Tucked into Grace Street around the corner from Wisconsin Avenue at the C&O Canal sits an iconic Georgetown storefront: G. Morris Steinbraker & Son, experts in historic renovation and construction, soon to depart its old town. It is just past the clothing store Patagonia’s building, which was also built by business founder G. Morris Steinbraker.
Both David Steinbraker’s grandfather, G. Morris Steinbraker, and his father, the “Son,” were born at 3321 block of Q Street, NW. When he was in third grade at Holy Trinity School, David Steinbraker’s family moved to a new home, built by his father, in Kensington, Md. He began working for the family business during summers at St. John’s College High School in Chevy Chase, D.C., and began working fulltime after he returned to the United States from serving in the 101st Airborne during the Vietnam War. He did not go to trade school. He got his skills “all from doing it,” he said. “Working for your father, you start from the bottom.”
Steinbraker credits a lot of his business style to his father and grandfather. “I learned a lot from my father’s father.” He also cites craftsmanship and customer relations as important things stressed by his grandfather. “My grandfather kept telling me the customer’s always right,” he said. “It’s an old statement, but we sort of live by it.”
Steinbraker & Son does a lot of restoration and renovation work. No surprise, being in Georgetown. “Since we’ve been in Georgetown for so long, a lot of our customers live in Georgetown,” said Steinbraker, whose projects have included jobs at Dumbarton Oaks, Blair House, the City Tavern Club and the home of the late Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill.
“One of my best clients is Jay Rockefeller, the senator from West Virginia. I remodeled his house. I also designed three bridges on his property,” Steinbraker said. “We actually did some work at his West Virginia house, too.”
At the Percys’ home, Steinbraker had to use creativity to get a project past the Old Georgetown Board, which has the power to approve construction projects in the historic district. “Senator Percy lived up here on 34th Street,” he said. “As he was getting older, they wanted to put an elevator in, and it had to serve all these different floors. I knew how the board was. They were very particular. So, I designed an elevator shaft that looked like a chimney.”
With old-school manners, Steinbraker & Son has made a name for itself by its high-quality craftsmanship. customer service through word of mouth — and its reputation. The company does not advertise or have its own website. It can be found on sites like the Georgetown BID’s website or Yelp.com.
Although he mostly has done large projects, Steinbraker will do any small projects to meet the needs of clients. “I will also hang a picture for a customer or hang a screen door,” he said.
Sixty-nine years after his grandfather built the Grace Street structure in 1944, David Steinbraker is moving his business out of Georgetown. The original building is being offering for lease. “I’m going to scale down a little bit,” he said. “I’m not going to retire fully.”
Georgetown is filled with such stories and such small businesses. While decamping to Maryland, Steinbraker & Son remains a third-generation Georgetown business with deep roots: once a Georgetowner, always a Georgetowner.