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History


Gas stations were much better looking in 1924

Most gas stations these days are pretty garish, but gas stations weren't always so. Check out this vintage 1924 station, from Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park.


Lord Baltimore Filling Station. Photo by the National Photo Company, via the Library of Congress.

This is the Lord Baltimore Filling Station, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street NW. It may not be truly typical of the era, but it's hard to imagine seeing as sharp-looking a gas station today.

It's not only the nice architecture that make this notable. It's also the urban design. This isn't as great for sidewalk life as a row of main street-style shops, but it's a building that fronts on the sidewalk. It could be a lot worse.

Do you know of any unusually good-looking gas stations? What makes them interesting?

We originally ran this post last year, but since the history hasn't changed we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Links


Worldwide links: Is the future in Finland?

The future of urban transportation may live in Finland, Berlin is taking cars off of its most famous street, and light rail won't run from Norfolk to Virginia Beach. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Raimo Papper on Flickr.

"Mobility" has a new meaning Is Helsinki, Finland the home of the future of transportation? The city is testing self-driving buses on increasingly difficult routes and is at the forefront of the "mobility as a service" movement, which essentially would make buying your mobility like buying a phone plan: you'd pay by the month (rather than by the call) for a spectrum of options. (New York Times)

Pedestrians coming soon: Berlin will be taking cars off of its most famous street, Unter Den Linden, which used to be the city's major parade route and is its current museum strip. The move away from automobiles began with the construction of a new subway segment under the street. The route once carried 30,000 cars a day but is now down to 8,000, and it's likely to be one of the first pieces of the car-free central city that leaders envision happening by 2019. (CityLab)

Stop that train: A measure to build a light rail extension in Virginia Beach failed Tuesday evening, leading the state's transportation secretary to ask local transit planners to stop working on the project. The $155 million already set aside for the project will be redistributed to projects based on the state's new transportation investment scoring system. (Virginian-Pilot)

Building more earth: Humans are constantly shifting the earth below them, both as they build and destroy. For example, after WWII, 75 million tons of rubble from bombed out buildings in Berlin was collected and taken to a dumping site that now forms a not-insignificant hill called Teufelsberg. Anthropologists are studying these man-made base levels of cities, referring to them as an earth layer called the Archaeosphere which, in Sweden's case, can mean extracting raw materials left behind. (Places Journal)

Direct route delayed: A rail tunnel linking the current Caltrain terminus to the new Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco will not be complete until 2026. Lawsuits related to the Millennium Tower in San Francisco, which has started to lean, are holding up money for new tunnels. The tunnels are expected to be used by Caltrain and High Speed Rail once they're finished. (SFist)

Quote of the Day

"Regionalism is a Trojan Horse term right out of the lexicon of the 1970s. So-called regionalism was never a compromise. It was always a stealth tactic, an abandonment of the city, which was considered half dead anyway by the city's own leadership. Regionalism was always a ruse to shift resources to the suburbs."

- Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze discussing whether the city's long term health is better off building more suburban transit, or focusing on the core with a new subway line. (Dallas Observer)

Transit


Why is there no Metro line on Columbia Pike?

Along the Metro tracks just south of Pentagon station, there are two dead-end tunnels that branch off in the direction of Columbia Pike. They were built so Metro could expand westward in the future, so why has the line never received serious consideration?


These Metro corridors got heavy consideration in the 1960s. Graphic by the author.

Columbia Pike, which runs southwest from the Pentagon to Annandale, passes through several residential and commercial areas, including Bailey's Crossroads at the intersection with Leesburg Pike. When Metro was in its initial planning stages in the 1960s, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the National Capital Transportation Agency studied routes on the Virginia side of the Potomac, and Columbia Pike was among the routes the agencies considered.

The NVTC envisioned a Columbia Pike Metro line running to Americana Fairfax at the Beltway via Little River Turnpike, which is where Columbia Pike ends in Annandale. The NCTA considered a route along Columbia Pike that was as an alternative to what would become the Orange Line. It ran from the Pentagon to the Barcroft neighborhood, where it turned north at Four Mile Run until it joined I-66 and continued west.

Ultimately, a number of factors led to this corridor being dropped from consideration, the largest being its price tag. To avoid tunneling and to minimize cost, Metro planners prioritized using existing rights-of-way, such as highway medians and railroads, for its potential routes.

This, combined with the desire to ensure Metro connectivity to north Arlington and Springfield, led to the Virginia getting Metro corridors along I-66 and the RF&P railroad (what would become the Orange and Blue lines, respectively).


Metro tunnels outside of the Pentagon. Graphic by the author.

The Columbia Pike line would have needed to be entirely in a tunnel all the way to Annandale, and its projected ridership was simply not sufficient to justify such a high cost. The cost also resulted in pressure from Maryland to prevent Virginia from having three lines, worried that the Columbia Pike line would reduce money available for the rest of the system.

There were some outspoken proponents of a Columbia Pike line, most notably the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Frederick Babson. Babson had campaigned on getting the Columbia Pike line built, and as such was very vocal at planning meetings.

In 1967, largely to placate Babson, WMATA did some informal studies on the Columbia Pike line as an alternative to the north Arlington line. These studies did not change the Board's decision, and to this day remain the last studies done on a Columbia Pike Metro line.

Likely as a consolation, the Columbia Pike line remained on WMATA's planning maps as part of several aspirational dotted lines for "future extensions." The corridor described by the NVTC appears on this 1967 proposed network with a modification to serve Lincolnia, but by the time the official Adopted Regional System was determined, the line was truncated there.


The Columbia Pike line on the 1968 Adopted Regional System. Image from DDOT.

In 1968, WMATA Board director Jay Ricks noted that the Columbia Pike line was ruled out with the understanding that it would have top priority for any future extensions, and that the line would be reinstated if the state of Virginia made more money available.

The Silver Line opened in 2014, so this obviously didn't happen. A Columbia Pike line has not seen any serious consideration since 1967. The Columbia Pike Transit Initiative did not include rapid transit as a possible alternative, and though WMATA has recently studied many theoretical routes as part of its long-term vision, a line along Columbia Pike is not one of them.

Is a Columbia Pike line possible in the future?

Though some residents along Columbia Pike were opposed to a Metro line because they didn't want the level of development and growth that occurred in north Arlington, such development has occurred regardless. There is much more residential density along Columbia Pike than there used to be, and job centers like the Mark Center have popped up along the corridor. The Skyline Center at Bailey's Crossroads was even built largely in anticipation of a Metro line.

Would this increase in potential ridership be enough to justify constructing the line today?


Bailey's Crossroads skyline. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Unfortunately, the cost of an underground Metro line remains a substantial hurdle. The proposed tunneled segments of the Silver Line in Tysons and Dulles Airport were rejected due to their high cost. Given that Arlington County had difficulty justifying the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar line, proposing an entirely tunneled Metro line may be a near-impossible task.

However, the most significant barrier to a Columbia Pike Metro line is capacity. How this line would integrate into the Metro system was never seriously considered. Simply building off of the stub tunnels at Pentagon would create the same capacity issue that planners are working to solve at Rosslyn, where there's a huge bottleneck, and like most proposed Metro extensions, a new downtown core line would need to come before any regional expansion because all possible routes the line could take after Pentagon are at capacity.


Metro's current capacity constraints. Graphic by Matt Johnson.

Metro's current long-term vision for future service downtown includes a loop line via Georgetown and Union Station with a supplementary station at Rosslyn and the Pentagon. The addition of the second Pentagon station could allow for a Columbia Pike line to exist, integrating into the downtown loop. I've created a hypothetical example of how this might work below, utilizing the alignment from 1967.


How a Columbia Pike line could integrate into the future Metro system. Graphic by the author.

The growth of the Columbia Pike corridor has made it a desirable line for many residents in the area, but its high cost and operational difficulties mean that we won't see such a line for many years, at least until Metro's downtown core capacity issues are resolved first.

History


Picture this: You're nibbling breakfast at Union Station when a train plows through the building

At 8:38 am on January 15th, 1953, a man ran onto the Union Station concourse screaming "run for your lives!" 20 seconds later the building shook as a runaway 1,100 ton passenger train smashed through the north wall and collapsed the through the floor into the basement. Dozens of passengers were injured but, amazingly, there were no fatalities on the train or in the station.

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The Federal Express 173, which ran from Boston to Washington, consisted of an electric locomotive and 16 coach and Pullman sleeper cars. The brake failure and subsequent crash were caused by a design flaw with the train's airbrake system.

The first warning signs that a crash was on the way appeared about 15 minutes outside of Washington. The engineer started decelerating from the cruising speed of 80 mph, but the train the train wouldn't go below 60 mph. The emergency braking system temporarily slowed the train down, but the declining slope of the tracks approaching Union Station all but canceled it out.

At the time, trains didn't have two-way radios, so the only warning signal the engineer could give was with the train's horn.

According to a Washington Post account (which I accessed via the DC Public Library), the conductor began running back through the cars shouting for passengers to "Lie down on the floor or lie down on your seat." As the out of control train buzzed the K Tower in Union Station's rail yard at 50 mph, it was obvious that a disaster was moments away.

The towerman frantically telephoned the station master "Runaway on Track 16!" and through their quick action, the platform was cleared. Luckily, unlike today's Amtrak passengers, most people waited for their trains on now-removed benches in the main hall, so the concourse area was relatively empty.

The Post quotes from one of their own employees, a young layout artist who happened to be in one of the front three cars on his morning commute from Baltimore.

"There was a tremendous rumble and the screeching of steel rubbing against steel," said 25 year old Edward K. Koch. "The end of the car was tossed upward. Sparks were flying all over the place... Smoke and cement dust billowed up and about the car and we couldn't see out the windows... For a moment there was a period of awesome silence, punctuated by the sizzle of steam and the sputtering of live wires."

To understand the damage, you need to envision how Union Station looked before it was remodeled. The stairs that today lead down to the foodcourt didn't exist yet - they were cut through the floor years later. The shops and floating platforms were later additions.


Photo by the author.

Juxtaposing the damage with today's Union Station, imagine the train plowing through the Starbucks, Amtrak-Marc ticket counter and falling through the floor around the central staircases, and coming to rest right up against the doors of the chocolate shop.

400 station laborers got to work immediately repairing the damage - the Eisenhower inauguration was just 5 days away and Union Station was expecting large crowds. The locomotive was lowered down into the basement so it could be dismantled and brought above ground. (Interesting side note: the engine was later rebuilt, saw 30 years of continued service, and is currently at the Baltimore railroad museum).

Steel supports were installed in the hole in the station floor, and according to the Post, it was bridged with "two-inch tongue-and-groove wood flooring supported by heavy timbers" within 72 hours. The temporary floor was solidified by "quick drying asphalt [that] was applied over the wood floor."

Amazingly, the station was fully reopened within three days of the crash. The temporary floor was replaced by a all-steel and concrete replacement later that summer.

Cross-posted at Architect of the Capital.

Housing


Public housing, explained

Public housing has long been a tool for governments to create and preserve affordable shelter, but many public housing complexes today are under threat.


Barry Farm, a public housing complex in DC. Photo by Matailong Du/Street Sense on Flickr.

After decades of neglect, many public housing developments have fallen into disrepair. Others have been demolished and replaced with market-rate housing units, especially as surrounding communities experience gentrification.

Once the most important tool for housing low-income families, public housing now makes up a shrinking share of the affordable housing options in the DC region and nation. Today, about 7,300 families in the District live in 40 public housing developments managed by the DC Housing Authority (DCHA).

In this explainer, I examine the challenges facing the current stock of public housing in the District.

Public housing developments were the United States' earliest form of affordable housing

In 1937, Congress passed the National Housing Act, which authorized the construction of public housing. The program was viewed as a way to jumpstart a slow economy in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

Initially, many public housing developments housed moderate-income families. However, demographic shifts resulted in changes to the composition of public housing. As poorer families moved to the city, where much of public housing was, and middle-class ones fled to the suburbs, public housing developments came to house an increasingly poorer set of households.

By the 1970s, the federal government halted the construction of new public housing developments

At this point, many existing developments had fallen into disrepair because they were poorly maintained.

Critically, policymakers realized that public housing concentrated poverty in certain neighborhoods by creating dense buildings comprised exclusively of low-income families. It contributed to racial segregation and limited opportunities for households to move to better communities.

Over the next couple decades, many public housing developments would continue to provide affordable housing, despite their deteriorating conditions. Others would be torn down and replaced with mixed-income housing developments.

During this period, housing vouchers would replace public housing as the primary tool for housing low-income Americans.

About 1.2 million households live in public housing in the US. Here are the numbers for our region:

As noted above, only 7,300 families in the District live in public housing developments. There is a long wait-list of families waiting to get into public housing.

Some of these are low-rise complexes spread over multiples buildings, like the Barry Farm development in Ward 8. Others are single, high-rise buildings, like Claridge Tower in Ward 2.

While the DC Housing Authority manages the public housing stock in the District, much of the funding to maintain and repair these buildings comes from the federal government. In the region, housing authorities in Fairfax, Alexandria and Montgomery County also manage a substantial number of public housing units.

Public housing provides stability for many families that would face the highest risk of housing instability or eviction on the private market

Like households with housing vouchers, housing costs are kept affordable for public housing residents by limiting the rent to thirty percent of their income.

According to a recent report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the average income for a family of four living in public housing in the District is $16,050. (The federal poverty threshold for a family of four is $23,850.)

Ninety percent of households in public housing have an income below $32,100 annually, which is 30 percent of the AMI.

Households living in public housing are disproportionately headed by the elderly and people with disabilities. In fact, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that fully one-third of households in public housing are headed by a senior citizen.

About twenty-two percent of households in public housing are headed by an adult with a disability.

Public housing developments across the country are struggling with maintenance and upkeep

In the District, the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) estimates that there are more than $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance costs, including repairs to buildings.

These concerns are shared in other cities, as well. In New York City, the public housing authority estimates more than $16 billion in deferred maintenance costs.

Critics argue that this neglect of public housing has resulted in buildings being uninhabitable. They refer to this deterioration as demolition by neglect.

Plans to redevelop public housing developments have been controversial

In 1996, Congress authorized the HOPE VI program to redevelop severely distressed public housing developments. Through HOPE VI, private developers redeveloped public housing sites, usually creating a mix of affordable and market-rate units.

In the District, one of the public housing developments to go through HOPE VI was Arthur Capper Carrollsburg. The low-rise public housing development underwent a massive redevelopment, creating a new mixed-income neighborhood.

Critics contend that the project, which took nearly a decade to complete, resulted in widespread displacement of existing public housing residents.

Although the HOPE VI program has now ended, researchers are actively trying to understand the consequences of redeveloping public housing developments into mixed-income neighborhoods through the program.

In the District, the New Communities Initiative similarly aims to redevelop public housing developments. The program is slated to redevelop more than 1,000 public housing units in three large developments across the city—Barry Farm in Ward 8, Lincoln Heights in Ward 7 and Park Morton in Ward 1.

The program aims for one-to-one replacement of affordable housing units. This means that residents of public housing would have the opportunity to stay in their communities following the redevelopment.

However, the New Communities program has struggled amid concerns about the disruption of community ties and the displacement of existing residents during the redevelopment process.

Public Spaces


Thanks to World War II, we love to bike here

Hains Point, which sits at the southern end of DC's East Potomac Park, has long been one of the District's prime destinations for serene river views—especially for cyclists who want a flat, lightly-trafficked, gently curving course for serious exercise. Yet even though it was built in 1917, it only became a popular place to bike after World War II (and car rationing) started.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

Take Ohio Drive well past the tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and you'll hit East Potomac Park, with groves of cherry trees lining the fringes of its 36-hole golf course, and eventually Hains Point, where a group of picnic tables command a view far down the Potomac River. The roads that encircle the island are popular with DC-area road cyclists, who gather in groups to ride in clockwise laps.

What many might not know is that its track-like drive first gained popularity as a cycling destination during the "Rosie the Riveter" days of World War Two, when the Park Service sought to encourage cycling instead of driving as a way to see the park.


Hains Point, as seen looking south from central DC. Photo by Valerie on Flickr.

According to the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey description of East Potomac Park:

The most popular means of access by far, however, was by automobile. As the number of automobiles in the District increased, the park attracted more and more visitors seeking the cool breezes at Hains Point in the midst of Washington's hot summers. To accommodate the increasing number of motorists, the OPB&G built a shelter with restrooms at the southern tip of the park in 1922.

When the United States entered World War II, NPS closed the tea house at Hains Point since its use as a recreational automotive destination was inconsistent with the national effort to conserve tires and gas... A bicycle-rental facility in the park thrived on the business from the new crowd of wartime workers.

Regional population had increased with the war and subsequently, traffic congestion worsened. The stables closed in 1950 when the mixture of automobiles and equestrians were seen as a safety hazard. Likewise the demand for bicycles decreased and the rental shop closed in 1955.

Although the bike rental shop might be long-gone, East Potomac Park does have a Capital Bikeshare station.

Meanwhile, another historic way of getting to Hains Point is about to make a comeback.

For a brief period between 1919 and 1921, the park was accessible not only by automobile, but also by ferry. A boat called the Bartholdi ferried passengers between the government wharf in Southwest and the tip of West Potomac Park, named Hains Point in 1917.
The Wharf's developers promise that they will re-launch a ferry across the Washington Channel after the development opens next year, docking at a newly built pier behind the fish market. The bike shop that's proposed nearby could prove convenient for flat-tire-stricken cyclists, and visitors to the park's golf course, mini-golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, picnic areas, and cherry groves could enjoy different dining options besides the golf course's snack bar.

History


There are tunnels under Capitol Hill. Here's how they got there.

A sprawling pedestrian tunnel system under Capitol Hill allows staffers and members of congress to move underground between the office buildings, Library of Congress, and Capitol building. Today they are an integral part of security on the Hill, but when they were first built it was for a far less important reason.


Back when Studabaker cars ran through the Senate's tunnels. Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

Originally there were only two tunnels: 1909 passageways that connected the Dirkson and Cannon buildings with the Capitol's basement. They were built because of Washington's disgusting weather, not for any security reasons.

The Washington Post wrote in 1907 that "The tunnels have been planned with the idea of providing an easy access to the offices, particularly in bad weather. By using them it will not be necessary for the senators and representatives to go out into the open at all in order to reach offices from the Capitol, or vice versa."


The Cannon Tunnel today. Photo from the office of Gregorio Sablan.

The Senate, accustomed to greater luxury as the "upper house," explored several people-mover systems for their tunnel. The House of Representatives thought about it, but ultimately decided that their members could walk. The raised and partitioned walkway in the Cannon tunnel shows where pedestrian traffic would have been separated from the never-built House subway.

Superintendent of the Capitol Elliott Woods initially wanted to use a Tunis Monorail in the Senate tunnel. This ambitious proposal featured an enclosed car that had an aerodynamic shape similar to that of a ship. Passengers would have sat inside on swiveling wicker chairs.

The Senate ended up going with a much more modest solution, bringing in custom-built Studabaker electric cars to shuttle senators back and forth along the short tunnel. The cars are shown in the image at the top of the article.

Enthusiasm was high for the system when it was initially built. Contemporary newspapers were full of stories about senators, tourists, and even Vice President Charles Fairbanks enjoying joy rides on the early automobile.

The Washington Post amusingly wrote that "the question of a speed limit in the subways has not been raised, but there will be no chickens in the road, and as the walk for pedestrians is fenced off, there is thought to be no reason why the senators should not have a run for their money if they wish."

The cars become a monorail

By 1915 the Senate had tired of the cars and was in search of elegant means of transportation. The Columbia Construction Company built a unique monorail to pass through the tunnels, constructing it at the nearby at the Washington Navy Yard for $9,500.

Senators could summon the carts by ringing a bell three times. According to a Washington Post article from the time, the wicker benches could accommodate "12 senators" or, rather absurdly, "36 pages."


The Senate monorail, with the front seat reserved for senators. Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

Another new tunnel

In 1958 when the east front of the Capitol was being expanded, they built an entirely new tunnel with a station under the Senate steps. The new tunnel had a modernized subway system, and the old car was moved to the Russell basement rotunda, where you can visit it today.


Here, the old tunnel is marked in yellow. Image from the Library of Congress.

The old tunnel was repurposed for the Senate recording studio, various mechanical shops, and a fallout shelter.

Crossposted from ArchitectoftheCapitol.org.

History


National Harbor's colossal never-built skyscraper

National Harbor was originally going to be called PortAmerica, and it almost included a skyscraper that might have been taller than the Washington Monument.


Port America. All images from Johnson/Burgee.

By 2008 when the first part of National Harbor opened, the concept of suburban town centers was tried and true. But developers have been trying to build a town center there since the mid 1980s. When they started, it was the most progressive of ideas.

The original plan for PortAmerica dates from 1987. It would have included a neo-classical, mixed-use town center in the same place as National Harbor's waterfront, plus a large office park on the adjacent property that is now an outlet mall will soon have a casino.

The office park would have included a 52-story trophy office tower. It would very likely have risen above the 555-foot Washington Monument, and definitely would have dwarfed the DC region's current tallest office building, Rosslyn's 384-foot 1812 North Moore (though that won't be the case for long).

We first ran this post back in 2013, but since the facts haven't changed, we thought we'd share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

History


F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are buried just a block away from the Rockville Metro station

A ride on the Red Line might take you closer to Jazz Age royalty than you'd think. The final resting place of acclaimed author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda is located in Rockville, just a few blocks away from the Metro station.


Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

I learned about the gravesite from Atlas Obscura, a geography website. The Fitzgeralds' graves are in the "Third Addition to Rockville and Old St. Mary's Church and Cemetery" historic area, which includes several Victorian residential buildings, the 1817-built Old St. Mary's Church, and the former Rockville B&O Railroad station. This historic center of Rockville reflects the time when the railroad station was the gateway to the city.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born into a prominent Maryland family: his father, Edward, was a distant cousin of Francis Scott Key, for whom Scott was named. But Fitzgerald was born in Minnesota and raised mostly in New York due to his father's job. After graduating from Princeton and marrying Alabama socialite Zelda Sayre, he went on to write several of the most quintessential novels of the Jazz Age, including This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and The Great Gatsby.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

Unfortunately, although Fitzgerald was an iconic writer and one of the biggest celebrities of 1920s society, his success and health had greatly declined by the time of the Depression era. He died in Hollywood in December 1940, at the age of 44. Although he hadn't left explicit instructions for where he would like to be interred, his estranged wife Zelda insisted that he be laid to rest in his family plot in Rockville.

As detailed in a 2014 Post article on the subject, St. Mary's Church initially refused to bury Scott in the Fitzgerald family plot because he was not a practicing Catholic at the time of this death. He was thus interred about a mile east at Rockville Union Cemetery, where Zelda would join him when she was tragically killed in a hospital fire eight years later. It was not until 1975 that the Fitzgeralds' daughter Scottie successfully petitioned for her parents to be moved to the family plot in St. Mary's Cemetery.


Photo by sikeri on Flickr.

Zelda and Scott's resting place is inscribed with the closing lines of his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

To learn about some other obscure and interesting locales in our region, check out the Atlas Obscura guide to Washington, DC.


Transit


Proximity to transit has always been good for DC real estate, even 150 years ago

Today, DC area real estate revolves around proximity to Metro. But transit-oriented development is nothing new here. 150 years ago, owners of boarding houses used access to the city's omnibus lines to appeal to antebellum urbanists.


1854 Line of Washington omnibuses. Photo from the DC Public Library.

This ad appeared in the Daily Evening Star on June 26, 1854. That year, three omnibus lines ran throughout Washington, serving the Capitol, Georgetown and the Navy Yard:

HOUSES FOR RENT.—I have for rent several new convenient houses, with lots of two acres of ground attached to each, situated on a new street parallel with Boundary street, running along the top of the ridge west of the railroad where it leaves the city, a little more than a mile north-easterly from the Capitol.
These houses have from seven to ten rooms each, including a kitchen, with several closets and cellar, woodsheds and a stable, and pumps of excellent water near at hand. The situation is beautiful, overlooking the railroad and a large portion of the city, and having the Capitol in full view. The approach to them is by H street, Delaware Avenue, and M street, graded and graveled. The soil of the lots is generally good, and capable of being made very productive.

An omnibus now runs twice a day between these houses and the President's square, by way of M street, Delaware avenue, H street, 7th street and Pennsylvania avenue; leaving the houses at about half-past eight o'clock, a.m., and half-past two p.m.; returning, after brief stands at the War, Navy and Treasury Departments, the Centre Market, General Post Office and Patent Office.


Daily Evening Star ad from June 26, 1854 mentions proximity to omnibus line.

Like today's Metro, the omnibus was a regular source of commuter headaches. An 18-year-old Samuel Clemens chronicled his disappointment with the city's mass transit system in February of 1854:

There are scarcely any pavements, and I might almost say no gas, off the thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue. Then, if you should be seized with a desire to go to the Capitol, or [somewhere]else, you may stand in a puddle of water, with the snow driving in your face for fifteen minutes or more, before an omnibus rolls lazily by; and when one does come, ten to one there are [nineteen] passengers inside and fourteen outside, and while the driver casts on you a look of commiseration, you have the inexpressible satisfaction of knowing that you closely resemble a very moist [dish-rag], (and feel so, too,) at the same time that you are unable to discover what benefit you have derived from your fifteen minutes' soaking; and so, driving your fists into the inmost recesses of your breeches pockets, you stride away in despair, with a step and a grimace that would make the fortune of a tragedy actor, while your "onery" appearance is greeted with "screems of laftur" from a pack of vagabond boys over the way.

Such is life, and such is Washington!

This post is excerpted from the book "Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: Adventures Of A Capital Correspondent". Also, this post originally ran in 2013, but since the history hasn't changed, we're sharing it again!
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