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“Start-up accelerator” 1776 is finding its niche developing high-tech solutions to policy problems. By Benjamin Freed

Since launching in April with a $200,000 grant from the District, the “start-up accelerator” 1776, in downtown DC, has outpaced other local tech incubators like Acceleprise and AOL’s Fishbowl Labs—1776 is currently hosting some 185 companies, with another 500 applications pending. DC’s niche, it turns out, is developing high-tech solutions to policy problems, which takes more than capital.

“It’s not as simple as putting the consumer app out and letting it go viral,” says Donna Harris, who founded 1776 with Evan Burfield. “You need to know the regulatory environment, and strategies you can use to scale.” In early 2014, the company is launching Ventures, a program to help members expand their customer base, with 1776 taking a cut of resulting profits.

Here’s a look at a few tenants hoping to make it big.



Not everyone at 1776 is a wonk, unless you count dating wonks: Hinge’s app matches users based on Facebook profiles. Having recently secured $4 million in funds, however, Hinge is moving to New York’s Silicon Alley. “If this were education or health, we’d stay,” CEO Justin McLeod says. “It was really useful to grow a company here.” Why? In New York and San Francisco, he explains, digital hyper-sophisticates will sink you before you begin.



This public-transit app founded by two West Point graduates shows users nearby Metro stations, bus lines, Capital Bike-share stations, and car-sharing companies, along with the estimated time and cost of a trip. Part of 1776’s appeal was that the lights are always on. Says cofounder Joseph Kopser: “Transportation is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job.”

Infield Health.

Infield Health

CEO Douglas Naegele (above)wants to demystify the confusing instructions preop patients have to follow in the hospital, using a smartphone app that reduces them to an easy checklist. Naegele and four employees will launch their app in three hospitals (though none yet in Washington). Infield Health worked out of its own space for four years, developing programs such as smoking cessation via text message, but Naegele says: “I get huge benefits from being in a room with 12 health-IT firms.”

Flat World Knowledge.

Flat World Knowledge

One of 1776’s biggest tenants—with more than 30 employees and $26.2 million in funding, according to CrunchBase—Flat World Knowledge moved to Washington from New York to expand its digital college-textbook business. Now the firm—which is about to “graduate” from 1776 by moving into its own office—is branching into granting business degrees in partnership with an accredited college; courses are delivered by tablet computer.

All photographs by Andrew Propp.

This article appears in the January 2014 issue of The Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:03 AM/ET, 12/30/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The District government's proposal could dramatically change the look of the Washington skyline, but officials say it's needed as the city grows. By Benjamin Freed

Rendering of Pennsylvania Ave. with 200-foot buildings. Courtesy of DC Office of Planning.
The District government is proposing considerable changes to the Height of Buildings Act that, if adopted, could make Washington's low, federally protected skyline a bit taller. In a proposal submitted yesterday to House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, Republican of California, DC officials argue that it is "necessary, desirable and in both the federal and local interest” to allow the city's structures to go higher.

The DC report, which was compiled by the Office of Planning, comes two weeks after the National Capital Planning Commission recommended leaving the Height Act largely as it stands. But the District's proposal is far more aggressive, and calls for allowing buildings in the city's core to be built as high as 200 feet, and no cap in several high-growth neighborhoods outside the area planners refer to as the L'Enfant City.

The report comes ten months after Issa asked the DC government and the National Capital Planning Commission to submit recommendations on whether the Height Act should be revisited and, if so, how it should be amended.

Currently, most building heights are restricted to a 1-to-1 ratio, meaning that a building cannot be taller than the street it faces is wide. Buildings on commercial strips get an extra 20 feet, meaning the tallest buildings are seldom higher than 130 feet. The District recommends the ratio be kicked up to 1-to-1.25 throughout the L'Enfant City, meaning that buildings on 160-foot wide Pennsylvania Ave., NW could grow to an even 200 feet. 

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Posted at 09:29 AM/ET, 09/25/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Washington Navy Yard helped bring a DC neighborhood back to life by being an active part of the community. After Monday's massacre, will that still be the case? By Benjamin Freed
Yards Park and the Boilermaker Shops near Washington Navy Yard. Photo by Flickr user Alex Ansley.

Most days, the streets that border Washington Navy Yard are as good a picture of DC’s current growth as any neighborhood. Barracks Row, a stretch of 8th St., SE, is around the corner full of theaters, pet stores, and crowded bars and restaurants. New parks delight visitors with curving architectural features, fountains for kids to splash in, and ice rinks in the wintertime. Residential and commercial developments scrape the District’s building height limits.

All of that can be sourced back to the creation, in the late 1990s, of a new headquarters for the Naval Sea Systems Command, that on Monday was the scene of one of the darkest moments in DC’s history, when a former Navy reservist working there for a contractor managed to get a shotgun into the building and started a bloody rampage that ultimately left 13 people—the shooter included—dead.

Two days later, life around Navy Yard is still inching back to normality—the streets are open, the offices across the street are buzzing, the food trucks are lined up at the curb—but the base itself is still emerging from the massacre. Access to the installation is limited to essential-mission personnel, FBI agents and police continue to sweep the area for evidence from Monday’s carnage, and the section of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that cuts through the yard next to the Anacostia River.

A military base that after many years finally enmeshed itself in its surrounding community feels receded again. And some of the people who pushed to revitalize the Navy Yard by better integrating it into the city badly hope these conditions do not last.

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Posted at 02:50 PM/ET, 09/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The sales total more than $45 million. By Carol Ross Joynt

While real estate sales have generally been strong in the Washington area—particularly in Georgetown—in the past six months, they have felt like a return to the past, before the market crashed and the Great Recession began. Since December 2012, seven sales in the neighborhood have closed for between $6.5 million and $8.9 million. Admittedly they are premium properties, but the dollar amounts are attention-getting, totaling more than $45 million.

Here are the notable seven transactions of the past six months:

3303 Water Street, Northwest (condo apartment)—$6.5 million (listed at $6.65), seven bedrooms, five full baths

All photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

1248 30th Street, Northwest—$7.6 million (listed at $7.99), five bedrooms, six full baths

3123 Dumbarton Street, Northwest—$7 million (listed at $8), six bedrooms, four full baths

3044 O Street, Northwest—$8.6 million (listed at $9.2), nine bedrooms, seven full baths

3249 N Street, Northwest—$7.5 million (listed at $7.85), six bedrooms, five full baths

1405 34th Street, Northwest—$7.9 million (listed at $8.9), eight bedrooms, seven full baths

3053 P Street, Northwest—Still on the market for $8.9 million, nine bedrooms, nine baths

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Posted at 10:45 AM/ET, 07/31/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Saying a place has two bedrooms? How boring. By Mary Clare Glover

Photograph by Sarah Danaher/Ampersand Photography.

“I’ve seen it before, the pause at the front door, eyes soaking it in and begging for more.”

“Mr. Clean must’ve married Danica Patrick, built a razor-sharp racetrack w/smooth banks, soft curves, and looong straight-a-ways.”

“Someone please explain how this builder fit a V-8 engine in a Porsche 911? How they made a Maserati that seats 6?”

“There’s some sort of warm embrace in this place, seldom felt, nourishing. Then start the tour, through silky smooth social space, into Top Chef Kitchen fit for Tapas Competition. Rarely seen first floor den = Sunday Times or Post in PJ’s with toast.”

“You are humbled, like what happens when we stare out to sea & feel small. . . . Wait a minute! Is that a family room off the kitchen? Toss me a Pop-Tart Mom!!!!”

Those aren’t song lyrics or poorly written poems. They’re excerpts from house descriptions by DC real-estate agent Tom Faison. “When I started selling homes 22 years ago, I would read these remarks that start off by saying, ‘This three-bedroom has a stove,’ ” Faison says. “I’ve always hated that. I feel like it’s describing the Mona Lisa as a woman with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.”

Agents have 400 characters to describe a house in an MRIS online listing. Faison likes to think of that space as a chance to sell an experience. “We don’t buy homes because of logic,” he says. “I try to promote a feeling and provoke people.” He makes his descriptions vague, confusing, and ridiculous enough that people will want to investigate further.

Faison calls his descriptions more akin to limericks than poems. And though he has fun writing them, he says they don’t make much difference in actually selling a house: “It’s really all about price. A house can have a dead body in the basement, but a good price can cure that.”

So why do it? “Like all real-estate agents, I crave attention. Life’s too short to be boring.”

This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 07/30/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Rather than being scared away by its history, buyers flocked. By Carol Ross Joynt

The Drath-Muth house at 3206 Q Street, Northwest, in Georgetown. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The house where Viola Drath was murdered almost two years ago, and which went on the market only two weeks ago, is under contract. Apparently its gruesome history did not scare away buyers. In fact, there were multiple offers, which resulted in a bidding war. The list price was $995,000, and the selling price, reportedly, is approximately $1.2 million. Settlement is expected at the end of August.

Drath was found beaten and strangled in an upstairs bathroom. Her husband, Albrecht Muth, was charged with the crime and is scheduled to go on trial in December. He has been incarcerated since shortly after police reported the crime on August 12, 2011.

Posted at 11:59 AM/ET, 07/30/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Beyond the $26 million price tag, the Patterson Mansion has an impressive history, too. By Carol Ross Joynt
The Patterson Mansion, viewed from the garden of its neighbor, the Sulgrave Club, both on Dupont Circle. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Once upon a time—a century ago—Dupont Circle was ringed with mansions that were private homes. In the Gilded Age it was the hub of high society. Today only two remain—the Wadsworth House, which faces Massachusetts Avenue and is home to the Sulgrave Club, and the Patterson Mansion, which is directly on the circle and was home to the Washington Club. The membership of the club, a victim of changing tastes and times and rising operating costs, have put the elegant and historic building on the market for $26 million, making it DC’s priciest piece of residential real estate. The fact that its brokers expect to have the mansion sold before the end of the year says a lot about the general vitality of the area’s high-end real estate market.

The property is listed by Georgetown-based TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, and Bradley Nelson of that firm gave us an inside look. While we walked from room to room, he said there have been “a lot of inquiries, extensively and globally.” He said they have come from boutique hotel owners, private social clubs, investors from the Middle East, potential diplomatic buyers, and even some individuals who would return it to a private home. That’s a lot of home, too, with 16 bedrooms, many grand public rooms, including a ballroom and an auditorium, and, the most important component of buying a home in Washington, parking. There’s parking for ten cars, plus a garage that Nelson said may be one of the city’s first.

In its lifespan, since it was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1901, it has had only three owners, initially the Patterson family, who owned the Chicago Tribune, and whose daughter, Cissy, bequeathed it upon her death in 1948 to the American National Red Cross, who sold it to the Washington Club in 1951. In 1927, it served as a temporary home for President Calvin Coolidge and his wife while the White House was under renovation. A notable overnight guest of the Coolidges was aviator Charles Lindbergh after his historic flight, who came to town to receive the first Distinguished Flying Cross on June 11, 1927. The room he slept in is named after him.

To walk around the house now is to wish the walls could talk. It would tell stories of parties, history, and Washington. The potential is obvious. The ground-floor rooms are in better condition than upstairs, where a major renovation may be required. But, as they say in the business of interior design, the bones are there. There is an addition on the back, which the Washington Club built in 1965. It holds the large “auditorium,” complete with a stage and an equally large basement room. Nelson said a buyer could “theoretically tear down the addition.” But not the mansion. The original building has a historic designation and any changes within would require review and approval.

Posted at 11:30 AM/ET, 07/29/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
He was held captive for five years during the Lebanon hostage crisis. By Carol Ross Joynt
The house at 2732 34th Street, Northwest. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Elham Cicippio confirmed on Wednesday that she and her husband, Joseph, have put their Beaux Arts Observatory Circle residence on the market. The listing price is $4.35 million for the house at 2732 34th Street, Northwest. The name Joseph Cicippio will always be in the history books, as he was a central figure in the Lebanon hostage crisis of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cicippio was kidnapped by Iranian terrorists in January 1987, when he was the comptroller at the American university in Beirut. He was held for five years and freed in December 1991.

Several years later, after he and other hostages filed lawsuits, Cicippio and his wife were awarded $30 million in a judgment against the Iranian government. The money came from frozen Iranian assets held by the US Treasury. In 2005, a federal judge in DC awarded Cicippio’s family members $91 million for the emotional distress they suffered while he was held captive. That money was also collected from frozen Iranian assets. That money has never been distributed to the family members, according to Joseph Cicippio in a phone interview. “We were told there were no more Iranian frozen assets that could be allocated to this award,” he says. The award remains active but, he says, “I don’t think it will ever get paid.” Cicippio, who is 83, says that after he was released and returned to the US he moved to Princeton, New Jersey, then to Virginia, and to DC in 2000. “That’s when we bought this house,” he says. “We’ve put our heart and soul into it.” 

In the years since his release he wrote a memoir, Chains to Roses, published in 1993, and became the chief financial officer at USAID. He tried retirement 13 years ago, “but I went bananas, because I’ve always worked since I was in eighth grade. I have to work every day. It keeps me young.” He now has an IT company, Technical Specialities, in Lanham, Maryland.

The Cicippios bought the four-bedroom house for $2.1 million. Elham Cicippio said the couple had not yet decided where they will move next, but the 34th Street house had become too big for just the two of them. Joseph says they are still deciding whether to remain in the Washington area.

According to the New York Times, Cicippio was held captive by the Iranian-allied Revolutionary Justice Organization, who publicly threatened to kill him three times. The Lebanon hostage crisis spanned a decade from 1982 to ’92. During that time 96 hostages were kidnapped and held captive, including 25 Americans, two of whom were killed: the CIA’s William Francis Buckley and Marine colonel William Higgins

Cicippio says he has moved on from the episode. “I don’t have animosity,” he says. “It’s not in my makeup. We don’t speak about it. I was captured. I was held. It’s over.” He says he did not get therapy except for the debriefers who talked with him on the flights from Damascus, where he was released, to Germany, where he was examined, and back to the US. He said he keeps in touch with only one fellow hostage, who is French.

This post has been updated throughout. 

Posted at 05:25 PM/ET, 07/24/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
That’s the incentive Casey Patten is using to sell his Penn Quarter condo. By Carol Ross Joynt
A view of Casey Patten’s condo, which includes a terrace. Photograph courtesy of Jay Bauer.

Buyer incentives are nothing new in real estate transactions, but they usually take the form of negotiable closing costs. Here’s one we haven’t come across before: five years of free hoagies from Taylor Gourmet. That’s the deal offered by Casey Patten, co-owner of Taylor, to the buyer of his Penn Quarter condo. The one-bedroom apartment, on Seventh Street, Northwest, is listed at $489,000. In addition to the hoagies, there’s an attractive kitchen with a breakfast bar (a good place to chow down on a hoagie) and a private terrace, another good place for sandwich-scarfing.

We reached out to the condo’s listing agent, Jay Bauer, with a few questions. For example, how many hoagies and how often? One a week, he says, at any Taylor Gourmet. Whose idea was it? “I pitched it to Casey as a one-year hoagie deal,” says Bauer, “but he said, ‘How about five years?’” The freebies come in the form of a gift card worth $2,470, and the buyer can use it any way he or she chooses—once a week, four a month, all at one time (though if choosing the last option, Taylor asks to be notified 24 hours in advance).

While Bauer says he’s familiar with buyer incentives, this is a new one—“definitely on the unique side.” Blushing only slightly, we asked if there’d been any “nibbles.” Bauer says, “There’ve been shark attacks. I have people calling me already”—even before the open house, which is this Sunday from 1 to 4 PM. If you are superstitious, consider this, too: The apartment is on the seventh floor of 777 Seventh Street.

One last obvious question: Will there be hoagies at the open house? Bauer laughed. “There will be plenty of Taylor Gourmet there for everybody.”

Posted at 02:30 PM/ET, 07/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()