Despite being held the same day as the Fan District Association's Holiday House Tour, the Virginia Center for Architecture's John Kerr Branch House Architectural Tour was a sellout.
And for good reason, too. The behind-the-scenes tour of this stately, 28,000-square-foot house on Monument Avenue is filled with hidden gems and family lore. Built by banker/investor John and his wife, Beulah, as a home to winter in, it cost $160,000 to build in 1919 (that would be roughly $19 million today). The next most expensive house on Monument at that time was built for $50,000. The Branches also had homes in New York and Florence, Italy.
Designed by John Russell Pope in the Tudor-Revival style, the Branch House is a double-pile house, meaning the home is two rooms deep with a center passage. The Branches wanted to build an Italianate-style home, but Pope told them they did not have a big enough lot. He adapted the Tudor-Revival style for this urban setting, incorporating depressed arches, diagonal brickwork, decorative half-timbering, Jacobean-style chimneys and local sandstone.
The house also was outfitted with modern conveniences, such as a central vacuum system with outlets in the baseboards, fireproof walls and floors, and an elevator Eleven servants — two butlers, a footman, two housemaids, a cook, a gardener, a parlor maid, a chauffeur, a laundress and another servant — cared for the property.
Branch died in 1930, and Beulah continued in live in the house until her death in 1952. The Branch children donated the house to the United Givers Fund, which is today's United Way. The house was sold again in the 1980s to Robert Pogue, who used it for Northwestern Mutual Insurance offices. The Virginia Center for Architecture purchased the home in 2003.
Tours will be given March 10 and April 14. For information, visit virginiaarchitecture.org .