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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.

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.

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.

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?

Sustainability


See how much more land is paved now than in 1984

In 2010, there was much more pavement covering more of the region than 26 years earlier. These images from the University of Maryland, highlighted by NASA's Earth Observatory blog, show the change.

The region has grown, in population and in economic activity, and some new impervious surface is a consequence of that. However, the region can grow in ways that minimize impervious surface, by building larger buildings in the core and transit-oriented development around Metro stations. Or it can grow in more environmentally destructive ways, through sprawl.

Some of this new impervious surface reflects already urban places getting denser. That's a good thing; by adding a little impervious surface in Arlington or along Connecticut Avenue, for example, the region saves a greater amount from being built outside the Beltway.

But much of this new surface isn't responsible development. The NASA post points this out, saying,

In addition to the widening of the Beltway, notice how pavement has proliferated in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia and Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland. The District of Columbia was already densely developed in 1984, so the changes there are less noticeable.

The map also doesn't even zoom far enough out to show places like Frederick, Howard, Prince William, Fauquier, and Stafford counties, where the change is even more dramatic, and where even less of the new pavement is in places that are walkable or oriented to transit.

This is an effect of "height-itis"

Week after week, local boards in many jurisdictions make decisions, like taking housing away from the Georgetown Day School project in Tenleytown, which remove a little potential housing in the core. Those choices don't keep even one square foot of land unpaved (and even if they did, it wouldn't be worth the tradeoff), but they do push a little more growth out to where it affects maps like this.

Our region can protect natural resources, but not until people are willing to make them a priority. Until then, this trend will continue.

History


Back when we took traffic deaths more seriously, here's how we commemorated them

Today, there's a deadly car crash virtually every week in the region. Back in 1938, we didn't look at these things in such a blasé manner.

The excellent @councilofdc Twitter account, the official one for the District's legislature, tweeted, "Back in 1938, the DC government and the Washington Post ran death flags up a pole if someone died in a car crash."


Image from the Washington Post via Twitter.

Only recently, with Vision Zero, are governments like DC's making it a serious priority to end traffic deaths. But there are eighty years of cultural expectations around street design and driving speed which make it difficult to really design streets for safety.

Looking a little less far back, @councilofdc also tweeted about 1997, when former council chairman and civil rights lawyer Dave Clarke (for whom UDC's law school is named) lay in state in the Wilson Building. Note his means of transportation, right next to his casket.

Fortunately, it wasn't a road crash that took Clarke—sadly, it was brain cancer.

History


Read about one of Duke Ellington's favorite Shaw hangouts

To work against gentrification nasty's reputation of erasing a neighborhood's history, it can help to keep stories about places and people alive. Case in point: a block in Shaw sandwiched between 6th and 7th Streets NW. It's where young Duke Ellington might have crossed paths with the son of a Russian landlord in a fabled Shaw pool hall in the years leading up to World War I.


624 T Street NW, site where Frank Holliday's Pool Hall was located. Photo by the author.

Around 1913, Edward "Duke" Ellington—barely a teenager—began hanging out in a pool hall in a building in the 600 block of T Street NW owned by DC physician Louis Kolipinski and operated by Frank Holliday.

Kolipinski was a Russian (Polish) immigrant who graduated from Georgetown medical school. He began practicing medicine in 1897, and by the first decade of the 20th century was investing in real estate throughout Washington. He owned several buildings in the 600 block of T Street NW including the two-story brick building where Holliday and later proprietors operated a pool hall. The Howard Theater, completed in 1910, is located across an alley just east of the building.


The Howard Theatre vicinity around 1919. The arrow is where the Frank Holliday pool hall was. Image from Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia.

The entire block was a hotbed of African American entrepreneurialism and artistic expression. The businesses there straddled the line separating "proper" Washington and the city's underworld, which was populated by numbers men, bookmakers, and bootleggers. Ellington credited his time on the block with being critical to forming his identity. There does not appear to be any evidence that Ellington and the Kolipinskis ever met.

Dr. Kolipinski died in late 1914 and his wife assumed control of his real estate assets, which remained in the family until 1987. Today the one-story building constructed in 1931, which replaced an earlier two-story building, is a brew pub that opened in 2013. The Ellington connection is a key part of the establishment's nostalgia narrative: "Established on the spot where Frank Holiday's Pool Room once stood—next door to the Howard Theatre and where Duke Ellington learned how to play jazz as a teenager."

The Kolipinskis had several children, including Andrew Leopold Kolipinski. Andrew was born around 1910 and was not that much younger than Ellington. Though Washington was rigidly segregated in the early twentieth century, underworld establishments—like pool halls, after hours clubs, and brothels—were among the few places where people of different races and classes could mingle. Holliday's pool hall's heterogeneity, at least when it came to class, was one of the things that attracted young Ellington.

"Ellington also spent significant time as a teenager in a less rarified area of black Washington, at Frank Holliday's poolroom in the Shaw neighborhood," wrote Harvey C. Cohen in his 2010 book, Duke Ellington's America. "The poolroom attracted a mix of people who Ellington claimed educated him as much as his schoolteachers did: 'pool sharks,' lawyers, well-traveled 'Pullman car porters,' 'professional and amateur gamblers,' a slew of piano players, and Dr. Charles Drew.

Ellington biographer Mark Tucker wrote about Ellington's time in the T Street establishment in his 1991 book, Ellington: the Early Years:

Ellington also learned race pride could be carried too far, as when the "proud negroes" of Washington opposed school desegregation because they did not want their educational standards lowered. And he saw how this pride could become prejudice in a black community where caste distinctions were made on the basis of skin color. Perhaps to escape this stratification, Ellington sought out places like Frank Holliday's poolroom at Seventh and T streets, a place that showed "how all levels could and should mix." There he found college graduates, professional gamblers, Pullman porters, law and medical students (probably from nearby Howard University), and musicians. In school Ellington studied Negro history and learned to be proud of his people; in the poolroom he was taught "the art of the hustle" by card sharks, check-forgers, and pickpockets. But even these small-time criminals, with their worldly airs and slick style, were worthy of emulation: "At heart, they were all great artists."

The Howard Theatre and former Holliday pool room (left of truck), January 2016. Photo by the author.

Ellington had acquired his nickname, "Duke," by the time he was hanging out in Holliday's pool hall. Andrew Kolipinski died in a car crash at age 21. According to his November 1931 obituary he had acquired the nickname "Duke" while attending Randolph-Macon College. There don't appear to be any documents or narratives surviving that describe how the Kolipinskis interacted with their tenants and the businesses housed in the buildings they owned.

Frank Holliday's pool hall is the stuff of local legends, and Ellington's personal story. It occupies a prominent place in Ellington biographies and it connects existing places, like the Right Proper Brewing Company's brewpub, with a past Washington that is rapidly disappearing from aging residents' memories. Inside 624 T Street, patrons, sightseers, and history buffs collide in gentrified space that doesn't erase the past, but builds on it.

It may be that Duke Ellington and Duke Kolipinski never met. It's also possible, however unlikely, that their paths crossed in Washington's Shaw neighborhood. I wonder what a pair of teens, one a talented and curious African American and the other, the son of European immigrants, would have talked about had they met each other in or around Frank Holliday's pool room.

History


During World War II, a ghost town popped up in Silver Spring

During WWII, government officials said a housing project needed to go up in Silver Spring to ease a shortage of housing for defense workers. Residents of the neighborhood said the project diminished their property values and violated their constitutional rights. It's a fascinating case of neighborhood opposition in our region.


Fairway Houses. Photo from the Report of the National Capital Housing Authority for 1944.

In early 1942, Washington's Alley Dwelling Authority began scouting sites in Montgomery and Prince George's counties for temporary housing sites where migrants to the region could live while working in government agencies and defense-related industries. The agency selected two sites in Prince George's. After hitting considerable opposition to a proposed 800-unit development near Kensington, the ADA settled on building in what's known today as South Four Corners.

The War on the Colonel's subdivisions

Four Corners was a sleepy 19th-century agricultural hamlet founded at the intersection of present-day Colesville Road and University Boulevard. In the years between the world wars, Four Corners was an upwardly mobile Washington suburb. It had two country clubs and some of the newest subdivisions in the region, including Northwood Park, where savvy developers built Washington's 1939 World's Fair Home.

Some of the earliest subdivisions laid out in South Four Corners were conceived by Montgomery County political boss E. Brooke Lee—the "Colonel." Through his Fairway Land Company, Lee bought and platted subdivisions with names like Fairway, Country Club View, and Country Club Park between Indian Spring Country Club and Argyle Country Club.

Lee's subdivisions were conceived as upper-middle class communities convenient to golfing, shopping in Silver Spring, and downtown Washington. Pre-war ads touted spacious homes in a "highly restricted community," code for properties with racially-restrictive covenants and minimum house costs. South Four Corners homes completed in the period revival styles popular at the time were selling between $8,400 to $12,000 ($140,000 to $197,000 in today's dollars).


Original Fairway subdivision house built c. 1937. Photo by the author.

In an age before zoning laws and home owner associations, Lee and his many real estate counterparts used restrictive covenants that passed from one property owner to the next to regulate land use, aesthetics, class, and race in their subdivisions. Covenants attached to Lee's properties restricted their sale and occupancy to whites; established building setback lines; required new homes cost at least $7,500; and, that all proposed architectural designs be approved by Lee and his partners or their successors.

Relatively few homes were completed in South Four Corners before the US entered World War II in 1941. Despite plenty of open land and mostly completed infrastructure (streets and sewer), the building lots in Lee's South Four Corners subdivisions remained simply lines in plat maps. Four Corners offered an attractive location to government agencies charged with housing government workers and people employed in wartime industries.

Lee's subdivisions provided government planners with the name for the housing project: Fairway Houses. In July 1942 the Public Housing Authority notified the Fairway Land Company that condemnation proceedings were underway. The properties, comprising about 28 acres, were supposed to be surrendered before August 1, 1942. Because the government's initial declaration of taking failed to include owners who had bought homes in the subdivisions, amendments were filed adding those individuals to the proceeding.

Silver Spring's temporary ghost town

The amendments extended the period for those affected to contest the taking. The Fairway Land Company and about 150 individuals who had bought homes in the subdivisions (adjacent to the properties the government wanted) filed counter claims. The company asserted that that the proposed public housing violated restrictive covenants carried with the properties. Neighbors complained that the temporary and less expensive housing would diminish their property values.


The Fairway Houses plan. Image from the National Archives and Records Administration.

"Although no land is actually taken," wrote the neighbors in legal filings, they had "a property interest in the property which has been or is to be condemned in these proceedings." The Fairway Land Company wrote that the public housing development would "destroy [the] restrictive covenants insofar as the parcels taken in this proceeding were concerned." And, it wrote that the federal project would "depreciate the value of the other lots in the development covered by said restrictive covenants."

Work to build the public housing began as the legal case worked its way through federal court. Construction started on October 5, 1942 and was completed in May 1943. Sixty three-bedroom homes and 178 two-bedroom homes were built. Each unit had a kitchen, living room, porch, and storage room. They were rectangular wood-frame buildings constructed on concrete pier foundations. Wood siding clad the exteriors and pitched roofs had asphalt shingles. Utilities included electricity, hot and cold water, and sewer connections. The houses also had a space heater and a five-cubic-foot icebox. Each unit cost the government $4,672 and rents varied from $11 to $46 per month.

After the homes were completed, federal officials built a one-story community building. The Fairway Community Center housed a day camp, health clinic, and nursery school. Recreational activities were programmed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, headed at that time by E. Brooke Lee.

Only white in-migrants to the region employed in the war effort could live at Fairway. Despite being ready for occupancy in early 1943, The ADA failed to attract tenants. Some observers attributed the reasons to its "outlying" location; others to the "starkly plain war-standard dwelling equipment." One Washington real estate professional in 1944 told a Senate subcommittee that the demountable (portable) housing looked like "glorified shacks." He added, "I imagine a lot of people would not care to live in them."


Fairway house. Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.

By the spring of 1944, Fairway remained about 63 percent vacant with only 87 units rented. Washington builder Clarke Daniel told senators investigating the National Capital Housing Authority that Fairway was a waste of government resources. Daniel criticized the addition of a community center to the mostly vacant development. "Another questionable move is the present erection of, in Fairway Village, a community center," Daniel said. "This community center is being erected at an estimated cost of $54,000 for what is practically a ghost town."

The litigation over Fairway wasn't settled until early 1945. Property owners in the Fairway subdivisions failed to get financial compensation for their claims that the public housing devalued their investments. They did, however, get assurances from the government that the houses would be removed within one year after the end of the declared "war emergency."

Disposing Fairway

The Fairway Houses remained in place until early 1954. Current residents and veterans were given the first opportunities to buy the houses. After selling more than half, the remaining houses were opened for sale to the general public. In September 1954, bidding opened on the lots and the community building, which served as a sales office that year.

Between December 1954 and the spring of 1957, the builders and individuals bought the former Fairway properties. Within a few years, all of the former Fairway sites had new brick ramblers and vernacular small houses on them. The community building, which had occupied three lots, was removed and replaced by three single-family homes.


Houses built in former Fairway Houses sites, South Four Corners. Photo by the author.

Today, half a century after the Fairway Houses were disassembled and the federal government left Four Corners, no evidence of the public housing survives in the landscape. Once conceived as an exclusive enclave, the South Four Corners neighborhood has undergone several historically significant development episodes. The brief period as a public housing project and the protracted legal battle fought over restrictive covenants make Fairway one of the most interesting and hidden chapters in Washington's housing history.

History


A bridge used to connect Eckington and Brentwood

A better way to get from the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) to Union Market seems like a no brainer, especially as the neighborhoods on both sides of the railroad tracks grow. While various studies of what to do here continue, a similar connection used to exist at T Street NE.


The T Street Bridge in the 1950s. Image courtesy of Old Time DC.

The T Street Bridge connected Eckington and Brentwood across the railroad tracks from 1907 to around 1969. The bridge did just what we are studying today—connect Eckington and neighborhoods to the west of where the MBT is today to those east of the tracks, an Eckington Civic Association brochure shows.


Another shot of the T Street Bridge from this video of the former 82 streetcar line.

Eckington resident Lorenzo Milner, who has lived in the neighborhood on and off since the 1950s, says the two-lane railroad truss-style bridge connected Eckington to the commercial strip that existed in Brentwood before the construction of the postal center that exists today. There were pedestrian walkways on each side of the bridge, he says.


The approximate location of the T Street Bridge. Image from Google Maps.

The Washington Terminal Company-owned T Street Bridge was closed to car traffic in the "interest of public safety" because it was "worn out" said then DC mayor Walter Washington in 1968, a report from the Washington Post that April shows.

However, a Post report from April 1969 says the bridge remained standing and was open to cyclists and pedestrians though not cars.

Milner says the bridge was torn down because it was poorly maintained. He cannot recall exactly when it came down.

"Nearly all things that have been done in the neighborhood have been done with good intentions," he says, when pushed on why the bridge was torn down.

Should we build another bridge?

While the T Street Bridge would not have connected directly with Union Market, nor been much shorter than taking the MBT to Florida Avenue NE—both routes are about a mile—it undoubtedly aided people moving east-west between neighborhoods.

NoMa's safety and access study focuses on four options to improve the current connection between the MBT and Union Market: a trail spur connecting the MBT to the northern base of the New York Avenue bridge, a stairway from the trail to the southern side of the bridge, a ramp to the southern side of the bridge or widening Florida Avenue NE under the railroad tracks for an improved pedestrian and bike connection.


The four options to better connect the MBT to Union Market in NoMa's MBT Safety & Access Study.

Some of the first improvements could be along Florida Avenue. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is seeking preliminary engineering services for a redesign of the corridor between North Capital Street and Bladensburg Road NE with wider sidewalks, bike lanes and fewer through traffic lanes, the agency's associate director of policy, planning and sustainability administration Sam Zimbabwe told Greater Greater Washington in February.

DDOT does not yet have a timeline for the Florida Avenue NE improvements, he said.

History


This 1912 plan would have made Baltimore much bigger

In 1912 Baltimore's city leaders hoped to annex this large chunk of Baltimore County. Had that happened, the city limits would have extended from near downtown Towson to just shy of Ellicott City.


Image from the State of Maryland.

Baltimore annexed big chunks of land in three successive waves: One in 1817 that took the city as far as North Avenue, a second in 1888 up to about 40th Street, and a third in the early years of the 20th Century.

Like other US cities, Baltimore was expanding rapidly in the early 20th Century amidst a wave of streetcar-induced sprawl. Suburban areas lacked city services like sewers, parks, and police, so central cities often annexed surrounding land.

By about 1910, Baltimore was ready for another round of annexation. Exactly how much land the city should annex became a major hot-button issue of the day, with proposals ranging from no expansion to the aggressive, far-ranging one pictured above.

In 1918 a compromise plan eventually won out, settling Baltimore's boundaries at their current extents.

By the time America's post-World War II suburbanization boom happened, the national mood had shifted against central cities. A 1948 amendment to Maryland's state constitution outlawed any further expansion of Baltimore City, and thus the borders haven't changed since.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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