Saturday, December 28, 2019

Houses with Style and Characters: 1329 R Street NW

I had walked past the unusual house at 1329 R Street N.W. for years, always wondering about two aspects: the unusual copper bay window, and the old sign above the lower door that read "Dr. W.O.I. Byrom, Dentist." Imagine my delight when the owner years ago hired me to do a facade easement to the L'Enfant Trust, which we include a full house history! 

On June 22, 1892, builder Ernest Heisley applied for and was granted Permit No. 2787 to build a brick home for owner Thomas Whyte at 1329 R Street, N.W. 

Heisley indicated on the permit (below) that Joseph Johnson would serve as the architect for the home.  Unfortunately, relatively little is known about Johnson.  He was first listed in the City Directory in 1888 as a partner in a firm coined “Johnson and Gibbs” in the Corcoran Building.  It was the only year that the firm was listed, the other partner being Charles E. Gibbs, who had first been listed in the City Directory in 1881 as a draftsman.  Johnson became an architect in 1882, but following the economic depression of 1893, worked as a cashier at the Ebbitt House restaurant.  From 1889 to 1890, Johnson had a listing of “Johnson and Company” continuing to be located in the Corcoran building.  Johnson was listed as a sole architect there from 1891 to 1901, the last year he was listed in the City Directory.  He then resided at 407 T Street, N.W.    

As mentioned earlier, builder Ernest Heisley built 1329 R Street, N.W., beginning in June of 1892 for owner Thomas Whyte, who lived at 1340 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.  Whyte was the co-owner of National Cornice Works with his brother.  The company was located at 300-304 13th St., N.W., and was a manufacturer of galvanized iron and copper cornices.  The mystery of the unusual copper bay window was solved!  They also held their own patent on a ventilating skylight. An advertisement in a City Directory for the Whytes’ business is seen below. 

The first recordation of Whyte living at 1329 R Street, N.W., comes via the 1894 City Directory, while the first details of the Whyte family at 1329 R Street, N.W., come via the 1900 census.  In the census, Whyte is listed as head of household, although the census taker misspelled his name as “White.”  The census indicates that Whyte was 40 years old, was born in Indiana and had been married for 15 years to his wife, Rose, originally from Michigan.  Rose’s father was born in Scotland, while her mother was born in Canada.  Also living in the home were the Whyte’s two sons, Clifford and Russell, Thomas Whyte’s sister-in-law, Florence McMillan, and his brother-in-law, George McMillan. 

Several owners and renters occupied the house for a few decades until January 29, 1946, when the house was sold to Mrs. Westanna Byrom.  A 1948 City Directory listing reveals at Byrom was a dentist with an office at 1451 U Street, N.W. 

Dr. Byrom (seen here) was a trailblazer in the field of dentistry.  Her father was a physician, and she was born in East Tennessee where she attended elementary and high school.  She later attended Tennessee State College in Nashville, Tennessee, and — with the urging of her stepfather — she pursued a career in dentistry by enrolling in Howard University’s College of Dentistry in 1929.  She received her degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1933. 

Dr. Byrom opened dental offices in Cleveland, Tennessee and later in Chattanooga, Tennessee where she later worked with indigent children in the public school system.  In 1942, Dr. Byrom became the first African-American woman to open a dental office in Washington, D.C.  In 1944, she became associated with the District of Columbia Public Health Department.  She contributed greatly during World War II by collecting funds and selling bonds. 

On April 7, 1963, Dr. Byrom was one of three women to receive a citation from the Gamma Chapter of Iota Phi Lambda Sorority.  She received the “Outstanding Woman of the Year Award” for years of service as the only African-American woman dentist in Washington, D.C., and for her work to help improve the health of Washington’s children.

By 1954, the home was also occupied by Dr. Byrom’s husband, Harold G. Covington, an employee of the State Department.  The couple had one child, Bettye.  A sign at 1329 R Street, N.W. in reference to Dr. Byrom’s dental practice is seen here.

Byrom and Covington would reside at 1329 R Street, N.W., for many years until January 17, 1982, when Byrom passed away, leaving the home to Bettye B. Allen, her sole heir. 

Copyright Paul K. Williams