The Mansion on O Street: Exploration and Imagination for Kids

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The Mansion on O Street is a unique experience, unlike any other outing my family and I have encountered in our years of DC area adventures.

Mystery and history abound, and kids are warmly welcomed, at the super cool massive art house exploration offered at The Mansion on O Street. Children can wander halls, discover thousands of interesting artifacts and objects, open hidden doors, and complete scavenger hunts.

My children loved the controlled independence they found meandering around the O. They expressed that they felt they were transported into an I-SPY book, an episode of Scooby-Doo, a Smithsonian in which the objects were not behind glass or velvet ropes. On a snowy Saturday afternoon, we spent several fantastic hours experiencing the Mansion’s offerings.

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What is The Mansion on O Street?

The O is actually a series of five interconnected town houses that include over 100 rooms and over 70 secret doors. It was designed in 1892 by Edward Clark, architect for the US Capitol two centuries ago, as a residence for himself and his siblings. In the 1930’s the home was converted into three separate rooming houses for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s G-men, and in the 1960’s student leaders of the protest movement lived there.

In 1980 the property was purchased by Ms. H.H. Leonards with the intent to restore its original character by reconnecting the row houses. In 1985, nearly a century after its original construction, she transformed the garden site into a unique five-story companion annex.

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My family and I met Ms. Leonards, and she was magical. She personally hosted our tour, encouraging the children to poke and learn and touch everything in the house. She gave to each of the kids the special O’Kids Playdates scavenger hunt which had them counting angels and searching for secret doors. Her introduction to the Mansion filled them with the unique mysticism of the place.

Ms. Leonards also told my husband and me of how the Mansion hosts artists, activists and veterans, giving these visitors a place to stay to be inspired or be taken outside of their stressful memories. Leonards says that the O Street Museum Foundation is dedicated to serving cultural, scientific, and educational growth through the creative process.

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The home of Rosa Parks

A resident of The Mansion and supporter of O Street for over a decade, the legendary Rosa Parks was a mother figure and mentor to Leonards. She entertained friends, dignitaries and guests while living at the O and hosted a Sunday gospel brunch each month. Parks’s room on the third floor is open to visitors, along with many of her signed letters and artifacts in the museum collection.

We arrived just as a gospel brunch in the tradition of Mrs. Parks was ending, and as pictured above, the children were able to take photos with the wax figure of Mrs. Parks on loan from Madame Tussaud’s.

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What you will see on your visit

In addition to hosting events like weddings and corporate retreats, the O serves as a guest house. When you visit you will be invited to tour the 100 rooms (not in use by guests) of varying architectural, artistic and design periods, from the Victorian Age to Art Deco/Avant Garde. Highlights include hand painted ceilings, original Tiffany stained glass windows, a two-story Log Cabin and the secluded Art Deco penthouse with private elevator.

Most of the artifacts in the collection — the signed guitars, memorabilia, documents, letters and more — have been donated by their original owners who support The Museum’s mission and stay at The Mansion.

We spent three hours in the Mansion and I do not believe we even scratched the surface on all there was to see. I know we will go back and have a completely original experience, creating new memories and finding new curiosities to admire.

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O’Kids Playdate Tea Party 

Ms. Leonards also invited the A Parent in Silver Spring crew to experience the most delicious portion of the O’Kids Playdate, a decadent high tea. The on-site pastry chef is incredible, and we received an awesome sampling of tarts, cakes and tortes. The beautiful antique china, crystal, sterling and linens prompted Alice to ask if it was Christmas or Easter. Alice in Wonderland is an ongoing theme in the house, and this very happy unbirthday party contributed to the magic of our visit.

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How to visit The O Street Mansion with your family

Although it is beautifully ageless in feel, the O is thoroughly technologically up to date in that you can purchase your tour tickets online.

I recommend the O’Kids Playdate, which includes the kid-centric scavenger hunt, the tea party and a $10 credit to use towards the purchase of a book of choice. You can also opt for the Treasure Hunt Tour, which does not include refreshments but still provides you and your kids with a seek-and-find experience. Previous visitors to the house may opt for the Self-Guided Tour and enjoy poking around without a guide.

I think that on our next visit we will request a special Rosa Parks Tour with Ms. Leonards. All five of us were fascinated at the prospect of being inside her home and speaking with her dear friend. There are lots more tour options as well, from champagne to numerology tours.

Give yourself a few hours and give in to the magic of the Mansion on O Street.

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The Mansion on O Street

2016 O Street NW 

Washington, DC 20036 

Call 202.496.2020 before visiting to ensure the O is open to the public and not hosting a private event

Thanks to Ms. Leonard for her personal attention and hosting of my family.

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