Posts about Georgetown
I recently embarked on a quest to figure out what was the oldest continuously named street in the District of Columbia. While I initially thought it was going to be a easy task, my initial inquiries came up inconclusive. But I'm tentatively ready to name the victor Water Street NW, a short street in Georgetown.
Georgetown existed before the District of Columbia. It was founded as a Maryland town in 1751, more than fifty years before the District was established. If any street name from Georgetown's founding were still in use, it would clearly be the longest continuously used street name in DC.
Unfortunately, no street name from Georgetown's founding is still in use today. Here's the original plan of the town:
None of the original street names are still in use, with the one exception of Water Street. Originally, the street we now call Wisconsin Avenue was called Water Street south of the street we now call M Street. Nowadays, "Water Street" is the name we call K Street west of Wisconsin Avenue. But in 1751, this stretch was called "The Keys" and West Landing.
So it's not quite right to say Water Street is the longest continuously named street in DC. At least not based on this information. All of the other "Old Georgetown" street names in use in 1751, like Bridge Street and High Street, stopped being used shortly after Washington City absorbed Georgetown in 1871.
Jump ahead from the town's founding in 1751 to 1796, and more of the "Old Georgetown" street names have appeared, including Dunbarton Street, Prospect Street, and Water Street, which now includes what we today call "Water Street." This is still before the creation of DC, and so they should still preexist any non-Georgetown street names.
All three of those street names continued after the 1871 merger. It's probably safe to say one of those three names is the oldest continuously used street name in DC.
But the question is which of them, if any, is the oldest? We know that the name "Water Street" is the oldest, but was it used to refer to the actual waterfront street before it was called Prospect or Dunbarton?
In a way, we can already dismiss Dunbarton seeing as it has changed its spelling and suffix over the years, going from Dunbarton Street to Dumbarton Avenue, and back to Dumbarton Street. So it's really between Prospect and Water.
But if we're ready to dismiss Dumbarton Street because it once was called Dumbarton Avenue, then Water Street might be the winner after all. That's because, like Dumbarton and Olive streets, Prospect Street was also briefly known as Prospect Avenue after the merger. It appears all the "Old Georgetown" street names that survived the merger were temporary referred to as avenues. Except for Water Street, which doesn't appear to have been renamed.
So barring new information, I'm ready to tentatively give Water Street the title of longest-continuously named street in DC.
A version of this post appeared on the Georgetown Metropolitan.
Save up to splurge on holiday shopping with this upcoming plethora of free events around the region.
Panel and party for local producers: Join Smart Growth America, Think Local First DC, and Elevation DC for Production in the City, an event celebrating local manufacturers in DC. Get a local perspective on production during a panel discussion and shop the pop-up marketplace with over 20 local producers, including Gordy's Pickle Jar, Cherry Blossom Creative, and Capital City Mumbo Sauce.
This free event happens this Thursday, December 5 from 5:30 to 8:30pm at the Yards Boilermaker Shops, located at 300 Tingey Street SE, and you can register to attend here.
After the jump: Reserve your space now to discuss all things nerdy with the Lobby Project, add two more exciting urban events to your docket for this Thursday, and remember to join the GGW and GGE crew for two upcoming discussions.
Get nerdy in NoMa: This Tuesday's free event from the Lobby Project, "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: Better Cities," appears to already have "sold out." Make sure you register here for the next and equally-as-free event in the series, "Crafting Local Brews and Spirits," happening on Tuesday, December 17. Both events take place from 6 to 8pm at 1200 First Street NW.
Hear new thoughts on New Urbanism: Also on December 5, you have the option of heading to Arlington's RoundAbouts Speaker Series for Victor Dover's talk on New Thoughts on Streets and Cities. A charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, Dover's projects include the Columbia Pike revitalization plan and code, and Plan El Paso, which the Natural Resource Defense Council has hailed as "America's Best Smart Growth Plan."
Of course, it is free, in the Founders Hall Auditorium at George Mason University's Arlington campus, located at 3301 Fairfax Drive. The event goes from 6:00 to 8:00pm and you can RSVP here.
Meet transportation techies: Are you a techie looking to make innovative contributions in transportation? Join Mobility Lab for their Transportation Techies meetup: CaBi Hack Night. This debut event will highlight tools and apps built using open data from Capital Bikeshare and encourages attendees to share any programs they may have created using CaBi open data.
The event is this Thursday, December 5 from 7 to 10pm at 1501 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1100 in Rosslyn. You can RSVP here.
Greater Greater Events: And don't forget about our two upcoming events involving the GGW and GGE teams.
Warm up for whichever Thursday night activity you choose with David Alpert and a talk on blogging and civic engagement. To join, make your way to Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies Downtown Campus, located at 640 Massachusetts Avenue NW, this Thursday, December 5 from 4:30 to 5:30pm.
Next Monday, December 9, join Greater Greater Education for an Evening with Councilmember David Catania, where we'll discuss public education in the District of Columbia. The event runs from 6:30 to 8pm at the Hill Center at Old Naval Hospital, located at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. You can register here. Whether or not you can make it, please submit your questions for the panel in the comments box here.
Like many DC neighborhoods, Georgetown historically had several movie theatres. While none of them are still in operation today, almost all of the buildings that once held movie theatres are largely intact.
Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Post ran a fantastic feature Monday on the history of theatres in DC, with a map showing where historic theatres were and existing theatres are. The city had 116 movie theatres and playhouses during the 20th century, six of which were in Georgetown. Let's tally them up!
Above you see a photo of the Key Theatre. Of the historic theatres, it was on the young side. It was opened in 1969 and closed in 1997. Nowadays it (along with the former Roy Rogers next door) is occupied by Restoration Hardware.
Here is the Biograph. It was even younger than the Key Theatre. It was built in 1976 in a former car dealership and lasted until 1996. Like the Georgetown theatre, in its later years it mixed art house with adult fare, but was unable to stave off closure. Like many former theatres in DC, it now houses a CVS.
Familiar to many, the Georgetown Theatre building has lasted several decades, gutted and decrepit as it may be today. However, the facade as we now know it is thankfully not long for this world. Local architect Robert Bell has a contract to buy the building and plans to restore the neon sign and rip off the formstone exterior.
Bell only intends to restore the facade to its state immediately before the formstone was applied. That is apparently a simple stucco style, but unfortunately I couldn't locate a picture of what that looked like. Bell confirmed that he had no plans to restore the facade of the Dumbarton Theatre, which was what became the Georgetown in the 1950s. It was opened in 1913, shortly before this photo was taken:
Bell plans to restore the neon side, making it red, while returning the frame to its original black color. I predict it will displace the old Riggs Bank dome as the iconic Georgetown image once it's finally repaired.
This obviously isn't a theatre, but the Tommy Hilfiger stands at the site of the former Lido Theatre. The theatre was open from 1909 to 1948. I unfortunately could not find any picture of the original theatre. The facade was changed significantly for Tommy Hilfiger, here's what it looked like in the 1990's:
The former Lido Theatre (on the far left). Photo courtesy of the author.
I'm not certain, but chances are that this isn't really the original building. It just looks way more mid-century than turn-of-the-century. The theatre shut in 1948, and that building looks awfully 1950's-ish. I suspect that's when the current structure was built, or it may mean the building's facade was redone later on. So maybe this is one that should be considered "lost."
This is also obviously not a photo of a theatre, but before this building held Nike or Barnes and Noble, it held the Cerebus 1-2-3 Theatre. Like many of the large and similar looking buildings on 14th St., this property was also originally built as a car dealership. The theatre occupied the space from 1970 to 1993.
Last, but not least, on O'Connell's list is the Foundry Theatre. The photo above shows it as it is today, but it hasn't really changed much since the theatre closed in 2002. It was the youngest theatre on this list, having been opened in 1984. For all intents and purposes, it was replaced by the Georgetown AMC theatre, which opened the same year.
So at one point in the late 1970's, there were four different movie theatres open in Georgetown. Now there's just one (two if you count Letelier Theatre) but we've got almost all the old shells. In the age of Netflix and on-demand movies, maybe we should be happy we've even got that.
Crossposted on Georgetown Metropolitan.
Today, it's a Gap clothing store. But almost 150 years ago, the large Greek Revival building at 1258 Wisconsin Avenue NW in Georgetown was Forrest Hall, an assembly hall where Mark Twain gave a lecture.
Named for its owner, wealthy Georgetown resident Bladen Forrest, the building opened in 1851. According to local author Tim Krepp, Forrest Hall's meeting rooms hosted groups like the Masons and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, who discussed issues like retroceding Georgetown back to Maryland.
Mark Twain delivered a handful of lectures in Washington City during the winter of 1867-1868, while serving as a secretary to Nevada Senator William Stewart and composing correspondence for newspapers primarily in New York and the west. The last lecture he gave was on Saturday, February 22, 1868 at Forrest Hall.
On February 22, 1868, the Georgetown Courier ran a notice that "Mark Twain, the genial, witty and humorous Californian" would be "volunteering his services" for "the benefit of the Ladies' Union Benevolent Society" later that evening. Founded in 1868, the organization exists today as the Aged Woman's Home of Georgetown, located across the street at 1255 Wisconsin Avenue NW.
According to the Daily Morning Chronicle, an "appreciative audience, including many of the most prominent persons of Georgetown" packed Forrest Hall that night:
"[Twain] selected as his topic 'The Sandwich Islands,' and for an hour or more kept the audience in almost continuous roars of laughter. Upon stepping forward to the desk in his usual cautious and deliberate manner, he was received with applause. He apologized for his appearance without an introduction by stating that the young man who had promised to present him to the audience has been disabled.This post is excerpted from the forthcoming book, "Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: Adventures of a Capital Correspondent."
He fell down and broke his heart or neck, Mark didn't know which, not being particularly interested in the young man. The chief reason for his intrusion upon their attention was a request, made by several ladies, that he should deliver a lecture for the poor. He always had a grudge against the poor, and therefore embraced the opportunity to inflict a lecture on them."
Businesses and residents of the neighborhood near Nationals Park can't decide whether to call it Navy Yard or Capital Riverfront. If Georgetown is any precedent, then the newer Capitol Riverfront name won't stick, at least not forever. While a new name might stick around for a little while, eventually people are drawn back to historic names.
Undated map of West Washington (formerly Georgetown) from the Library of Congress.
Georgetown preexisted the District of Columbia by 50 years. After the formation of the District, Georgetown remained an independent city within the new capital, but it lost its charter in 1871 and merged with the city and county of Washington. Ever since, there have been no independent municipalities in DC.
In 1878, Congress revoked DC's limited democracy and imposed an appointed commissioner system that lasted until 1967. In doing so, Congress redubbed Georgetown as "West Washington".
Despite the fact that Georgetown had existed so long as an independent city and only dissolved 7 years prior, people gave a genuine go at using the new name. Throughout the 1880's, the Washington Post is full of society notes not from Georgetown, but West Washington.
This new name was consistently used well through the 1890's and into the first decade of the 20th century. But by the teens, its usage appears to have trailed off. By the 1920's, the only place you'll find references to "West Washington" was in the name of the Baptist church at 31st and P streets NW.
Originally the Baptist Church of Georgetown, it changed its name to West Washington Baptist Church in 1899. It held on to this name all the way until 1955, well after Georgetown returned as the primary neighborhood name. The change back was probably inspired by the bicentennial of the neighborhood, when nostalgia broke out in the form of beer and preservation boards.
The lesson? It might take a while, but if Georgetown is any guide, Navy Yard will eventually win out.
Last week, DC officials quietly reversed their recent traffic calming project in Glover Park and began removing a new median on Wisconsin Avenue.
With the Glover Park ANC's support, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) replaced one lane on Wisconsin between 35th and Garfield streets with a painted median in January to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety. However, a number of residents who drive through Glover Park, including Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2, including Georgetown), pushed to reverse the move.
DDOT previously said their plan was to leave the median in place long enough to study it, but in the face of pressure, the agency suddenly began removing the median between Calvert and Garfield streets. Drivers struck 2 pedestrians each year in this stretch between 2008 and 2010. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez says the change is "permanent" and that "the plan is to monitor pedestrian safety going forward."
Community supported median on Wisconsin Avenue
ANC 3B, which contains Glover Park, endorsed the median after a long vetting process. In June 2009, DDOT and its consultants at Toole Design Group recommended replacing one through lane with a center left turn median lane. Studies from the Office of Planning and DDOT found that it would increase pedestrian safety, calm traffic and direct it to the commercial strip by removing turning cars from the through lanes.
While DDOT originally proposed a raised median, ANC 3B advocated to start with painted medians so DDOT could study their effect and make changes if needed. After multiple ANC meetings and ample discussion on the Glover Park listserv, DDOT finally completed the painted median in January. Some neighbors immediately began to question the new median's impact on local businesses and whether it had just pushed traffic onto other streets.
Despite some complaints, most Glover Park residents agreed that the new configuration made it safer to move around Wisconsin Avenue, whether by car, foot or transit. The Glover Park ANC was also supportive, though they advocated for continued study and tweaks to reduce congestion.
Political pressure trumps collecting data
DDOT offered to study traffic delays for a year and look at ways to change the light timing, signage and enforcement to reduce congestion, but opponents said that was too long to wait.
Evans kept pressure up on the issue, including railing against it at public forums. He made regular phone calls to Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3, which includes Glover Park) while driving through the area, which he traverses several times a day to take his kids to and from their home in Georgetown.
When DDOT presented preliminary results of traffic studies showing that the median only added 1-2 minutes to driving time, Evans was incredulous. "If we were talking about just a couple minutes, we wouldn't be here," he said.
Last week, DDOT quietly began removing part of the median. The agency made this decision without telling residents of Glover Park or ANC 3B. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez says they acted based on "direction provided by those at the May 1 hearing."
ANC members are disappointed in DDOT's change of heart. "It's outrageous that DDOT would make this change without considering its impacts on pedestrian safety and traffic flow and without consulting with the community most affected by the modifications," said ANC 3B chair Brian Cohen.
Cohen also says Evans' involvement shifted the decision from safety-focused to political. "The change from data-gathering to simply reversing DDOT clearly happened when Councilmember Evans inserted himself into the issue," said Cohen. "Jack Evans hasn't shown the slightest interest in the well-being and safety of the people who live, work, and play in Glover Park. ... It's galling that he's been given carte blanche to make decisions that undermine pedestrian safety in our community."
The Wisconsin Avenue median was the result of extensive study, community discussion, and eventually community buy-in. It's disappointing that DDOT would subvert its own process and put pedestrians at risk based on political pressure. Glover Park residents deserve better treatment from their officials and elected leaders.
Ghosts of DC found a great map from the Library of Congress archives. It shows the property values of each block in DC in 1879.
Matt Yglesias noticed and pointed out that it shows a time when Logan and Shaw were more expensive than Georgetown.
Actually, the blocks around Logan and the Shaw blocks to the east don't appear to have that much more of an concentration of darker blocks than Georgetown. But it is true that this map likely captures the moment when Georgetown slowly started to slip behind the rest of the city in terms of economic status.
This is a fact that many are familiar with. Starting in the late 19th century Georgetown became somewhat of an Irish and African-American slum (although sometimes this is a bit overstated). It's reputation grew as a rougher part of town through the early 20th century. In the 1930s, Georgetown became one of the first "gentrified" neighborhoods in DC when New Dealers swooped in and bought up the old houses. The rest is history.
While the early 20th century brought poverty to Georgetown, in 1879 it wasn't necessarily clear that that was the future. Georgetown had only just been an independent city eight years prior (actually it was briefly known as "West Washington" at this point). And the governor of DC (during its brief territorial status) Henry Cooke thought it wise to construct his grand Cooke's Row of Second Empire mansions in 1868.
Perhaps it was the Panic of 1879 (which hit Cooke personally due to his widespread real estate speculation) that started Georgetown's decline, but it is more likely the rise of the railroad and the related decline of the canal.
But looking at the map you can see that the biggest concentration of expensive real estate at this point was what is now considered downtown (and probably remains the most expensive land in DC). Soon after this map was created, the Kalorama neighborhood was created and attracted the wealthy. By the 1890s, Georgetowners worried about getting cut off from the happening parts of DC and lobbied to have the Dumbarton Bridge built.
If you were to draft this map again in the 1920s, the differences would be starker. With robber barons building gilded age palaces on Massachusetts Ave. Georgetown found itself on the wrong side of the creek.
One final note: As I said, the slum status of Georgetown in the 20th century is sometimes overstated. There were pockets of deep poverty, including the "Holy Hill" Irish neighborhood in west Georgetown, the "Herring Hill" African American neighborhood on the east side, and scattered decrepit alley dwellings in lower Georgetown.
But the grand estates of Georgetown were still around. Tudor Place, Evermay, Dumbarton Oaks, and Halcyon (not to mention scores of lesser grand homes) all coexisted with the slummier sections of Georgetown.
Of course even today, we have people living in structures built for animals right next to luxurious houses. But they paid millions of dollars for the privilege.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
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