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Democratic Architecture

Across America, from small towns to great cities, Mount Vernon is a constant presence. Spurred by the widespread interest in the story of the founding of the United States that was brought on by the centennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington and Mount Vernon, more than any other person and structure, have come to symbolize both the colonial era and the birth of the American nation. So completely ingrained in the subconscious of the public are Mount Vernon’s distinctive architectural elements, that the designs of untold numbers of houses continue to incorporate those features, often without their owners’ awareness of the original source. The distinctive two-story piazza is the most copied component of the mansion and it has become one of the most recognizable features in American architecture. It has been adapted to lend distinction to tract houses and mansions alike, as well as to an astonishing array of commercial buildings. These include banks, restaurants, automobile dealerships, funeral homes, office parks, motels, airport terminals, and many more. This popularity is undoubtedly at least partly due to the ease by which a porch can be added to almost any building. However, it may be that Washington’s original design created a quintessentially American space – open, welcoming, and democratic – with a universal and enduring appeal.

Beginning with the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Mount Vernon was selected to serve as the prototype for the official American pavilion at numerous world’s fairs and expositions. These included San Francisco in 1915, Paris in 1931, and Brooklyn in 1932. Such prominent international exposure broadened even further the recognition of Mount Vernon as a symbol of George Washington and of the United States. In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt intervened to have piers modeled on the Mount Vernon piazza added to the design for the terminal at the new Washington National Airport (now known as Reagan National Airport). The Sears, Roebuck, Co., contracted to build the Mount Vernon pavilion for the International Colonial and Overseas Exposition, held outside of Paris in 1931, and the company followed up on that opportunity by offering Mount Vernon-inspired houses as part of their catalogue line of homes. Even today “Mount Vernon” designs continue to be featured in such publications as, Encyclopedia of Home Designs: 500 House Plans.

Send your image of a Mount Vernon-inspired building, along with any historical information on it that you may have, to: ewhite@mountvernon.org. We will be happy to feature your building on this page.

The online exhibit George Washington Architect tells more about Washington's love of architecture and design.