Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lost Washington: The Stoneleigh Court Apartment at Connecticut & L Streets, NW

The large house owned by John N. Forbes on the southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street and several others were replaced by the Stoneleigh apartment building in 1903.  It was designed by James G. Hill, and built by Secretary of State John Hay (1838-1905), right, who has assembled the various parcels necessary.[1] 
The building was built at a cost of $600,000, and featured 90 apartments all furnished with elaborate wood paneling and the latest of conveniences.  It was the first apartment building to separate the usual bank of two adjoining elevators to decrease the time spent waiting for egress.  The building was set back from Connecticut Avenue, which it faced, with a central courtyard for vehicular access.  Hayes relatives sold the apartment building in 1926, when the courtyard was filled in for commercial storefronts.           

Harry Wardman became its owner in April of 1927, purchasing it for $1.6 million; just five months later, he sold it to out of town investors for $2.6 million.  Following the stock market crash of 1929, the building was sold at public auction in 1933 for just $800,000 to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. 

In 1962, the building sold for $4.5 million or $150 a square foot, which set a record for Washington real estate at the time.  It was razed in 1965 and replaced by the Blake Building, which has been refaced since its original construction.    

Copyright Paul K. Williams

[1] Hayes, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division; Stoneleigh Court via Smithsonian Institution.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Washington Lost: The Federal style townhouses in the 1900 Block of Pennsylvania Ave, NW, built in 1796

The 1900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue on the southern side of Square 118 was one of the oldest residential developments in Washington, DC, evidence of which remains in two preserved front facades at 1909 and 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue incorporated into the Mexican Embassy complex in the mid 1980s.  In addition, four houses that were built along Eye Street in 1887 remarkable remain to this day in much the same format as when they were built.  

Seven large and impressive Federal styled houses were built in 1796 along Pennsylvania Avenue from 1901 to 1911 as part of a speculative real estate development by the Morris and Nicholson syndicate.  Built before the government was moved to Washington from Philadelphia in 1800, the houses each featured fine brickwork and lintels over the front doors carved into a feminine head.  They were built by Georgetown builder John Archer, and while the original plans exist, the architect remains unknown. 

The most significant house in the development was the corner mansion at 1901 Pennsylvania.  It housed the entire State Department when the capitol moved to Washington in 1800, which had a total of twelve employees at the time.  In 1814, it was the residence of Vice President Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, President and Mrs. James Madison from 1815 to 1817 while the White House was being rebuilt, and Vice President Martin Van Buren in 1834.

During the Civil War, the corner house at 1901 Pennsylvania Avenue became the headquarters of both Maj. General George B. McClellan and Maj. General M. D. Hardin, as photographed by Mathew Brady in April of 1865 (seen in the background to the right is the side of the 19th Street Baptist Church).[1]  By 1890, many of the houses in the row were deteriorated significantly, and were used for a variety of office and retail space.  The first location of People’s Drug store opened in the corner house at 1901 Pennsylvania shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, which later grew into a large chain across the entire Mid Atlantic.  All but 1909 and 1911 were razed in 1959 for the construction of a office building, with the remaining two facades incorporated into an office building on the western portion of the site today.      

Copyright Paul K. Williams    

[1] Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division for architectural drawing and Brady photograph. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The lost history of Square 163: Conn Ave and K Street, NW

Bounded by K Street to the south, L Street to the north, Connecticut Avenue to the east, and 18th Street to the west.

Like many of its surrounding neighbors to the south and west, Square 163 no longer has any evidence of its past architectural history based upon the modern office buildings that line the blocks today.  However, it is slightly unique in that individuals kept building residences on the block well into the 1890s, and even into the twentieth century, when surrounding blocks were becoming increasingly commercial in nature, or built with large apartment buildings.  A large swatch of Connecticut Avenue was owned by the Casino Association in 1887, according to the Hopkins map above, which had plans that apparently never realized to construct a large entertainment complex on the site, likely due to the nationwide economic recession in 1893.      
An example of the late period in which large homes were built, however, is the brick and stone house for real estate Brainard H. Wardner (1847-1916) and his wife at 1741 K Street that was built in 1895 at an impressive cost of $25,000.  Brainard, right, and his Wardner Construction Company are responsible for thousands of homes and apartment building that still exist throughout Washington, DC.     

Another residence was built at 1739 K Street for owner Charles Rauscher in 1895 that was designed by architect James F. Denson and constructed at a cost of $20,000. Houses continued to be built on the Square as late as 1910, in fact, when the $27,000 residence of Lambert Tree completely renovated the Rauscher house at 1739 K Street for himself.  Lambert Tree (1832-1910, left) was born in Washington, DC, the son of a post office clerk. He began his education in private schools in the capital, attended the University of Virginia, then continued on to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1855. That same year, he left the East for Chicago, where he became a wealthy and influential figure as the junior partner in the Clarkson and Tree firm. For Tree, the capstone of his achievements came in July of 1885, when President Grover Cleveland appointed him Minister to Belgium.  He worked in Brussels for three years before being promoted to Minister to Russia in 1888, a position he occupied for only a month before the inauguration of Republican president Benjamin Harrison caused his resignation. Tree had one son, Arthur, who married a daughter of Marshall Field, who he later divorced for desertion.       

Commercial buildings did begin to be erected on the Square, however, by 1903, when Tree built a 77 by 142 foot brick store building at 1000 Connecticut Avenue at a cost of $27,000, designed by the Poindexter and Pelz architectural firm.    The Wardman Construction Company built two large apartment buildings on the Square in 1928: 1018 Connecticut Avenue that cost $1.7 million, and 1028 Connecticut Avenue that cost $1.2 million.  Both were designed by architect Joseph Baumer.  The Square also housed a gas stations at one time built at 1746 L Street in 1952. 
Looking west on K Street from Connecticut Avenue, NW

The photograph above shows K Street looking west from Connecticut Avenue in 1948.  Famous author Frances Hodges Burnett authored Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1886 while residing in the 1700 block of K Street.  The block as it appears today, bottom.    

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The "Giant Tomato Can" House in Dupont Circle

The owner of the three 1887 built houses at 1640-1644 21st Street, NW in November of 1943 was William Wadsworth Wood, who initially had a plan to build a large circular shaped hotel behind the row of homes on R Street, NW.  He changed his mind, however, just before he submitted an application to build numbered 265514 on November 29, 1943 when he decided to build a circular clubhouse and residences for the many single military men in desparate need of accomodations while in Washington, DC.  The house conversion and club cost an estimated $30,000.                            

            Wood was likely able to get the houses rather cheaply, especially the house formed out of the rear section of 1644 21st Street.  The house had been put on the market following a period where it was used as a front for war contract lobbying with some of the top ranking military members attending dinner parties thrown by John Kaplan aka John Monroe. 

Despite being an architect himself, owner William Wood listed architect Angelo R. Clas as responsible for the design of the clubhouse that was built at 2104 R Street, NW.  He was born on February 13, 1887 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Alfred and Lucille Clas, and obtained his architectural degree from Harvard University in 1908.    

The Officer’s Service Club

            The transformation of the three houses and the construction of the new club and residences in 1943 by William W. Wood was mentioned several times in the local newspapers, even in his engagement notice to May Greenough in the July 9, 1944 Washington Post.   The following articles sums up the development nicely and offers an insight into the odd interior configurations: 

            William Wadsworth Wood was born in Montgomery, Alabama on November 16, 1896 to Williams D. Wood (1859-1919) and his wife, the former Ida Killebrew (born 1868).  He attended the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, where he obtained his architecture degree.


            He served in the U.S. Army in 1917 and 1918 as a Captain in France and England, according to a passport application completed in May of 1924, when he intended to travel to the British Isles, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  He traveled out of New York City aboard the Republic on July 3, 1924.  His picture from the passport application appears above.  He married May Greenough in 1944, fairly late in life, and the couple made their home at 2129 S Street, NW. 

                William Wood was the publisher of Small Homes magazine and the author of the Wood Plan for Post War Jobs.  He moved to Washington, DC from New York in 1941 to focus on real estate development.  

             The Officer’s Service Club in the unusual round building was unique to Washington, DC, and its design was meant to maximize space for its many inhabitants.  A central circular staircase led to pie shaped rooms on each floor, with one occupant each, but sharing an adjoined bathroom.  A large ground floor room hosted lectures, dinners, and dances over the next several decades.  The club was sometimes referred to as the United Nations Officers Club and existed until at least 1968 and was affectionately referred to as the “Tomato Can” in many articles that appeared in the Washington Post and the Evening Star seen below and on the following pages.

Unfortunately, the 1940 is the last available in detail for researchers, and the 1950 census will eventually provide details on the occupants of the houses and the club building when it is released in 2022.  The Officers’ Service Club purchased the building from William Wood in May of 1955.      

            In 1967, two gunmen “equipped with lengths of rope, wire and adhesive tape, entered the Reserve Officers Club” and tied up club manager Paul F. O’Brien and bookkeeper Ray Goodman who were preparing a deposit.  They made off with a bank bag containing $6,000, $1,000 of which was cash. 

            The Officers Service Club maintained title to the deed of all the properties until January 1, 1978 when it was purchased by the “Conservative Club Inc.” In 1990, the houses and former "tomato can" were converted into nine unique and individual condominiums by the Robert M. Gurney architectural firm.  They added a brick screen wall to the R Street facades, and broke up the circular building into two large vertical condo units.       

Copyright Paul K. Williams