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History


Read about Silver Spring's ties to Tammany Hall

For a short time before the turn of the 20th century, a little bit of New York political intrigue played out in rural Montgomery County. A man named Carolan O'Brien Bryant, who tried (and failed) to build an estate in Four Corners also had ties to one of our nation's paragons of political corruption.


New York intrigue found its way to Silver Spring in the 1880s. New York Times, July 20, 1877.

In 1887, O'Brien Bryant began buying large farm tracts from an old Washington family, the Beales. Bryant began building a large estate where he hoped to enjoy old age and host national politicos drawn to Washington. Instead, his brief time there turned out to be a false start in the transformation of Montgomery County agricultural communities into inner-ring Washington suburbs.

Though nothing remains of Bryant's sprawling Four Corners estate, it is an intriguing chapter in Silver Spring history.

Born Carl Bryant, his entire family changed their names in 1859, adding the O'Brien middle name. Bryant first appears in the historical record in the 1860s working as a journalist in New York City. He became part of the Democratic political machine, serving in municipal office and the state legislature before running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1864. During the 1870s Bryant found himself on the edges of the infamous Tammany Hall's Tweed ring as a self-described confidant of William "Boss" Tweed.

"That Infamous Villain, Carolan O'Brien Bryant"

Bryant lived a life shrouded in mystery and bedeviled by controversy. In New York he made a living as a journalist, yet people speculated whether he was an attorney or a real estate speculator. Though he had friends and relatives among New York's elite business and political crowds, most people beyond his immediate family described him as a dishonest cad.

Even Bryant's appearance was a topic ripe for gossip. "He possessed an uncommon personality, and for a long period affected an oddity of attire and manner that accentuated his otherwise unique appearance," wrote the New York Times in Bryant's obituary. "He usually wore his hair very long, and in later years it fell in profuse folds about his shoulders." A witness in a lawsuit against Bryant once told the court, "He is a peculiar looking man, and any one who had seen him once would know him again."

In 1866 Bryant married the daughter of millionaire Manhattan tobacconist, John Anderson. Amanda Anderson Bryant died less than a decade into their marriage and Carolan began raising their two daughters and son alone, splitting his time between homes in Tarrytown and the city. Anderson died in late 1881, leaving two wills and kicking off more than a decade of legal battles over the estate, most of which turned on Anderson's alleged insanity.


Cover from the 800-page New York appeals court case file in the Grand Union Hotel Case.

Anticipating his windfall via his daughters, Bryant moved with them in mid-1882 into a Manhattan hotel. The owners extended Bryant credit for room and board in exchange for a promise of payment with interest once Anderson's estate settled. They also fronted money for the children's education, clothing, and other expenses. "I well recall the circumstances under which the defendants, Bryant, father and daughters, came to [the] Grand Union Hotel," owner James Shaw told a New York court in 1885. "They were in destitute circumstances."

After three years, in 1885, the hotel owners wanted to collect the debt, which they claimed exceeded $19,000. They had learned through newspapers that funds from Anderson's estate for the Bryants were available and Bryant had refused to settle his accounts.

A sumptuous estate

The Bryants left the hotel in April 1885. By late 1887, as the hotel lawsuit was working its way through New York appellate courts, Bryant was in the Washington area. He bought two large tracts in Four Corners at the intersection of Bladensburg (now University Boulevard) and Colesville Roads. At the time, Four Corners was a sleepy rural crossroads hamlet with a few stores, a church, and homes.


Four Corners, c. 1894, showing Bryant's properties. Library of Congress map.

Bryant quickly began preparing the land to build a large mansion. He constructed a sawmill and used an existing home on the property as temporary lodging while construction proceeded. Local legends preserved in early 20th century newspaper stories suggest that Bryant salvaged stone and wood from New York mansions and recycled the materials in his new estate. The New York Times described it as a "large and expensive home" and the Washington Evening Star wrote that Bryant had built "a costly and elaborate house [with] fine grounds all around it." Others described it as a "palatial residence."

No photographs of Bryant's Four Corners mansion are known to have survived. Observers described it as lavishly furnished with a full library and art works. As for the grounds, one account noted that Bryant had built a conservatory.


New York World, November 8, 1894.

In 1894, Bryant lost the final Grand Union Hotel appeal and the New York press reported on his "$22,000 Board Bill." Despite the legal and financial setback, Bryant continued work on the Four Corners property. Three years later, he decided to sell the unfinished manse to a trio of Washington speculators.

The sale was completed August 13, 1897; less than a month later, Bryant died in Washington. Born sometime in the late 1830s, he was in his sixties when he died. His daughters, Amanda and Agnes, inherited what was left of his estate, and they lived the remainder of their lives in Allegany County, New York.

Bryant's mansion was destroyed in a "statutory burning"

As for Bryant's Four Corners mansion, it burned to the ground one week after his death. Officials determined that the fire was arson and the new owners were arrested in Washington and brought to Rockville for trial on charges of "statutory burning." Shortly after their arrest, two additional men were arrested and charged with conspiring to blackmail one of the accused arsonists. The criminal and civil cases spanned more than a decade.


Woodmoor subdivision, Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Bryant and his daughters are buried in Rock Creek Cemetery. By the second decade of the twentieth century, the former mansion site was little more than an overgrown ruin. The property passed through several owners until the 1930s when a Washington developer bought it and began developing the Woodmoor subdivision. Once conceived as a grand Victorian suburban retreat, Bryant's property became an ordinary residential subdivision with no physical clues to its storied past.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Kogod Courtyard

The exterior of the Smithsonian American Art Museum embodies cornerstones of DC architecture: Greek Revival, historic, and massive. Cynics might even call it forgettable and ubiquitous. The building's history, along with a new interior courtyard, defy those labels, helping it live up to Walt Whitman's claim that this is the "noblest of Washington buildings."


Smithsonian American Art Museum + Kogod Courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The museum building, which also houses the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, occupies a double city block from 7th Street to 9th Street between F Street to G Street NW, across from the Verizon Center.

Originally the home of the US Patent Office, the building was conceived as a celebration of American innovation represented by the patent process. A slew of famous architects, including Washington Monument designer Robert Mills and Thomas U. Walter, who worked on the US Capitol building, worked on it during construction, which occurred in phases from 1836 to 1868.


A front elevation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was not restricted to just patents. It housed Department of the Interior bureaus, a Civil War military hospital and barracks, and President Lincoln's 1865 inaugural ball at different times. The Civil Service Commission set-up shop in the building after the Patent Office departed in 1932.

In the 1950s, the Civil Service Commission building was threatened with demolition, as it occupied a prime downtown site in the booming District. However, the burgeoning historic preservation movement in the city successfully appealed to President Dwight Eisenhower to save it.

The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1965, highlighting its cultural significance. Only a small fraction of historically significant buildings get this designation, and itand reinforces the oft-repeated claim that the building is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in DC.

Life as a museum

The Patent Office building joined the Smithsonian Institution when it opened its doors as the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in January 1968 after four years of renovations. This returned the structure to its original function: showing off some of the best talent America had to offer, though now in art instead of technical innovation.


The exterior entrance to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was transformed again with the addition of the Kogod Courtyard in 2007. World renowned architect Norman Foster teamed with Gustafson Guthrie Nichols on the courtyard, making sure to address concerns from preservationists about changing the character of the protected structure with an undulating glass ceiling that was modern and distinct but did not disrupt the historic building or block natural light.


The Kogod courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The courtyard design clearly draws inspiration from Foster's earlier work on the Great Court at the British Museum. However, he was limited on the number of alterations he could make to the historic structure at SAAM and designed a "thin rubber seal a few feet deep [that] connects the glass canopy to the original rooftops, so that its weblike structure seems to hover just above the roofline of the old stone building," The New York Times said in 2007.

Eight columns in the Kogod Courtyard support the roof.


The Kogod courtyard canopy. Image by Foster and Partners.

Foster's design does not defer to the historic architecture, but it certainly still respects it. The soaring glass canopy is one of the most captivating features of the building.

The resulting museum and courtyard is now a space in which Washington residents visit regularly, even when not viewing art. The courtyard is often filled with people working on laptops and reading on winter weekdays—a testament to its popularity as one of Washington DC's iconic public spaces.

History


Where DC used to bar black people from living

One of many pieces of America's shameful racial past was when racial covenants forbade people in certain areas from selling their houses to an African-American family. DC had these in several neighborhoods, particularly Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Petworth, Park View, and Bloomingdale.

According to Mapping Segregation in Washington DC, an interactive map created last year by a group called Prologue DC, covenants took two forms throughout the first half of the 20th century: restrictions in the property's deed, often set up by the developer when building a set of row houses, or an agreement that neighborhood activists would circulate as a petition around a neighborhood.


Lots with racial covenants in DC. All maps by Brian Kraft/JMT.

As the interactive map's text explains, covenants like these did more than just bar African-Americans. Covenants in some areas also prohibited Jews—"In DC this was more common west of Rock Creek Park," says the text.

These effectively kept black residents out of many neighborhoods through the early twentieth century, as this map of the area around Columbia Heights shows.


Lots with restrictions (purple) and the percentage of non-white residents (darker = more non-white), 1934.

Many covenants imposed other limits as well, like requiring "that only single-family houses be constructed or that buildings be a certain distance from the street. They also might prohibit use of the property as a school, factory, or saloon." As Ben Ross explains, covenant limits on building size and use is the forerunner of modern zoning.

Covenants fall and segregation takes new forms

Black homeowners and groups like the NAACP challenged these restrictions—often unsuccessfully—in lawsuits from the turn of the century until finally winning the seminal Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, in 1948, and a corresponding case in DC, Hurd v. Hodge (which used a federal civil rights law instead of the Fourteenth Amendment since DC is not a state).

 
Percentage of black residents by Census tract, 1930 (left) and 1960 (right). Darker colors signify more black residents.

In the years after legal restrictions fell, the percentage of black residents in nearby neighborhoods increased—just what the covenants' creators and defenders, illegally and immorally, feared. Amid this shift, the end of legal school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and other civil rights advances, many white residents moved to the suburbs.

There, whether intentionally or not, communities wrote zoning rules and school district boundaries in ways that perpetuated de facto segregation.

How covenants from the past still hurt people today

While this legal tactic is long gone, its effects remain. Emily Badger wrote about a study of how young black people are far less likely than their white and Hispanic peers to get help from their parents to afford the down payment on a home. Each generation invests in real estate and gains wealth in doing so, which it then uses to help the next generation—except if, a few generations ago, residents and the government stopped your ancestors from getting some wealth in the first place.

Badger writes, "Historic disparities in the housing market are transmitted over time, from parent to child to grandchild. Earlier generations of blacks were excluded from homeownership by lending practices and government policies, and as a result those generations didn't accumulate the housing wealth that enabled them to pass money onto their children."

Or, as she put it pithily on Twitter:

Correction: The initial version of this post identified some covenants as being in Truxton Circle, but they were actually in Bloomingdale. Also, a sentence has been updated to emphasize that the disadvantages to black residents came from a combination of both the government and private citizens.

Architecture


What will become of D Street once the FBI moves?

With the FBI planning to move out of the J. Edgar Hoover building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the possibility of restoring D Street so it runs all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue has come up. But it's unclear whether or not that'd be a good idea, or even if it'd actually be doable.


D Street currently ends when it reaches the FBI building at 9th Street. Image from Google Maps.

In DC, each city block is called a square, and each has a number. Square 1, the block between 26th, 27th, Virginia and K Street NW, is the westernmost square in the L'Enfant City, and the numbers continue to to the east. D Street used to extend all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue, creating the two squares where the FBI building now sits—378 and 379—as well as a small triangle north of the Avenue where the Ben Franklin statue originally stood.

In the 20th century, D Street was closed, square 348 was enlarged, and squares 378 and 379 merged.


Plat map of the FBI HQ site in 1932

Undoing this would reconnect the street grid, extending a road that goes all the way to Oklahoma Avenue NE in Rosedale. That would make getting around easier for everyone, add redundancy to the road network, and add new space for storefronts that could bring added life to the area. But it would also come at the cost of greater density.

A connected grid is nice, but at what cost?

Restoring D Street would obviously mean less space for buildings. More specifically, it'd be the equivalent of removing a building 60 feet wide, 530 feet long and 160 feet high—and it would do so in the core of the city.

Another way to view the possibility: a loss of nearly $7 million per story, as Loopnet reports the average price of office space in DC at $217 per square foot at the time of print.

It's not clear how much having D Street run through would help cut down travel times. For those traveling between 10th and D, or between Pennsylvania Ave and D, it would create a slightly shorter route, trimming a couple hundred feet from a trip. But we don't know that the change would noticeably reduce congestion. Perhaps a traffic analysis could shed light on the actual impact.

The District won't be the one to decide what happens

In the end, whether or not D Street opens back up isn't even DC's decision.

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) will, with GSA and NPS, be developing the new square guidelines that will then have to be approved by Congress accepted by GSA. NCPC is considering reducing the current 75 foot setback from Pennsylvania. If it were to stay at 75 feet, it would be difficult to open D street without limiting square 379 to a plaza. If the set back were reduced to something closer to the property line, which is 25 feet from Pennsylvania Avenue, the block would be large enough to open up D and still build a commercially viable building on square 379.

The NCPC usually leans toward reopening streets from the L'Enfant Plan, which is viewed as a national landmark. But it's in the federal government's interest to restore the setback and keep D Street closed, because a closed D Street and smaller sidewalk would result in the highest sales price.

If the federal government does sell the property, will the buyer want assurance that D Street will remain closed? It is entirely within the federal government's power to simply make it illegal for DC to reopen D Street.

Perhaps a more palatable alternative would be for D street to pass underneath whatever replaces the FBI headquarters, similar to the way M Street goes underneath the Convention Center. This would undoubtedly reduce the value of retail along D, but would retain much of the building space while providing the transportation benefits of a restored D. The current courtyard could even be retained as a gap above D Street.

It would be hard to make an argument that Pennsylvania Avenue needs another plaza, but easy to assert that downtown needs more residential and commercial space. A restored D street, with air rights given in exchange for an affordable housing set aside might be able to address all the competing needs.

History


Learn about Spa Spring, a lost Bladensburg park

Our region is chock full of parks with histories as magnificent as the settings they created, but some have been forgotten. Land that's now part of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System used to be Spa Spring Park, a place with close ties to Washington's history as well as one of the city's most curious historical characters, engineer and reputed con-man James Crutchett.


Anacostia River Stream Valley Park, formerly Spa Spring Park. Photo by the author.

Bladensburg is an 18th-century Prince George's County town that hugs the east bank of the Anacostia River. Just outside of the original town limits there was an undeveloped and frequently flooded tract with free-flowing springs. Today it includes property within the Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission's Anacostia River Stream Valley Park and Bladensburg's light industrial fringes. But 200 years ago it was part of Henri Joseph Stier's 729-acre Riversdale plantation.

By the first decade of the 19th century the springs had been dubbed "Spa Spring" and they were becoming a popular early tourist attraction. Stier's daughter, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778-1821), wrote some of the earliest surviving descriptions of the springs in letters to her father, a Belgian expatriate who had returned to Europe. "The waters of Spa Spring have suddenly gained such a reputation that Dougherty's house is not large enough to handle the crowds of the fashionable who come to drink the waters every day," wrote Calvert in 1803.


1804 Bladensburg tavern ad touting nearby Spa Spring. Photo credit University of Maryland Libraries.

Though Calvert's father encouraged her husband, George Calvert, to develop the property and be vigilant about "inconsiderate and tiresome" visitors, the spa spring property remained undeveloped for much of the 19th century.

Washington newspapers regularly ran advertisements for local pharmacies that were selling the spa spring's famed water. In 1890 a Virginia newspaper published an unflattering description of Bladensburg that included a section on the spring. "A spa spring of chalybeate water flows uselessly away at one end of the only street of the village," wrote the Fredericksburg Freelance. "And the picture of gloom is completed with two or three taverns, rendezvous for negroes."

Spa Spring changed hands, to a fabled owner

In 1852, Washington resident James Crutchett bought ten acres of the former plantation, including the spa spring site. Crutchett (1816-1889) arrived in Washington in the 1840s with plans to light the city using a gas manufacturing system he patented. His resume includes mounting a gas lantern on top of the Capitol in 1847 and selling objects carved from wood harvested at Mt. Vernon to fund completion of the Washington Monument. Accusations of fraud followed Crutchett from Massachusetts to Washington throughout the 19th century.

Controversy followed Crutchett throughout his life. Newspapers frequently wrote about his questionable reputation and, in 1861 when the Union Army seized his Capitol Hill property, Crutchett was sitting in a Massachusetts jail cell on charges of failing to pay a debt after being taken into custody in Washington.

Crutchett never exploited the spa spring or its water during the 30 years that he owned the property. In March of 1886, in failing health and into his third decade seeking restitution for the Union army occupation of his Capitol Hill property, Crutchett gifted the spa spring property to the federal government. "The use of said spring and land has for these many years not been developed," Crutchett wrote in the deed transferring the property to the United States.


1879 map of Bladensburg. Arrow indicates Spa Spring Park location. Credit: Atlas of fifteen miles around Washington by G.M. Hopkins.

Bladensburg in 1854 had annexed the Crutchett Spa Spring tract. Maps published after the Civil War illustrate the private property as "Bladensburg Park." Despite a clear chain of title, visitors and Bladensburg residents used the property as a recreational site, though it didn't become public property until Crutchett's donation.

Folklore misplaces Spa Spring Park

Today, a lot of people say that the spa spring site is where the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission built a sewage intake facility in the 1940s. Local historian Dick Charlton said in a 2008 interview with the Gazette newspaper that he believed that the spring was capped and that WSSC built a circular brick building on the site. "I suppose you have to do something with [the sewage], but to us, it's kind of a sacrilege," Charlton told reporter Elahe Izadi.


Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission building long believed to be built on Spa Spring site. Photo by the author.

That actually isn't true, though; the WSSC site was was constructed in the area historically known as Spa Woods, a tract situated east of the Spa Spring. The utility bought the property in 1935 from T. Howard and Josephine Duckett. Over the next several years, WSSC bought additional properties and rights-of-way to complete its sewage facility. The brick building constructed there first appears in a county real estate atlas published in 1940 and subsequent Sanborn fire insurance maps.

The actual Spa Spring location ultimately was transferred to the City of Bladensburg around the turn of the 20th century. In 1940 it was one of two parcels Bladensburg sold the M-NCPPC; the other was the city's former jail site (west of Baltimore Ave.). Both parcels were incorporated into new county parklands that flank the Anacostia River.

Development


After the FBI moves, Pennsylvania Ave could be reborn

The FBI is decamping from its headquarters in the J. Edgar Hoover building, leaving the deteriorating 1974 brutalist building and its site on Pennsylvania Avenue up for reinvention. You can weigh in on what comes next for the site.


What should replace the Hoover Building's moat? Photo by Eric Fidler on Flickr.

The FBI has decided that the poor state of the existing building, claustrophobic offices, and extensive security requirements make this urban site a bad location for the police agency. The FBI has asked the General Services Administration, the landlord to federal agencies, to replace it. To keep costs down, the GSA is trying to negotiate a land swap in either Landover, Greenbelt, or Springfield.

Whether the FBI building becomes apartments, offices, or an institution depends heavily on special rules for the properties lining Pennsylvania Avenue. Called "square guidelines," the ones for the Hoover building's site are specific to the FBI, so the National Capital Planning Commission is is revising them for whoever occupies the building in the future. Meetings on Tuesday and Thursday are the only time the public will be able to give input before NCPC drafts the new guidelines.


The guidelines have to go through a lot of review. Schedule graphic from NCPC.

To execute the deal, the GSA has to make a clear offer for what can go at the downtown site. They're doing that through these square guidelines, created in the 1970s by a congressional organization, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.

The work of the PADC, like Pershing Park and Market Square, was a dramatic shift away from the grandiose official spaces that planners pushed in the first 70 years of the 20th century, into mixed uses and intimate spaces. To balance private development and public space, they created the guidelines. (A "square" is just a real estate term for a block; every lot in DC is part of a "square.")


The FBI Hoover Building site and the area controlled by PADC rules. Image from the NCPC.

The Hoover building will be a hot site for developers no matter what. But when it comes to how the building is use, the stakes are even higher for the public.

What kind of activities could happen there?

Under the new zoning code, the site will fall under the D-7 downtown zone district. That means a hotel or office space would be allowed to take up 10 times the amount of ground space the building covers, but that residential units could take up even more.

Because of that D-7 classification, residential development on the site wouldn't be subject to affordable housing requirements or bonuses. Maybe this should be an exception. Similarly, the swanky location could lend itself to development as investment properties, but those wouldn't lend themselves to street life. Are there ways to avoid that?

Perhaps there are other uses, like theaters, social organizations, or cultural programs that could be encouraged.

What will the actual building look like?

The square guidelines dictate a lot about urban form. One big decision is whether to divide the site. Technically, it's already two blocks: the much bigger Square 378 north of D Street, and the triangular Square 379 along Pennsylvania Avenue. The site will probably end up being multiple buildings, but what about rebuilding D Street to Pennsylvania Ave?

On one hand, that's an opportunity to add connectivity and increase the amount of retail. It might also limit the opportunity to build the northern square to the unusual 160' height permitted along Pennsylvania Avenue.

What percentage of the space should be open space? A public market used to stand nearby; perhaps Is a semi-private court like CityCenter the answer? Should the Pennsylvania Avenue side be more formal, and set back, while the E Street side might be more informal an commercial? Does the site need a commemorative space, like the nearby Navy Memorial?

How sustainable should it be?

Sustainability wasn't covered by the 1974 rules, but they could now. Given Climate change and the region's water quality issues, it's definitely one now. Whether it's requiring a low carbon impact, cleaning the air with plants, or managing runoff effectively, there are a lot of issues.

An opportunity to go beyond the easily gamed LEED system, and to ask for a measurable sign of sustainability, like some portion of the Living Building Challenge, or a concrete goal like net-zero energy use

On the other hand, there's a risk of adding tokens of sustainability that cost more than they're worth. The density and high energy efficiency the District requires may be enough of an environmental benefit.

Another possibility is preserving portions of the existing building, to save on expending new energy and carbon emissions? That will only make a difference if the energy to heat, cool, and light the building is dramatically lower than it is today. What parts of the building can be saved?

How the site connects to the rest of the city

The project also has implications for the Department of Labor's Frances Perkins Building, which the GSA is also looking to exchange. Integrated into the I-395 highway running beneath it, it also faces its surrounding streets with high walls and gloomy overhangs. Worse, even though it covers the highway, it blocks both C St. and Indiana Avenue.


The Francis Perkins buildings sits on a high plinth. Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

With the massive Capitol Crossing development over the highway two blocks north, the replacement of the Perkins building presents similar potentials for adding downtown residential density, enlivening the generous public space near Judiciary Square, and reconnecting downtown to the Union Station area.

While the square guidelines are just one part of a very long approvals process, the earlier the approvals agencies hear support for an walkable, inviting urban design, the better the outcome.

You can attend the meetings 6-8PM on Tuesday and Thursday, or watch it live and submit comments.

Architecture


Five great Art Deco buildings in DC

DC's wave of Art Deco architecture was short lived, but its influence is still all over the city today. The five structures below show the extent to which Washingtonians embraced the modern architectural style.


This Art Deco building was formerly the Home Theater, at 230 C Street NE. It's now a church. All photos by the author.

Art Deco developed in a more conservative manner in DC than other places, with architects compromising between radical modernists and traditional classicists.

In vogue when DC was expanding to accommodate federal workers in the 1930s, Art Deco used geometric shapes and bold colors, as well as machine and ancient motifs-- in particular, it drew inspiration for its more abstract details from non-western influences, especially Egyptian and Mesoamerican ones. Plastic, glass, and concrete were used in novel ways.

Federal buildings mixed Art Deco with classical design to make "Greco Deco." Commercial buildings were the most enthusiastic with Art Deco designs, though the city failed to preserve most of them. Garden apartments showed Art Deco origins on entrances and rooflines. Vertical lines along buildings give the impression of height. Pyramid-like ziggurats break rooflines. Floral and transportation motifs were popular, and the "streamline" style used minimalist lines for exaggeration.

The Deco style preserved a stubborn belief in progress through the Great Depression: the economy was ailing, its thinking wet, but the United States would recover, industry would surge, and culture would bloom. A modern inferno raged in the future, but Art Deco propagated an elegant, jazzy style, grasping the past to forge the present.


The entrance of the High Towers (1530 16th Street NW), designed by architect Alvin Aubinoe in 1938.

Around the DC area, more than 400 Art Deco structures went up between 1925 and 1945. The best-known examples in the city are the Kennedy-Warren Apartments in Cleveland Park and the Hecht Warehouse Co. building (refurbished into loft apartments and retail space) in Ivy City. For less-popular examples of Deco, the following list pulls out subtle, but striking, Deco buildings.

1. The Chambers Funeral Home, Eastern Market

For those who wanted to be buried in Art Deco, the Chambers Funeral home was built in 1932 in Eastern Market. Designed by Leroy H. Harris and developed by W.W. Chambers, it's since become an office for a rental company and features a chrome awning with metal floral motifs on its lights and facade.

2. 2412 Minnesota Avenue SE

Originally offices and stores, Frank Martinelli designed this building on Minnesota Avenue in Fairlawn in 1949, and A.G. Carozza developed it; it doesn't have an official name. The slick curves in the building resemble the Hecht Warehouse, and glass block above the entrances were a common motif in Art Deco.

3. The Majestic, 16th Street NW

One of the most appealing Art Deco apartment buildings, the Majestic apartment building on 16th street is striking. The double rows of curved bay windows, recessed entrance, and ziggurats along the roofline demand attention.

4. The Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, Calvert Street NW

The district also has an Art Deco bridge that connects Woodley Park and Adams Morgan. The Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, built in 1935 and designed by Paul Cret, includes sculptures by Leon Hermant on its corners that combine ancient deities and modern technology. In one, a goddess races a car, and the bridge railings were done in Deco style.

A second Art Deco bridge, the Klingle Valley Bridge on Connective Avenue, includes Deco floral motifs. It was built in 1931 and designed by Paul Cret and Frank M. Masters.

5. The Library of Congress Annex, 2nd Street SE

For federal buildings, none can rival the Library of Congress Annex. Art Deco design is evident on its exterior, but its interior bursts with floral designs and painstaking ornamental design brings the building to life.

Other examples are less bold. The buildings were numerous enough to scatter across most neighborhoods in the city and pockets in Alexandria, Arlington, and Silver Spring. In the district, clusters can be found near 14th Street in Brightwood, Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan near Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, east of Glover Park, and downtown spreading east from the White House between New York and Pennsylvania Avenues.

DC's Art Deco architects

A handful of architects dominated the DC. Art Deco scene. George T. Santmyers specialized in garden apartments, designing almost 50 of them in a 14-year period. The majority of them remain in use. Joseph Abel, like Santmyers, focused on apartments and designed a dozen. John Eberson designed 13 movie theaters, but only the Silver theater in Silver Spring still functions as one. Eberson narrowly triumphed over John J. Zink, who had 11 theaters to his credit. Only one, the Uptown in Cleveland Park, remains in use as a theater.

"For many of the architects active in Washington, Art Deco represented a series of decorative elements to be combined with traditional and radical approaches, from Renaissance revival to classical to the International Style," Hanz Wirz and Richard Striner wrote in Washington Deco: Art Deco in the Nation's Capital, an excellent resource for information on Art Deco's development.

A map of Art Deco buildings, past and present, shows the reach of the style. Other highlights include an Art Deco influenced amusement park in Glen Echo, Maryland, the public schools of Greenbelt, Maryland, and an "America on Wheels" roller rink in Adams Morgan, now functioning as a grocery store and fitness center. D.C. isn't known for Art Deco, but when residents learn the motifs, they notice buildings cropping up in unexpected places.

The Art Deco Society of Washington also promotes the style's influence and offers tours, events, and a map of some notable (and metro accessible) Art Deco landmarks.

History


Check out this DC bike map from 1896

Did you know our region had bike lanes all the way back in 1896? This map shows the best way to get around DC and parts of Maryland and Virginia on two wheels before the start of the 20th Century.


Image from the DC Public Library.

The map is one of 70 that the DC Public Library recently added to its Dig DC collection.

These newly available maps are part of DCPL's ongoing effort to digitize the Washingtonia Map Collection, which includes material from various sources dating back to 1612. So far, the collection on Dig DC includes maps from 1768 through 1900.


Image from the DC Public Library.

According to the note above, the direction and frequency of triangles along paths indicates the slope and incline of hills. If topography is your top concern, this map could still be helpful in choosing your best route: The gentle decline of Bladensburg Road as you travel southward into the city could certainly offset traffic considerations.

It's also interesting to note that certain roads—7th St. NW, Connecticut Ave. NW, Pennsylvania Ave. SE, among others—are as preferable now as they were then. One detail begs the question: was Virginia Avenue SW/SE once a preferred bike route?

What else about this map do you notice?

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