Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Washington Lost: The Federal style townhouses in the 1900 Block of Pennsylvania Ave, NW, built in 1796

The 1900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue on the southern side of Square 118 was one of the oldest residential developments in Washington, DC, evidence of which remains in two preserved front facades at 1909 and 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue incorporated into the Mexican Embassy complex in the mid 1980s.  In addition, four houses that were built along Eye Street in 1887 remarkable remain to this day in much the same format as when they were built.  

Seven large and impressive Federal styled houses were built in 1796 along Pennsylvania Avenue from 1901 to 1911 as part of a speculative real estate development by the Morris and Nicholson syndicate.  Built before the government was moved to Washington from Philadelphia in 1800, the houses each featured fine brickwork and lintels over the front doors carved into a feminine head.  They were built by Georgetown builder John Archer, and while the original plans exist, the architect remains unknown. 

The most significant house in the development was the corner mansion at 1901 Pennsylvania.  It housed the entire State Department when the capitol moved to Washington in 1800, which had a total of twelve employees at the time.  In 1814, it was the residence of Vice President Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, President and Mrs. James Madison from 1815 to 1817 while the White House was being rebuilt, and Vice President Martin Van Buren in 1834.

During the Civil War, the corner house at 1901 Pennsylvania Avenue became the headquarters of both Maj. General George B. McClellan and Maj. General M. D. Hardin, as photographed by Mathew Brady in April of 1865 (seen in the background to the right is the side of the 19th Street Baptist Church).[1]  By 1890, many of the houses in the row were deteriorated significantly, and were used for a variety of office and retail space.  The first location of People’s Drug store opened in the corner house at 1901 Pennsylvania shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, which later grew into a large chain across the entire Mid Atlantic.  All but 1909 and 1911 were razed in 1959 for the construction of a office building, with the remaining two facades incorporated into an office building on the western portion of the site today.      

Copyright Paul K. Williams    

[1] Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division for architectural drawing and Brady photograph. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The lost history of Square 163: Conn Ave and K Street, NW

Bounded by K Street to the south, L Street to the north, Connecticut Avenue to the east, and 18th Street to the west.

Like many of its surrounding neighbors to the south and west, Square 163 no longer has any evidence of its past architectural history based upon the modern office buildings that line the blocks today.  However, it is slightly unique in that individuals kept building residences on the block well into the 1890s, and even into the twentieth century, when surrounding blocks were becoming increasingly commercial in nature, or built with large apartment buildings.  A large swatch of Connecticut Avenue was owned by the Casino Association in 1887, according to the Hopkins map above, which had plans that apparently never realized to construct a large entertainment complex on the site, likely due to the nationwide economic recession in 1893.      
An example of the late period in which large homes were built, however, is the brick and stone house for real estate Brainard H. Wardner (1847-1916) and his wife at 1741 K Street that was built in 1895 at an impressive cost of $25,000.  Brainard, right, and his Wardner Construction Company are responsible for thousands of homes and apartment building that still exist throughout Washington, DC.     

Another residence was built at 1739 K Street for owner Charles Rauscher in 1895 that was designed by architect James F. Denson and constructed at a cost of $20,000. Houses continued to be built on the Square as late as 1910, in fact, when the $27,000 residence of Lambert Tree completely renovated the Rauscher house at 1739 K Street for himself.  Lambert Tree (1832-1910, left) was born in Washington, DC, the son of a post office clerk. He began his education in private schools in the capital, attended the University of Virginia, then continued on to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1855. That same year, he left the East for Chicago, where he became a wealthy and influential figure as the junior partner in the Clarkson and Tree firm. For Tree, the capstone of his achievements came in July of 1885, when President Grover Cleveland appointed him Minister to Belgium.  He worked in Brussels for three years before being promoted to Minister to Russia in 1888, a position he occupied for only a month before the inauguration of Republican president Benjamin Harrison caused his resignation. Tree had one son, Arthur, who married a daughter of Marshall Field, who he later divorced for desertion.       

Commercial buildings did begin to be erected on the Square, however, by 1903, when Tree built a 77 by 142 foot brick store building at 1000 Connecticut Avenue at a cost of $27,000, designed by the Poindexter and Pelz architectural firm.    The Wardman Construction Company built two large apartment buildings on the Square in 1928: 1018 Connecticut Avenue that cost $1.7 million, and 1028 Connecticut Avenue that cost $1.2 million.  Both were designed by architect Joseph Baumer.  The Square also housed a gas stations at one time built at 1746 L Street in 1952. 
Looking west on K Street from Connecticut Avenue, NW

The photograph above shows K Street looking west from Connecticut Avenue in 1948.  Famous author Frances Hodges Burnett authored Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1886 while residing in the 1700 block of K Street.  The block as it appears today, bottom.    

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The "Giant Tomato Can" House in Dupont Circle

The owner of the three 1887 built houses at 1640-1644 21st Street, NW in November of 1943 was William Wadsworth Wood, who initially had a plan to build a large circular shaped hotel behind the row of homes on R Street, NW.  He changed his mind, however, just before he submitted an application to build numbered 265514 on November 29, 1943 when he decided to build a circular clubhouse and residences for the many single military men in desparate need of accomodations while in Washington, DC.  The house conversion and club cost an estimated $30,000.                            

            Wood was likely able to get the houses rather cheaply, especially the house formed out of the rear section of 1644 21st Street.  The house had been put on the market following a period where it was used as a front for war contract lobbying with some of the top ranking military members attending dinner parties thrown by John Kaplan aka John Monroe. 

Despite being an architect himself, owner William Wood listed architect Angelo R. Clas as responsible for the design of the clubhouse that was built at 2104 R Street, NW.  He was born on February 13, 1887 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Alfred and Lucille Clas, and obtained his architectural degree from Harvard University in 1908.    

The Officer’s Service Club

            The transformation of the three houses and the construction of the new club and residences in 1943 by William W. Wood was mentioned several times in the local newspapers, even in his engagement notice to May Greenough in the July 9, 1944 Washington Post.   The following articles sums up the development nicely and offers an insight into the odd interior configurations: 

            William Wadsworth Wood was born in Montgomery, Alabama on November 16, 1896 to Williams D. Wood (1859-1919) and his wife, the former Ida Killebrew (born 1868).  He attended the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, where he obtained his architecture degree.


            He served in the U.S. Army in 1917 and 1918 as a Captain in France and England, according to a passport application completed in May of 1924, when he intended to travel to the British Isles, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  He traveled out of New York City aboard the Republic on July 3, 1924.  His picture from the passport application appears above.  He married May Greenough in 1944, fairly late in life, and the couple made their home at 2129 S Street, NW. 

                William Wood was the publisher of Small Homes magazine and the author of the Wood Plan for Post War Jobs.  He moved to Washington, DC from New York in 1941 to focus on real estate development.  

             The Officer’s Service Club in the unusual round building was unique to Washington, DC, and its design was meant to maximize space for its many inhabitants.  A central circular staircase led to pie shaped rooms on each floor, with one occupant each, but sharing an adjoined bathroom.  A large ground floor room hosted lectures, dinners, and dances over the next several decades.  The club was sometimes referred to as the United Nations Officers Club and existed until at least 1968 and was affectionately referred to as the “Tomato Can” in many articles that appeared in the Washington Post and the Evening Star seen below and on the following pages.

Unfortunately, the 1940 is the last available in detail for researchers, and the 1950 census will eventually provide details on the occupants of the houses and the club building when it is released in 2022.  The Officers’ Service Club purchased the building from William Wood in May of 1955.      

            In 1967, two gunmen “equipped with lengths of rope, wire and adhesive tape, entered the Reserve Officers Club” and tied up club manager Paul F. O’Brien and bookkeeper Ray Goodman who were preparing a deposit.  They made off with a bank bag containing $6,000, $1,000 of which was cash. 

            The Officers Service Club maintained title to the deed of all the properties until January 1, 1978 when it was purchased by the “Conservative Club Inc.” In 1990, the houses and former "tomato can" were converted into nine unique and individual condominiums by the Robert M. Gurney architectural firm.  They added a brick screen wall to the R Street facades, and broke up the circular building into two large vertical condo units.       

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hard to find Records of the DC Historical Society are on eBay this week!

These hard to find fascinating books tell tons of Washington, DC history on architecture, people, neighborhoods, industry, just about everything.  All volumes starting in 1901, along with the rare indexes to make research a breeze!  Check them out HERE

Saturday, March 07, 2015

U Street 1930s Neon Liquor Sign for sale!

 Own a piece of the famed U Street Washington DC History!   This fantastic Liquor sign once graced the Egber's Liquor store at the southeast corner of 12th and U Street, NW- America's famed Black Broadway.  Looks to be from the 1930s or 1940s.  I was an early pioneer in the neighborhood, and helped close this troubled establishment on behalf of the owner of the building and as a thank you, he allowed me to remove the sign in 1999 (see fuzzy picture).  Today its Dukem Restaurant.   It needs to be returned to some tony condo in the corridor!  Listing HERE

Note that the sign is huge - it measures a full seven feet long by 22 inches high.  I've replaced two of the three transformers and wired for a typical house plug.  The UOR letters are complete and working, but my typical beer sign transformer is not powerful enough to light them fully, hence the fade out of the O and R.  Just needs a new transformer easily found on eBay if you want the full strength of lite - but I kind of preferred the faded version. 

Chrome/aluminum  base with rounded edges on each side gives it that true art deco look, with the white neon rounding the corners.  Its in fairly good shape given its age and outdoor location for many decades, with no rust and only minor dents here and there.  We have it sitting atop a shelve above our bar but its sturdy enough to have atop a smaller cabinet (see the pic from my old loft).  Local pick-up only, as this would never be able to be shipped.  Its located in Baltimore, MD near Hopkins Homewood campus, and we can house it here for 8-12 weeks before the move.  Its very light in weight, but requires two people to ensure the neon is not bumped and broken.   

Moving so selling TONS of historic Washington, DC books and antique items over the next few weeks.  See our auctions and store on eBay!  

Thursday, March 05, 2015

History of the Maret School at 2118 Kalorama Road

The famed Maret School at 3000 Cathedral Avenue in Woodley Park was founded as a French school for girls in 1911 by Louise Maret, a teacher born in Switzerland and educated in the United States.  Success was immediate in Washington, and by 1923, the school was able to raise funds, expand, and commission the Tudor Revival building at 2118 Kalorama Road, seen here.  The Maret School expanded again, admitting both boys and girls, and in 1952 moved into the Key mansion and its seven acre estate coined ‘Woodley’ that continues to serve as their campus. 
Louise Maret established the school with the aim to “procure for American students a complete course of studies including preparation for college, music and art, with the added advantage of acquiring a through knowledge of the French language.”  Speaking French while at school was required as soon as the pupil mastered the elements of the language.  When it was located on Kalorama Road, the High School, for girls, included boarding and day departments, with a complete academic course and college preparation.  The Lower school was a day school open to both boys and girls, with a complete course in studies and French beginning in the first grade.  
The school building at 2118 Kalorama Road was built in 1923 with 25 “sunny and airy” rooms in close proximity to Rock Creek Park for recreation purposes.  Offered at the school was tennis, basketball, skating, riding, playground games, football, baseball, folk dancing for girls, and swimming, which was held at the Shoreham Hotel swimming pool.  According to a 1930 school program, the building itself featured “specially designed windows for scientific ventilation” in addition to a gymnasium, library, assembly hall, dormitory rooms, and roof top garden and playground.

The school provided automobile transportation for day students as early as 1930.  School plays were given by students twice a year in the assembly hall, and the school published a magazine coined “Hand in Hand,” or “La Main dans la Main.”  However, “no social clubs or secret societies” were permitted at the school!  School tuition fees in 1944 ranged according to class, from $200 a year for first grade, to $400 per year as a junior or senior.  Hot lunches were served at $50 per semester, as was milk and crackers at recess, for $7.50 per semester.  Additional fees were charged for use of the laboratory, piano, athletics, art, dramatics, and graduation exercises. 
The school greatly expanded and changed by 1952, when it moved into the ‘Woodley’ estate on Cathedral Avenue, which it had purchased some years earlier, and became a coeducational, college preparatory school.  Philip Barton Key, the uncle of Francis Scott Key, had bought the 250 wooded-acre estate in 1797.  In 1803, he built Woodley, the Federal style house on the hill that would later become home to a number of statesmen, including U.S. Presidents, Secretaries of War, and General George Patton. Its last resident owner was Henry Stimson, Secretary of War during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, who helped direct the American war effort from the study, which is now the school’s library computer room.  For one hundred and fifty years, the woods, parks, and vistas of Woodley provided a quiet retreat for politicians and presidents.

 Copyright Paul K. Williams