It's been entirely too long since I've done one of these, so I'm going to make up for some lost time.
The Hillwood Estate is one of the more interesting, off-the-beaten path sites in DC. It was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, founder of General Foods, and with one-time husband E. F. Hutton the developer of Birdseye Frozen Foods. When she was married to Joseph Davies, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union during 1937 and '38, she lived in Russia and used her sizable fortune (she was, after all, the wealthiest woman in America) to purchase tons of Imperial Russian jewelry and treasures that would have otherwise been destroyed and melted down. These treasures were later kept in her DC home Hillwood, where she lived from 1955 to her death in 1973; with rare foresight, Miss Post (she resumed her maiden name after her fourth and last divorce) intended her home to be a museum after her death, and had hired a private curator and security experts.
It's a fascinating spot to visit, located in a ritzy residential neighborhood, very quiet and not the easiest place to reach by public transport (but it is possible). Security is very strict, and unsurprisingly so; the treasures are staggering and include a crown and a Faberge egg, and photography is forbidden inside the museum. (You'll have to check out the official website, or visit the place yourself.
But, when I was there, I took copious photos of the grounds and gardens, which are quite impressive...
Touring Hillwood leaves one with all sorts of odd feelings. Post was criticized for taking so much of Russian cultural heritage out of the country, but you can't argue that by doing so she was preserving it for future generations. (Many priceless Russian treasures are now undoubtedly irrevocably lost, unless sitting in the vault of some Bondian collector villain.) And while I'm no fan of the Bolsheviks, it's easy for me to understand why there was a revolution when I see the wealth and glitter the upper classes bedecked themselves in, paid for with the sweat and blood of the workers. Of course, if it wasn't for the wealthy patrons, would great art exist? One of the great unanswerable questions. And while Post lived like royalty, she gave freely to many charities and intended from the start to leave Hillwood to the public as a museum.
Hillwood is still a great place to visit; they actively reach out to the local gay community (using the slogan "Where fabulous lives!") and have a number of gay-oriented events, as well as hosting other eccentric get-togethers, like the Seersucker Social that was organized by the local group Dandies & Quaintrelles. Admission is $15 for adults but when you consider the value of the collection that's actually pretty cheap.
When I wrote about Tudor Place, I compared it to a gracefully-aging old lady, clinging to her ways but keeping pace with the times. Hillwood is an exuberant grand dame who practically overwhelms you with her fabulousness, and leaves you feeling a bit enervated but also quite impressed. Both these ladies are worthy of a call when you're in town.