|Cairo Apartment Building|
|U.S. National Register of Historic Places|
|Location:||Washington, D. C.|
|Architect:||Thomas Franklin Schneider |
|Architectural style(s):||Moorish and Romanesque Revival|
|Added to NRHP:||September 9, 1994|
|NRHP Reference#:||94001033 |
The 164-feet-tall brick building was designed by architect Thomas Franklin Schneider and completed in 1894 as the city's first "residential skyscraper". Today, the Cairo is a condominium building, home to renters and owners.
The Egyptian theme of the building is stamped across its Moorish and Romanesque Revival features. Gargoyles perch high above the front entrance; some are winged griffins staring down from cornices, and others are more lighthearted. Along the first floor are elephant heads, which look left and right from the stone window sills of the front windows and interlock trunks at the corners of the entrance arch. On the fourth floor are both dragon and dwarf crosses. The stone facade is carved with an inlaid design that hints at more exotic Middle Eastern origins. The opposing design elements produce a harmony described as follows in the AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C.: "for all its quirks, the awkward tower reigns as one of Washington's guilty pleasures."
At 12 floors, the Cairo towers above nearby buildings. At its opening in 1894, the building's height caused a tremendous uproar among local residents, who dubbed it "Schneider's Folly" and lobbied Congress to limit the height of residential buildings in the District of Columbia to prevent more "skyscrapers" from being built. The resulting 1899 Heights of Buildings Act has kept the city's skyline unusually low for an American city.
Around 1900, the building was renamed the Cairo Hotel and became a center of D.C. society, with its ballroom frequently the center of social and political gatherings. Its guests and tenants have included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison, and other powerful political figures.
On March 15, 1897, the deposed queen of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani, stayed in the Cairo while she lobbied President Grover Cleveland for compensation for the U.S. overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in January 1893. On February 15, 1905, the Cairo swirled with intrigue when, during a labor union strike, painter J. Frank Hanby fell to his death when the ropes supporting him broke. The ropes were found possibly to have been cut by acid, leading to a grand jury investigation into the cause of death and many high-profile articles in The Washington Post. The high society of Washington often held meetings at the Cairo Hotel, such as that between the Woman's National Democratic League and a Congressman from New Mexico in 1913.
The December 2, 1923 Washington Post contained an advertisement for the Cairo Hotel that read:
The CAIRO HOTEL. Absolutely Fireproof. A hotel which has demonstrated its value in years of service to a discriminating clientele. Retains with bath, per day Rooms with detached bath, per day Two-room suites, per day Three-room suites, per day & parties visiting the National Capitol and families desiring to make Washington their temporary or permanent home, the Cairo Hotel offers exceptional advantages of location and environment, construction and arrangement, equipment and management. - James T. Howard, Manager
In June 1940, a newspaper headline reported "Two Bandits Rob Cairo Hotel, Escape in Chase".
In 1954, the Cairo Hotel hosted Sunday mambo parties, played by Buddy Rowell and promoted by Maurice Gervitsch, known as "Groggy". The dances were featured a 12-piece band, and (in segregated 1950s D.C.) had mainly white and Jewish attendance. These glamorous and sensational days lasted into the late 1950s.
The building was sold in 1957 as a 267-room hotel, and on October 12 the new owners announced plans to spend $100,000 refurbishing the structure. In 1958, a fire caused by an electrical short-circuit on the sixth floor led to $25,000 worth of damage, but no structural problems.
The Cairo began to decline during the 1960s, when it was inhabited by squatters, prostitutes, drug addicts, student protesters, criminals, and even feral dogs. In June 1964, the FBI tracked a 24-year-old escaped convict to the building.
In 1966, the D.C. Department of Health considered leasing the run-down building for use as a rehabilitation center for alcoholics. After a series of failed attempts at renovation, including a closure on August 7, 1972, the building was restored in 1974 under the leadership of architect Arthur Cotton Moore. It was converted into condominiums in 1979.
At the building's centennial celebration in October 1994, Ross Elementary school students sang "Happy Birthday" to the building in thanks for a $1,000 donation made by the Cairo Condominium Unit Owners Association. Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans read a proclamation declaring it "Cairo Day" in DC. Of the building, he said, "It is a real monument in the area."
The U-shaped building surrounds a Zen stone garden courtyard. The stone front steps lead up through a glass foyer into a marble-floored lobby with Egyptian columns and a lounge. A large mirror and photographs of the building's construction and other contemporary scenes adorn the lobby's eastern wall. Two square columns of red-orange marble anchor the space in front of two elevators, which serve the tenants of the 12 floors above. Between the elevators is a stairway that leads down through double glass doors into the central courtyard.
At the two interior southern corners are wide staircases of marble and wrought iron that span the height of the building. Some sections of hallways are marble-floored, and each apartment's outside door handle is a marble orb. Apartments have exposed red brick walls, and range in size from small studios to multi-level two- and three-bedroom units.
The Cairo is in the center of the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and its rooftop deck provides one of the most expansive views of the District's northwest skyline. Visible locations include the Washington National Cathedral, Georgetown, the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and The Catholic University of America. It sits three blocks east of the Dupont Circle Metro station, near restaurants, bars, and shops along 17th Street.
On May 29, 2007, a fire emptied the Cairo of its roughly 400 residents. At least nine emergency vehicles responded to the blaze. The fire heavily damaged one of the central units of the tenth floor. Firewalls prevented its spread, although some other units suffered water damage.
On September 2, 2007, the Board of Directors of the Cairo Condominium voted to approve a $2.1 million brick repointing project. Atlantic Company, a construction and restoration engineering firm, began the brick repair work in November 2007, and completed work in September 2009. The company replaced deteriorated, defective, and mismatched brick masonry; removing and repointing mortar joints in exterior walls; installing control joints to allow wall expansion; and patching and repairing exterior stonework. To pay for the construction, each condominium owner paid a fee ranging from $7,980 to more than $25,000, depending of the size of their apartments. Residents were barred from the roof while the heavy equipment, swing-stage gear, and platform support cables were present.