Monday, June 23, 2014

U Street: Storage Central

 The thriving greater U Street corridor is celebrated as the location of an impressive array of historical African American entertainment sites and architectural firsts, but for many years, it also had the distinction of being home to three large moving and storage facilities that could be seen from many blocks away. These included the Federal Security Storage at 1707 Florida Avenue, the Fidelity Storage Company at 1420 U Street, and the Smith Transfer and Storage Company, once located at 1313 U Street.

One of the largest of the three storage facilities was located at 1313 U Street, demolished in the 1970s along with the Republic Theater in anticipation of construction for the U Street entrance and tunnel of the Green line of the Metro.  Its site stood as a vacant lot for decades, and was only fairly recently replaced with the large Ellington apartment complex. 

Smith Transfer and Storage was established in 1909 and was owned by Claredon and Arthur Smith with its U Street located managed for along time by J. H. Glaszner.  They specialized in the moving of household goods only, and advertised in 1930 that they “had gained the confidence and patronage of all who have ever availed themselves of this most excellent storage.”  Their early horse drawn moving trucks no doubt were fixtures all across the city, and the fire proof facility offered dust free rooms “greatly in demand for those desiring to store valuable furniture.”  They employed 60 employees by 1930.       

Still located at the corner of Florida Avenue and Ontario Road is a storage facility originally built as Federal Security Storage.  It was designed by New York architect Charles H. Moores, and built in 1925.  When it opened, it was declared “one of the most beautiful and best-equipped warehouses in the country” by Distributing and Warehousing magazine. 

It was built as a fireproof structure to store household furnishings, including “private rooms for furniture, silver vault, cold storage vault for furs, draperies, rugs, and tapestries, fumigation chamber for overstuffed furniture, insurance department, rug cleaning plant, and packing department where valuable articles are prepared for shipment all over the world.”  In 1925, the company “owned and operated a fleet of modern six cylinder pneumatic tired motor vans for household removals.”  They featured an innovative “Bowling Green steel Lift Van” that was an early precedent to the container cargo compartments of today; one steel box that could be transported on ship, rail, or truck.  It now serves as the Security Moving and Storage building.        
The building that still serves as a storage facility today at 1420 U Street was originally built for the Fidelity Storage Company in 1905.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Beecher, Fiz & Gregg and owned by James L. Kanick, who served as its President for many years.  Other storage facilities were built by Fidelity in cities such as Philadelphia about the same time.  Today, the building is owned by Storage USA, offering self storage services, and storage for such local vendors such as a flower shop and even the nearby McDonalds fast food restaurant.        

These three storage businesses served the needs of most transient Washingtonians in an era when wealthy residents routinely stored their household furnishings for a year while they traveled abroad, summered in the country, or stored off season furniture and clothing.  They also served as a cleaning and fumigating need in an era of wool, fur, and household pests that could destroy exquisite fabrics within days.  Two of the three buildings remain, but are no longer operated by a local based storage business, with self storage now a way of life for city residents.