.”

When the woman said she had no money, police added, the thugs pushed her. She went to a cedar closet, they said, and gave the men about $500.

Police said the two then bound Mrs. Griffin with adhesive tape, locked her in the bathroom and ransacked the apartment.

Mrs. Griffin freed herself and called police, describing the pair as whites, about 27 or 28, both 5 feet 10, about 160 pounds.


2. Dogs no longer welcome in Dorchester House

please don't kick me out of my apartment
please don’t kick me out of my apartment

Man’s best friend was welcome to stay in Dorchester House for the first few years, but things quickly went south when some residents complained about their furry neighbors. Check out the Washington Post article about it from March 30th, 1945.

That “every dog will have his day,” is being proved by the 13, 17, or 30 dogs whose owners, living at the modernistic and highly fashionable Dorchester Apartment House, 2480 16th st. nw., have received an ultimatum either to dispose of their pets or vacate the premises by April 30.

No one, not even the owners of the building, tenants, or Randall Hagner & Co., real estate agents for the property, seem to know just how many doggies live there. But it seems that a few of the pups either barked too loudly, scampered too much on the expensive carpeting in theh [sic] allway or weren’t entirely housebroken, and so Hagner & Co. termed the pets a “nuisance” to the other 400 tenants and wrote letters on March 23 that either the pets or the tenants had to go.

“But how can anybody expect us to give up our dogs, much less find a place to live in this city,” exclaimed Mrs. Bernice Breen, free lance writer, and organizer of the pet owners in the builing.

“We had a meeting of some of the dog owners yesterday and we plan to draw up a set or rules governing our dogs’ behavior and then we will ask the owners if we can’t stay if we all see that our dogs cause no trouble,” she said.

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Another meeting will be held soon, Mrs. Breen promised, to draw up a set of rules on dog behavior. So far not one of the dogs or dog-owners have made an attempt to move.

That seems a little abrupt and unforgiving. A month’s notice? Also, shouldn’t the tenants and building owners be worried a little more about the giant war raging in both Europe and the Pacific?

3. House fire kills elderly woman

Mary Gooch
Mary Gooch

Every “Three Things…” post seems to require a tragic tale, and the Dorchester House is no exception. This story is from February 1949, when a freak fire took the life of Mary Gooch.

Mrs. John Hite Gooch, 69, wife of the general agent of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, was burned to death about noon yesterday in an armchair in her seventh-floor apartment at the Dorchester House.

Mrs. Gooch, who was alone, was apparently dead in the flaming chair near the living room window of her apartment, No. 706, when firemen arrived. They tossed the overstuffed chair from an open window to a patio seven flights below where the flames were extinguished.

An alarm was sounded throughout the fashionable apartment house at 2480 16th st. about 11:45 a. m., bringing residents into the halls. Heavy smoke, which poured through the seventh-floor halls, drove occupants to lower floors, but few persons fled the building.

The fire was virtually confined to the armchair in which Mrs. Gooch was sitting, according to Detective Sergt. John L. Sullivan. It was charred a patch less than two feet square in the floor of the living room, and merely scored an adjacent wall and the ceiling.

Sullivan said Mrs. Gooch had been alone in the apartment since 9 a. m., but was all right at 10 a. m., when she received a phone call from her daughter, Mrs. Mary Jane Hesser.

Part of the burned armchair had a cigarette hole in it, according to Sullivan. He said a stool near the chair contained cigarettes, a lighter and a holder.

This has to be one of the more bizarre fire-related deaths we’ve read about. A blaze, completely confined to a chair?

Dorchester House
Dorchester House

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