Thursday, September 07, 2017

The 1917 scandals and affairs of DC's builder Chester A. Snow

Patent Attorney and Investment Builder Chester A. Snow

A successful patent attorney, Chester Ammen Snow also invested in building several apartment buildings in Washington, including the Holmes and the Irving at 3014 and 3020 Dent Place in Georgetown, built in 1902 and 1903, respectfully. He was a partner in the CA Snow & Co. firm along with Edward G. Siggers, and they maintained an office at 708 8th Street, N.W., adjacent to the Snow household. By 1910, the City Directory indicated that his partner had changed to an individual by the name of Clarence A. Doyle. Their advertisement from that year appears above.

Chester A. Snow was born in April 1844 in Virginia to Reverend Dexter and Catherine Snow. The family moved to Washington, DC by 1880, and lived together in a large house at 712 8th Street, N.W., by 1900. The extended family was enumerated there that year, and included the elder Snow, and Chester and his wife Clarissa (Parfet) Snow. She was also a native of Virginia, having been born there in 1870.

Chester was age 50 and Clarissa age 24 when they had married in 1894. They had one child together, Chester, Jr., in 1898, that would go on to head the C. A. Snow Company, which was already flourishing by the time he had been born. An announcement in the July 29, 1907 Washington Post indicated that the wealthy couple were going to depart for a round-the-world trip in September of that year, to include India, Japan, and Egypt. Clarissa died sometime between 1907 and 1910, possibly on the trip itself.

According to the census taken in 1910, Chester, then age 66, had moved into a house at 1818 Newton Street, NW, along with his niece Maud Emory, then a widow age 42. They were taken care of by two servants and a cook. Snow was a longtime leader of the Washington Humane Society, and made the Washington Post several times as a complainant in cases against residents using horses that were “old and unfit to work,” or forced up snowy hills without sand being used for traction (Washington Post, January 20, 1905).

However, Snow began courting a 36 year old resident named Addis M. Hubard in early 1913, and the two were married on July 29th of that year (Washington Post, July 25, 1914). They had a son named Dexter Hubard Snow on July 25, 1914, who had been born in Europe, where Addis had remained following their extended Honeymoon. 

Their marriage lasted just three years, however, as first reported in the January 23, 1917 issue of the Washington Post, that they had been separated since November of 1916. Their sensational divorce trial, which revealed an intimate relationship between Snow and his niece Maud, made headlines for weeks throughout the ordeal, and was no doubt the subject of much gossip in the city’s social circles. Testimony even included many love letters written between all three parties. Custody of Dexter was the focal point of the trial. It likely did not help matters that Chester Snow hit and injured an 18 year old child named Harvey Magner, playing near his office on 8th Street, NW, during the trial.

Addis claimed that their “love died on the honeymoon,” and that she was prevented from entertaining guests in their home, denied use of their automobile, and “never treated as a wife.” Snow countered, of course, and alleged that their “honeymoon was spoiled because of his bride’s nervousness and spells of hysteria.” In the end, Addis was granted custody of the child, and both received a divorce.
The trial also shed light on the financial success of Snow, who his second wife estimated as being worth $2 million. He also owned a farm property coined Fenwick, near Woodside, Maryland. 

Chester A. Snow, Jr., took over the C.A. Snow Company following an education at the University of Pennsylvania and The George Washington University, and it became exclusively involved in the real estate business. He had begun working there in 1916. Seen at left, he married Enid Sims on February 19, 1923.

Chester Snow died in 1937 at the age of 93. His son by his first wife, Chester A. Snow, Jr. died in August of 1977 in Washington, DC, and his son by his second wife, Dexter H. Snow, died in Amherst, Virginia in May of 1996.

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Entertainment for the Animals at the National Zoo

A five member band and a dancer entertain the polar bears in the 1920s. 

Since the National Zoo’s inception in 1889, many Woodley Park residents, including those at the nearby Kennedy-Warren apartment building, have awoken to the sounds of lions growling, wolves howling, and other animal noises from their four-legged neighbors.  Designed by the famed architectural landscape firm of Frederick Law Olmstead, who was also responsible for the design of Central Park and the U.S. Capitol Grounds, the National Zoo has evolved from a showcase of the world’s exotic species to a conservation organization, public education pioneer, as well as a scientific research organization.   Of course, adorable pandas, monkeys, and tigers are still the main attraction.

Charles Trevey bakes huge loaves of bread for the bears in August of 1922
Created by an 1889 Act of Congress for "the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people," the National Zoo became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1890.  In addition to the main 163-acre urban park in the Rock Creek Valley, the Zoo also has a 3,200-acre Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia.  The Zoo's spacious and picturesque area marked a significant departure from the 19th century philosophy of creating zoos in small areas.  Due to its origin prior to the creation of New York's Zoological Park and Munich's Hellabrun Zoo, the National Zoo may have been the first zoo to be located in such a spacious park-like setting.

A little ice is provided tot he penguins by bird keeper Holmes Vourous in 1954
Plans for the Zoo were drawn by three individuals — Samuel Langley, third secretary of the Smithsonian; William Temple Hornaday, a conservationist and head of the Smithsonian's vertebrate division; and Frederick Law Olmstead, a leading landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York.   Historians at the zoo, however, indicate that the first recorded live animal gift to the nation occurred in 1785, when Charles III of Spain sent a “royal jackass” to George Washington while he resided at Mount Vernon.  

Watch those fingers - Director William Mann (left) and Wm Mileham in January 1951
The Zoo has been at the forefront in striving to expand the public's knowledge of the wildlife and the environment through public education programs aimed at teachers and school children, with images of Victorian school children common in the collection of zoo images at the Library of Congress.  The first animals at the facility were literally captured in the wild and brought back to Washington.  The zoo also strove in the early years of its existence to create a refuge for buffaloes and other animals that were quickly disappearing from the North America landscape.  The present monkey house, the New Mammal House, and the lion house are the only two original Zoo buildings that remain today.

A Chimpanzee enjoys a refreshing bottle of milk in May of 1926
Despite Washington's long, humid summers, polar bears seem unaffected by the heat at the National Zoo.  Past polar bears have resided at the Zoo for more than 25 years without showing ill affects of the heat.  This wacky photograph shows staff members swimming in their pool in 1973.    The chimpanzees are known to be one of the easiest species for the Zoo to exhibit due to their pleasant demeanor and friendly attitude toward spectators and keepers.  Others were no so easily contained: Kechil, a ten-year-old elephant that had been caught in Sumatran, was known in 1932 as the "bad boy" of the park, able to throw “with good aim rocks which have been tossed into his enclosure, and has been known to hit visitors on the head,” according to a 1936 book on the zoo. 
The first director of the zoo, Wm Blackburne, who served for more than 40 years, with a gorilla named N'Gi


Thursday, February 23, 2017

817 Q Street, NW: The International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

In the 1920s, a group of disgruntled Pullman porters in New York City asked an African-American labor militant, A. Philip Randolph, left, a strong advocate of the rights of black working men and women, to form an independent union of sleeping car porters and maids.  Officially founded in 1925, the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (IBSCP) was the first successful black trade union in the United States.  Its local chapter office was operated out of 817 Q Street, NW, (left) from 1943 to 1978. 1.     

            The porters worked for the Pullman Company, whose founder, George Pullman, invented the overnight sleeping train car in the 1880s in Chicago.  Pullman hired black men and women to serve as porters, attendants, and maids to the mostly white passengers who used the first class train accommodations.  By using blacks in a service capacity, he was drawing upon the master-servant relationship of slavery days when blacks were servants to white masters.       

Porters, such as these seen here in 1943, worked long hours for little pay and no job security, and they had to spend half their wages on food, lodging, and uniforms.  The black community, however, considered porters an elite class of workers because they had steady jobs and traveled around the country.  But porters worked long hours with little salary, lacked job security, and had to pay for their food, lodging, and uniforms.  Much of their income came from tips.  In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP).  He ran into fierce opposition in Chicago, where the Pullman Company's headquarters was located and where many porters lived.  Pullman fought the union, denouncing Randolph as a communist and recruited support from the middle-class black leaders of the city. 2

 Born in Crescent City, Florida, the son of a Methodist minister, Randolph (left) moved to Harlem in New York City in 1911 to become an actor.  He attended City College at night, and in 1912 founded an employment agency with Chandler Owen that tried to organize black workers.  After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the two men started a magazine, THE MESSENGER, that called for more jobs in the war industry and the armed forces for blacks.

        After the war, Randolph lectured at New York's Rand School of Social Science and ran unsuccessfully for office on the Socialist Party ticket.  The BSCP porters, facing fierce opposition not only from the Pullman Company, but also from middle-class blacks in Chicago, who did not want to antagonize the company.  Randolph and the BSCP struggled with the black community as well as the Pullman Company for 12 years.  He also struggled for recognition by the American Federation of Labor, the largest trade union organization in America, as the A.F.L. was hostile to black workers in the trade union movement.  A. Philip Randolph was a trade unionist and one of the major civil rights leaders in America.

         Held in the Smithsonian collection today is the sign for the BSCP that once hung for decades in the window of 817 Q Street, seen at right.

Many blacks considered labor unions "trouble-makers" that worked against the best interests of black workers. Randolph made a conscientious effort to win the support of the middle-class black community because of its great influence in the black press and with public opinion. The company refused to negotiate with the union; some charged this was because the union was black. The Brotherhood was the verge of collapsing when Congress passed federal laws guaranteeing the right of all legitimate unions to organize workers without interference from their employers, giving the union a new life. The BSCP now found itself with some legal muscle. In addition, the major labor organization in the United States, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which had traditionally excluded blacks from its membership-now gave the Brotherhood support. As a result, in 1937, the Pullman Company finally signed a labor agreement with the Brotherhood.

            A. Philip Randolph, along with Bayard Rustin, was a central figure in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, much of which was planned at 817 Q Street.  

             The photo above is attributed to the New York Times, published on April 20, 1968, two days after the riots erupted in Washington, DC and other cities following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The house at 817 Q Street can be seen at the top center, with the turret.        

            Several members of the BSCP came and went on and off the deed over the course of the next decade, until the house was eventually owned by Oscar W. and Thomasina Shelton, who had purchased it from William Anderson on February 25, 1955.  They continued to rent it to the BSCP until 1978.  

Copyright Paul K. Williams

[1] In 1938, the female relatives of union members formed the International Ladies’ Auxiliary. 
[2] Excerpted from PBS Special on BSCP by Richard Wormser. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

59 Rooms: The Spectacular Firenze Mansion in Cleveland Park, built in 1927

One of the largest, if not the largest, private homes in Washington is nestled behind a dense row of trees between north Cleveland Park and Forest Hills, at the intersection of Broad Branch Road and Albemarle Street.  Known as Firenze House since 1941, it was constructed between 1925 and 1927 for Mrs. Blanche Estebrook O’Brien with a total of fifty-nine rooms.  Its address today is 2800 Albemarle Street.   

            O’Brien was the widow of Paul Roebling, a member of a New Jersey family that had been responsible for financing and building the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883.  When the house was begun in 1925, O’Brien was married to Colonel Arthur O’Brien.  She choose architect Russell O. Kluge for its design, and former Army Corps of Engineers General Richard Marshall as the contractor.  Upon its completion in 1927, the house was coined ‘Estebrook.”

            Like many homes of the era, the Tudor styled residence featured rather dark interior rooms, furnished with Jacobean style furniture.  O’Brien purchased fine paneling and mantels designed by noted architect Sir Christopher Wren in London, and had them incorporated into the house during its construction.  The house itself, set among 22 acres, was constructed of gray fieldstone, quarried on the site, and limestone trim.  A variegated slate roof, green shutters, and leaded glass windows completed the design. 

            Several outbuildings also graced the estate, including a large gatehouse on Broad Branch Road, garage with servant’s quarters, ninety foot swimming pool, tennis courts, and an art studio.  It was estimated that over ten thousand trees originally existed on the grounds. 

            The home’s interiors reflected a variety of styles, dominated by an enormous three story grand hall with carved oak beams and stairway.  Following the Great Depression, the property was leased to the Minister of Hungary until it was sold in 1941.  The buyers that year were Colonel and Mrs. Meyer Robert Guggenheim, who had been residing on their yacht ‘Firenze’ before it was lent to the government for wartime use.  The renamed their new estate ‘Firenze’ in its honor, a name that has remained to this day.

The Guggenheim fortune stemmed from the M. Guggenheim and Son Mining and Smelting Company in 1925, and later from the Guggenheim Exploration Company.  He retired from business in 1929.

            The Guggenheim’s changed much of the dark interiors into a lighter shade, by pickling the oak staircase, for example.  They installed two Waterford chandeliers in the drawing room, and filled the house with priceless art, including Jacomo Victor’s “Barnyard Scene,” dated 1672, Van Dyck’s “Earl of Arundel,” and Murillo’s “Salvatori Mundi.”  They also furnished the mansion with period American and European furniture of the utmost quality, mostly in Queen Anne and Hepplewhite styles.  They entertained up to 600 guests at a time!

            Unfortunately, a fire in 1946, destroyed two Titian portraits, and a large amount of original paneling.  Interior decorator Michael Rosenaur was hired that year to restore the interiors of the house.   M. Robert Guggenheim died in 1959, and his widow later married John A. Logan, and together they resided at the estate until the mid 1970s.           

               Since 1976, Firenze House has been owned by the Government of Italy and used as their Ambassadors residence.  Its rumored to be valued at nearly $50 million.

Copyright Paul K. Williams