Construction of the original brick portion of Quarters "A" began in the fall of 1837, several months after Congress authorized its creation as the second commandant's house in the shipyard history.
Commodore Lewis Warrington, who twice commanded the shipyard, was the first shipyard commander to enjoy Quarters "A" after the gracious central section was completed in 1838. His two-block move began from the original two-story brick commandant's house built in 1805 on the riverside shoulder of Water Street (now Warrington Ave.). It was located about midway between Hammerhead 110 and Building 59.
The first commandant's quarters continued to serve the shipyard variously as a residence and as an office until 1861 when it was destroyed by fires set by federal personnel evacuating the yard during the onset of the Civil War.
Warrington's rhetoric championing the new Quarters "A" was compelling. In the fall of 1836, 10 months after Quarters "B" and "C" were declared ready for occupancy, he wrote Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson that first on his list of proposed improvements was "a house for the Commander of the Yard."
"The work carrying on, and to be carried on, in the creek south of his present residence, renders it unfit for a family from June to November, on account of its unhealthiness, for the whole year, by reason of its exposure to the noise and the observation of the workmen," he wrote. "For this the mason's estimate is $20,800 and the joiners estimate is $24,604."
His request for more suitable accommodations was forwarded by the Secretary of the Navy to Congress on December 3, 1836. Public Works records in the National Archives show construction outlays in 1837 and 1838.
This two-story, Flemish-bond brick structure is a handsome and finely crafted example of a style in national favor during a period of rapid expansion for the United States and the shipyard.
Quarters "A" has striking features copied from Asher Benjamin's famed book, "The Practical House Carpenter." published in 1830.
The central entry has Doric pilasters, plain full entablature and blocking course. The curving flights of stairs with original iron railings ascend to a landing at the front-door level. Three-part windows, each consisting of two-over-two sash flanking a six-over-six window, have ramped white marble lintels with corner blocks.
Carved pilasters and elaborate jig-sawn balusters help make Quarters "A" a handsome example of its style.
Large arches stand between reception rooms. Paralleling the central entrance hall is an elliptical stair with eased and scrolled banister. To the right of the entrance hall is the dining room, and the rear half of the house is occupied by a double parlor separated by a flattened segmental arch with corner block imposts, a central table, and symmetrically molded trim. The Italian marble fireplaces in the double parlors and the dining room are the originals but the hearths may not be. There is a small side porch, a large glass-enclosed sun porch, two kitchens and butler's pantry on the first floor.|
The second-floor plan is similar to the first, but double doors rather than an open arch separate the two rear chambers.
Much original detail remains, including paneled window reveals, simple marble mantels and Greek-fret stair brackets.
Frame two-story porches with bracketed cornices were added to the sides and rear of the home, in 1890 and 1910. The stable and carriage house added in 1915 is now a garage. It stands near the site of the greenhouse added in 1915.
The spacious grounds, which once hosted extensive vegetable gardens, now feature spreading oak, crepe myrtle and sycamore trees, as well as more than 100 roses planted and tended by shipyard commanders and their families.
Entries in the Quarters "A" Log date from 1963, when the diary was placed in the residence by friends of Rear Admiral W.E. Howard Jr., who then commanded this historic shipyard.
Entries provide glimpses into the lives and achievements of officers whose names are famous in the naval annals of America, including as Acting Secretary of the Navy and as fleet commanders. Many other outstanding figures of the Navy, the nation and the world have at some time or another visited Quarters "A", sometimes to pay their respects to the commandant while their ships were being overhauled and repaired.
Observers have described hospitality being extended to Quarters "A" guests with style and grace. "Handsome collations...elegant repast...lavish dinner...choice viands" appear in eyewitness accounts. There also have been accounts of simpler entertainment, including potluck suppers, that reflect occupants' continuing enjoyment of a gracious and historic home.
Quarters "A" is listed in the Nation Register of Historic Landmarks.