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Then and Now: The Portland Flats

Click on an image to enlarge.

Then (left): The Portland Flats, at the corner of 14th and Vermont on the south side of Thomas Circle. The building was designed by architect Adolph Cluss and built in 1879. This was Washington's first luxury apartment building, and comparable to the Watergate today. When it opened, rents were $150 a month, an unheard of price, considering that a house in Mount Pleasant could be rented for $50 a month. The building was razed in 1962.

Now (right): The aesthetically sterile Residence Inn. This building replaced the Portland Flats and originally was an office building. It has undergone some facade changes since its construction, but generally reads the same.

Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He's been an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner serving the northern Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods since 2011 (ANC 1A), and is the force behind the blog Park View, D.C.


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one of the biggest losses in DC. right up there with the building on the NE corner of 15th and U.

by IMGoph on May 6, 2009 3:35 pm • linkreport

The inflation calculator sez that $150 in 1879 is equivalent to $3425.16 in 2008 dollars. What does $3400 get you in today's DC, apartment-wise?

by jfruh on May 6, 2009 3:45 pm • linkreport

Wow, the Portland Flats building looks so cool!

by Hiya on May 6, 2009 3:49 pm • linkreport

Am I the only one that thinks there both ugly

by Kk on May 6, 2009 4:52 pm • linkreport

Kk--the turret is a bit much. And while the new one isn't great, the wedge shape at least gives it some interest. Certainly better than most residence inns.

by ah on May 6, 2009 5:04 pm • linkreport

and newcomers wonder why Washingtonians are so leery of "progress".

IMGoph: Not only the Portner Flats at 15th & U but also the magnificent church that was at 15th & R (now 15th St. Presb.) That church had 20 pairs of windows by Tiffany and a spire you could see all over the city. My first involvement in DC affairs 33 years ago was trying to save that building.

by Tom Coumaris on May 6, 2009 5:07 pm • linkreport

And to think Adolf Cluss was a bit of a socialist back in the 1840s. This picture shows off more of its interesting and unique qualities, especially its great coloring.

by цarьchitect on May 6, 2009 5:21 pm • linkreport

Fugly and Fuglier. I agree with Kk.

by MarkM on May 6, 2009 5:56 pm • linkreport

as Kent points out, this is the new "better-looking" facade of the Residence Inn. until recently it was a solid white slab.

by Tom Coumaris on May 6, 2009 6:28 pm • linkreport

Certainly not the best looking building around, but loads better than what's there now. I wish one could do a Google street view, at least partially of the old streets of DC. I always wonder what a pleasant street some old areas were when I see little forlorn Federal houses wedged between concrete behemoths of the 1950s and 60s.

by Boots on May 6, 2009 11:21 pm • linkreport

@Boots - Pick up a copy of Washington DC: Then and Now. Great selection of before/after pictures. I particularly like the ones of the area around the Mall back when it was all residential/industrial, pre-Mcmillan. The 1984 edition has some great pics of DC in the mid 1970s, when Gallery Place had gone to seed.

by monkeyrotica on May 7, 2009 6:30 am • linkreport

A great old building by Adolf Cluss that suggests something of the culture of late 19th century Washington... in all its ambiguity. Nevertheless, I have a certain regard for the new modernist building and its better-than-average treatment of the facade facing the circle. The real problem is the CVS on the ground floor which has walled up the street facade and made another pedestrian "dead zone".

Makes you wonder what the adjacent Thomas Circle looked like then. The recent "restoration" of the circle was barely an improvement but also an enormous lost opportunity. The National Park Service is incapable of competent design and left us with just more over-directed traffic and wide expanses of lifeless concrete.

by Juian Hunt, AIA on May 9, 2009 5:17 pm • linkreport

Julian: There's a stereo view of 14th St. (Thomas) Circle from Portland Flats that's widespread. I have one and here's another:

a funnier earlier one that I just bought for a friend is here:

this is the only photo we've ever seen of the two homes pictured.

by Tom Coumaris on May 9, 2009 7:32 pm • linkreport

I have a close up of the front entrance that appeared on the cover of my book Logan, Thomas & Scott Circles (2001), along with several images of the exterior that are not from the circle (as well as all the homes that once lined Thomas Circle).

by Paul on May 26, 2009 12:04 pm • linkreport

My Great Great Grandfather, David Thomas Cissel: "Mr. Cissel had the distinction of erecting the first apartment house in the city, the Portland, at the corner of 14th street and Vermont avenue. At the time of its erection Mr. Cissel was greatly ridiculed for this new venture, for at that time apartments were not only not sought after but un-thought of." from his 1919 obituary

by Colleen Lanthrip on Jul 13, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

There is a recurring architectural motif that avails of the opportunity to cadence at the confluence of a form of transcross intersection providing an ideal setting. The Portland Flats has two distant relations, both of which arose from architects likely unaware of The Flats or any other such; but can we be certain?

The Flatiron Building at Fifth Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan was completed in 1902. Its history and its status as one of the architectural wonders of New York is well laid out in detail with A side bit of local lore in the vernacular of American idiom can be read in This will be better appreciated knowing that the northern point of The Flatiron sits at Twenty-third Street.

Built originally as The Normandie Apartments in Shanghai, Wukang Mansion was completed in 1924. Named to commemorate a French warship sunk during WW1 , looking at it head on the structure was designed intentionally by its architect, László Ede Hudec (1895-1983) to resemble a ship.,, and

The ship motif in architecture retains its appeal.

by André M. Smith on Jul 25, 2015 10:15 am • linkreport

Very cool, The Portland Flats apartment building in Brookland (655 Michigan Avenue) looks exactly like the old one!

by Dylan on Nov 12, 2015 1:16 am • linkreport

The new buildings have no soul. This is happening in many city and we are losing our architectural history, it a shame.

by Ellen on Jan 31, 2016 11:13 pm • linkreport

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