Pepco’s Substation No. 13

PEPCO Substation 13, built between 1907 and 1944. View from the southeast.

The small industrial-looking building on the northwest corner of Harvard Street and Sherman Avenue probably doesn’t draw much notice from many that pass by it every day, but the more I learn about the building the more I’m drawn to it. For those not familiar with the building, it’s a Pepco electric substation and dates to 1907.

To better understand the importance of this small, unassuming substation, it is helpful to know that Washington was slow to adopt the electric light. Though the city saw its first demonstration of electric lights in 1872, city commissioners did not contract for the installation of even a few arc lamps until 1882. Replacement of gas lamps was further slowed when city officials ruled that all wires must be laid underground. It was not until the 1890s, when rapidly expanding electric street railways demanded a source of power, that the electric industry in Washington experienced its first real growth.

By 1901, Pepco, along with ten of the smaller independent car lines and two electric power companies, had been consolidated into the Washington Railway and Electric Company. In its first years under the Washington Railway and Electric Company, Pepco was a captive of the traction interests. It supplied electricity to railroads, and its service generally stopped where the streetcar ended. In 1906 the company began construction of the first unit of the Benning Station along the Anacosta River.

By 1912 Pepco President Clarence P. King boasted two power plants and eight substations. That year Washington Railway and Electric Company transferred to Pepco its two-thirds interest in the Great Falls Power Company. By the end of 1914 Pepco was running 24,818 meters and had 8,215 street lamps. It had surpassed $2 million in revenues, and its connected load–excluding railways–was 58,776 kilowatts, 6,522 kilowatts more than it had in 1913. (Much of the preceding from the more complete history of Pepco found here)

While strong opposition to the substation existed in the community, the site chosen by Pepco was largely unbuilt. This map detail from 1911 shows that that the substation continued to be removed from nearby residences for years after its construction

Against this background, the substation at 1001 Harvard Street takes on an importance otherwise hidden. It’s early date of construction puts it at the forefront of providing electricity to residential sections of the city. The Washington Times clearly stated in their July 28, 1907, announcement of the coming substation’s construction that it was due to the rapidly growing section that has followed the cutting through of Eleventh street.

About 50 residents of the area, headed by Henry C. Stewart, 617 Fourteenth street, immediately opposed construction of the election substation citing it as a nuisance and claiming it would negatively impact property values. Despite this, a permit was granted for construction on August 1, 1907. A legal back and forth ensued with Pepco at first being barred from moving ahead before finally being granted permission in September 1907 by Justice Wright in the District Supreme Court.

The substation was built in five stages. The original 1907 building was designed by architect Frederick B. Pyle. This was followed by additions designed by Arthur B. Heaton in 1920 and 1921. Further additions were added in 1929 and finally in 1944.


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2 Comments on “Pepco’s Substation No. 13”

  1. gotryit Says:

    That building is such dead space. Why can’t PEPCO redo that spot to add something like retail on the ground floor.

  2. […] many that pass by it every day, but the more I learn about the building the more I'm … Read more on energy brokering at this link to the original blog article You may also like -Bury PepcoBury Pepco Energy Broker Opportunity with 50-State Footprint – Free […]

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