Sunday, May 15, 2016

Almost Razed: History of the 1700 Block of Seaton Place, NW

Seaton Place, 1949

In what is coined the Strivers Section today, the 1700 block of Seaton Place, located between U, V, 17th Streets and Florida Avenue, was first developed in the early 1870s, and completed by 1908.  It was the subject of noted photographer Gordon Parks in 1942, as part of his work documenting the effects of racism and poverty for the Farm Security Administration, seen below.  Adjoining both the Greater U Street and Dupont Circle Historic Districts, the Strivers Section Historic District was recognized and listed as a local historic district in 1983.        

            Seaton Place today was initially coined Riggs Street, as seen on an 1887 map of Square 150.  It was then renamed a short time later to Seaton Road, in honor of William Winston Seaton, mayor of Washington from 1840 to 1850.  Later, its name was changed to Seaton Place.   

The oldest buildings along the one block street  are located at 1701 to 1719 Seaton.  Erected between 1872 and 1873, this row of ten, two-story brick dwellings featured raised basements and Italianate detailing including a bracketed wood cornice.  Another group of rowhouses on the south side at 1700 to 1716, were also built relatively early, from 1874 to 1875.  It originally consisted of a row of ten, two-story, flat fronted brick dwellings on high foundations to appear as if it were one long building.  The end buildings at 1700 and 1716 were articulated as “end pavilions” with projecting center gables, with the center buildings forming the main block of the group.  Today, the homes are all painted different colors, and one end pavilion (#1716) is no longer standing.       
            Development on the Street ceased for nearly fifteen years, until 1890, when the thirteen rowhouses between 1741 and 1757 Seaton Place were built simultaneously by builder James H. Grant as speculative housing.  The five townhouses from 1731 to 1739 Seaton were also built in 1890, by owner John C. Davidson, with the assistance of architect George S. Cooper.  The 1900 census reveals that all the built segments of Seaton Street at the time housed “Black and Mulattos” occupants.       

Peanut seller, by Gordon parks
            However, much of Seaton Place remained vacant until 1902, most likely due to the economic depression of 1893 and 1894, and the years of recovery that followed.  Eighteen houses were built that year by owner Charles W. King with the assistance of architect Nicholas T. Haller, comprising 1722 to 1758 Seaton Place.  The three large townhomes at 1723, 1725, and 1727 were built in 1905 as “townhouse flats”  by building partners Jos. J. Moebs and H..J. O’Connor.  Each included an apartment that was indicated by using a 1/2 after the residential address.  The two estimated the three dwellings would cost $7,000 to build, or approximately $2,333 each.  The last house built to complete the block was 1720 Seaton Place, built in 1908 by owner C.T. Bride with the assistance of architect J.G. Adkinson and builder J.T. Loveliss.   The 1920 census reveals that all the residents along Seaton Street were “Black or Mulatto” working class citizens at the time. 

            Apparently, from the late 1940’s to the late 1970’s, Seaton Street, was the focus of disagreements between tenants, home owners, and the city government over the terrible conditions of the houses.  It was well documented as part of the 1942 Farm Security Administration’s “New Deal” Program, and later in an essay on Wartime Washington by photographer Gordon Parks (b. 1912), whose photographs are now housed in the Library of Congress.  Recognized as the first major black photojournalist, Parks later went on to become a staff photographer for Life magazine. 

            In the August 3, 1950 edition of the Washington Star, a short notice appeared indicating the anticipated revival of Seaton Street and the entire Square 150, containing an slightly amusing statement on the street itself:

Square 150 Rehabilitation Unit to Resurvey Job

            The Commissioner’s Committee appointed to rehabilitate Square 150 will make a resurvey of the block next Monday, E.M. Dulin, chairman announced today. 
            Square 150 is bounded by U, V, and 17th streets and Florida avenue, N.W.
            There are 124 buildings in the square, and 20 of them have been or are in the process of being repaired.  The worst part of the square is Seaton street, which runs from Seventeenth Street to Florida Avenue, N.W.

            Nine years later, on 25 September 1959, the Washington Daily News ran a story by Martha Strayer with a by-line coined “Massive Aid: the World Comes to a D.C. Street.”  In an effort to better conditions, almost every department in the government made a commitment to provide education, better sanitation, and relief to the unimaginable conditions.  At the time, the one block Street housed 200 children! 

Unfortunately, the schemes laid out in the article did little to correct the situation of deteriorating conditions and overcrowding.  The Washington Afro-American newspaper on 16 November 1963 reported in a photo caption entitled “Can This Street be Saved?,” that Seaton Place was scheduled for demolition by city planners, apparently due to deteriorating conditions.  Seaton Place residents had organized a “clean-up, fix-up campaign in hopes of making a poor man’s Georgetown out of the block long street between You and Vee Sts., 17th and Florida Ave., NW.” 

            The “acknowledged block of blight” was saved demolition in 1965, when the National Capitol Planning Commission voted against the idea in February of that year.  According to a 2 May 1965 article in the Washington Post, the reason given was the lack of public housing for the 130 families on the block at the time.  Commission staffers still wanted to revitalize the Adam’s Morgan area, and at one time investigated purchasing the empty property at 16th and Florida, previously “Henderson Castle,” a mansion that had been demolished in 1949.       

The urban renewal demolition plan proposed in 1965 failed as well, and Seaton Place remained a slum for some time.  A short story that ran on 11 May 1976, offered some insight on the situation and concern about the block; The DC government had charged Centre Properties, Inc., the owners of 27 rowhouses, with an impressive 799 housing code violations.  Apparently, tenants had been resisting eviction and halting conversion of the badly deteriorated houses into “stylish townhomes.”  The tenants had organized a lawsuit against the current owners and the previous owner, James Ruppert, to give them first chance to buy the houses before they renovate them for resale. 

            At least some of the residents won the lawsuit in the D.C. Superior Court (10 of the original families) in April of 1977, and had a short time to raise funds to remain in their homes.  In May of that year, at least nine of those families were able to purchase their homes, according to a 30 November 1978 article in the Washington Post, a few of whom can still be proudly found on the block today.   

Copyright Paul K. Williams  

Saturday, April 09, 2016

History Mystery: Steamer Trunks of the Grant Family

Many years ago, an owner of 1711 New Hampshire Avenue, NW approached us with a history mystery; she had found several steamer trunks with the name ‘Grant’ painted on them, and wondered if it were at all possible they could have once belonged to the Ulysses Grant family.  We not only found the connection, but found a Russian Princess to boot. 

The house had been built in 1911-1912 at a cost of $25,000 by Franklin Sanner, who was developing other large properties close by as speculative development.  It was designed by Albert Beers.      

Owner Sanner sold the residence to Ida Honoré Grant on September 17, 1912, as recorded Liber 3547, Folio 366. She listed herself in the 1915 City Directory as the widow of Frederick Dent Grant, the eldest son of famed Civil War General and President Ulysses S. Grant, and was from a wealthy and prominent Chicago family. She was listed as the sole resident at the address in the 1913 City Directory.  The couple is pictured at right. 

As the son of Ulysses S. and Julia Dent Grant, Frederick Dent Grant was born on May 30, 1850, in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended West Point Military Academy, graduating with the class of 1871. He was assigned on June 12th of that year to the Fourth United States Cavalry, spending two years on outpost duty taking part in combats with Indians in the far west. As a result, he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant and Lieutenant-Colonel by 1873, and eventually resigned his military commission in June of 1881.

Shortly thereafter, he married Ida Honoré, the daughter of a Chicago millionaire. They resided in New York with the widow of General Grant. He served as republican Secretary of State for New York from 1887 to 1888. Also during this time, Frederick served as minister to Australia, and was Police Commissioner of New York City at the outbreak of the Spanish War, when he became Colonel of the Fourteenth New York Volunteer Infantry, and was soon thereafter appointed a Brigadier-General of the United States Volunteers.

During the Spanish War, he served in Puerto Rico, and following the war, remained in command of the military district of San Juan. Shortly thereafter, he transferred to the Philippines, commanding the Second Brigade of the First Division of the Eighth Army Corps. While there, he took part in the battles of Big Bend and Binacian, afterward being transferred to the Second Brigade of the Second Division, advancing on Northern Luzon and Zamballes.

He returned to the States in 1901 when he was appointed a Brigadier General in the United States Army and assigned to command the Department of Texas, with headquarters in San Antonio. In 1902, he was transferred once again to the Philippines, to the Sixth Separate Brigade in Samar, where he received the surrender of the last insurgent forces.

In 1914, Ida H. Grant apparently rented the house to U.S. Senator William P. Jackson (left) and his wife, as they were listed as the occupants in the City Directory for that year. Incidentally, another William P. Jackson appeared in the same City Directory, and listed his profession as an Assistant Inspector General in the United States Army, boarding at the Army and Navy Club.

The daughter of Ida H. and Frederick Grant, Julia, was born in the White House in 1876, while her father was fighting in the Indian Wars in the West. Her grandfather, Ulysses Simpson Grant, was then serving his second term as President. She grew up in Vienna where Frederick later served as the American minister to the court of Emperor Franz Joseph.

In 1899, at the Newport, Rhode Island home of her aunt, Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago, Julia Grant was married to Prince Michael Cantacuzene, chief military adjutant to Grand Duke Nicholas, the grandson of Tsar Nicholas I. For the following eighteen years, she lived on her husband’s vast estates near St. Petersburg and in the Crimea until the Russian Revolution forced them to escape to Sweden.

Princess Cantacuzene, as she preferred to be known, became the frequent lecturer and author of three books, all relating to her life in Russia before and during the Revolution. As a popular lecturer, she was an outspoken foe of Communism as well as of the New Deal during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1934, she regained the American citizenship she had given up at her marriage thirty five years earlier. She died in 1975 in the Dresden Apartment building at 2126 Connecticut Avenue at the age of ninety-nine.  Interestingly, it was designed by Albert H. Beers in 1909, just two years before he designed the house of her mother at 1711 New Hampshire Avenue.

The son of Frederick Dent and Ida Honoré Grant, Ulysses S. Grant III, was born on July 4, 1881 in Chicago. He too was raised primarily in Vienna, attending the Thresianum school there before attending the Cutler School in New York City and Columbia University in 1898. He graduated from Westpoint Military Academy in 1903, and graduated from the U.S. Engineer’s School in 1908. He married Edith Root, daughter of the Secretary of State Elihu Root, the Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt on November 27, 1907, and together they lived in San Francisco.

He became a D.C. resident in 1925, and lived at 2117 LeRoy Place, N.W., when he became active in numerous urban planning affairs, including serving as the Executive Director of the National Capitol Park and Planning Commission. At the time of his death in 1968, he maintained a residence at 1255 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.

The last will and testament of Ida Honoreé Grant has several inclusions that offer insight into the lifestyle that she led while in residence at 1711 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. It was written on September 2, 1926, and entered into probate on September 8, 1930, shortly following her death.
The real estate at 1711 New Hampshire Avenue was willed exclusively to her son Ulysses S. Grant III (left) upon Ida Honore Grant’s death in February of 1930.

Her daughter Julia Grant Cantacuzene and son Ulysses S. Grant III were to split most of the personal artifacts and furnishings of the home, including "all clothing and wearing apparel, jewelry and articles of personal use and adornment, books, pictures, bric-a-brac, silver and household furniture, articles and effects, of every kind and description, as well as any other tangible personal property and effects, of which I may die possessed." Ida was also proud that she was able to keep the aggregate value of multiple bonds "intact and equal to the value of said property at the time it was left to me, so that I might be able to make this bequest and pass it our children." The bonds in question were housed in her safe deposit box at the American Security and Trust Company in Washington, D.C. It was her wish that the children would be able to retain the bonds at their face value to pass on to their children in remembrance of their father Frederick Dent Grant.

The remainder value of the estate was to be placed in a Trust at the American Security and Trust Company and equally dispersed over the course of 21 years in equal parts to her son and daughter. She expressed the trustees "to be very conservative, and to purchase only such bonds or other securities, which, after careful investigation, they believe to be safe and secure. I prefer that my trustees invest in such securities rather than in real estate."

Her daughter Julia was specifically granted the sum of $50,000, to be gleaned from the proceeds of the sale of real estate owned in the state of Illinois. She also noted that her daughter was "amply provided for by a trust created by my sister, Bertha Honoré Palmer, which Trust has greatly increased in value through the able management of my brother, Adrian C. Honoré."

To her son, she specified that "all letters and papers of an official, business or personal character owned by me, including those which belonged to his father, and also those which belonged to his grandfather, General Ulysses S. Grant." She made that bequeath "in order to carry out my late husband's express wish that his son should possess these letters and papers."

The Nicaraguan Legation: 1931 to 1936

The residence at 1711 New Hampshire was rented by Ulysses S. Grant III following the death of his mother Ida Honoré Grant in early 1930 to the Government of Nicaragua for us its Legation. The Charge d’Affaires of Nicaragua at the time, Dr. Henri De Bayle, both resided and worked at 1711 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., during this period. 

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, February 13, 2016

History of the odd Ffoulke Mansion at 2013 Massachusetts Avenue, NW: A Man and His Tapestries

One might be hard pressed to assign an author a combined article about Welsh ancestry, Quaker religion, antique tapestries, Royal weddings, early retirement, and even Pope Urban VIII, but they are all integral to one mansion that once stood at 2013 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.  It was built in 1886 on the site of what today is the Hilton Embassy Row hotel just west of Dupont Circle.

The house was speculatively built by developer Brainard H. Warner and designed by James G. Hill in 1886.  Built at a cost of $11,000, it was purchased shortly thereafter and vastly expanded by owner Charles Mather Ffoulke (1841-1919).  He had an addition added onto the eastern side that nearly doubled the house for one specific purpose: to display his growing collection of 17th Century antique tapestries.

Ffoulke was born in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, on July 25, 1841, the son of Benjamin Green and Jane (Mather) Ffoulke.  For generations, both his maternal and paternal families had been known as “counselors of the peace” being land surveyors and conveyancers charges with the amicable settlement of disputes common with early land settlement and development in and around Bucks county, Pennsylvania among the fellow Quaker inhabitants.  His father gained credibility with the North Pennsylvania Railroad when he negotiated a new right of way for the extensive track system with hundreds of families that resulted in not one single lawsuit.  The Ffoulke family received their own land in Quakerstown by a grant from William Penn. 

Following a short teaching career in Quaker schools, Charles Ffoulke entered the wool business in Philadelphia in 1861.  It was wildly successful, and he retired just eleven years later, in 1872.  He set off on an extended two year vacation to Europe to study art and tapestries, and married Sarah A. Cushing in Paris on December 10, 1872.  He crisscrossed the Atlantic several more times between 1874 and 1884, before embarking on a five year tour beginning that year. He had five children who included: Horace Cushing, Helen Seagrave, Gladys, Gwendolyn, and Charles M. Jr.      

Ffoulke had nearly completed a long manuscript entitled “General History of Tapestries” when it was accidently destroyed and he began to work on the tome all over again.  He also compiled a book on the art tapestries of America, and a book entitled “A History of the Barberini Collection of Tapestries,” which apparently caught his fascination: he purchased the entire collection of 135 tapestries in its entirely in 1888.  The collection had begun in 1610 by Italian Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679), aided by his uncle, Pope Urban VIII, and had largely been assembled by 1690.  They were considered the most important, varied, and extensive collection of tapestries to be owned by a private citizen at the time.  Urban VIII was not only a Pope, but exercised temporal sovereignty over an extensive part of central Italy.                                    
Ffoulke had to store most of the collection in a rented Convent in Florence, however, because of the high excise tax imposed on antiques of such value when they entered the United States.  Only his most prized tapestries were brought to hang in the gallery at the Massachusetts Avenue house, or temporarily lent to museums around the globe.  That gallery also hosted weddings for his daughters, who each married visiting Diplomats and Royal descendants from all parts of Europe. 

Ffoulke died suddenly in New York City on April 14, 1909, but his widow continued to reside at 2013 Massachusetts Avenue until the late 1920s.  The tapestries were sold to various wealthy individuals, including Phoebe Hearst, and John R. McLean, among others, and today have mostly found their way into museums and churches such as the Cathedral of St. John the Devine in New York City.            

Like many large houses in Washington, the Ffoulke mansion was transformed into a boarding house during World War II for the onslaught of government workers.  Photographer Esther Bubley captured those at 2013 Massachusetts Avenue in January 1943 for an Office of War Information project and noted that it the “schedule for use of the boardinghouse bathroom is worked out so that each person has eight minutes in the morning.  It is social suicide to ignore the schedule and cause a tie-up like this.”  Shown in the picture are Enid Bubley, Roselyn Silverman, and Bluma Horowitz at Dissin's, a boarding house at 2013 Massachusetts Avenue, NW that catered to “young Jewish people.”  (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Copyright Paul K. Williams

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