Establishing Park View — Part IV: The Building Trades Strike of 1907/1908

The Building Trades Strike of 1907/1908 had its roots in the “lockout” of the union plumbers by the master plumbers early in 1906, and the difficulties related to this dispute began to impact one trade after another. This culminated in August 1907 when the construction unions united to battle for the cause of organized labor and to uphold the principle of the “closed shop.”

In May 1907, craftsmen occupied in Washington’s building industry met to discuss their dissatisfaction with their working conditions and to seek a remedy. The result of this meeting was a proposal by the building contractors, the master builders and the business men in the District who supply building materials to bring about a settlement of the existing trouble in the building trades. It was also resolved that, if necessary, that supplies of lumber, lime, brick and other materials would be entirely cut off, causing a general shut down of all construction in Washington.

On May 13, 1907, the Building Trades Alliance met and singled out Middaugh & Shannon’s Park View subdivision as a problem and called off their bricklayers, tile roofers, metal workers and metal lathers from the work site. Their issue with Middaugh & Shannon was the use of non-union plumbers, carpenters and painters. The immediate impact on the Park View subdivision was a loss of about twenty mechanics, mostly bricklayers and tile roofers, who had been called off by the strike committee. In order to continue operations, Middaugh & Shannon hired out-of-town nonunion workmen, leading the Building Trades Mechanics’ Council to send a committee to investigate the labor being employed to build the Park Road houses then under construction in mid-June.

In addition to Middaugh & Shannon’s development, work had also been shut down in early June on the Academy of Music, on a building at Twenty-third Street and Massachusetts Avenue, and on the Adas Israel Synagogue at Sixth and I streets, NW, as well as on the car barn being erected for the Capital Traction Company on Fourteenth Street. At a meeting of the executive committee of the Building Trades Council held on June 8th it was also noted that none of the government work in the city, either Federal or District, had then been interfered with. A full force was then working on the new Municipal Building.

The strike deepened at the end of June when the bricklayers’ union, composed of more than 1,000 men, voted to join forces with the Building Trades Mechanics’ Council and instructed their business agent to visit every building site in Washington on which a partial lockout was in place and where nonunion workers had been substituted for union men all bricklayers were to be withdrawn.

A general strike was called on August 5, 1907, when the trade unions and the employers were unable to reconcile their differences. The operations impacted were the construction projects of the Speare Company, Middaugh & Shannon, Richardson & Burgess, Harry Wardman, and C.J. Cassidy. While nearly all buildings under construction were affected, the more notable projects included the following:

  • The Metropolitan Club;
  • The new Municipal Building;
  • Union Station;
  • Senate and House Office Buildings;
  • Elks’ Hall;
  • Washington University;
  • Catholic School;
  • Middaugh & Shannon’s Park View development;
  • Tuberculosis Hospital;
  • District Crematorium;
  • Three School Houses; and,
  • Anacostia Bridge

Labor leadeers(Photograph of labor leaders from The Evening Star, August 8, 1907.)

The Employers’ Association – representing the contractors, owners, and developers – asserted confidently by mid-September 1907 that the strike was all but lost. Construction continued with some 2,000 non-union workers employed at construction sites throughout Washington. The Employers’ Association also stated confidently that the open shop would be a fact of the construction industry in Washington and that union carpenters and bricklayers were dropping out of their unions all along the line to go back to work.

After nearly a year of turmoil, the strike broke at the end of May 1908 when the Bricklayers and Mason’s Union, No. 1, secretly voted to go back to work. The strike was costly for both sides, and workers returning to construction sites returned under the conditions that existed before the strike had begun. For the bricklayers that meant that they would work with non-union carpenters and painters or other trades, but not with non-union bricklayers.

While many of the larger and high profile projects were likely able to find non-union workers during the strike to press forward, Middaugh & Shannon’s Park View development didn’t fare as well. Neither its location on the outskirts of Washington nor the earlier ire they’d received from union labor aided in the developers ability to retain workers to continue building in Park View. Prior to the strike, Middaugh & Shannon constructed 97 houses in Park View beginning in February 1906 with the last permit issued on March 9, 1907 for three houses on Park Road. As union workers were organizing, another permit was issued on June 12, 1907, for a row of ten houses. During the strike, only one permit was issued for a row of three houses at 549-553 Park Road. This was issued on November 22, 1907. As the strike was nearing its end, the next permits were issued on March 6, 1908, for a row of five houses and again on April 1, 1908, for a row of seven houses.

The strike, coupled with the both the death of Ray E. Middaugh and architect Joseph Bohn Jr. in 1910, brought construction to a halt in the Park View subdivision and opened the door to other Washington developers who eventually added their houses to Park View. Eventually William E. Shannon, continuing under the name Middaugh & Shannon, construction three more rows in Park View before leaving the neighborhood altogether. These were are group of twelve houses at 431-451 Newton Place, NW, begun in June 1911 and two groups of four from 3532-3546 Park Place started in January 1912.

Tomorrow: Conclusion, Restrictive Covenants and the Growth of the African American Community

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One Comment on “Establishing Park View — Part IV: The Building Trades Strike of 1907/1908”

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