Wednesday, February 29, 2012

J. Edgar Hoover Houses: A Vacuum of History

John Edgar Hoover was reportedly born at 413 C Street, SE on New Year's Day 1895 in Washington, DC, to Anna Marie (Scheitlin, 1860–1938), who was of German Swiss descent, and Dickerson Naylor Hoover, Sr. (1856–1921), of English and German ancestry.  The uncle of Hoover's mother was a Swiss honorary consul general to the United States. 

Unlike his two siblings, however, oddly there is no record of Hoover’s birth, and a certificate was not filed until 1938, following his mother’s death, leading to speculation that his father was not Dickerson Sr.    
The Hoover family was enumerated there in the 1900 census, and the house later became known as 413 Seward Square, SE – since razed and today the site of the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church. 
4936 Thirtieth Place, NW
At Central High School, he sang in the school choir, participated in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, and competed on the debate team.   He obtained a law degree from George Washington University Law School in 1916, and an LL.M., a Master of Laws degree, in 1917 from the same university.

Following the death of his father in 1921, Edgar lived with his mother in the same house on Seward Square, until her death in 1938, when he moved into a house a year later at 4936 Thirtieth Place, NW in the Forest Hills neighborhood.  It was built beginning in December of 1939 for James E. Schwab.  It was designed by Edwin B. and Lois B. Taylor and constructed at a cost of $12,000.    

Hoover's Living Room
We included these vintage photographs of the exterior and interior in our book on the same, also titled Forest Hills. The living room was adorned with a variety of taxidermy animals and erotic art. Despite his formidable reputation, he was remembered by older neighborhood residents as offering rides to the bus stop in his chauffeur driven limousine on rainy days. 
Hoover was notorious for his targeting of gays and blacks: civil rights leaders, elected officials, newspaper publishers, or even artists such as the great singer Paul Robeson.

Clyde Tolson & J. Edgar Hoover
But yet, during Hoover's tenure as head of the FBI, which lasted from 1924 until his death in 1972, there were persistent rumors--both inside and outside the FBI--that Hoover himself was gay and descended from African-Americans. The recent publication of a book by Millie McGhee titled Secrets Uncovered, a descendant of Mississippi slaves who believes that her family is related to J. Edgar Hoover, has re-opened the issue.

It is generally accepted that Clyde Tolson, an associate director of the FBI who was Hoover's heir, may have been his lover.  Hoover died on May 2, 1972 at 4936 Thirtieth Place NW.   Tolson inherited Hoover's estate and moved into his home, having accepted the American flag that draped Hoover's casket. Tolson is buried a few yards away from Hoover in Congressional Cemetery.

Copyright Paul K. Williams. 
Photographs from Forest Hills, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DC in Wacky Photos: Polar Bear Pool Swim at the Zoo

One of my favorite 'Wacky Washington' Pictures from my Woodley Park book, co-written with Gregory J. Alexander.

In August of 1973, National Zoo staff members take a welcome plunge in the 171,000 gallon polar bear exhibit pool.  Lucky for them, the bears wouldn't arrive for two more weeks.


Jazz, Drugs, Murder and the 1940s Club Bali at 14th and T

Souvenir Photo Jacket from Club Bali (Copyright PKW)  
The distinguished building at the northeast corner of 14th and T Street today houses a branch of the well known Arena Stage, but for many years it was an important African-American owned restaurant and nightclub known as Club Bali, one of the elite clubs nestled among the many venues that lined 14th and U Streets in the 1930s and 1940s that I researched as part of our work on the Greater U Street “City Within A City” Heritage Trail for Cultural Tourism DC.  Its eventual decline hit a low with the 1975 murder of the owner in the building.    
Pacific themed restaurants and clubs began to become popular in the late 1930s, and Club Bali opened in 1943, joining other watering holes in Washington such as Trader Vic’s in the Capitol Hilton.  Club Bali was owned and operated for a time by Benjamin C. Caldwell, and featured live shows along with its own, fourteen piece orchestra located in a bandstand behind the bar.

Sarah Vaughn at the Bali in 1947
The building itself was built for Caroline R. Gody beginning in January of 1907, designed by architect George R. Pohl as a billiards and bowling hall.  By 1914, according to the City Directory, it housed the “Duryee & Williams” bowling alley, owned by Henry Duryee and Cassin Williams.

In 1920, it was home to the Columbia School of Drafting, and served as a location for Taylor’s used car dealership in 1930.  In 1937, the building served as an exhibition hall for “National Memorial to the Progress of the Negro Race in America,” according to building permits.     
Louis Armstrong performing at Club Bali
Converted to Club Bali in 1943, the club headlined many important acts during the 1940s and early 1950s that played to mixed audiences of black and white patrons, similar to most of the U Street venues.  Its cover charge of five dollars ensured an elite crowd of partygoers of the era. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A log cabin in Meridian Hill Park? Its True!

The Miller Cabin in Meridian Hill Park
Many summer visitors to Rock Creek Park are surprised to find a log cabin along Beach Drive at the overpass of Military Road, and few are likely to know that it was once the home of poet Joaquin Miller (1837-1913).  It was moved there the year of his death from its prior location just east of the cascade in Meridian Hill Park when it was threatened with demolition.  

Miller would later be well known in international literary circles, and had built the cabin here in 1893 when he had moved to Washington with political ambitions that ultimately failed.  In fact, much of his background and life experiences that he wrote about were apparently wild fabrications.       

A Young Miller
Known as the “Poet of the Sierras," Joaquin Miller was perhaps best known for his poem Columbus.  His cabin stood along 16th Street for 30 years until threatened with demolition as the new park was being planned.  He is quoted as saying, "I sit up here in my fine cabin, while the President himself sits down there at the end of the street with his little cabinet."

Miller’s creative writing began with his assumed name; his real name was Cincinnatus Heiner (or Hiner) Miller, who had been born on September 8, 1837, a date that also frequently changed during his lifetime.  The name "Joaquin" was adapted later from the legendary California bandit, Joaquin Murietta.

Born to Quakers in Indiana, the family moved to Oregon and settled on a small farm. His often cited exploits included a variety of occupations, from mining-camp cook, lawyer, judge, newspaper owner and writer, Pony Express rider, and horse thief.  As a young man, he moved to northern California during the Gold Rush, and apparently had a variety of adventures, including a year living in a Native American village and being wounded in a battle with Native Americans. A number of his works, Life Among the Modocs, An Elk Hunt, and The Battle of Castle Crags, draw on these alleged experiences.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The History of Bradbury Pianos and 1757 Q Street

1759 & 1757 Q Street NW
William Bradbury
The well respected “Bradbury piano” is familiar to generations of pianists and musicians beginning with its unveiling in 1861 in New York.  The influence of the company and its profitability spread rapidly, and a showroom for the many varieties and models of Bradbury’s opened in Washington in 1877.  Located at 1225 Pennsylvania Avenue and owned by Freeborn G. Smith, the building featured a plethora of advertising signs, and was managed for decades by a Dupont Circle resident in the 1700 block of Q Street by the (great) name of William Van Wickle.          

1225 Pennsylvania Ave
The Bradbury piano was the brainchild of noted hymn singer and church music composer William Batchelder Bradbury, who strived to combine the traditional tone of the organ with the mechanics of a standard piano.  His vision became a reality with the production of the “Bradbury” piano in 1854.   

And, like any good businessman of today, Bradbury cashed in and sold the business shortly thereafter, in 1867, to investor Freeborn Garrettson Smith, but died just a year later.  Smith’s Washington’s showroom opened just ten years later, in 1877. By 1903, Bradbury pianos were being mass produced with impressive quality, and sold in showrooms that Smith owned in eighteen cities nationwide.        

William Van Wickle
The long time manager of Washington’s F.G. Smith Piano Company was Dupont Circle resident William Perrine Van Wickle, who resided at 1757 Q Street, NW.  Pictured above, it was later replaced by a modern townhouse, but had looked like its neighbor at 1759 Q Street, a brown stone house also seen above).     

Van Wickle was born in November of 1856 in Lyons, New York, and received his education at Palmyra (NY) Classical School, and at the Troy New York Academy.  He went to New York City in 1876 and worked for the Bradbury Piano Factory as a shipping clerk and later in the repairs department and general offices. In 1878, he opened a branch piano warehouse in Brooklyn and another in Jersey City, in August 1879.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Then & Now with a Twist: Warwicks Cafe & Jr's Bar & Grill

Another quick post today from my Washington Then & Now book, where we tried to put a contemporary spin on a vintage photograph by recreating it with modern people.  In the image below, we see a picture of Warwick's Cafe on 13th Street near Pennsylvania Avenue.  An advertisement from 1894 described at as "an importer of choice wines, liquors, and cigars...a gentleman's resort with the best of service."

 Mention the phrase "gentleman's resort" today and you might have the gay bar Jr's Bar and Grill come to mind.  Located at Church Street and 17th Street, NW, its been around for more than 25 years.  In 2002, co-author T. Luke Young and I visited, where we photographed employees on an early afternoon before opening.  Shown from left is bartender Matt Henry, Brad Lamm, Paul Williams, David Perruzza, and two unidentified liquor salesman that recall the Warwick cafe itself.


Friday, February 24, 2012

History of Washington Junior College of Music and 1252 Maryland Ave NE

1252 Maryland Avenue, NE
The large house at 1252 Maryland Avenue was built in 1892-1893, but is perhaps best known as the location of the Washington Junior College of Music and Education beginning in 1947; and the granddaughter of its founder, Andrea Kelly, still resides there to this day.  She commissioned us to do a house history in 2002 and provided the historical photographs seen on this page: we promised to bring a bit more documented history of the school and its various locations in and around Washington, DC.  We love a good mystery!     
John H. Buscher received a permit on September 28, 1892 for the construction of 19 homes including the largest of the lot, 1252 Maryland Avenue, NE.  The homes were designed by architect Appleton Prentiss Clark Jr. (1865-1955) and built by Henry Getz, who lived close by at 634 10th Street, NE.  Owner/developer John Buscher lived at 928 Maryland Avenue, NE, but would move into 1252 Maryland Avenue with his family when the houses were completed in the spring of 1893.    

James Eubanks and his band students, undated image. 
            Later owners William and Jeannie Calomiris sold 1252 Maryland Avenue on September 16, 1947 to James E. and Gustavia Eubanks for $15,000.

            Just two years later, the Washington Pittsburgh Courier carried a story about the pioneering young couple and their Washington Junior College of Music and Education.  It explains the origins of the academy and the previous locations of the institution.  The article also refers to the fact that James Eubanks was a graduate of Frelinghuysen University of this city, an education institution started by Jesse Lawson and well known African American educator Anna Julia Cooper in 1907.  From 1921 to 1926 they maintained a house at 1800 Vermont Avenue as classrooms (that I had purchased myself in 1992), and later met at Cooper’s own house at 201 T Street when racial pressures and legal discrimination of the era prevented it from owning property in the city or elsewhere. 
James and Gustavia Eubanks and Miss W. A. Davis, 1949.

            The Washington Junior College of Music and Education operated for many years out of 1252 Maryland Avenue.  The 1949 newspaper account indicated that at the time, they maintained an impressive 12 pianos and 1 organ at the property, on which 200 students were taught from kindergarten age to college graduates.     

            The school had its origins at 656 12th Street, NE., in 1930, when pioneering pianist James Eubanks expanded a teaching studio into a full-fledged school.  He had decided in 1928 to forego law and culture studies, having been a graduate of Frelinghuysen University, Temple University School of Music, and the Von Unschuld University of Music in Washington.  Students at the 656 12th Street, SE location are pictured at right. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sanitary Improvement Co. Builds Bates St, NW in 1902

Bates Street, NW pictured shortly after it completion in 1902.  Copyright PKW
Few of today's residents of Dupont Circle may realize that less than 100 years ago the area was still plagued with myriad slums, dilapidated wooden housing, and hundreds of outdoor privies.

A group of prominent citizens met in 1897 to form the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company to address the situation and to provide housing for some of the residents documented as living in 191 dwellings located in 35 different Dupont Circle alleys. It was to operate much the same as a low-income housing Community Development Corporation does today, such as MANNA, Inc. Interestingly, the general incorporation law in the city at the time did not allow such an entity, and the organization was formed under the laws of Virginia.

Original kitchen in one of the Bates Street flats
The Sanitary Improvement Company immediately set out to purchase land, and did so along the 100-300 blocks of Bates Street, NW. It was then a vacant, two-block street, surrounded North Capitol, 3rd, P and Q Streets. Nine lots were purchased on May 28, 1897 from Oscar M. Bryant for a total cost of $5,362.25, or 45-cents per square foot!

General George M. Sternberg, a member of the company's board of directors, drew up plans for the first nine houses "in which no detail was omitted which would tend to provide the best accommodations from the standpoint of hygiene." (George Kober, The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, 1927.) The first nine houses were erected at a total cost of $14,967.50.

Over the next five years, the entire two-block section of Bates Street was purchased, and matching houses were constructed to Sternberg's specifications, as seen in the image photographed shortly after the street's completion in 1902. Each house was 17 and-a-half feet wide, and concealed the fact that it contained two flats, one per floor. Each flat was self-contained, and featured a separate entrance at both the front and rear. Kitchens were equipped with a boiler and a wood-burning range, and each flat featured an indoor bathroom and three closets. They were occupied by both white and black tenants.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Twist on Washington, DC 'Then & Now' Photographs

When my co-author T. Luke Young and I decided to research, write and photograph a "Then and Now" type book for Washington, DC that was published in 2002, we wanted to take the typical format of matching old photographs with new a bit further.  We decided to recreate vintage scenes with people to a newly created photograph arranged with similar individuals but reflecting their modern clothes, etc.  I'll post a few of my favorites on this bog in the coming weeks.  The book is still available HERE with a little more info.

One of our more challenging vintage images was a picture I found in an old scrapbook I had purchased from eBay that documented a local family and their friends, the Buzan's that came to DC for a visit.  Here they are at the Lincoln Memorial in 1955: Mrs. Viola Buzan, Mrs. Hazel Buzan Comstock, and John Buzan.  How were we going to find anyone wearing a hat nowadays, and all be related?  Amazingly, it took just a few minutes once we approached the Memorial one spring day in 2002.

Summer 1955 with the Buzan Family at Lincoln Memorial.  Copyright PKW
 With the vintage photograph in hand, we were thrilled to see a Mennonite family heading up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, complete with white caps.  They were perfect, but were there enough family members?  We approached slowly, asking one of the ladies if she was game to pose for a picture to be published in a future book.  She said yes!  And, their son and his wife were along to be used as the extra individuals we needed.  

We soon had volunteers holding up the photograph and directing the tourists to pose just like the vintage picture: we attracted quite a crowd, in fact, with everyone having fun at helping us accomplish our goal.  Pictured below in 2002 recreating the original 1955 shot are Catherine Kramer, Martha Kramer, Dan Kramer and Stephanie Kramer as the girl in the background.  Mission accomplished, and the Kramers had their fifteen minutes of fame (and a free book for their efforts).

Summer 2002 with the Kramer Family from DE.  Copyright TLY.

1955 Photograph and text Copyright Paul K. Williams.   2002 Photograph Copyright T. Luke Young.        

History of Two Houses: 712 East Capitiol Street, NE

Most homeowners with nineteenth century houses in Washington, DC would believe that their house was the first one built on the lot, but as if often the case, they are mistaken.  Many wood frame houses dotted the landscape in the early to mid 1800s, and were subsequently razed, burned, or moved to other locations as land became more valuable and the population increased dramatically in the city following the Civil War.  The grand house at 712 East Capitol Street, NE is one such example.     

Owner and builder Antonio Malnati applied for and was granted building permit No. 222 on August 2, 1902 for the construction of the house that today stands at 712 East Capitol Street.  He had purchased the site in April of that year, and razed a rather substantial wood frame house that had belonged to General John Eaton and had been built before 1873.  Malnati listed himself on the permit as responsible for its construction, and architect George S. Cooper as responsible for its design.  He estimated that the cost of construction was about $10,000, a substantial sum for the time. 

The first house at the address, however, built in the early 1870s, had belonged to John Eaton, originally from New Hampshire, who resided there with his wife until 902, when it was razed to make way for the present house.  The John Eaton School at 34th and Lowell Streets in Cleveland Park is named after this early city resident - it was built in 1910 to the designs of architect Appleton P. Clark and was dedicated on November 23rd of that year.  More on Eaton below. 

The Eaton house was razed in the summer of 1902 for the construction of the large brick and stone residence seen today at 712 East Capitol Street.  It can be assumed that construction of the new house was completed by the spring of 1903, when the Malnatis would have moved into their fine home on three lots from 818 East Capitol Street, where they resided earlier.  Unfortunately, Antonio Malnati (whose name incorrectly appears in many publications as spelled Malmati) would only enjoy his grand home for four years; he died of heart failure in 1906.  However, the house was lived in by his wife Lena, and was kept in the family until his daughter Antoinette and her husband sold it in 1960. 

Malnati had been born in September of 1845 near Milan, Italy, and immigrated to the US in 1869; Prior to his coming to America, he traveled and worked as a stone cutter through Germany, Switzerland, and France, eventually landing in Baltimore, MD on July 2, 1869.  He worked there until 1872, and worked briefly in Richmond, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1876, before coming to Washington, DC to work as a stone cutter on the State, War, & Navy Building (today’s Old Executive Office Building).    

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Changes Over Time to Dupont Circle Park and Fountain

Most Washington residents correctly assume that Dupont Circle is named after the famous chemical and industrial du Pont family, but few may few know that its central white marble fountain was not the first statuary object to commemorate a member of that prestigious family, Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont.

Before 1882, Dupont Circle was referred to as Pacific Circle, a name designation instituted by city planner Charles L’Enfant.  On February 25th of that year, the U.S. Congress officially designated it as Dupont Circle, and within the following two decades, large and lavish homes began to appear around its perimeter, having been developed far later than Logan Circle.  Dupont Circle itself was landscaped with lush plantings, 850 ornamental trees, and exotic flowering species, and in 1884, a bronze statue of Admiral Samuel F. Dupont was placed atop a granite base at its center.  It was sculpted by artist Launt Thompson.
Samuel du Pont was born in 1803, and had become involved in military affairs at the young age of 12, when he was appointed to the U.S. Navy by President Madison.  Following an impressive military career that took place all over the world, he was appointed Rear Admiral on July 16, 1862.  Toward the close of the year several armored vessels were added to his command, mostly of the monitor type.  Being the first officer to whom the monitors had been assigned, he carefully tested their offensive powers, hampered by their small number of their guns and the slowness of their fire.  On April 7, 1863, du Pont led a charge to take Charleston, South Carolina.
1887 Hopkins Map showing path layout at the time

His gallant effort had failed miserably, however, with limited maneuverability in the channels, one ship sinking and five others being disabled.  Du Pont had beforehand given an opinion that a ground force was necessary, but had been rebuffed by the Navy.  His last military action seemed to tarnish his lifelong career, and Charleston only fell on the approach of Sherman's army.  Du Pont died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 23, 1865.

To honor him and help set the record straight, the du Pont family erected a statue of Samuel in 1884, but today, the statue is nowhere to be found in Washington.  That's because in 1922, the du Pont family had the statue relocated to Wilmington, Delaware where it can be found in Rockford Park.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

1617 Conn Ave: Lavish Life, Death, and a Child's Lawsuit

1617 Connecticut Avenue, NW, today the Anne Taylor Loft
Many residents and tourists alike that stroll up and down Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle pay little attention to the architecture above the first floor retail space.  However, if one pays close attention to the architecture preserved on the upper floors, it is revealed that the majority of the buildings lining the commercial corridor today were built as large residential mansions.  One example of this transformation exists at 1611-17 Connecticut Avenue, the home to the Anne Taylor Loft store, which was built as a private mansion by a wealthy widow from California.

Its house history includes a story of lavish living, an early death, and a lawsuit brought against the estate by a seven year old heir that thought she had been slighted in Colton’s last Will and Testament.                    

Ellen Mason White Colton obtained a building permit for the house on October 16, 1895, which was designed by local architect Carl B. Keferstein and built at a cost of $40,000, at a time when the typical Washington townhouse was built for $2,500 or less.  She was the widow of David Douty Colton (1831-1878), who had amassed a fortune from the gold mines of California and Western railroads.  He was described as standing over 6 feet tall with a muscular physique and a head of fiery red hair that went well with his bold and expressive temperament.

David Colton had been born in Maine on July 17, 1831, and migrated with his family to Illinois, where he married Ellen Mason White during his freshman year at Knox Manual Labor College.  In the spring of 1850, the Colton’s and a friend named Hiram G. Ferris dropped out of college and joined the gold rush to California, where they eventually settled into Shasta City and Colton was elected as their sheriff at the young age of 20.  They had two children; Helen in 1854, and Carrie in 1856, who would die shortly after she was married.

David Colton
David Colton purchased a local paper, and would often be referred to as General D. D. Colton, a title he acquired when he was commissioned a Brigadier General in the Siskiyou Co. branch of the California State Militia. Like many in the West, he was involved in three near duels; the first stemming from rivalry between local Democrats and Whigs, and a second with his opponent for a failed state Senate run in 1857.  He obtained a law degree, and opened a practice in law and mine stock trading in San Francisco that became fabulously successful. He was President and major owner of the Amador gold mine, which yielded half-million dollars annually and his San Francisco properties brought in rents totaling $3,000 monthly.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pressed Brick or Not Pressed Brick, That is the Question.

Many people with a brick house might not notice that the bricks utilized on the front facade differ from those found on party walls or even exposed exterior side walls.  The street elevation of most Washington, DC townhouses was often listed on the building permit as being composed of pressed brick, which was a more expensive and aesthetically pleasing finish than the simpler, cheaper common brick. 

Common bricks produced in and around the District at the time of construction were generally uniform in shape and color; however, their crude manner of production often resulted in rounded edges that required larger and somewhat irregular mortar joints.  Pressed bricks had sharper edges and could sustain smaller, thinner mortar applications.   Since these pressed bricks required more refined production techniques and a higher degree of skilled labor, their purchase and installation was obviously more expensive.  Thus, they were generally used for the most important elevation of a home.  The 1891 advertisement for the Washington Hydraulic Press Brick Company appears above.