Local Automotive History – 950 Upshur Street NW
The CubeSmart Storage building at 950 Upshur Street caught my curiosity recently and inspired me to do some digging into its history. I’ve found the building to be handsome for years, but what got me curious was when I notice the Gothic Revival style elements in its façade. Although the Gothic Revival style was favored for commercial buildings in other cities during the early 20th century, such as New York, the style was less common in Washington for buildings other than ecclesiastical ones.
A quick look into the building permits, and a search of the Washington Post, confirmed my suspicions that the building dates to the mid-1920s, making it an early commercial building constructed at a time when Upshur Street could still be considered the northern boundary of contiguous development north of the City. The permits date to March 1926, but, they may have been filed after the building was finished since Washington Post articles describe the building in 1924. Prior to the construction, the property was owned by the American Ice Company, but that is a story for another time.
The building on the southwest corner of Upshur Street and Kansas Avenue was built in 1924 for Joseph McReynolds, the Washington Studebaker dealer. McReynolds started out his career by working for his father at the R. McReynolds blacksmith and carriage establishment located at Vermont Avenue and L Street around 1891. When automobiles became popular, he organized a Studebaker agency in the 800 block of 14th Street. In April 1919, he was elected president of the Commercial Auto and Supply Company, Studebaker distributers – succeeding S. C. Long.
Among Reynolds early accomplishments were new buildings for the dealership. In 1922/3 he constructed the new Studebaker showroom at 14th and R streets, NW (until recently the Central Union Mission building) and the building at Kansas and Upshur in 1924.
Both the 14th Street and Upshur Street buildings were designed by local architect Frederick B. Pyle. Ground was broken for 950 Upshur Street during the week of June 29, 1924, and construction was expected to be finished in the fall. The building is of brick construction with Indiana limestone trim. Tudor Gothic Revival elements were included in the design, which are most noticeable in the metalwork between the first- and second-story windows. While unusual for Washington, this style was common enough in Studebaker showrooms constructed in other cities at the time.
McReynolds stated at the time of construction that the building’s purpose was to function as a service station, warehouse, parts department, painting and trimming shop, new car storage warehouse, and a used car department. It was also equipped with a ladies rest room. He also planned for it to be Studebaker’s uptown show room. Upon completion, the 14th Street location would function as the main salesroom and a quick service station for minor adjustment.
Studebaker thrived through the 1920s, but was hit hard during the Great Depression. This was due in part to the Corporation’s failure to accurately predict the severity and length of the Depression.
By the 1940s the building had changed hands and was the home of the Kogod-Dubb Store Fixture Company.
The building still retains a great deal of its architectural integrity. In walking around the building, the two major alterations I was able to identify were the loss of all the original windows on the building’s first-floor and the loss of the Studebaker emblems that were once at the entrance and ends of the building. To give a better idea of what the entrance once looked like I’ve added the Studebaker emblems to the face of the building in the image below.
If you’re interested in learning more about Studebaker’s history, you can visit the online Studebaker exhibition I pulled together back in 2004. Also, I’ve posted a few more historic images associated with McReynolds Service Station after the jump.
The following images are of the McReynolds Studebaker Service Station. They are all from the collection at the Library of Congress.Explore posts in the same categories: History comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.