WASHINGTON — Condominiums for horses! At prices ranging from $400,000 to $900,000 per lot for accompanying humans, only we poor peasants could say nay to the idea.
As we rein in the puns, let it be said that it's all true. Merry-Go-Round Farm, off River Road in Potomac, Md.--bought with the proceeds of Drew Pearson's investigative (he called it "muckraking") newspaper column, for which it was named--has been a great jumping-off place for Democratic parties for almost 60 years. Now lawyer Tyler Abell (Pearson's stepson and President Lyndon B. Johnson's protocol chief) is creating 79 building plots, 50 horse stalls (first come, first stabled), a pasture and innumerable squirrel leaps. It is much like taking a great mansion and turning it into condominiums, with the ballroom and garden to be shared by all.
The refuge, 18 miles from the White House by Abell's odometer, is spectacularly situated on a rural promontory overlooking the Potomac River. For 50 years or so, it has served as the weekend destination for Pearson's widow, Luvie Pearson; her son, Tyler Abell; Tyler's wife Bess Abell, Lady Bird Johnson's social secretary and Joan Mondale's chief of staff; their two sons, Lyndon and Dan Tyler Abell; six dogs and 20 horses; a 12-week-old baby.
Those who made brief for brief starring appearances include former President Lyndon Johnson, former Chief Justice Earl Warren, former vice presidents and presidential candidates Henry Wallace and Walter Mondale, and movie star Rita Hayworth. Not to mention the Democratic Government in Exile.
Drew Pearson came to Washington to work for the Baltimore Sun in the 1920s. In 1930 he and Robert S. Allen anonymously wrote a book, "Washington Merry-Go-Round." With their second, "More Merry-Go-Round," the Sun fired Anderson, and the two started the famous column (now Jack Anderson's) in 1932. It first appeared here in Cissy Patterson's Washington Times-Herald. Pearson took Patterson's daughter, Felicia Gizycka, as his bride, and they had a child, Ellen. That marriage lasted only three years. Pearson then met and got married to Luvie Moore, a movie critic). Pearson continued to get along with Cissy--for a while. They didn't break up until 1942, when he began supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt and the effort to have the United States join the Allies against Hitler.
Anyway, this is all by way of explaining that while the newspaper publisher and the columnist were friends, he found the Potomac farm for her. She bought it for $50,000 in 1930. When she later bought Dower House in Prince George's County, Md., she gave the Montgomery County land to her granddaughter, Ellen, with Pearson as trustee. He eventually bought it from his daughter when she moved to California, and in 1939 he built the hillside farmhouse there now.
"That was when he tried to run it as a dairy farm and Victory Garden to help the war effort," Abell said.
Pearson used to sell muck--the bottom of the old canal bed--from the farm. A big sign on River Road offered "Drew Pearson's Manure, All Cow, No Bull, Better Than the Column."
"My stepfather--before he died in 1969--and I realized we wouldn't be able to hold onto the 204 acres forever. We'd have to develop it," Abell says now. "But it's taken a long time to work out. I went all over the country looking at other such developments. It took forever to get the plans through the Montgomery County requirements."
Abell says he thinks the plan he has worked out with Colden Florance of Keyes Condon Florance Architects and landscape design consultant Edward Alexander is "perhaps the only kind in the country." The people get a bit more than a half acre each. The horses will have 150, minus that devoted to Tyler's Puddle, Luvie's Lake, Drew's Lake and the human residents' two to four tennis courts.
The houses will not be allowed to interfere with the horse trails or with the remarkable views. Each contract will be accompanied by the Merry-Go-Round Farm Architectural and Landscape Design Guidelines by Florance with architect Brian Harner. The guidelines are a short course (well, at 76 pages, maybe not so short) in architectural styles and philosophy, obviously bent on protecting the acreage from the kinds of filthy-rich nighttime-soap-set excesses so visible in the houses on nearby River Road.
The preamble notes: "The intention is to avoid two extremes to which ordinary residential developments frequently succumb: either a monotonous repetition of house types that suppress individuality and imagination, or an uncoordinated cacophony of misunderstood historic styles with awkward massing and siting."
Before people can start to wonder what they can put up, the preamble adds: "While certain styles may be preferred, any style may be introduced subject to the approval of the Architectural Committee." Then it goes on to list pages of designs for windows and details. There is even a three-page list of sanctioned plants.