Other than the question whose answer is "Location! Location! Location!", the oldest real estate cliche is "Never buy the biggest house on the block". For the early owners of these Second Empire row house triplets, this was easy advice to follow. They lived across the street from Alexander Graham Bell's mansion at 1501 Rhode Island Avenue and just down the block from banking magnate W.W. Corcoran, whose ballroom had a stained glass ceiling.
These late 1870s row houses in the 1200 block of 15th Street NW lay within a golden triangle whose perimeter was formed by the blocks of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island Avenues that connect Scott to Thomas to Logan Circle. As the Grant Administration faded into the Hayes Administration and Hayes gave way to Garfield and Arthur, some of Washington's richest families put up monumental houses along these avenues. A second eschalon of merely prosperous families lived on the triangle's interior streets in elegant houses like these. Originally, the house with the large evergreen belonged to a member of the Galt family of jewelers, while the center house was home to the family of an English hotel owner.
Perhaps it began when the Bells moved out in 1889, but, by 1910 the neighborhood was losing its chic. A few families on the avenues still lived an elegant lifestyle, such as Dr. John Simpson of 1421 Massachusetts Avenue, who employed an Irish personal servant, a German cook, a waitress, and an African-American butler. But the family in the house with the evergreen lived modestly with a single servant.
The red brick house at the north end of the row had become a rooming house, kept by Pauline Nalls, a widow from Virginia. Mrs. Nalls' six male and four female lodgers were a cross-section of white collar middle class Washington.