Week 28: O Street Mansion

Foundation mission: O Street Museum Foundation is dedicated to serving cultural, scientific and educational needs, with a focus on the creative process. We believe that creative expression through all forms of art and scientific discovery is the definition of hope.

There comes a time in the course of Weekly Museum Visits when you have 90 fewer museum choices than you had when you first started. Some folks might object to my inclusion of O Street Mansion as a museum, but as I exhaust many of the widely-agreed-upon options, I have to branch out and get creative. Also, I was celebrating my birthday, and I wanted something fun to do with friends.

O Street Mansion

O Street Mansion

OSM was certainly a good place to get creative. The eccentric hotel and event venue also bills itself as a one-of-a-kind museum “dedicated to exploring the creative process.”

Three friends and I took the self-guided tour, which consisted of exploring as many of the 100 rooms and 70 secret doors as we could find. (I am pretty sure there was a lot that we did not find.) These rooms include spaces for eating, sitting, sleeping, bathing, playing games, and cooking. Some rooms serve multiple functions (you mean not everyone has a chess table in their bathroom?).

Secret door at O Street Mansion

Secret door at O Street Mansion

Most of the rooms are themed and filled to the brim with clutter. The majority of the clutter is donated, and all but the guitars are available for purchase.

Afterward, we discussed whether this place is a museum. I said that it was not put together with the intentionality of museum exhibits, and one of my friends commented that when she goes to a museum, she expects to be able to read about the history of the objects and where they came from.

For me, the experience felt less like visiting a museum and more like wandering through one enormous, interactive work of art. We made sense of what we saw not by reading exhibit labels or listening to a tour guide, but instead, by trying on hats and touching bookcases to see if they were secret doors.

Art at O Street Mansion

Art at O Street Mansion

Since we didn’t know the names of the things we saw, we had to come up with our own identifying words. “This is what you’ve been calling the cat book room? But it’s the bunny room!” It turned out, on closer examination, that the decor of the room had more to do with teddy bears than anything else.

One other person in the group and I recently took a Knowledge Commons DC class on Dada. Yesterday, we walked through OSM exclaiming, “Look, it’s Dada! It doesn’t make sense! Hey, there’s a photo montage on the wall!” The fact that people donate individual pieces of art and novelties to the whole makes the entire endeavor seem like an Exquisite Corpse.

O Street Mansion

O Street Mansion

OSM served as our adulthood realization of that childhood dream of having a house of endless rooms to explore and secret passages to find. It’s the thrill of Dawn’s secret passageway from the Baby-Sitters Club books, the bizarreness of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and a harmless version of House of Leaves.

I now have one more Weekly Museum Visit. You can vote on what museum I visit here.


May’s blog theme is Preserving and Interpreting Creativity.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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