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DC’s forgotten Modernist: Nicholas Satterlee

February 3, 2012


My morning commute goes like this: ride the train to Dupont Circle, get off at the north (Q Street) exit, and walk several blocks until I’m at my office on Massachusetts Avenue. In fact, the Dupont station has a south exit that’s much closer to where I work, but I’ve been taking the longer route for several weeks now. I like to move my legs, and I like looking at a certain building on Q Street.

The building I like is unrepentantly Brutalist, with a two-story cylinder in front and walls of striated concrete. It’s not cowed by Whittemore House, the fine Gilded Age mansion next door. Other Brutalist buildings in DC have mass. This one is much smaller, but it has guts.


Whittemore House is the headquarters of the Woman’s National Democratic Club, and its addition, finished in 1967, was the work of a local architect named Nicholas Satterlee. (Never heard of him? Neither had I.) According to a real estate website, Satterlee formed partnerships with Donald Lethbridge, Arthur Keyes, and Chloethiel Woodard Smith before setting up his own practice in 1963. He also designed the Chevy Chase (DC) Library, Temple Sinai, the Capital Park II condos in Southwest (with Smith), and the Holmes Run neighborhood in Falls Church (with Lethbridge). Intriguingly, a magazine article published in 2010 refers to a 1967 apartment tower in Cleveland, Ohio, as being designed by “New York architect Nicholas Satterlee.”

Why isn’t Satterlee better known? I’d like to find out more, which might be a reason to go down to the Library of Congress and finally renew my old reader ID card. Meanwhile, the Dupont south exit is closed for eight months for escalator repairs, so I’ll have many more opportunities to look at this brut bijou.


Post a comment
  1. catherinesatterlee #
    April 26, 2012

    I’m one of his children. Thanks for a great article! His photo appears in the Best Addresses book, too. Catherine

  2. Christen Johansen #
    December 12, 2012

    Another good reason to visit DC after many years away. This house was built right around the time I left. I knew him as “Uncle Nick”, a dear friend of my parents, he was a great looking man with a striong presence. I look forward to seeing his building when I return. Thank you for the picture and article.

    Christen Johansen

    • April 25, 2013

      Thank you Christen! If time allowed, I would love to do more research on Satterlee and his work.

  3. berts #
    April 14, 2015

    The house in that listing was actually Eleanor Dulles’ house (sister of John Foster and Allen) and there’s quite a big section about it in the book Covert Capital. Worth checking out (not too much information about Satterlee though)

  4. Regan #
    September 9, 2015

    Hi Amanda, I am doing a project on a beautiful building built by Satterlee and I was wondering if you were, in fact, able to learn more about him and his designs. Thanks!

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