Body & Soul
Dare to Try a Ghost Tour of Georgetown?
The Georgetowner’s March Through History . . . and Georgetown
David Roffman • January 29, 2014
As The Georgetowner newspaper
closes in on its 60th Anniversary, it
seems fitting that your town crier
will be relocating to new digs, of
course, in Georgetown. Unlike other newspapers
that call Georgetown theirs, this is the only
newspaper that makes its home in Georgetown
— and has for six decades, albeit at 14 different
locations in the community.
The Georgetowner newspaper was the brainchild
of Ami C. Stewart, who at the age of 66,
began publishing it on Oct. 7, 1954. She knew
the newspaper business; she was a longtime
advertising representative for the Washington
Evening Star. Her sales territory was Georgetown
and its surrounding environs. She dreamed of
starting a newspaper for Georgetown for several
years when, with great encouragement from the
Randolph sisters, owners of Little Caledonia, a
small department store of delightful surprises at
1419 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. It was on the second
floor in Little Caledonia, where Ami Stewart created
Volume 1, Number 1, of the newspaper. It
was The Georgetowner’s first address.
Some of us still cannot get used to the idea that
there is no Little Caledonia in Georgetown. Then
again, most of the shops that existed here in 1954
are long gone: Neam’s Market, Dorcas Hardin,
Dorothy Stead, Baylor Furniture, Little Flower
Shop, Doc Dalinsky’s Georgetown Pharmacy,
Chez Odette, Rive Gauche, the French Market,
the Food Mart, Magruder’s, Muriel Mafrige, the
Georgetown University Shop and on and on. All
have left us. But The Georgetowner marches on.
Soon after its founding, Stewart moved
into 1204 Wisconsin Ave., NW. The building
was headquarters for the National Bank
of Washington. The Georgetowner occupied a
small room in the back, one desk, two chairs,
one window. Riggs Farmers & Mechanics Bank
was across the street. Both banks are long gone.
Our third location was 3019 M St., NW. We were
next to a funeral home. We, however, lived on.
Stewart finally found an office more to her
liking. It was situated at 1610 Wisconsin Ave.,
NW. Ami and her right-hand gal Sue Buffalo
ran the newspaper from these premises for close
to eight years. The staff also included Carol
Watson, a wonderful artist; Marilyn Houston,
who wrote many articles of historic interest;
and a young man, fresh out of the army, Randy
Roffman, my older brother. It was he who drew
me into the wonderful world of Ami C. Stewart.
I never would have guessed at the time that I
would spend the next 42 years with the newspaper,
but it happened.
In the early 1970s, with Ami’s health failing,
we moved to 1201 28th St., N.W. The lone brick
building at that corner was our home for the next
8 years. From our second floor windows, we
watched the construction of the Four Seasons
Hotel across M Street. We also witnessed the
mass arrest of the yippees who tried to shut down
the government in May 1971, protesting the
Vietnam War. They marched en masse down M
Street from Key Bridge. They were arrested and
put in huge detaining trucks right below our windows.
I remember a National Guardsman yelling
at us to get away from our window and quit taking
photographs. Protestors who were rounded
up were transported to RFK Stadium where
they were held for processing. (The May Day
1971 protests in Washington, D.C., provoked the
largest-ever mass arrest in American history with
more 12,000 individuals detained.)
Our sixth location was on the third floor
above Crumpet’s, a pastry shop in the 1200 block
of Wisconsin Avenue. John and Carol Wright
were the owners. This was when writer Gary
Tischler joined the staff. Britches of Georgetown
was a few doors away. Billy Martin’s Tavern
was across the street, as was Swensen’s Ice
Cream Parlor. (There was formerly Stohlman’s
Ice Cream Parlor, now memorialized at the
Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.)
Climbing those three flights of stairs was rough,
especially when balancing two cups of coffee
and four Danish. We survived.
A few years later, we moved across the street
to 1254 Wisconsin Ave., NW, to the third floor
above Swensen’s. It was the final years of disco,
and Michael O’Harro’s Tramp’s Discotheque
was closing. The Key Theatre, next to Roy
Rogers at the corner of Prospect and Wisconsin,
had them lined up around the block each weekend
night for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
After several years high atop Swensen’s, we had
to move again.
You might be asking yourself at this point,
why did you move so often? Usually, it had to
do with the landlord renting out the entire building
to a new tenant. Because we were second- or
third-floor occupants on short leases, well, we
had to go.
Our next location was Hamilton Court, the
beautiful courtyard developed by Al Voorhees.
The courtyard was fronted by a row of new
storefronts which included the Old Print Gallery,
Cliff and Michelle Kranick’s gallery, an antiquarian
book store, and Ann Brinkley’s antiques
store. Behind it was a series of spacious offices,
of which we occupied one at the rear of the
courtyard. We enjoyed our stay here, the setting
was in the heart of Georgetown across the street
from our beloved, landmark post office. But we
had to leave when the architectural firm above us
had to expand … into our space.
We next occupied the top floor of the
Georgetown Electric shop on M Street, next to
Old Glory restaurant. Spacious quarters indeed,
and once again we climbed a lot of stairs every
day. But we were close to Harold’s Deli, the
Food Mart and Nathans. What more could we
While running the newspaper from
these quarters, we also founded and ran the
Georgetown Visitor’s Center in Georgetown
Court off Prospect Street. Robert Elliott, owner
and landlord of the courtyard, gave us the space
rent free, the merchants chipped in and afforded
us the opportunity to publish brochures and pamphlets.
Robert Devaney joined our staff at this
point in the early 1990s.
When Duke Rohr closed the GE shop, we
moved once again. This time we returned to
familiar digs at 1610 Wisconsin Ave., NW, way
up the hill. We felt so removed from everything.
The block had changed drastically. There was a
7-Eleven at the corner of Que and Wisconsin,
the legendary French Market was gone and
Appalachian Spring crafts had moved down the
street. We felt like strangers up there.
We moved after five years, down to 1410
Wisconsin, another empty upper floor spacious
room, with no wiring. It dawned on us that we
had probably wired half the second and third
floor buildings on M or Wisconsin by this time.
Thank goodness for Randy Reed Electric.
While at 1410, Sonya Bernhardt joined the
staff at The Georgetowner. In 1998, Sonya
became the third publisher and owner of The
Georgetowner. Many offices, few publishers:
Ami C. Stewart, David Roffman and Sonya
The Georgetowner moved to its 13th location
in 2001. The building at 1054 Potomac St., NW,
had once been the home of Georgetown’s first
mayor. Now it housed “the newspaper whose
influence far exceeds its size” – as well as the
Georgetown Media Group, which publishes The
Georgetowner and The Downtowner newspapers
and their websites. From late 2001 until this
week, the offices were at this address.
Now, as we near our 60th anniversary, we are
in the process of moving once again, to the northwest
corner of 28th and M, the building which
once housed American Needlework and then
Schrader Sound — not to mention the Bryn Mawr
Bookshop and the office of Captain Peter Belin,
famed president of the Citizens Association of
Georgetown. Lots of history here. We hope to
see you there and all around town when we set
up our business office in February.
Find us at our new address:
Georgetown Media Group, Inc.
2801 M Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20007
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Those Were the Days
Donna Evers • January 17, 2014
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, email@example.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
Donna Evers • 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, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate company in the Washington Metro area.
The National Cathedral: Echoes of the Middle Ages
Georgetowner • November 7, 2013
When Pierre l’Enfant drew his plan for the City of Washington, it included a “national church,” which he thought should be built on the site where the National Portrait Gallery now sits. It wasn’t until 100 years later that Congress approved a plan for the Episcopal Cathedral Foundation to proceed with fundraising and then construction, which began in 1907, to the national church that was formally named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. They chose a high point in the city, Mount St. Albans, and even though the cathedral is the third highest structure in Washington at 301 feet, its position on a hill 400 feet above sea level makes it tower over all other structures in the city.
The National Cathedral is reputed to be the sixth largest cathedral in the world. In the U.S., it is second only in size to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
Like the great cathedrals of Europe, it took a long time to build: in this case, some 83 years. And, like the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, flaws were purposely built into the construction, some say as an admission on the part of the builders that only God could be perfect, a kind of mea culpa for the vanity of such a creation. Yet these intentional flaws actually served to make up for visual distortions, a device that even the builders of the great pyramids of Egypt employed. For example, the main aisle of the cathedral where it meets the cross section is tilted slightly off its axis to make up for the visual distortion that would occur if when one were to stand in the middle of the aisle and look down the long expanse. In further reference to the great medieval builders, the architects of the National Cathedral included crypt chapels in the Norman, Romanesque and Transitional style, a mixture that also occurred in the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe where construction took so long that many changing style elements were blended in the same cathedral.
When we think of these mixed styles, is natural to think of the two very different towers on the great cathedral of Chartres in France. However, that particular cathedral that we see on the site was built quickly, as medieval cathedrals go. The reason for the two different towers is because one of the original matching 12th century towers was struck by lightening some four centuries after it was built. When it was replaced, the ornate Flamboyant gothic style was all the rage, and so the new tower was very different from the other simpler Romanesque tower. Like Chartres, the great permanence that the National Cathedral represents was tried in a similar way, when the 5.8-magnitude earthquake of 2011 shook the building and caused damage that will take many years and some 26 million dollars to repair.
Medieval cathedrals were compendiums of the civilization they represented, and much like Chartres, the National Cathedral is full of symbolism, both religious and artistic. Its decorations, architecture and its 200 stained glass windows can be “read” like a book. Students of Western culture will do well to add the National Cathedral to their list of art museums, as one more great place in our city to visit and learn.
Donna Evers, email@example.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run residential real estate company in the Washington Metro area, the proprietor of historic Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington history.
50 Years On: Jack & Jackie In Our Lives
Gary Tischler • October 10, 2013
Those of us who were alive on that day all remember where we were and how we felt when we got the news that day. Oh, G od. We may not remember exactly all of the details, who was with us, and exactly what we were doing or what we said, or even remember entirely the person who we were.
It was, after all, 50 years ago on November 22, 1963, in Dallas that President John F. Kennedy was shot by a lone assassin named Lee Harvey Oswald, while riding in a motorcade with his wife and John Connolly, the Governor of Texas, and his wife. That was half a century ago, the better part of a life ago, if you remember then and when. Time stopped for Americans that day, and, headed one way into history, diverged on another road. We lost a 46-year-old president who was admired probably beyond reason by millions, because, like another leader whose soaring rhetoric on the National Mall that summer roared all the way to the White House, he had the ability to inspire us to dream. He too, died at an assassin’s hand.
Beyond all that and anything else, the great loss that this country—beyond the whole Kennedy saga, the historical facts of the matter—the greatest loss we suffered as Americans was the source of inspiration, that voice and source of energy, action and vision. What we were left with was an ongoing drama, a legend, the remnants of a family that would continue to engage us and fascinate us even now and especially now.
A 50th anniversary of an event, even one as shocking and tragic as the assassination of a president, amounts to a resurrection, the old story told anew, and remembered by those who can remember it and we tell these stories, these days, through personal memory, through photographs, through musty old newspaper headlines, books and words, videos and flickering images from that day and the mournful afterward days, as well as through mediums and methods that did not exist when John F. Kennedy lived and died.
We prepare to remember that day—which resonates in especially poignant fashion in Georgetown—here, as we always do with speeches, talks, symposiums, the marketing of the cottage industry that is Kennedy books, Kennedy stories, Kennedy histories, Kennedy memorabilia. Fifty years is a long time, but our fascination with the life and death of JFK at this time is not a matter grief or of not getting over it. I suspect the need to remember is spurred not by grief and sorrow, but by history—our own, and that of the day it happened.
We mourn the passing of the president, to be sure, and the flickering of that flame in Arlington Cemetery, which we cannot today visit because of this miasma of the government shutdown, but we also with resignation recognized all that has happened since, the change train that’s rushed through and altered us all as persons and citizens.
John F. Kennedy is, of course, remembered vividly here in Georgeotown by surviving Georgetowners,, he lived and breathed, rented and courted and fathered and familied among us, sometimes looking impossibly young and dashing, like a vision of a long (and then lost) future. He lived in an apartment at 1528 31st Street as a bachelor congressman from Massachusetts, then lived for a time with his sister Eunice a few blocks down the street. After winning his senate seat in 1952, he moved into an apartment at 3260 N St., NW, for two years. He was living at 3271 P St., NW, when he proposed to Jackie, whom he had met at a friend’s house in Georgetown. The couple’s first house was at 3321 Dent Place, NW, where they lived in 1954. They moved to 2808 P St., NW, in 1957 and then to 3307 N St., NW, the couple’s last residence in Georgetown. He was still a Georgetowner when he ran for president, and his son John Jr. was born at Georgetown University Hospital.
Looked at through the prism of his residential moves in Georgetown, it’s fair to say that Kennedy lived his manly youth here, in the kind of perpetual tree-shaded sunlight so characteristic of Georgetown. He lived among his peers, his family, within sight and sound of the spires—buildings and academic intellect—of Georgetown University, of Holy Trinty Church, as part of a high-powered community full of men and women of achievement, wealth and style. The Georgetowner was here too, chronicling much of the comings and goings under founder and owner Ami Stewart.
Georgetown was different then, we are generations removed from the Kennedys in Georgetown, and most of those high-profile leaders are long gone, along with many members—the brothers, daughters and sons, grandparent, Robert and Ted, John John and Rose and Joe—of the Kennedy family.
We wrote often about the Kennedys, and in the aftermath of the assassination we tried to capture the changing, and elusive legend, watched it change over time. It became something of a tradition and part of our November journalistic life.
But now, because half a century is 50 years and a large part of a life, it is time to reflect in more detail. We have a wealth of tools to look back with—books and histories too numerous to count from those rushed and labored over in the immediate aftermath— Arthur Schlesinger’s “A Thousand Days,” and William Manchester’s still readable account of “The Death of a President” spring immediately to mind—and books of photographs and exhibitions, and films—“Parkland” a new film that recounts the assassination day is out now, but there’s always the rabbit hole of Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” a conspiracy movie to end all conspiracy movies—and memories and life and times. We had our friend Pierre Salinger, JFK’s much put-upon press secretary writing for us in the late 1990s until 2002.
For now, though here in Washington, D.C., where JFK’s funeral and memorialization and institutionalization of Camelot are vivid memories, we can remember at the Newseum, which will be holding a JFK Remembrance Day Nov. 22. The Newseum is showing numerous films, and holding numerous activities, including two ongoing exhibitions. There’s “Three Shots Were Fired,” a rich and detailed exhibition full of artifacts—including among many the Bell & Howell 8 mm movie camera, used by Abraham Zapruder which captured the killing.
“Creating Camelot” is an exhibition of “The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,” with photographs of images of the Kennedys and their children, Caroline and John. Lowe was the family’s personal photographer.
You can find a more wide-ranging view in “Capturing Camelot,” a book of photographs by the late Look Magazine photographer Stanley Tretick, with moving text by Georgetowner and best-selling author Kitty Kelley and photographs by Tetrick of the Kennedys that appear as startling and fresh as the sounds you might have heard at a Kennedy family breakfast or touch football game.
No doubt there will be an onslaught of memories, of pictures and musings about that day. I remember myself then, sort of, a young private first class in the United States Army in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, sitting in a group of chairs around a black-and-white television set that day, and later on a Sunday, watching Lee Harvey Oswald murdered by Jack Ruby. We had never seen or felt or experienced anything remotely like that and we wept, and then were stunned into silence and later, the salute, the widow, the old Frenchman, President Charles de Gaulle, the thunder and drums and the coffin and the horse.
He still inspires us today, I think, and seems in pictures, still very alive. But it was 50 years ago. The history—the kind that tortures us madly today in our daily lives amid a government shutdown and the kind that happened then—lives on and perhaps it will echo stronger in times notable for the absence of reasonable, pragmatic and inspiring men. [gallery ids="101486,152003" nav="thumbs"]
Adams & Jefferson, July 4, 1826
Donna Evers • 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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Donna Evers • 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, email@example.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.
The Willard: Birthplace of ‘Battle Hymn’
While historians generally believe the term “lobbyist” came from England circa 1800, it is part of our local lore that the term originated in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington. It seems that President U.S. Grant liked to slip away from the White House to enjoy a cigar and brandy at the nearby hotel. People in high places who wanted favors used to lie in wait for him, and hence the Washington version of the term “lobbyist.” Since the hotel’s 1986 period restoration, the lobby is so redolent of the 1860s, that one can easily imagine Grant stretched out in a velvet lounge chair behind one of the potted palms.
What you may not know is that another piece of 1860’s history was born at the Willard, before Grant was president and even before he assumed command of the Union Army. It had to do with the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, whose 150 year anniversary was celebrated this summer with speeches and re-enactments at the battleground park in Manassas, Va.
Early in the conflict, confident that they could defeat the South, the Union Army marched toward Richmond with the hope of bringing the war to a quick close. The North was so sure of itself that congressmen and dignitaries from Washington packed picnic lunches and rode their carriages behind the army so they could watch their soldiers win the day. Instead, the northerners met with fierce resistance from the strong southern army they encountered in Manassas. This was the battle where Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” for not giving up his position, and where the first civilian casualty of the war occurred, when the 85-year-old woman who owned the house on Henry Hill was killed in the cannon crossfire. The battle lasted five hours with many casualties on both sides, and ended with the Union army turning back and fleeing toward Washington. The civilians quickly turned their carriages around to head back east, got mixed in with the retreating soldiers, and created a massive traffic jam with panicked soldiers and civilians running in all directions.
As a result of this battle, morale in the Union Army was at low ebb, and the generals had a hard time recruiting soldiers. A New England abolitionist named Julia Ward Howe was afraid that the North might lose and slavery would not be defeated. So, she came to Washington to see if she could help. While Howe was in town staying at the Willard Hotel, she heard soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body” outside her open window. She liked the melody but thought it was a shame there weren’t better words to go with the song. When she awoke up in the middle of the night, she was suddenly wide awake and began writing verses to the melody, which she later sold to The Atlantic Monthly magazine for $5.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” became one of our most beloved patriotic songs, and on the front of the Willard Hotel, a plaque commemorates Julia Ward Howe for writing the verses that led Union troops into battle through the next four terrible years, until they were, as the song promised, victorious.
Here is one more story about the Willard: as we celebrate the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s interesting to know that he stayed at the Willard in 1963, almost 100 years after Howe’s visit, in the days before he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. When you think of him sitting in his room going over the words of his history-changing speech, you have to believe that inspiration must live in those walls.
Donna Evers, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate company in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted fan of Washington history. [gallery ids="102541,120015" nav="thumbs"]
Under the French Influence of Jules de Sibour
In the 6th arrondissement in Paris, where the rue des Beaux-Arts meets rue Bonaparte, stands a venerable building which was more influential on architecture in Washington than any other institution, present or past. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts was the training ground for so many great American architects in the Gilded Era of Washington, including the charming maestro of Beaux Arts architecture, Jules Henri de Sibour.
Jules de Sibour had an American mother and a French father, who was a direct descendent of France’s King Louis XVI. He grew up between France and the U.S., going to prep school in New Hampshire, then on to Yale, and following in his father’s footsteps, married an American, a Washingtonian named Margaret Claggett.
De Sibour joined his older brother at the renowned architectural firm of Ernest Flagg and Bruce Price, who designed one of the best-known Beaux Arts buildings in the world, the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec. Price convinced de Sibour to go to Paris and get the proper training at the Ecole. He studied there for 18 months. When he came back to New York, he quickly gained a name for himself, and since he began to get more commissions in Washington, moved here in 1910, to make his mark on the city just at a time when merchant princes from all over the country wanted a grand mansion in the nation’s capital.
His interpretations of the Beaux Arts design have never been equaled, especially in the way he fit the buildings to the District’s angular corners, an inheritance from one of de Sibour’s French predecessors, Pierre L’Enfant, also a student of the Ecole. A fine example of de Sibour’s genius is his design of the McCormick Apartment Building, which seems to flow around the corner at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The perfectly balanced and designed exterior is the best of Classic design with the decoration of Beaux Arts flawlessly incorporated. Now it is home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a group uniquely suited to appreciate its workplace.
De Sibour’s accomplishments go on and on, including the Thomas Gaff House (Columbian residence), the Wilkins house (Peruvian Embassy), the Jefferson Hotel, the French Embassy, the original Folger Theater Building and the Clarence Moore house at 1746 Massachusetts Avenue, NW (now the Uzbekistan Embassy). De Sibour became friends with Clarence Moore, who was also Master of Hounds at the Chevy Chase Club, and who commissioned de Sibour to design the main building for the club. Moore famously met an early demise, when he went to England to buy hunting hounds and decided to come back on the R.M.S. Titanic.
De Sibour went on to be a regular at the club. The descendent of Louis XVI became its star baseball player and — between designing buildings — spent many happy summer days enjoying the ultimate American pastime.
Donna Evers, email@example.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; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington history. [gallery ids="100457,115459" nav="thumbs"]
The Iconic Obelisk
The Washington Monument is the single most recognized icon in our cityscape, yet its creation had a turbulent beginning, middle and end. And it’s not over, as the federal government has just committed over $7 million to repair the cracks caused by the 2011 earthquake.
To start at the beginning, in 1783, Congress decreed that an equestrian statue should be built to honor the father of our country. So in 1791, Pierre L’Enfant chose the perfect triangulated site in relation to the rest of the National Mall to honor George Washington’s initial career as a surveyor.
Fundraising discussions ensued in 1799, and in 1836 a contest was held to choose a design for the monument. Architect Robert Mills won with a design of a simple obelisk surrounded by a fancy rotunda, topped off by Washington at the helm of a chariot led by a team of charging horses. The fundraising goal of $1 million was slow getting off the ground, with only $30,000 collected by 1836, but construction started
anyway in 1848. It stopped six years later when they ran out of money.
The whole city made fun of the 153-foot stump that dominated the Mall until 1876, when construction resumed, but with a different color of stone (just in case Washingtonians needed a reminder of what happens when Congress starts a project).
The obelisk was completed in 1884, but not without controversy. For one thing, it was built on a completely different spot than L’Enfant had chosen. It turned out that the Mall was so swampy, the cornerstone Jefferson originally laid sunk and disappeared into the mire. So, a more solid site had to be found.
Then there was the incident involving Pope Pius IX, who donated a stone to the monument that was subsequently stolen by the infamous Know-Nothing Party in a wave of anti-Catholicism. At the same time,
two new variations of design were proposed. One involved creating an Italian bell tower at the top of the
obelisk and the other idea was to make it into a copy of “one of the better Hindu pagodas”, to quote a
local newspaper article.
The plans for pagodas, bell towers and rearing horses were scrapped and the simple monument stands as one of the best in the city. At 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches high – give or take a fraction after the earthquake – it remains one of the tallest masonry structure in the world, perhaps an inadvertent tribute to George Washington, who was a devoted Freemason.
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; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington area history. [gallery ids="100517,119152" nav="thumbs"]