Swampoodle: When Irish Eyes Were Smiling

March 26, 2015

Early immigrants from Europe didn’t settle in Washington, D.C. They went to Northern cities where the jobs and pay were better. In 1850, less than 11 percent of the city was foreign-born, compared with 45 percent in New York.

This was because Washington was still a Southern city, and the availability of slave labor and cheap labor from freed blacks kept pay for laborers comparatively low. But around the time of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland – which resulted in waves of Irish emigration – laws were passed in Washington to keep free black people from settling here and getting jobs. One such law was the requirement of a certificate of freedom that cost $50, a hefty sum at the time, to prove that the free blacks were not runaway slaves. The result was a shortage of cheap labor that drew Irish immigrants fleeing the famine.

The other attraction for the Irish was the strong existing Catholic community, including the leaders of Georgetown University, who were happy to employ the Irish Catholic immigrants whenever they could.

Because the Irish were the subject of prejudice from the majority non-Catholic population, they were inclined to stick together. The area where these impoverished immigrants congregated was the least desirable real estate in town, namely the bleak area around what was then Tiber Creek, where Union Station now stands.

Swampy and full of perpetual puddles, the neighborhood soon earned the nickname “Swampoodle.” The first Irish immigrants to arrive lived in shacks and wood shanties without plumbing or running water. It was a rough-and-tumble neighborhood, and street crime, prostitution and drunkenness were rampant.

Critics of this Irish settlement said the only person who had any power over the population was the parish priest. It was true that the church – first, the original St. Patrick’s on F Street and then St. Aloysius, named after St. Aloysius Gonzaga – were the centers of the community. Gonzaga College High School was founded in 1821 to provide higher education (The Jesuit prep school remains in operation to this day with influential alumni). The parish church operated as the settlement’s civic center, and people banded together to provide food and help for the sick, the aged and the poorest members of the community. One local resident recalled, “If someone got into trouble, there was another potato in the pot and a place to sleep.”

This neighborhood solidarity was demonstrated when the government came to them during the Civil War, wanting to turn St. Aloysius Church into a hospital. Under the leadership of the parish priest, the citizens of Swampoodle mobilized, pitched in and built a 250-bed hospital in only eight days. This seemingly impossible task was accomplished because many of the men who lived there were carpenters and other laborers on construction projects. More importantly, they didn’t want to lose their church.

This old Irish neighborhood began to disappear in 1907, when Union Station was built. It was the biggest train station in the world at that time, and the gigantic site bisected the neighborhood. Tiber Creek was filled in, and more than 300 houses were demolished. The residential area became commercial and all but disappeared. The remnants of the heart of the old community are still there in two beautiful churches, St. Patrick’s at 619 10th St. NW and St. Aloysius at 19 Eye St. NW.

Ironically, much of the train station was built by the same laborers who once called Swampoodle home. To add to the irony, the formerly dissolute area is now the crossroads of several fashionable urban neighborhoods and a very hot real estate market.

Donna Evers is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate firm in the Washington metro area, the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington-area history. Reach her at devers@eversco.com [gallery ids="102007,135136,135140,135141,135138" nav="thumbs"]

Mr. Lincoln and the Winter of Our Discontent

January 29, 2015

Abraham Lincoln is such an iconic figure that the present-day public does not see him as his contemporaries did. We see him as a grave, contemplative figure, like Daniel Chester French’s elegant statue, just out of sight past the columns of the Lincoln Memorial.

But the Abraham Lincoln who ran for president in 1860 was around 6-foot-4 at a time when the average American adult male was around 5-foot-8, and his badly tailored suits and tall hats made him look like a scarecrow. On top of that, he had a high raspy voice.

He added the stovetop hat in his debates with the 5-foot-4 Stephen A. Douglas (so he could really tower over him), but the effect was not always in his favor. Although the Lincoln-Douglas debates made Lincoln a prominent figure in Illinois politics, he lost the 1858 U.S. Senate race in Illinois to Douglas. The big argument of the day was if the territories should decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery.

In the fall of 1859, the whole country was up in arms about the question of slavery – specifically, slavery in the territories. In October, John Brown had stormed the armory in Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W. Va.), and the national debate about states’ rights and slavery just got hotter. Invited to speak at Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, Lincoln got the opening he needed to plead his case against the spread of slavery in a national forum when he was invited to speak at Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Then, even better, the venue was changed to the Cooper Union in Manhattan.

Lincoln overcame his ungainly appearance with a brilliant and carefully researched speech, in which he showed how the majority of the founding fathers had voted to prohibit the spread of slavery in the territories. So, he argued, the country, and especially the South, should accept this position.

He became the Republican candidate for president and won the election with only 40 percent of the votes, the three other candidates splitting the rest of the votes among them. He didn’t even have a clear popular majority. But it is hard to imagine what would have happened if one of the other candidates –Breckinridge, Bell or Douglas – had won.

Many in the South believed that England and France could not get by without their cotton, and that one or both of those countries would support the Southern cause. It was a bad bet, because neither country wanted to wage war against the stronger Northern coalition. On the other hand, many in the North thought a war would end quickly, due to the region’s economic superiority. That didn’t happen either; Southerners were fighting to keep a system that they felt they couldn’t survive without.

Lincoln was so sure his Cooper Union speech would get a lot of press that he visited Matthew Brady’s photographic studio beforehand. Brady, a master, was able to retouch (what we would call “Photoshop out”) some of Lincoln’s more unflattering facial features. Lincoln knew that this would make or break his chances for the Republican presidential nomination, especially since he clearly stated his belief that slavery was immoral. He ended the speech on Feb. 27, 1860, his longest ever, with: “Let us have faith that right makes might.”

The speech by the previously little-known politician from Illinois was a daring gamble. He won – and by April the United States was embroiled in a war that would claim more American lives than any other in our history.

Donna Evers is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate company in the metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.; and a devoted student of Washington-area history. Reach her at devers@eversco.com.

Lafayette, We Are Here!

July 2, 2014

When the U.S. sent its army to defend France in the First World War, General John J. Pershing presided over a Fourth of July ceremony in a private cemetery in Paris at the grave of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette. To honor the memory of the remarkable Frenchman who, 140 years earlier, helped us win the Revolutionary War, Pershing’s spokesman ended his speech by saying, “Lafayette, we are here!”

Lafayette was born into an aristocratic family. When both his parents died, he became the richest orphan in France. As was the custom then, he married when he was only 16. His bride, Adrienne de Noailles, whose family was related to King Louis XVI, was 14. If history hadn’t intervened, the beautiful young couple might simply have stayed on their estate in Auvergne and lived happily ever after. But two revolutions were to change everything, and both suffering and glory lay ahead.

In 1776, Lafayette was at a dinner party when he heard about the Declaration of Independence recently issued by the American colonies. Like many young men of his time, he was much taken with the ideas of “liberty” and the “rights of man.” He described how he felt when he heard of the American uprising: “At the first news of this quarrel, my heart was enlisted.” Even though the king forbade him to go, Lafayette bought a ship and, with Baron de Kalb and a handful of soldiers, sailed for America.

Armed with a letter from the American agent in Paris, Lafayette went to General Washington, expecting to be put in charge of an army. Washington didn’t know quite what to do with the brash 19-year-old who spoke only a few words of English. But when the young man promised to work with no pay and outfit his army, Washington made him a major general. He fought bravely in many battles and spent the hard winter at Valley Forge with Washington.

When the colonials ran out of money, Lafayette sailed back to France and, dressed in an American uniform, begged King Louis to intervene in the war on the side of America. The king found the young nobleman’s argument hard to resist. Since he wanted to see the British lose, he finally agreed. The foreign minister at court declared that it was a good thing Lafayette didn’t ask for the furniture in Versailles, as “His Majesty would be unable to refuse it.” Some historians see this episode as pivotal in the downfall of Louis XVI, the move that led inexorably to the guillotine. In any case, the huge influx of soldiers and money turned the tide and helped the Americans win the revolution.

Lafayette was at the forefront of the French Revolution in 1789, offering his own version of the “rights of man.” However, as the revolution wore on and extremists took over, every aristocrat in the country was being hunted down and sent to the guillotine. Fighting for the French in Austria, Lafayette found out he was about to be arrested and fled. He was captured in Germany and spent the next five years in prison. Meanwhile, Adrienne and her relatives were sent to prison and condemned to death. The American envoy in Paris managed to save Adrienne’s life, but her mother, sister and grandmother were killed.

Adrienne sent their son, George Washington Lafayette, to America to live with his godparents at Mount Vernon. She then took their two daughters and persuaded the authorities to allow the family to live in prison with Lafayette. When Napoleon came to power and Lafayette was finally released, the family returned to France to find that much of their wealth had been confiscated. They managed to get most of it back over the years, but the hardships Adrienne had endured were too much for her and she died at the age of 47.

In 1824, Lafayette made a triumphal return trip to America. He visited each of the then 24 states and was met everywhere with wild enthusiasm and adulation. Congress voted to pay back the $200,000 they owed him for the arms and equipment he had paid for, also giving him land in Louisiana and Florida. In a grand gesture of appreciation, they named the park that stands in front of the White House “Lafayette Park.”

Lafayette returned to France with a plot of soil from Bunker Hill. When he died at the age of 77, his son made sure his father was buried in that soil. Even though Lafayette himself designed the modern French tricolor flag, it is an American flag that flies daily over his grave in a small cemetery in Paris’s 12th arrondissement. It was here, on July 4, 1917, that Pershing’s aide announced that America had arrived to pay a debt. He said, “What we have of blood and treasure are yours,” and ended his speech with a resounding “Nous voila, Lafayette!” French schoolchildren learn that phrase to this day.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned, woman-run real estate firm in the Washington metropolitan area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.; and a devoted student of Washington-area history.

Historic D.C.

May 21, 2014

The only two cities with more period apartment houses than the District of Columbia are Chicago and New York. Considering the District’s relative size, it is a genuine gold mine of these historic buildings.

James Goode meticulously catalogued them in his great book “Best Addresses,” and while there are dozens of architecturally noteworthy buildings, the height of their golden age came at the very beginning, from 1890 to 1918.

The most influential of these early buildings still standing is the Cairo at 1615 Q St., NW. Built in 1894 by gifted young architect T. Franklin Schneider, this fanciful, Moorish-inspired creation was the tallest, and probably the biggest, residential building in Washington. It drew heavy criticism for its style, its size and, most of all, its height. Firemen couldn’t get near the top in case of fire and mischievous residents would drop pebbles from the roof garden to the street below, scaring the horses pulling carriages.

The Cairo single-handedly brought about the 1894 building height regulations, which are in place to this day and make Washington the only major U.S. city to have kept its low skyline, a characteristic cherished by Washingtonians.

Our great apartment buildings are a product of the City Beautiful Movement that emerged from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The temporary “White City” in the great exposition was filled with inspiring examples of classic Beaux-Arts architecture created by Americans fresh from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Their devotion to classicism was complete, and visitors who saw the gleaming “city” were enchanted.

Meanwhile, the McMillan Commission in Washington decided it was time to complete Pierre L’Enfant’s great plan for the city, building the grand boulevards and classic buildings that would complement the White House and the Capitol. Enter the architects fresh from Paris and Chicago, who were ready, willing and able to design the great public buildings – as well as grand apartment houses for the white-collar workers moving to Washington to fill the ranks of the expanding federal government. The makings of a real estate success story were at hand.

The list of architects and apartment buildings is truly monumental, but here are a few favorites:

James G. Hill designed the Mendota and the Ontario, and T. Franklin Schneider went on to add an incredible list to his achievements, including the Iowa, the Albemarle, the Farragut, the Cecil, the Burlington, the Woodley, the Rochambeau, California House and California Court. Three of these fabulous buildings were razed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Jules de Sibour mastered Beaux-Arts techniques with the Warder (razed in 1958) and the McCormick Apartment Building, which until recently housed the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We can thank B. Stanley Simmons for the design of the Wyoming on Columbia Road and Arthur B. Heaton for the Altamont. The architectural firm of Hunter and Bell was responsible for 2029 Connecticut Ave., NW, and Albert Beers designed the Northumberland and the unique Dresden, which perfectly fits its commanding site on the corner of Kalorama Road and Connecticut Avenue.

It was very fortunate that classical architecture had its renaissance at the same time that the federal government decided to promote the massive reconstruction of our city, making L’Enfant’s visionary design – of more than a century before – a stunningly beautiful reality.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and woman-run real estate firm in the Washington metro area, and the proprietor of historic Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.

Let’s Hear it for Norton, the All-American Wine

April 11, 2014

When Thomas Jefferson, America’s best known wine connoisseur, was Ambassador to France after the American Revolution he traveled extensively in France, Germany and Italy, visiting the best vineyards he could find and establishing relationships with vintners so that he could import wine from them when he returned to America. He brought many good wines to Monticello and some historians believe that he may have had the finest wine collection ever to hit the cellars of the White House.

This fascination with wine led Jefferson to spend a lot of time and money trying to grow European vinifera vines at Monticello, but the delicate ungrafted vines were not suited to the climate and fell victim to the various forms of fungus that plague Virginia growers even to this day. His interest in wine grapes was shared by many people in central Virginia in the early 1800’s. Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, spent years working with wild vine seedlings and ultimately developed a wine grape that was named after him around 1830. The new dark red wine called Norton became a popular in Virginia and the vines were planted as far west as Missouri where the wine quickly became a great favorite. Scientists speculate that Norton is a combination of native wild vines and perhaps one or more of the many vinifera vines that were planted here and abandoned when they wouldn’t produce grapes.

Everything went well for the Norton grape in both Virginia and Missouri until Prohibition. Federal agents zealously destroyed hundreds of acres of wine grape vineyards, but apparently not all of them, because when Prohibition ended, there were still Norton grapes growing in Missouri, and it quickly regained its popularity there. The vine was re-introduced to Virginia in the late 1980’s by a Missourian, Dennis Horton, who planted a vineyard near Charlottesville. Today, Horton Vineyards in the Charlottesville area and Chrysalis Vineyards near Middleburg are the biggest growers of Norton in the state.

If you are curious to taste Norton, it’s easy to do, since it is vinted in many of wineries within an hour of the beltway. The long list of flavors that are variously associated with the dark, luscious red wine include plum, chocolate, cherry, elderberry, cedar, smoke, tobacco and raspberry. It is the darkest red wine in production today and if the list of flavors and aromas is not enticing enough, wine drinkers who are conscious of red wine’s health benefits should know that Norton has twice as much of the anti-oxidant reservatrol as the “darling” vine of Europe and Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon. And remember, it is the only fine wine grape that is native to America. You can enjoy it on a foray to wineries and restaurants in Virginia wine country, and it pairs especially well with roast beef, venison and roast lamb. Bon Appetit!

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run real estate company in the Washington Metro area, a devoted student of Washington area history, and the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery, where you can visit and enjoy a glass of Norton!

Thomas Jefferson’s Love of Wine Spurred Virginia’s

January 17, 2014

The wine business has taken off in Virginia, with over 200 licensed wineries in the state, and a growing enthusiasm for Virginia wines on the part of wine aficionados. We should remember to thank Thomas Jefferson, at least in part, for the growth of this enterprise. When Jefferson was our ambassador in France in the late 1700’s, he spent a lot of time touring Europe and getting to know viticulturists in Germany, France and Italy. He made carefully planned visits to all the growers and winemakers he could locate, and when he returned to America, he imported wine directly from them, always insisting on getting containers of bottled wine sent to him instead of barrels, because he believed he would get better quality wine that way. He had the best wine cellar in the region, and when he became president, an equally impressive collection in the new White House wine cellar.

When he retired to Monticello, Jefferson tried for years to grow grapes with vines he imported from Europe. For many reasons, the vines died and failed. If the vines survived the ocean crossing with any life in them, they died from all kinds of diseases, the most prevalent being fungus, a problem that Virginia grape growers still struggle with each season, even though today’s growers have effective sprays to combat disease. Also, Jefferson didn’t have the disease-resistant grafted vines now used by viticulturists worldwide.

Thomas Jefferson was so intrigued by fine wines that he continually exceeded his financial means in order to import the very best. When he died, some of his debt was connected to his love of fine wines as well as his valuable book collection. Everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson’s book connection became the basis for the Library of Congress, but he should also be given credit that his fascination with wine became a legacy that has been a powerful inspiration for the many growers and winemakers in the Commonwealth.

While Thomas Jefferson was still alive, a Richmond, Virginia scientist, Dr. D.N. Norton, experimented with planting and combining grape seeds from native vines during the 1820’s and eventually produced a very dark grape named “Norton” after him, and is still a great favorite with Virginia wine drinkers. One of its unique characteristics, besides having the darkest pigment of any wine, is that it is disease-resistant and does very well even in the humid Virginia growing season. You have to wonder if it is a tragedy that Thomas Jefferson never knew about Dr. Norton’s experiments with the Norton grape. Would Jefferson would have found this vine the answer to his prayers? He might have ignored it, since it was not one of the fine European vinifera grapes he learned to treasure during his European travels. We will never know the answer, but it is food for thought — or perhaps, wine for thought. [gallery ids="102587,119633" nav="thumbs"]

Those Were the Days

The party scene in Washington changes with different administrations, and each presidency has a subtle but important influence on its degree of fun or formality. Betty Beale’s memoir, “Power at Play,” leaves the reader with an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the good old days, because that’s how she portrays the period of four decades surrounding the Truman through Reagan administrations, when she worked as a society columnist for the Washington Star. At the peak of her popularity, Beale’s columns were reprinted in omore than 90 newspapers across the U.S.

Beale’s era ended fewer than 20 years ago, but her stories of Washington society seem long ago and far away. It may have been that people had less money and fewer parties to attend during that time. It may also be that fewer wealthy women worked, and they considered that their job as a hostess was as important as their husband’s job in the upper echelons of the federal government. In any event, Beale chronicled her era with wit and intelligence. She was born into a prominent Washington family, which gave her entrée into society. During her 43-year tenure at the Star, she attended dozens of state dinners and thousands of parties with kings and congressmen, sometimes up to three or four in a single day.

Beale was gracious, but she was also ambitious and spent her party time looking for “newsmakers” to talk to. She also had a well-known “secret” affair with Adlai Stevenson, and the demure way in which she discusses their relationship lets you know just how different that era was. Nevertheless, she was playful and fun. She wrote a column about JFK’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, trying to tell about toddler Caroline Kennedy’s new kitten. The reporters pressed him to know which door the cat used to enter and exit the White House, a not-so-subtle reference to the gossip about JFK’s girlfriends who made clandestine visits via the “back stairs.”

Beale’s favorite presidents were LBJ, Ford and Reagan, whom she said understood the importance of parties and social functions in the lives of power brokers and politicians. She criticized the Carters for not having any idea of how important these social events were to Washington politics and was aghast over the fact that they seated husbands and wives next to each other at state dinners.

She wrote about the women in society who became her friends, including Claire Booth Luce, Marjorie Merriweather Post and Alice Longworth Roosevelt. Her famous male friends ranged from Salvador Dali to Ronald Reagan. She described the latter as “the most likeable president of the nine I have known.”
Betty Beale painted a picture of a time when people appreciated and respected the importance of social camaraderie as a way to communicate and work together successfully and as a way to have fun. Her era spanned four decades and a world of change, but the one thing that she and the parade of politicians and socialites she met had in common was their apparent ability to “live in the moment,” a phrase that may best describe how to have a good time at a party.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the president and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate company in the Washington metropolitan area. She is the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington-area history.
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Thanksgiving from the Very Beginning

December 6, 2013

The so-called first Thanksgiving occurred in Plymouth Colony, Mass., in 1621. It was a feast held one year after the Pilgrims landed to celebrate their first successful harvest, a three-day joint celebration by the colonists and the resident Native American tribe. They had plenty of reasons to celebrate, including being lucky enough to have survived the perilous Atlantic crossing a year before. Only about half of the people on board the Mayflower actually lived through the ordeal.

The accommodations might have been a large part of the problem. There were 102 passengers and 26 crewmen on board a ship that measured about 25 by 100 feet and was not meant to carry passengers but rather freight. They were on board for two months and hit many dangerous storms, finally landing in Plymouth, instead of their planned destination at the mouth of the Hudson River.

Some of the leaders who emerged from the group—including John Alden and Miles Standish—were crewmen who had been hired by the Pilgrim Separatists to help out on the trip and build houses when they went ashore. And some of the crew had actually crossed the ocean on previous trips exploring the New World. One of them, Stephen Hopkins, who had been shipwrecked on Bermuda during a prior trip, was a neighbor of William Shakespeare. His Bermuda shipwreck is said to have been the basis for “The Tempest.”

These hardy survivors started the tradition we celebrate today, but it took nearly 30 years of campaigning by Sarah Josepha Hale, the first woman to edit an American magazine (and incidentally the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb”), to make it official. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, who had other things to think about, declared the last Thursday in November to be the national holiday of Thanksgiving.

This last-Thursday designation lasted until Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it up to the third Thursday in November. The idea was to extend the Christmas shopping period and give businesses and the economy a boost—something merchants can sympathize with this year, given the late Thanksgiving and a mere 26 shopping days until Christmas. But people didn’t like the earlier date and nicknamed it “Franksgiving.” In 1941, therefore, Roosevelt signed a bill declaring that the holiday would fall on the fourth Thursday in November.

Though we think of the fearless Pilgrims as the creators of the first Thanksgiving, theirs was but a one-time celebration. The more important fact is that 53 persons survived such a tough journey across the ocean to start the great adventure in the New World, a circumstance for which we will always be thankful.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate company in the Washington Metro area.

Adams & Jefferson, July 4, 1826

July 18, 2013

It seems nearly impossible to suppose that two of the Founding Fathers and ex-presidents could have both died on the Fourth of July, exactly 50 years after their signing of the Declaration of Independence. But, that’s just what happened. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who made history on so many levels, forged a great friendship when they worked together during the drafting of the Declaration. Jefferson, Adams and his wife Abigail, were neighbors and confidants in Paris right after our revolution and at the beginning of the French Revolution. But, the two men were very different personalities, and their political views on how to run the country and deal with foreign affairs grew further and further apart during the 25 years between 1775 and 1800, when their rivalry and resulting animosities grew with Jefferson pursuing a more liberal stance with his Republican Party and Adams taking over leadership of the more conservative Federalist Party.

The rift became complete when Jefferson defeated Adams in a very bitter and tight presidential race in 1800, which many historians believe to have been the worst time in American history for extreme partisan politics in Washington.

Adams retired to his family home in Massachusetts, and the two men, who had exchanged hundreds of letters and hours of conversation over the years, literally stopped talking to each other for the next ten years.

A mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, also a fellow signer of the Declaration, was pained by the animosity between the two men which had lasted so long.

He said he had a dream about Jefferson and Adams and woke feeling that he had to intervene. So, he wrote to each and brokered peace between them, asking them to forget and forgive and remember their former friendship which had carried them through such turbulent times. That broke the ice and the two men resumed a remarkable epistolary friendship. Although they disagreed on many topics, their admiration for each other allowed them to discuss their differences without losing the friendship.

Shortly after the rapprochement, Benjamin Rush died and both Jefferson and Adams expressed their gratitude to Rush for bringing them together again. They continued to correspond for the next 15 years.

When the government decided to have a huge 50-year celebration of the signing of the Declaration in Washington, the two men were invited to speak at the anniversary.

But, it was not to happen, because by the time summer came, they were both too weak and sick to make the trip.

As the anniversary approached in Washington, D.C., Adams in Quincy, Mass., and Jefferson at Monticello in Virginia were both critically ill. On the morning of July 3, Jefferson woke up long enough to ask what day it was. When he found out it was only the 3rd, he managed to hang on until 1 p.m. of July 4th, when he breathed his last. Adams, in his sickbed in Quincy, Mass., would not have known that Jefferson had just died, and his last words were “Jefferson survives,” even though Jefferson had already died five hours earlier.

But it must have been a great consolation for Adams to die knowing that, 50 years after he helped to change the world, his own son, John Quincy Adams, was President of the United States.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington metro area; she is also the proprietor of Twin oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted student of Washington area history.

The Origins of DC’s Landscape

June 18, 2013

Washington had a lot of lucky breaks in its early history. First of all, the blueprint for the city was drawn up by a genius with dreams of glory for the capital city of a brand new country. Trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Pierre L’Enfant no doubt was thinking about Paris when he drew the plans for the District, with the two-mile-long Mall and the wide avenues with parks and circles for monuments and statues. It took many years with lots of false starts, but the city finally began to grow into the grand pattern he laid out. In the boom period that ran from the 1880s through the 1920s, hundreds of elaborate apartment buildings were built in the District. There was an unusually talented group of architects available then, many of whom also trained at the L’Ecole in Paris. And they had the same big plans as L’Enfant. One architect in particular was able to build his loftiest idea, thanks to the newly invented method of steel frame construction.

The strange but brilliant Cairo apartment building at 1615 Q Street NW, was created by an ambitious young architect named Thomas Franklin Schneider. It is a jumble of Romanesque and Egyptian Revival with Moorish overtones and, if that isn’t enough, a sprinkling of medieval gargoyles. Built in 1894, it reached the monumental height of 165 feet. Besides its height, there was nothing shy and retiring about the Cairo. It had a ballroom, grand dining room, billiards room, bakery, drugstore and artesian well in the basement for its own water supply. The roof deck was popular because of the incredible views it afforded, but it eventually had to be shut down because guests would drop stones from the deck, causing horse and buggy accidents on the street far below.

The height of the Cairo upset a lot of people and it worried the city fathers, because firemans’ ladders wouldn’t be able to reach high enough to save people in the event of a fire. Then there were aesthetic considerations. Tall buildings would ruin the concept L’Enfant had for the city. It was no less than Thomas Jefferson who first suggested that the capital city should have a low-lying landscape similar to that of Paris, France, which is exactly what L’Enfant created. None of the fine buildings, parks and monuments would be seen if Washington became a city of skyscrapers.

Concern for the beauty of the city and the safety hazards the tall buildings created was great enough for the D.C. Board of Supervisors to set limits on new construction, so they adopted the Height of Buildings Act in 1899, which exists in much the same form today with height limits of about 130 feet, or 10 stories.

As we well know, boom economies don’t last forever. The economic groundswell of the Gilded Era in Washington ended with the Great Depression, and many famous builders bit the dust with the bad times. Harry Wardman, who was responsible for building more dwelling units here than any other single builder, lost $30,000,000 in the depression. Edgar Kennedy and Monroe Warren declared bankruptcy in 1932 and lost the Art Deco masterpiece named after them, even before it was completed. But, Washington’s legacy was all the fine buildings they left for us, most of which were converted to condominiums in the 1970’s.

So we were lucky. The gifted people responsible for literally hundreds of outstanding buildings that expressed every major trend, from Georgian to Beaux Arts and Art Deco, were first and second generation Americans, most of who designed their first projects before they were 30 years old. Thomas Jefferson and Pierre L’Enfant both got their wishes, and we got a cityscape of elegant buildings and monuments in an atmosphere that is unique among American cities.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run real estate firm in the Washington Metro area. She is also the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery and Vineyard in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted fan of Washington history.