Sunday, August 04, 2019

The Unexpected Church House In Palisades

We are honored to have our very first guest blog entry - a fascinating tale indeed!  Paul 

Discovering a Church’s Hidden History in My Palisades Home

By Alex Knott

Nothing in the realty ads, basic city records and closing documents suggested that our new home once had a 61-foot steeple that towered into the Palisades sky. The housing brochures also did not showcase how the kitchen and dining areas once doubled as a 1900s-era Sunday schoolroom.  Nor was there the century-old claim that the living and family rooms had the capacity for nearly 200 church goers.

Yet, further research into my Palisades home bought in 2017 revealed that the building was originally not a house at all, but one of more than 100 churches drawn up a century ago by a famous architectural family.

Intrigued by Paul Kelsey Williams’ “Lost Washington,” and the House History Man Blog, I began researching my Palisades home. That’s when I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was originally called Northwest Methodist Episcopal Church.

Ads for the house on 4901 MacArthur Boulevard mirrored most of DC’s records saying it was just a residence built in 1916. But a deeper dive into building records, newspaper archives, and property records shows that construction on my home actually began in September 1904, when it was granted a building permit as a church.

A 1907 map, shows the church appearing on the northwest corner of W Street and Conduit Road (which was renamed MacArthur Boulevard for General Douglas MacArthur a few months after Pearl Harbor). At the time, the church was among the first 20 buildings constructed in “the Palisades of the Potomac,” a new group of residential lots converted from the vacant farmlands on the northwest hills of Georgetown.

The building’s architects were Benjamin D. Price and Max Charles Price, a Philadelphia father-son duo who drew up the “Church Plans” for some 100 churches in at least 22 states stretching from Florida to Washington State toward the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Today, many of the Prices’ other existing buildings are protected as American treasures under the National Register of Historic Places including some local architectural work on Alexandria’s clock tower and steeple for City Hall, left, and the new market house/town hall buildings on North Royal Street.

The new parish was reportedly the convergence of two smaller churches — a chapel branch of the Dumbarton Avenue Church and the Little Falls Methodist Episcopal Church on Canal Road sold a couple years earlier. The pastor heading up the new congregation was the seasoned Rev. William H. Black, an 81-year-old Union Civil War veteran, who worked in the records division of the pension office.

Northwest M. E. Church Trustees paid an estimated $3,000 to local builder W. E. Pickford to construct the church. Pickford was not known for building churches but rather dozens of DC homes including, the shops and residences at 3403 M Street, the Fremont condominiums in Logan Circle and a couple houses near the reservoir in the Foxhall-Palisades neighborhood on 47th place.  

Pickford appears to have used a variation of the Prices’ Plan 54 (above at video link). The plan also bears a strong resemblance to a construction photo of the Northwest Church that ran locally in The Sunday Star on September 10, 1905 (right).

The accompanying article highlighted details, like how the church’s main entrance was made through the base of a belfry tower. Our current front porch was used by the congregation to enter the building. Today’s kitchen and dining areas were used as a Sunday school room 100 years ago. The rest of main floor was once the auditorium, which was lined with pews creating a seating capacity nearing 200.

Other newspapers articles detail a decade of events at the church, including regular services, Sunday school, and memorials. The Northwest Methodist Episcopal Church was also a venue for the West Washington Citizens Association (WWCA), which held regular meetings there preceding a reorganization by members to create the Conduit Road Citizens Association (CRCA). This offshoot local civics group first organized at the nearby St. David’s Parish Hall on October 2, 1916, but has grown during the last century through its iterations as the MacArthur Citizens Association in 1942 and since 1950, the Palisades Citizens Association.

Following Rev. Black’s death in 1909, the church continued to have financial issues and ultimately was put up for auction.  On the August 12,1916, the church began its transition from a DC house of worship to a Palisades family residence as the building was put up for auction as a home. Charles A Baker -- the president of the CRCA and a former vice president of the WWCA, which held meetings in the church -- bought the building in 1916, according to DC tax records.

The year also marks the period when city records erroneously listed the incorrect year that the house was built. Without any documents to substantiate the incorrect year, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has refused to multiple requests with corroborating documents to fix this error.

On the night of Monday July 31, 1922, an electrical short circuit sparked a fire in the building. Engine 5 scrambled from the middle of Georgetown to battle the blaze.  Firefighter Lt. John Busher reportedly injured fighting the flames when he fell through the bungalow second floor and was taken to Georgetown University Hospital.

After the fire, the church-like residence continued to be remodeled. The burnt frame was reinforced. It was rebuilt, renovated and landscaped. During the 97 years since, the home has seen many changes as it continued to hold large families -- whose kids still come back to see their childhood home and tell tales of missing staircases, dirt floor basements and being huddled around air conditioners during hot DC summers.

Copyright Alex Knott

Friday, July 19, 2019

U Street in the 1900s: 1901 Vermont Avenue

Moving into the U Street neighborhood in 1992 was interesting.  I took many photographs of abandoned houses and buildings that had promise.  Being a historic preservationist, even I thought this one might have gone too far to be restored at a reasonable price.  The interior was more or less gone.  It sat at 1901 Vermont Avenue, on the corner of T Street, NW.  A young woman named Tania was determined, however, to bring it back to its glory.  It was bought for about $55,000 if I recall correctly!

We led the charge for the U Street area to eventually become a historic district before gems like this were bulldozed.  There wasn't much gentrification because simply, most everything was vacant.  Between 9th Street and 17th Street on U Street was only three large scale businesses that I recall - Ben's, of course, Lee's Flowers, and a new Polly's Cafe.  

It was issued a building permit on March 21, 1878 by owner William F. Sliney.  The architect listed was George Welch, who built it at an estimated cost of $6,500.

In any event, a few pictured from Google show the excellent restoration of 1901 Vermont Avenue appear below.

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Monday, June 24, 2019

U Street in the 1990s: 1301 T Street Then and Now

We continue to locate some images I took in the U Street neighborhood when I moved there in 1992 - and how it has changed!

Pictured here is the house on the northwest corner of 13th and T Streets - 1301 T Street, aka 1900 13th Street.  It was issued a building permit on April 27, 1900 and was designed by architect Paul J. Pelz.  Built by Peter Fersinger.  The owner at the time was listed as Mrs. Emma Demonet, the widow of Charles Demonet when she was living at 618 New York Avenue, NW.  Built at a cost of $2,149 they claimed!

Interestingly, a George Demonet is listed at 1900 13th Street in the 1900 City Directory who indicated the ran the Bordeaux Wine Company at the same address. 

 Pictures of the condominium units the house is today:


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

U Street in the 1990s: 1901 11th Street Then & Now

We are preparing to donate some images I took in the early 1990s of the U Street neighborhood to the Washingtoniana Division, so I thought I would create a short series of before and now pictures of the same structures.  I bought 1800 Vermont Avenue, NW in 1992 (for $95,000 !) and these pics were taken with a good old fashioned camera that year and in the ensuing few years in the early 1900s.  We fought hard to create the historic district in 1998 that saved all of these structures. 

Not much was around then - mostly abandoned houses and essentially only THREE businesses on U Street between 9th and 16th Street.   (Lee's Florist, Ben's Chili & Polly's Cafe)

Our first photo comparison is the corner house at 11th and T Streets, NW at 1901 11th Street.  Back then, it was an abandoned mess, as was the adjoining house on T Street to the right.  What a change!
This was designed and built in 1878 by Diller B. Groff at a cost of $6,000 for the two houses.  

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Discovering a "Carriage House" That Was Built as a Prominent Artist Studio in Dupont Circle.

Most people assume that an old brick structure in the alley on their rear lot is simply a carriage house.  Most are indeed, but its always a thrill to research a rare alley structure that was actually built as a studio for a prominent artist.  The owner of the vacant lot where 1749 18th Street, NW was to be constructed, Charles W. Handy, applied for and was granted an Application for Permit to Build numbered 161 for its construction on April 13, 1892.  He neglected to list an architect responsible for its design, but did list contractor C. V. Trott as the builder at a cost of $9,000. 

The rare rear building located behind 1749 18th Street was built to house the studio of sculptor Henry J. Ellicott, known especially for his Winfield Scott Handcock equestrian statue at 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

Ellicott obtained building permit number 187 for a ‘studio’ on July 6, 1894.  He listed prominent architect Alfred B. Mullett as responsible for its design, built at a cost of $1,600.  It measures forty-two feet wide by thirty feet deep.  It was constructed by the Galloway & Son construction company.  Not surprising in a city where building was a primary industry, architects, contractors and artists built their own studios, many of which were located along the quieter alleyways. The Historic Alley Buildings Survey identified only five artistic studios, however: the John J. Earley Studio (DC landmark), Mary Bussard Studio, Henry Ellicott Studio, the Harvey Page Studio and the Joseph Wilkinson Workshop.

Henry Jackson Ellicott, an American sculptor and architectural sculptor, was best known for his work on American Civil War monuments.  Elliott had been born on either June 23, 1847 in White Hall, Maryland. 

One of seven children born to James P. Ellicott and Fannie Adelaide Ince, he attended Rock Hill College School in Ellicott City, Maryland, and Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.  He studied at Georgetown Medical College, and may have served in the Civil War.[1]

He studied at Georgetown Medical College, then, at age 19, he completed a larger-than-life plaster statue of Abraham Lincoln – likely an entry in the Lincoln Monument Association's competition for a marble statue – that was exhibited for two years in the United States Capitol rotunda.  The competition was won by sculptor Lot Flannery, whose statue is at District of Columbia City Hall.  Seen below in August 1868 in the rotunda, the fate of Ellicott's Lincoln statue is unknown.

He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City from 1867 to 1870, under William Henry Powell and Emanuel Leutze; and later studied under Constantino Brumidi. 

He was creating monuments for placement in cemeteries as early as 1870 and, according to the United States census of that year, he was living in Manhattan and was identifying himself as a sculptor–not as a student.  In the 1876 New York City directory, he is again listed as a sculptor.  His first two commissions were for monuments at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lothian, Maryland (1870) and Greenwood Cemetery in Laurel, Maryland.  He was the likely modeler of an Infantryman statue for J. W. Fiske Architectural Metals, Inc. of New York City that was mass-produced and used in numerous municipal Civil War monuments.  Company records list the sculptor's name as “Allicot.”

In 1876, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and modeled architectural sculpture on buildings for the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  He remained in Philadelphia and exhibited occasionally at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1878 and 1891.  Ellicott did list himself as an architect in Philadelphia city directories for 1884 and 1890. According to Fielding, he had studied drawing at the National Academy of Design in New York.  He married Lida Dyre about 1883.  She had been born in Maryland in February of 1865. 

Ellicott was appointed under the Harrison administration Superintendent and Chief Modeler for the U.S. Treasury Department in 1889, responsible for all federal monuments.[2]  He moved to Washington, D.C., where he listed his occupation as a sculpture in the Corcoran Building, with a residence at 2026 H Street, NW in 1894.  He and his wife were listed as living at 1752 S Street, NW in the 1896 Elite List.  It was a speculative house built along with 1740-1750 by the Kennedy & Davis firm, who obtained their building permit on October 17, 1892.  By the time the 1900 census was enumerated he and his wife owned and lived at 1868 California Avenue, NW, with a live in servant and a boarder.  Ellicott died on February 11, 1901 at age 54.  

The Studio Building

The studio building itself seems to have originally been part of the plot occupied by 1752 S Street, NW, but was later subdivided.  It is seen on the 1939 Baist Map.  Both the house and the studio were occupied by various members of the Berry family, according to the 1916 City Directory, the first time the studio was listed as having a resident, obviously altered to include a kitchen and proper bedroom.  The directory listed J. Talburtt Berry, an inspector, and Louise Berry, a teacher at the Weightman School.  The house at 1752 S Street had occupants listed as Edna C. Berry, a clerk, M. Heath Berry, a health inspector, and Roger B. Berry, a draftsman at the Barber & Ross real estate development firm.  They had all moved into the two structures from a prior address of 1919 K Street, NW, where they were listed as roomers. 

A later, 1930 census reveals that Louise, Edna, and M. Heath were siblings, who then all resided at 1820 Lamont Street, NW, owned by Louise.  Roger Berry was their father.  She had been born in 1882, Edna in 1895, and Heath in 1897, all in Maryland.         

Roger and Edith Williams sold the studio building to the Walter M. Ballard Company on May 14, 1925 for $3,500, financing the purchase.  The Ballard Company was engaged in the office furniture, wood and steel filing cabinets, and office supply business, with a storefront location at 1340 G Street, NW.  It is likely that they utilized the former studio as storage space, as no persons were listed at the address in the yearly City Directories during their tenure. 

The Ballard Company defaulted on their loan, however, and the studio building reverted to its former owners, the Williams’s.  They eventually sold it to Catherine Wygood, on January 13, 1947.  She in turn sold it on February 23, 1954 to Jocelyn Ball Baxter.  She owned the house at 1749 18th Street, and ran it as an apartment house, according to the Haines Directory.  There is no evidence, however, that the former studio was used as housing during her tenure of ownership.   

Several liens by the city government were paid on the property in 1994, and Baxter’s estate sold the former studio on December 11, 1998

Ellicott’s Selected Works:

     - Abraham Lincoln, plaster, current whereabouts unknown, ca. 1866. Exhibited in United States Capitol rotunda, 1866-68.
    - Goddess of Commerce, Goddess of Protection, Goddess of Mechanism, zinc, atop New England Mutual Life Insurance Building, Boston, Massachusetts, 1875, Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee, architect (demolished 1946).  The figure group was once the symbol of the company, but the statues were melted down in a World War II scrap-metal drive.
    - Recording Angel, atop Thomas P. Duncan Mausoleum, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1880, Theophilus Parsons Chandler, Jr., architect.
    - Bas-relief portrait of John Sartain, bronze, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1888.
    - Architectural sculpture: 33 Keystones (Ethnological Heads), granite, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1891 (above). Carved by Ellicott and William Boyd.
    - Bust of George M. Dallas, marble, United States Senate Vice Presidential Bust Collection, United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1893.
    - Francis Elias Spinner, bronze, Myers Park, Herkimer, New York, 1894.
    - Zebulon Baird Vance Monument, bronze, North Carolina State Capitol, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1899-1900.
    - Bust of Rear-Admiral George W. Melville, bronze, United States Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland.

Civil War Monuments:

   - Goddess of Victory, bronze, atop Soldiers' Monument, Veterans Park, Holyoke, Massachusetts, 1875-76.
    - Colonel James Cameron, granite with brass sword, Civil War Monument, Cameron Park, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1879.[12]
    - Infantryman, bronze, Civil War Monument, Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1881. The Sailor and Cavalry Officer figures were modeled by William Rudolf O'Donovan.
    - Cavalryman, bronze, 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument, Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1887-89.
    - Kneeling Cavalryman, bronze, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument, Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1889-90.
    - Equestrian statue of General Winfield Scott Hancock, bronze, Washington, D.C., 1889-96 (left).
    - Equestrian statue of General George B. McClellan, bronze, City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1891-94.

 Copyright Paul K. Williams


[1] An 1896 New York Times article implies that the 16-year-old Ellicott was present at the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.
[2] National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1904).