Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Hillwood--the Washington home of Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post

Warning: This entry is a bit longer than most I post, but if you're coming to Washington, it's worth it!

Nestled on 25 acres in northwest Washington is the estate of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post--heiress of the Post Cereal fortune. Her home, Hillwood, is a gem among gems in this town. Mrs. Post purchased Hillwood after her third marriage to diplomat Joseph Davies acrimoniously dissolved and the terms of the divorce stipulated that her husband would take possession of their New York City home.

The French Parterre garden to the south of the house.
Mrs. Post enjoyed this view from her bedroom suite.
Her first meeting
every day, when she was in residence at Hillwood,
was with the gardener to discuss what else?
The gardens!

As the only child of C.W. and Ella Merriweather Post, Marjorie was raised in the family business and acquired the acumen and skills of many of her male contemporaries. When her father died in 1914, Mrs. Post inherited the business and a fortune valued at the time at US$250 million. She was married to investment banker Edward Close (paternal grandfather of actress Glenn Close) in 1905 and they had two daughters. They divorced in 1919 and she married financier E.F. Hutton. Between his bucks and her business, they expanded Post Cereal and renamed it General Foods. Post and Hutton divorced in 1935. She had one daughter with him.

Same French Parterre garden, different angle.

Later that year, Mrs. Post married Joseph Davies, a Washington lawyer and diplomat. President Franklin Roosevelt posted him to Moscow as U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. Post went along. Prior to her travels throughout Russia at the height of Stalin's purges and destruction of czarist art and religious icons, Mrs. Post had been an avid collector of French porcelain and furniture. During her stay in Moscow, she began collecting Russian art, iconography, porcelain, and Faberge eggs, among other treasures. She and Mr. Davies divorced in 1955; he retained the apartment in New York and Mrs. Post went searching for a home.

Terrace of the French Parterre garden.
Note the bayed window. That is Mrs. Post's toilette.

Following her divorce from Mr. Davies, Mrs. Post bought Hillwood Estates and would spend the rest of her life transforming it not only into her home, but a museum. In 1958, she married Herbert May, a Pittsburgh businessman. Their marriage lasted six years and they divorced in 1964. Following that divorce, Mrs. Post reclaimed her maiden name and stuck with it until she died. She never remarried. The same year she married Mr. May, she hired Marvin Ross, an art historian, to be curator of the Hillwood collection and to advise her on purchases and acquisitions for her collection.

A different angle on the terrace of the French Parterre garden.
Note the windows with awnings. Those are the windows of Mrs. Post's bedroom.

Mrs. Post's collection is one of the most impressive in Washington. In addition to opulent rooms (including a movie theatre decked out in plush purple velvet draperies and lilac crushed velvet wall paper with silver accents), her collection of French and Russian art is astounding! The tapestries are gorgeous. The furniture is exquisite. The wood paneled libraries are elegant. And the dining room table is astonishing! An invitation to Mrs. Post's home was something to be coveted in Washington.

Final resting place of Mrs. Post--her rose garden.

Mrs. Post began inviting veterans and their families to her estate on the Sunday preceding Veteran's Day--a result of the ill- and unjust treatment she believed returning Vietnam veterans were receiving and a reconciling, welcoming gesture of appreciation for their service on her part. It is a tradition that continues to this day. Mrs. Post died in 1973, but in her will she bequeathed her estate to the public as a museum.

Just one of the many orchids and plant varietals on display both in the house
and in the greenhouse. Mrs. Post insisted on fresh flowers in every room of her home
and cultivated them on her property.

In addition to her home, visitors can also see her greenhouse, several gardens, and a dacha she had built on the property. The estate is open 11 months of the year and is closed in January. Advance reservations are necessary for Sunday visits as the estate is not open consecutive Sundays. Reservations are also highly recommended for the spring and summer months, otherwise, you can just drive up and begin your visit at the Visitor's Center.

The estate also hosts a summer movie series on the grounds. The home is located off of Beach Drive. The cross street is Linnean and Tilden. There is no cost to visit the estate and gardens, but a donation of $12/adult is suggested and well worth every penny! This is a definite must-see in Washington and in my Top Ten List of Sights to See.

To see pictures of roses from Mrs. Post's rose garden, visit Standing Room Only. To learn more about Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens--Where Fabulous Lives and to see pictures of the interior (photography is not allowed in the house), go here.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 11/08


pierre l said...

That is a great description, and I shall definitely visit the house if I ever come to Washington. Lovely photos as always. Thank you for taking them.

Wayne said...

That was an interesting and informative post.

I'm still not sure what Post Grape Nuts are or were.

D.C. Confidential said...

Pierre: Definitely a must-see. Some of the pieces and art in Mrs. Post's collection easily rival a number of the treasures in the Smithsonian system.

Wayne: Thanks! Grape Nuts are a vile cereal. Actually, it's one of those cereals you either love or hate. There's no in-between. Here's more information.

marley said...

She certainly liked weddings!! Great post, it sounds like an amazing place to visit and your photos bring it to life. The photo of the orchid is excellent. If we ever get to Washington it'll be on our list of things to see :)

pierre l said...

I bought Grape Nuts once, many decades ago, because I had intended to get Grape Nut Flakes and picked the wrong box. I couldn't tell for sure from the enjoyable video, but my memory is of oversized peppercorns, and just about as hard.
I am afraid I am a Bran Flakes man, as supplied by Kellogg's UK.

Arlene said...

Wow - why is it that fortune was so much more glamorous back then?

D.C. Confidential said...

Marley: I guess that's one way of looking at it! Definitely add this to your list of must-sees if you ever come this way.

Pierre: Your memory is correct. Peppercorns is a good way of describing them. I know some people add milk and warm them to a mush. Regardless, I think they're vile. I'm with you: bran flakes are better!

Arlene: I think because people had a sense of taste and knew how to collect priceless pieces. Today's wealth seems to be more about simply possessing the latest gadget or disposable whatevers. Grandma June would have liked this house! It's right up her alley.

Maya said...

Nice orchid!

D.C. Confidential said...

Maya: Thanks! I liked how strong and bold the colors were. Plus, it made me think of a Georgia O'Keefe.