Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Schneider Mansion at 18th and Q - Razed After 67 Years

Copyright Sharon Holdren
The large and impressive stone house seen here once stood proudly on the south-east corner of 18th and Q Streets. Many readers may recognize it as the Schneider mansion, home to prolific architect and developer Thomas Franklin Schneider (left) and his family. He built the house in 1891, only eight years after he began a private practice commonly designing and building entire blocks of lavish townhouses at once, such the 1700 block of Q Street adjacent the house.

The Q Street side of the mansion, with rear yard
What many readers may not know, however, is that Schneider and his family did not remain in the house for long. They apparently decided that the house was too large, and possibly too expensive to staff and maintain following an economic depression in 1893, and moved not long after its completion into a luxurious apartment in the Cairo Apartment Building in the 1600 block of Q Street, another Schneider landmark that would remain in the family until the 1960s. The mansion was immediately rented to the Chinese legation for a short period, then to Senator John Fairfield Dryden of New Jersey, and in 1914 to the Colonial School for Girls. The school had moved into the Schneider mansion from 1715 & 1725-29 Connecticut Avenue, where Miss Charlotte Crittenden Everett served as principal.

Outdoor athletics, 1914

The school was many things; both day students and boarding options mixed with college preparatory classes and finishing school seminars and training. According to its 1915-
The dining Room, as seen in 1914, set for students
1916 bulletin, the “true aim of education is to teach the individual to see clearly, to think independently, to imagine vividly, and to will nobly.” It noted that its location was “high and healthful” being just a block from Dupont Circle “in one of the best residential parts of the city.”  The shopping district and a plethora of street car lines were also highlighted in the school’s brochure. Meals were served in the dining room, where the mid-day luncheon only consisted of “milk, bouillon, and crackers.” The girls listened to evening lectures on such subjects as Moorish art and architecture, the Panama Canal tolls controversy, and The Effect of War on Womanhood by Jane Addams.

Romeo & Juliet performed in the ballroom in March, 1914
Thomas Schneider remained so close to the operation of the school that he invited all the students to attend the wedding of one of his daughters.  Much of the mansion retained the furnishings of the Schneiders, and rented along with the house. The girls rooms were likely to each have an open fireplace “for cheerfulness, and for healthfulness.” Classrooms, study halls, dining room, music studio, laboratory, offices, and several social gathering rooms completed the lavish environment.

The house also featured a large rear lawn along Q Street that was utilized for outdoor exercises. Tuition ranged from $800 to $1,000 per year, with incidental charges for such items as riding lessons, piano, breaking furniture, “corrective work in gymnastics,” and sewing.  When not attending classes in Latin, Greek, French and German, home training was taught as an “essential factor of an education which aids a girl to develop into a wise, true woman.” The school’s bulletin also stated, “The principal and her associates aim to help the girls realize the dignity and beauty of presiding in their homes with ease and graciousness.” History, art, rhetoric, biology, zoology, chemistry, economics, botany and “the Art of Church Organ” were also available.

Art students regularly visited the local galleries, including Veerhoff’s, then located farther downtown before its eventual relocation to Dupont Circle where it remained until the mid-1990s; however, all students were closely chaperoned any time they were off campus: “Under no circumstances are our pupils subjected to the embarrassment of appearing in public places unchaperoned” reads the school bulletin for 1915.

Students were charged 50 cents an hour when visiting doctors or dentists.  Principal Everett was joined by co-principal Jessie Truman in 1920, and the school continued to operate in the Schneider mansion until 1930, when the house was converted into a boardinghouse. Twenty-eight years later, the house was razed for a parking lot. In 1961, the nine story Dupont East apartment building was built on its site, and remains there today (illustrated below).

Copyright Paul Kelsey Williams

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lost Washington: The Stoneleigh Court Apartment at Connecticut & L Streets, NW

The large house owned by John N. Forbes on the southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street and several others were replaced by the Stoneleigh apartment building in 1903.  It was designed by James G. Hill, and built by Secretary of State John Hay (1838-1905), right, who has assembled the various parcels necessary.[1] 
The building was built at a cost of $600,000, and featured 90 apartments all furnished with elaborate wood paneling and the latest of conveniences.  It was the first apartment building to separate the usual bank of two adjoining elevators to decrease the time spent waiting for egress.  The building was set back from Connecticut Avenue, which it faced, with a central courtyard for vehicular access.  Hayes relatives sold the apartment building in 1926, when the courtyard was filled in for commercial storefronts.           

Harry Wardman became its owner in April of 1927, purchasing it for $1.6 million; just five months later, he sold it to out of town investors for $2.6 million.  Following the stock market crash of 1929, the building was sold at public auction in 1933 for just $800,000 to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. 

In 1962, the building sold for $4.5 million or $150 a square foot, which set a record for Washington real estate at the time.  It was razed in 1965 and replaced by the Blake Building, which has been refaced since its original construction.    

Copyright Paul K. Williams

[1] Hayes, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division; Stoneleigh Court via Smithsonian Institution.

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