3020 University Terrace NW: The Bazelon-McGovern House

In collaboration with owner Gordon Kit, DCPL has filed a landmark nomination for the property at 3020 University Terrace NW. This residence was previously owned by David Bazelon, Chief Justice of the DC Court of Appeals, as well as Senator (and Presidential candidate) George McGovern.

3020 University Terrace is a two-story wood-frame and stucco house, designed in a mid-century modern style, with a distinctive overlay of Japanese stylistic elements. Japanese-inspired plantings and garden elements surround the house on all sides.

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Also, 3020 University Terrace residence is significant for its association with David Bazelon, Chief Justice of the DC Court of Appeals, who, with his wife Miriam Bazelon, constructed it as their family home in 1957. Judge Bazelon’s career included numerous significant rulings over the course of decades. His most famous decision redefined concepts of mental illness under criminal law. At his death in 1993, the New York Times stated that Judge Bazelon’s court was the most influential judicial body in the United States besides the Supreme Court.

3020 University Terrace is also significant for its association with Senator George McGovern, who lived in the house from 1969 until 1980. At the time he and his wife Eleanor purchased the house, Senator McGovern, a populist from South Dakota, was establishing himself as a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and a leading liberal voice in the Democratic party. During the spring of 1972, he became the front-running candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, which he won at the August convention.

During his quest for the nomination and the presidential election, the house was the scene of many political events and key meetings and was frequently pictured in the media. After a campaign marked by the national division and turmoil of the times, which included the Watergate break-in, McGovern was defeated by incumbent president Richard M. Nixon. He remained a leading voice in the Democratic Party and an influential senator before losing his seat in the 1980 Ronald Reagan-led Republican landslide.

Beyond its association with these famous individuals, the residence is also significant because it embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, style, and method of construction. Designed by Jean-Pierre Trouchaud–whose eight highly individual houses constructed between 1949 and 1958 helped define the Palisades as a leading enclave of modernist residential design–the house is a synthesis of modernist and traditional Japanese architecture.

While this fusion of elements appears unique within the District, it places the house at the conflux of national and international cultural and architectural trends. These include the growing influence of Japanese design in postwar America, increasing recognition of the synergy between traditional Japanese architecture’s emphasis on functionality and form and modernism, and modernism’s evolution into a broader and richer movement based upon its insistence on truth in materials, functional analysis, and rationalism–rather than strict adherence to the International Style’s catalog of forms and materials.

The house’s construction illustrates the growing openness of Washington residential design to more global and non-western influences. It represents the growing sophistication and maturity of modernism in Washington.

UPDATE: On February 25, 2021, the Historic Preservation Review Board voted to add the Bazelon-McGovern House to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites!