Ben Barnes has a Washington player’s résumé. He’s a Democratic lobbyist, he’s made a fortune in real estate, and he’s a former lieutenant governor of Texas and speaker of the state’s House. But there’s another side to him: history buff, art collector, preservationist. These are embodied in his building on 19th Street in downtown DC, where he has set up the Ben Barnes Group, a team of six including partners and staff.
It’s the former home of Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, who lived there when Roosevelt served on the Civil Service Commission. Barnes’s office was the couple’s bedroom, where Roosevelt’s fifth child, Archibald, was born in 1894. Barnes bought the building eight years ago and spent $4.2 million restoring it. The oak floors are from the period. The five fireplaces all work. The walls are hung with 19th-century American art. The restoration made Barnes a student of TR.
He proudly shows off a copy of Roosevelt’s 1905 address to a joint session of Congress after his presidential reelection. Barnes has learned that what made the house especially appealing to Roosevelt was its proximity to his stable in Rock Creek Park. He might have been born to money in New York City and educated at Harvard, but the future Rough Rider was a cowboy at heart.
Another bonus: The restaurant Roosevelt frequented with Secretary of War Redfield Proctor was only two blocks away. Barnes has his own dining options: “It doesn’t hurt that the Palm and i Ricchi are across the street.”
This article appears in the June 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.