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Dumbarton Oaks

[duhm-bahr-tn]

Dumbarton Oaks is a 19th century Federal-style mansion with famous gardens in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It currently houses the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a center for scholarship in Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies and the history of landscape architecture. The center publishes the academic journal Dumbarton Oaks Papers.

The mansion was built in 1800. Famously, it was the Washington residence of U.S. Senator, official, and Vice President John C. Calhoun. It was purchased in 1920 by Robert Woods Bliss (1875-1962), a longtime member of the Foreign Service and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss (1875-1969), a prominent art collector and daughter of Demas Barnes who was an investor in Charles Henry Fletcher's 'Fletcher's Castoria' via the corporate entity The Centaur Company. Additions to the house have been made by several architects, including Philip Johnson.

Over their lives, the Blisses assembled large and important collections of artifacts and books, which they housed at Dumbarton Oaks. In 1940, they donated their collections together with the house and its grounds to create the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, to be managed by the trustees of Harvard University. The institution was originally dedicated solely to Byzantine studies, but the scope was later broadened to include Pre-Columbian studies and the history of landscape architecture. The libraries of Dumbarton Oaks contain over 100,000 volumes. There are a number of resident scholars; in addition, about forty fellowships are awarded each year for visiting scholars.

There are about ten acres (four hectares) of gardens on the grounds of Dumbarton Oaks, designed from 1922-1947 by noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand in collaboration with Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. The gardens comprise a series of terraces built on a hill behind the house, with the remaining areas laid out informally. They include the Star Garden, Green Garden, Beech Terrace, Urn Terrace, formal Rose Garden, Arbor Terrace, Fountain Terrace, Lover's Lane Pool, and Pebble Terrace, as well as a Camellia Circle, Prunus Walk, Cherry Hill, Crabapple Hill, Forsythia Hill, and Fairview Hill. All are open to the public.

Dumbarton Oaks has lent its name to a major work by Igor Stravinsky: Mr. Bliss commissioned Stravinsky to compose a concerto for his thirtieth wedding anniversary in 1938. The resulting "Concerto in E-flat" for chamber orchestra is more commonly referred to as the "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto.

In 1944, Dumbarton Oaks hosted the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, an international meeting that laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations.

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