Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Newsworthy House History in Woodley Park: Literally.

What are the chances of have four nationally known journalists own the same house at some point in their careers?  Rare, indeed - but one house in the Woodley Park neighborhood has that unique distinction.  We supplied the scoop to Urban Turf DC, who recently revealed their identity on the Urban Turf Blog.  Past owners of 3124 Woodley Road, NW have included NY Times writer James Reston, Tom Brokaw, Charlie Rose, and Tim Russert.   

For those of you that want the complete story, details from the house history we wrote for the late Tim Russert are below.  He gave the "house history" to his wife, columnist Maureen Orth as a birthday gift several years ago.  Let's hope whoever owns the house today is a news fan!     
Owner George Henry Dawson applied for and was granted an Application for Permit to Build #254 for the construction of 3124 Woodley Road, N.W., on July 12, 1915.  The permit was for a single family dwelling to be constructed of brick and stone.  Dawson had paid a filing fee of $7.75 at the time of the application.  His wife, Josephine Dawson, had purchased lot #16 four years earlier, in May of 1911.

According to inspector notes, construction began on 3124 Woodley Road on July 20, 1915, and was completed by November 23 of that same year.  The house had been designed by the architectural firm of MacNeil and MacNeil, based in New York City.  Robert L. Macneil (left) was a partner with his brother in the firm, and was born on December 10, 1889 in Norfolk, Virginia to a father who he later recalled was a painter from Canada.  He attended secondary school at Chifflet’s Atelier Préparatoire in Paris, France, where he went on to learn the trade of architecture. 

Owners James B. and Sally Reston

             Ellen Littlepage Hart only owned 3124 Woodley Road for six weeks, as she sold it to James B. Reston on April 19, 1951.  They would be the sixth owners of the property since its construction in 1915, and would continue to reside there until 1975.  At the time, Reston was diplomatic correspondent and columnist for the New York Times Washington Office.   

            Just one year after purchasing 3124 Woodley Road, in 1952, James Barrett Reston (right) would make world headlines when questions he had submitted to Russian Premier Joseph Stalin were answered via Russian Ambassador Georgi N. Z. Zarubin.  His picture accompanied a notice in the New York Times, illustrated at left, appeared above a caption that indicated the questions revealed that Stalin was favoring meeting with U.S. President elect Eisenhower and trying a new approach toward ending the Korean War. 

            James B. Reston was born in Clydebank, Scotland, on November 3, 1909.  He came to the United States in 1920, and became a naturalized citizen in 1927.  He received his B.A. in 1932 from the University of Illinois.  Shortly thereafter, he married Sarah “Sally” Jane Fulton, a journalist, on December 24, 1935.

            His distinguished career at the New York Times began in 1934 as a sports writer in the New York office, a position he held until 1937, when he reported sports from London, England for the following two years.  From 1939 to 1945, he reported news from the London office, before accepting a position as diplomatic correspondent in the Washington, D.C. office.  Shortly thereafter, in 1953, Reston became the Washington Bureau Chief, a position he held until 1964. 

            Reston became the associate editor in Washington for four years, between 1964 and 1968, and executive editor in New York City, for 1968 and 1969.  He returned to Washington later that year to become vice president until 1973, when he became a director of the company.  In 1971, he was one of the first American reporters allowed into China, and was subsequently remembered because of his attack of appendicitis required him to report from his hospital bed at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Peking. 

            His obituary in the December 7, 1995 edition of the New York Times makes reference to this point in his career, and his residence in Washington by stating “During these years the Reston’s lived in a pleasant red brick house on Woodley Road in leafy northwest Washington and spent weekends at their log cabin in Fiery Run, Va.”    

            His obituary in the New York Times December 7, 1995 edition also offers some insight on the journalist himself, and reads:

“Writing his column three times a week, Mr. Reston was a procrastinator, often filing right on deadline, to the dismay of nighttime editors at The Times.  A two-finger typist, he regularly wore out typewriters because he banged so hard on the keys, and his desk was a litter of papers, many which bore tiny black marks where a stream of smoldering matches had landed in the course of a never-ending pipe-lighting ritual.” 

            Among his numerous awards, Reston earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and again in 1957, both for national reporting.  His first Pulitzer was in recognition of his reporting on the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington in 1944, which laid the groundwork for the United Nations.  He authored four books during his career; Prelude to Victory, 1942, Sketches in the Sand, 1967, Artillery of the Press, in 1967, and an autobiography entitled Deadline, in 1991.            

            Sally and James Reston had three children; Richard, James, Jr., and Thomas. 
James B. Reston retired from The New York Times in 1989, and died in December of 1995 at the age of 86.         

 Thomas J. “Tom” and Meredith Brokaw

James B. and Sally Reston sold 3124 Woodley Road to news anchor Tom Brokaw and his wife Meredith on November 28, 1975, for the consideration of $150,ooo.  They resided at the address from the time of purchase until some time late in 1976, when they moved to New York City. 

            Brokaw was born in Webster, South Dakota, on February 6, 1940.  Later, in 1962, he married the former Meredith Lynn Auld, on August 17, 1962.  Tom Brokaw began his journalism career following graduation from the University of South Dakota in 1962 at KMTV, Omaha, Nebraska.  By 1965, he became the late night news anchor on WSB-TV in Atlanta.  Currently the anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw” he began his career at NBC in 1966, where he reported from KNBC in Los Angeles until 1973.  He has anchored the NBC Nightly News since 1983.

            Like several owners before them, the Brokaw’s continued to own 3124 Woodley Road and rent it to several tenants throughout their ownership from 1975 to 1985.  The Haines City Directory lists Frank B. Moore as an occupant in 1980.  From 1981 to 1983, the house was occupied by Richard Rymland, Billy Amy Sind and Catherine Wyler. 

            In 1983, the Brokaw’s rented the house to M. Buie and Marjorie Seawell.  He had been born on July 8, 1937 in Lumberton, North Carolina, and had obtained degrees from Davidson College in 1959, Union Seminary in 1961, and Denver University in 1975.  At certain points in his career, Seawell served as chief legal aid to Governor Dick Lamm, and served as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Gary Hart.

 Owner Charles “Charlie” Rose

            The Brokaw’s sold 3124 Woodley Road to Charlie Rose on January 31, 1984.  The former CBS News anchor is currently anchor and executive editor of Charlie Rose, a nightly interview program which airs on 222 PBS affiliates nationwide.  It made its nationwide debut on January 4, 1993.

            Rose graduated from Duke University with an A.B. in history and a J.D. from the School of Law.  He was born in Henderson, North Carolina on January 5, 1942.  Rose entered television journalism full-time in 1974, as managing editor of the PBS series “Bill Moyers' International Report.”   The following year, Rose became executive producer for the PBS conversation and documentary series “Bill Moyers' Journal.”  In 1976, Rose was named correspondent of the new PBS series “USA: People and Politics,” a weekly political magazine.

            Later in 1976, Rose moved to NBC as a correspondent, based in Washington D.C. From then until 1981, Rose hosted a number of interview programs, including a co-host position with AM/Chicago on WLS-TV, and host of “The Charlie Rose Show” at KXAS-TV in Dallas/Ft. Worth.  In 1981, Rose moved "The Charlie Rose Show" to Washington, D.C., where he also anchored a weekly interview show for WRC-TV. 

            During his ownership of 3124 Woodley Road, Rose anchored CBS's “Nightwatch,” the network's late-night interview series, from 1984 to 1990.  He sold 3124 Woodley Road in 1993, and divides his time between his home in New York and his farm near Oxford, North Carolina. 
Owners Tim Russert and Maureen Orth

            Tim Russert and Maureen Orth purchased 3124 Woodley Road from Charlie Rose on September 9, 1993, and continue to own it today.  Together, they are the ninth owners of the home first constructed in 1915 by George H. Dawson.  

            Tim Russert is the moderator of “Meet the Press” and political analyst for “NBC Nightly News” and “Today.” He hosts “The Tim Russert Show,” a weekly CNBC program.  Russert also serves as Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News and as a contributing anchor for MSNBC Cable.

            The late Russert was married to Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine.  They met at a New York State Democratic party reception during the 1980 Democratic National Convention.  Currently, they lived at the distinguished residence along with their son, Luke.   

Copyright Paul K. Williams      

Monday, November 12, 2012

Manhattan Laundry in Washingon, DC

Many passersby are struck by the looming while enamel and glass block building at 1326-1346 Florida Avenue, NW, seemingly out of place on a short stretch of the street.  Most may have been first introduced to the vast complex of buildings when part of it served as the first location of Art-o-matic in 1999, but it’s the dramatic Art Deco façade that often causes a double take.

The complex is actually composed of three major buildings, the westernmost of which was constructed in 1877 when the area was a rather desolate area far from the urban core of Washington, DC.  It was designed by John B. Brady as a car barn for the Washington & Georgetown Railroad Company.  A steam plant was added in 1908 and a large addition in 1926 designed by A. S. J. Atkinson.  Behind the current Art Deco building that faces Florida Avenue is an original stable and warehouse built in 1911. 

The Art Deco building of glass block and enameled panels was built in 1936 at a cost of $50,000 to house the Manhattan Laundry dry cleaning and rug laundry that combined the other buildings into a vast array of storage buildings for cleaned rugs.  It was designed by Alexander M. Pringle.  Wool rugs were susceptible to moths in the summertime, as well as being too hot for Washington summers, so it was common for area households to have them cleaned and stored for the summer, replaced with woven grass matting.                    

Manhattan Laundry was founded by John W. Lowe about 1905 in the former car barn on the westernmost side of the complex.  An advertisement from 1905 is seen here.   

The bottom two floors of the Art Deco building were utilized for laundry and dry cleaning, with administrative offices on the third floor designed by Bedford Brown.  The exterior walls and interior separating walls were composed of glass block that created a dreamy dramatic effect as shadows and figures could be seen through each wall, especially at night.     

The Lowe family sold Manhattan laundry in 1973, and it moved to more modern facilities, leaving the Florida Avenue complex abandoned and soon vandalized.  It suffered a fire in 1978, and was scheduled to be razed in 1979.  Instead, it was partially restored by developer Jeffrey Cohen into an office and storage facility.

In 1999, about a dozen artists toured the building with the idea of assembling a large consortium of artists for a massive art show appropriately coined Art-o-matic.  Within a month, over 350 artists cleaned, electrified, painted and presented artwork in its 100,000 square feet with over 20,000 visitors attending the exhibit over six weeks.  

Copyright Paul K. Willaims

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

History Man is Back, and our Lost Washington book is published!

House History Man is back! 

A few explanations are due for our absence, of course.  Seems a perfect storm of career and writing duties happened in early July this year.

First, I'm proud to have been hired as the President of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.  I began work on July 2, 2012, and it is both a fascinating place and a relatively unknown Washington DC historic gem...that will most certainly change in the near future, as my mission is to have it better known locally, regionally, and nationally.  We plan on continuing and expanding a host of new events, public tours, and conservation workshops.  More on those as they progress.  A fun picture of us "haunting" the cemetery for the October 6, 2012 "Dead Man's Run" 5k race appears above.  Told you I was busy!

At the same time, I was on deadline for my 15th book.  This one is titled Lost Washington, and was published by Pavilion/Anova books in London.  While I had to include several monumental 'lost' DC landmarks, I tried to focus on the more unusual and never before published resources that have been long since gone in DC...African-American clubs on U Street, the Children's hospital, horse troughs, the city canal, houses, hotels, theaters like the renowned Republic on U Street, and even a bar suspended in the treetops near Logan Circle in the 1920s - try to get that past the ABC Board today!

The book was completed, and now available for sale.  Its a hard cover - a rarity in today's world, especially since it retails for just $18.95.  It is complete full color, 140 pages, and the best part: the forward was written by the Washington Post's Marc Fisher.

The publisher was pleased, apparently.  My partner Greg and I were hired to write and finish Lost Baltimore to replace a book planned for an author that fell ill.  So, with a deadline of just eight weeks, you can see that combined with my more than full time job, all evenings and weekends are being dedicated to the new publication.  The good news?  Both books are now complete!            


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The original Calvert Street Bridge was moving - quite literally.

Many pedestrians and motorists alike that traverse the Calvert Street bridge today likely are unaware that the 1935 built bridge replaced an earlier, iron truss bridge that had been completed in 1891.  The large span bridge towered over the deep Rock Creek Park.  Amazingly, in order to build the current bridge beginning in 1934, the entire iron truss bridge was moved out of the way – by a team of horses, no less.   
The deep Rock Creek Park posed a serious obstacle for Washington development north of the city.  Travelers headed north had to drive horses and early cars down the steep embankment, cross the shallow water, and climb up the other side.  

A wooden bridge was eventually built in the 1870s over the water on what was then Woodley’s Lane, leading from the Adams Morgan neighborhood to the emerging summer estates in what is today Woodley Park.  The Engineer Commissioner reported no immediate plans for constructing a permanent bridge in 1887, citing the rugged topography as not worth tackling.  

Senator Francis G. Newlands and his business, the Chevy Chase Land Company, had purchased enormous amounts of land from the termination of Connecticut Avenue all the way to Chevy Chase in secret negotiations to keep prices down.  His Rock Creek Railway Company was formed to transport new home buyers to the north of the city, and it required bridges to span Rock Creek. 
Construction commenced on a large iron truss bridge leading from Columbia Road to Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park that was completed in 1891.  It was built by the Edgemore Bridge Company.  When completed, the ownership of the bridge was turned over to the city government.  

The original bridge was an impressive site.  It was 755 feet long, and cost an estimated $70,000.  The wrought iron used for its construction weighed a total of 1,266 tons.  Beginning in 1917, however, District Commissioners hired local architect George Oakley Totten, Jr., to design a new Calvert Street bridge.  The Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) determined that his resulting design was too costly and ornate, and feared that it might overshadow the newly completed Connecticut Avenue Bridge to the west.  

Totten fought for the use of his stone arch design, but the CFA remained unconvinced.  Finally, in 1933, Totten’s design was finally discarded, and the CFA selected Paul Crete as chief designer for a new bridge.  His first design was also rejected, and the CFA finally settled on a masonry design with multiple arches that was eventually built.  

The need for crossing Rock Creek remained during the construction period of the new bridge, however, which was begun in 1934.  The decision was made to move the original iron bridge 80 feet downstream to be used for diverted traffic until the new bridge was completed the following year.     
Engineer John Eichleay Jr. was hired for the job.  His grandfather had founded the company in 1875 expressly to relocate hard-to-move things.  

In the early dawn hours of June 7, 1934, the five 130 foot piers of the bridge were lowered onto a specially made track of horizontal girders, and outfitted with wheels.  At 5 a.m., workers cut the railroad tracks on the bridge above, and a series of block and tackle attached to the bridge with a windlass.  Horses took over, and incredible, in just 7 hours and fifteen minutes, the bridge was at its new position 80 to the west.  

Thousands of onlookers had gathered to watch the unusual feat, and after it was in place, the railroad track was reattached and open for traffic in less than two hours.  Following the completion of the masonry arch in 1935, the original Calvert Street Bridge was dismantled for scrap.    

Copyright Paul K. Williams     

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Love and Romance in the Seventh Grade!

This headline caught my attention while I was researching a house the other day.  It appeared in the March 19, 1915 edition of the Washington Post.  Two youngsters from the Bloomingdale neighborhood - 162 Bryant Street, NW and 78 V Street, NW - had jumped a train to New York with the hope of an elopement. 

The young lovers were just age 16 and 15, respectively, and they had made their way to New York's Grand Central station where they discovered that they only had $2 between them; New York was a bit too expensive for their tastes.  Their youth alone eventually caught the attention of a railroad ticket agent, and their plans to marry were foiled.  I'll let you read the article at left for yourself!

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Alexander Graham Bell Mansion, 1331 Conn Ave

Noted American telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) built his house at 1331 Connecticut Avenue beginning in June of 1891 at an impressive cost of $31,000.  Like many inventors, he integrated new technology and experiments into the design, including what was one of the earliest experiments in household air conditioning. It was located on the block just south of Dupont Circle.

Bell had been born in Scotland, but immigrated along with his parents to Canada in 1870, when he had already been working as a teacher to deaf mutes through his 1864 “invisible speech” method.  Several years later, young Bell began to teach at Boston University, where he met his future wife, Mabel Hubbard.  She had become deaf due to scarlet fever, and was the daughter of wealthy lawyer Gardiner Green Hubbard (1822-1897), who owned a house nearby about the time he became the first President of the National Geographic Society.    

In 1877, after their marriage, Hubbard became Bell’s business manager and the first President of the Bell Telephone Company.  Alexander and Mabel first moved into a newly purchased house at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue, just a year after becoming internationally famous for demonstrating the telephone in public at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition with the word “Watson, come here, I want you” to his lab assistant Thomas Watson.  After 1500 RI Avenue was damaged by fire they sold it to Vice President Levi P. Morton, after they had it rebuilt, and then began construction of 1331 Connecticut Avenue. 

Bell established the Volta Bureau in Georgetown in 1880, where much of his inventing and experiments were undertaken.  He had architects Hornblower and Marshall design a wing on the Connecticut Avenue house for his famous “Wednesday Evenings” that entertained scientists and society for decades.

 At the house, Bell also experimented with an early form of air conditioning: on a hot summer day, he placed a block of ice in the attic covered with salt, to which he connected a large diameter tube extending to his office; by opening the upper windows, he reduced the temperature of the room from 90 degrees to 65 degrees.

The house was also designed with a large rear yard that led to the two houses of his daughters, facing 18th Street.  After his death, the house was inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gilbert Grosvenor (wife of the founder of the National Geographic Society), who ran it as an antique shop and tea room.  It was razed in 1930 for an office building.                     

John Witherspoon Park

Located near where the Bell mansion stood is the John Witherspoon Park, bordered by Connecticut Avenue and N Street, the park is named after Patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence John Witherspoon (1722-1794), who also unified and led the Presbyterian Church in America.  His statue was erected at this intersection by the Church of the Covenant (later renamed the National Presbyterian Church) when it was located at the intersection of Connecticut and N Street beginning in 1887.

The statue was sculpted by John Couper.  Witherspoon was born in Scotland and served as a Presbyterian minister in New Jersey.  He was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence and said that America “was not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of rotting for the want of it.”  He also served in the Second Continental Congress.  After the war, he worked to build the academic standing of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).   Incidentally, actress Reese Witherspoon is one of John Witherspoon’s direct descendants.

Copyright Paul K. Williams