Out of the Attic: A changing of hands at the French-Lawler House


Considered one of Alexandrias finest examples of Queen Anne architecture, the French-Lawler House at 517 S. Washington St. bears the names of the two families who once called it home. An earlier structure at the location had been the home of bookseller George E. French, but after his death in 1890, the old home was demolished.

Around 1893, this brick residence with neoclassical detail and a wrap-around porch was erected on the same lot, and it became the home of Frenchs son Robert. A second home built just to the north on the corner of Wilkes and South Washington streets resembled the one at 517 and was the residence of another French son. It was demolished around 1930 and a gas station was built on the site.

In 1903 the home at 517 was sold at auction to Martin Lawler, and Robert French sued him over the sale. The legal dispute was eventually resolved in favor of Lawler. A native of Ireland who became a successful merchant, Lawler had it renovated and repainted in1909, prompting a local paper to describe it as one of the handsomest in the city surrounded by a pretty and well kept lawn. 

He died in 1916, and one of his sons, Nicholas, an Alexandria City Council member, later assumed ownership.

The home and a carriage house in the rear remained in the Lawler family into the mid-1970s, shortly before this photograph was taken. Since then it has served as an office building, home to a variety of businesses including a real estate company in the 1980s and counselingservice in the early 1990s. Its most recent renovation was completed in 2001.