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Then and Then and Now: The Firemenís Insurance Building

Firemen's Insurance Co. late 19th century
Firemen's Insurance Co.Firemen's Insurance Co. building

Then (top): Photographed ca. 1900, the Firemen's Insurance Company moved into their new building at 303 Seventh Street, NW in 1882. The building was designed in a restrained Queen Anne style. Rather than using detailing common to the style, the building relies on volumetric complications which adapt well to the shape of the lot.

Then (bottom left): By the late 1960s, the building had lost many of its original features including the dome and cupola.

Now (bottom right): Beautifully restored, the building is now part of the 11 story complex visible behind it, which was begun in 1986 by the development firm of Farr-Jewett.

Here's another image of the state of the building dating to the late 1960s, prior to restoration:

Firemen's Insurance Co. ca. 1970
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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Great pics of a great building! One thing, I believe that the correct term for the small feature on top of a dome (like this one has) is a "lantern." A cupola is a more generic term for a windowed or louvered short tower or belfry.

by Downtowner on Sep 9, 2009 4:31 pm • linkreport

it is incredible how many buildings in DC used to have fantastic and wonderful rooftop finials and interesting treatments-
Many of the owners were forced to remove them in the late 1940's and early 1950's as a result of insurance companies not willing to allow them.

this kind of short-sightedness has led to a general blandness in the look of cities across the USA- and was a contributing factor in the proliferation of the god-damned flat-roof that now defines most USA cities.

Beautiful and well made, attractive rooftops used to be an artistic essential in America- go to Europe and you can still see this- but we have almost completely given up in the USA and now most architects use the rooftop as a JUNKYARD for utilities and stuff they don't want us to look at.
In the 1980's Baby Boomer developers discovered the advantages of the roof deck but they still have not learned nor embraced the concept of the Beautiful Rooftop. Prince Charles talks a lot about "hats" atop buildings.

This FIBuilding restoration is a welcome reminder of how good it can really be if we have real architects designing our buildings and places. IMO- every significant corner or block in Old City DC should have a tower, lantern, cupola, turett, pyramid, dome or spire.



by w on Sep 9, 2009 4:43 pm • linkreport

Got and early shots showing the first floor? I am very thankful that they removed the ugly protective covering.

In a somewhat related note, when were overhead wires banned? Their supports are clearly visible in the first shot.

by dano on Sep 9, 2009 4:43 pm • linkreport

The last image is more likely from the late '70s or early '80s, judging from the types of cars shown. It's definitely not from the '60s.

by plinth on Sep 9, 2009 4:57 pm • linkreport

plinth beat me to it. That truck is late 70's chrysler-bishi import.

And w, please don't drop "G-D"'s its just not necessary.

by spookiness on Sep 9, 2009 5:07 pm • linkreport

I think the wires are the telegraph lines from the Western Union office down the street.

by dcseain on Sep 9, 2009 7:06 pm • linkreport

Don't forget about the streetcar in the first picture.

by Canaan Merchant on Sep 9, 2009 8:35 pm • linkreport

I've always noticed that building! Actually it's mainly because whenever I walk by I see the "Firemen's Insurance Building" still written in the brick right above the Starbucks. And I note how bad that looks, then I keep walking.

by Nick on Sep 9, 2009 9:08 pm • linkreport

Thanks - I've always loved that building. On one of my first trips into the city after a 7 year absence, I stopped in at that Starbucks on a sweltering July day.

by LibrariNerd on Sep 10, 2009 10:00 am • linkreport

i dont know the date, but here is another shot at a different angle with a streetcar:

by a on Oct 28, 2009 10:08 pm • linkreport

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