Historical analysis provided by Kelsey & Associates. Copyright © 1997, Kelsey & Associates.
Embassy of Colombia,
Colombian Ambassador's Residence
Thomas T. Gaff House
1520 20th Street, N.W.
Architects Bruce Price and Jules Henri de Sibour
The architects who designed the mansion for Thomas F. Gaff in 1904 created a modern American rendition of an early seventeenth century manor house. A wealthy midwestern businessman, Gaff had the house built as the primary residence for himself and his wife, Zaidee. He had made his fortune in the distillery and heavy machinery businesses in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jules Henri de Sibour was a prominent architect for the famous and wealthy in Washington at the time, and would design homes that would eventually become residences of the ambassadors of France, Luxembourg, and Portugal.
Gaff had the architects design novel conveniences into the mansion's traditional aesthetic including a hot-air system for drying clothes, a trapdoor on his icehouse for direct delivery from the street, cork insulation for the wine cellar, and a movable wooden wall that closed off the domed and skylit Edwardian ballroom. The dining room was designed with Elizabethan wainscoting and a sideboard originating from an Italian monastery.
Following the short occupation of the house by the Gaff family, it was leased to several prominent Washingtonians, including President Calvin Coolidge's Secretary of War, Dwight F. Davis, and to the governments of Greece and Columbia. The Colombian government purchased the house in 1944 from Thomas Gaff's daughter, Mrs. Carey D. Langhorne, who lived next door on Q Street at the time.