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