Ruthie Abel

Supporting ‘Green Equity’ with the Josephine Butler Parks Center

Steeped in history and cultural significance, the ornately-designed Josephine Butler Parks Center is situated in the densest and most diverse area of Washington, D.C. Formerly the embassies of Hungary and Brazil, today the historic mansion is home to many of the local park system’s community initiatives, all of which work to shape the city into a greener and more equitable place. Since being restored to its original beauty, the estate’s ballroom has become a popular venue for wedding ceremonies in the D.C. area, especially since the second-floor terrace overlooks Meridian Hill Park’s gorgeous, sprawling treetops.

Built in 1927, the 40-room Italian Renaissance-revival style mansion was designed by George Oakley Totten, a distinguished architect whose works include over a dozen embassies across the nation’s capital, as well as most of the stately homes that line Meridian Hill Park still today.

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Mary Foote Henderson, widow of the Missouri senator who co-authored the 13th Amendment that outlawed slavery, commissioned the home with an eye toward it serving as the residence of future Vice Presidents­–an intention that never came to fruition. With its large galleries and split staircases that open up to spacious foyers adorned with decorative crown molding, Totten designed the home with inviting spaces that lend themselves to entertaining guests– a legacy that continues today.

Terraced green spaces, monumental stone staircases, and a mature tree canopy make nearby Meridian Hill Park a picturesque backdrop for wedding photos. Blending her background as a real estate developer and social activist, Henderson successfully lobbied Congress to build Meridian Hill Park as the nation’s first national park for the performing arts. As one of the nation’s tree-friendliest urban areas, Washington has more green space per capita than any other similarly-sized U.S. city, and it spends more on trees than all of them, too.

While touring the inviting mansion, Garden Collage spoke with Makenzie Delmotte, Special Events Manager for Washington Parks & People, which owns and operates the Parks Center. For Delmotte, the center is a unique wedding venue for D.C. because of its charm and approachability. “It’s one of those historic D.C. buildings where you know you’re somewhere special, but you feel like you’re allowed to be there,” she says. Given its proximity to some of the city’s most inviting green space, the Josephine Butler Parks Center is also a symbolic representation of the kind of atmosphere it works to create for all of the city’s park-lovers.

Many of D.C.’s wedding venues can feel overly extravagant, but the Parks Center is just the opposite­–warm, worn, and welcoming. Offering an elegant ballroom, terrace, library, foyers, galleries, and a bridal suite, the layout lends itself to large wedding ceremonies, as well as cocktail hours in smaller rooms that provide space for more intimate conversations.

Most couples that wed at the center are drawn just as much by the quaint beauty of the storied building as they are by the organization’s mission. As an incubator for initiatives that advance parks, gardens, and public spaces, proceeds from weddings and other events go to support community causes like planting trees in blighted parks and youth programs.

The Parks Center houses over ten area non-profits that focus on the arts, advocacy, job training, and neighborhood revitalization, among other issues that can be addressed through the lens of gardening, parks, and greenery. And since its founding, the center has worked in 125 parks around the city, a testament to its dedication to improving the health of D.C.’s green spaces and the community writ large–a mission your wedding can help support.

To find out more about the Josephine Butler Parks Center, visit the organization’s wedding page

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