Susan G. Pearl
5804, Ruatan Street, Berwyn Heights, Prince Georges County
The O'Dea House, built in 1888 from a pattern book design, is a 2 1/2-story frame Queen Anne-style dwelling. Centered in the principal or south facade is a three-story octagonal tower. The main block is three bays by two bays with an entrance in the third (eastmost) bay of the south facade. Sheltering the principal facade and following the lines of the projecting tower is a one-story porch with chamfered posts and geometric openwork brackets. Extending to the north and nearly flush with the east gable end is a two-story hip-roofed kitchen wing. The house is distinguished not only by the octagonal tower but by the variety of ornamental surface coverings including scalloped and fishscale shingles. In the east and west gable ends at the third level, a shallow pent roof forms a pediment. The tympanum is sided with fishscale shingles and enclosed two small square 20-pane windows. Above these, in the apex of each gable end is a square triangular space with ramiform or branch-like paneling simulating half-timbering. Like the main block, the octagonal tower is ornamented with a variety of siding materials, including plain horizontal board on the first story, scalloped shingle on the second, and fishscale shingle on the third. The hip roof of the south facade porch forms a division between first and second stories, and a narrow five-section roof forms a division between second and third stories. There are three windows in each of the second and third stories of the tower, which is surmounted by a pyramidal roof and adorned with an acorn-shaped metal finial. Windows are generally 1/1 double hung sash, and have plain board surrounds and no shutters. The cornice is boxed throughout, with crown molding, and below the cornice is a concave board frieze. On the main block, the second story is slightly flared over the first story, with a prominent crown molding. Centered on the west gable end is a one-story semi-octagonal projecting bay. The roof throughout is covered with gray asbestos shingle. A corbeled brick chimney rises from the south plane of the roof, partly behind the octagonal tower. The building rests on a brick foundation which encloses a full basement. Ramiform paneling and interior arrangement of rooms centers around an octagonal parlor in the front of the house. Door and window surrounds have multi-band molding and bullseye corner blocks. The closed string staircase in the easterly vestibule has a square paneled newel positioned diagonally with applied bullseye moldings and turned balusters.
The O'Dea House is significant for its association with the development of Berwyn Heights, originally Charlton Heights, in suburban Washington, D.C. and for its architectural character. Beginning in the 1870s, the area northeast of Washington was the scene of active and continuous development as the population of the city increased and railroad suburbs such as Berwyn Heights gradually grew and expanded around it. The O'Dea House is one of the houses erected by the Charlton Heights Improvement Company to spur development of its new community. In typical fashion these company-built houses were often mail order or pattern book houses. The pattern for the O'Dea House is from an 1888 published design by Robert W. Shoppell. The O'Dea House is also important for it embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Queen Anne style which was popular in the last quarter of the 19th century. Most notable of these characteristics are the three-story polygonal tower and varied ornamental surface coverings. Few examples of this style in Prince George's County retain the high level of integrity found in the O'Dea House.