Archive for the ‘History’ category

Irving Street Express Way & North Capitol Cloverleaf Remnants of Unrealized Freeway System

December 8, 2017

While creating a good crosstown transportation connection between Brookland and Adams Morgan is a goal of the recent Crosstown Multimodal Study, this is not a new idea. Creating a good crosstown transportation network has vexed District transportation planners for more than 90 years. DDOT’s Multimodal Study is notable for taking all forms of transportation into consideration. Unfortunately, efforts in the 1920s and 1950s did not do this and prioritized automotive transportation at the expense of walk-ability and the environment. This resulted in blocks without street trees, a four-lane expressway that leads nowhere, and the District’s only transportation cloverleaf at North Capitol and Irving streets.

Both the Irving Street expressway and the cloverleaf intersection at the Washington Hospital Center date to the 1950s and were intended to solve two problems. The first was to establish a better crosstown route. The second was to connect that route to the freeway system in Maryland. Neither of these goals achieve their promise.

One of the earliest efforts to identify Columbia Road as part of an improved crosstown route dates to 1927. It came out of a recommendation to the National Capital Park and Planning Commission by a subcommittee designated to study the traffic plan developed by L.D. Tilton, a St. Louis traffic expert. Tilton’s traffic plan attempted to place all sections of the District of Columbia within a quarter or half mile distance of a selected major thoroughfare. Recommendations to the NCPPC were divided into two divisions – crosstown and radial.

While 18 major traffic thoroughfares were definitely recommended, the proposal to include Columbia Road was tabled to be decided at a later date. This was due to the fact that it was considered unduly narrow between Sixteenth Street and the Soldiers’ Home. While all agreed it was ideally located to serve as a crosstown route, there was doubt that the street could be widened to serve in that capacity.

Never-the-less, two important routes were identified in 1927 that would later play a role in creating the North Capitol and Irving cloverleaf. The relevant radial route consisted of North Capitol Street, Michigan Avenue, Harewood Road, and Blair Road to the District boundary. The relevant crosstown route was Garfield Street, by way of Cleveland Avenue, Calvert Street, and Columbia Road to Sixteenth Street (from Sixteenth Street to the Soldiers’ Home, the matter of widening Columbia Road or combining the route with another street to be decided later). From the Soldiers’ Home the route would continue along Michigan Avenue and Franklin Street to Bladensburg Road.

In 1931, NCPPC used the 1927 thoroughfare plan to prioritize street improvements and paving. While the matter of the crosstown route between Sixteenth Street and the Soldiers’ Home was still undecided, the proposed solution was to develop Colombia Road for westbound traffic and Harvard Street for eastbound traffic – and then to realign the road north of McMillan reservoir to connect this pair with Michigan Avenue to the east.

While the basic corridors were identified in 1927 and expanded in 1931, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 1950s that genuine efforts were made to realize these corridors. The plan consisted of constructing two new highways through the Soldiers’ Home.

The north-south freeway was proposed as a six-lane highway that would end the detour around the Soldiers’ Home and connect North Capitol Street directly with Maryland.

Rather than construct a full-fledged east-west freeway, planners proposed a cheaper alternative. Instead of a freeway, planners proposed a new one-way network – Irving street one-way west and Columbia Road one-way east. Irving would be cut through the Soldiers’ Home to connect with Michigan Avenue at Harwood Road. Other suggestions from this plan included:

  • Making Park Place one-way northbound;
  • making Warder Street one-way southbound; and,
  • realigning Irving Street at 14th Street and Georgia Avenue.

(Map from the Washington Post, February 20, 1952.)

After two-years of negotiations, the southern 42-acres of the Soldiers’ Home was transferred to the District in late 1954 paving the way for the highway project to move forward. As construction was geared to begin in late 1956, the original plan to use Irving and Columbia Road was altered to include Lamont and Kenyon streets as well. Each street would parallel each other as far as Klingle Road, NW. Harvard Street would later be identified to replace Lamont.

(Overview of configuration in 1954 from the Evening Star, September 26, 1954.)

From the Evening Star, 1958.

The narrowness of the streets between the Soldiers’ Home and Sixteenth street was identified in the 1927 plan and not entirely solved with the one-way street scheme. To receive Federal aid for the crosstown street project, the streets included in the network had to be a least 30 feet wide. This meant that several of the streets had to be widened, some as little as 6 inches on each side. This requirement doomed more than 100 street trees which were cut down to make way for the widened streets and new curbs.

For example, Harvard Street between Georgia Avenue and 14th Street was 29 feet wide. To gain the needed extra foot the curbs were moved six inches on either side. To make way for the new curbs on Harvard, 27 trees – 18 pin oaks and nine ginkos – were cut down. To widen Irving Street west of Georgia Avenue by two feet, 40 street trees were cut down. While some of these streets have wonderful tree-line blocks today, other blocks on these routes are still tree-less with no room for street trees.

The one-way street network east of 14th Street and the Irving Street expressway across the former Soldiers’ Home grounds was completed and opened to motorists on October 20th 1958 as work continued on the North Capitol cloverleaf and connecting Kenyon Street to Park Road west of 14th Street. The final stage of the crosstown route project was completed on August 19, 1959, when the final one-way streets were implemented. These were Irving Street between Adams Mill Road and 11th Street (eastbound), Kenyon Street between 11th Street and 14th Street (westbound), and Park Road between 14th Street and 17th Street (westbound).

In a twist of irony, while the effort to complete the crosstown network and cloverleaf intersection were being completed the District Commissioners put a halt to the north-south freeway effort. Even with construction of the North Capitol street extension underway across the Soldiers’ Home grounds, in 1960 the Commissioners followed the recommendation of city highway officials to cancel the contract. While the goal was to tie the North Capitol highway into a major Maryland highway, Maryland officials were uncommitted to the goal.

(Map of street network configuration in 1958, from the Evening Star, Oct. 19, 1958.)

References

“3 Streets Turn One-Way Today.” The Washington Post, Aug. 19, 1959, p. B1.

“18 Thoroughfares Proposed to Serve for Major Traffic.” The Washington Post, Oct. 23, 1927, p. M2.

“Committee Draws Radial Street Plan, Enlarging System.” The Washington Post, Nov. 4, 1927, p. 22.

Deane, James G. “One-Way Crosstown Network Cuts Cost of Freeway Solution.” The Evening Star, Feb. 20, 1952, p. A-14.

Deane, James G. “Two Fast Arteries Would End Roadblock at Soldiers’ Home.” The Evening Star, Feb. 19, 1952, p. A-7.

Gwertzman, Bernard. “Street Widening Dooms More Than 100 Trees Along New Crosstown Route in Northwest.” The Evening Star, Apr. 10, 1958, p. A-21.

“N. Capitol Corridor Plans Job Canceled.” The Evening Star, Feb. 19, 1960, p. B-3.

“Park Road Partly Open For Traffic.” The Washington Post, Dec. 25, 1958, p. B1.

“Priority Paving of Main Streets Urged by Group.” The Evening Star, Dec. 26, 1931, p. A-12.

“Soldiers Home Crossing to Open.” The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1958, p. B6.

“Soldiers’ Home Crossing To Speed D.C. Traffic.” The Evening Star, Oct. 19, 1958, p. A-23.

“Soldiers’ Home Expressway Will Ease Crosstown Traffic.” The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1956, p. 34.

Stepp, John W. “42-Acre Soldiers Home Tract Given D.C. for Street Project.” The Evening Star, Sept. 26, 1954, p. 1.

Pierce Mill Demonstrating Ice Cream Making on Saturday, a Nice Outing for the Family

August 4, 2017

If you’re looking for something fun to do this weekend, Pierce Mill is hosting a free event on Saturday demonstrating ice cream making. From their announcement:

Lean how to make hand-cranked ice cream the old fashioned way on Saturday, August 5th at Peirce Mill starting at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.  This demonstration will show you how ice and salt creates a brine that reduces the temperature below freezing, and cranking the handle for 30 minutes can whip this frozen treat made famous by Dolly Madison after her return from France. A historic recipe by Thomas Jefferson with modern adaptation will be available to take away Free!

Peirce Mill is located in Rock Creek Park at 2401 Tilden Street, NW, at the intersection of Beach Drive and Tilden Street, NW (Park Road if approaching from the east).  The mill was built circa 1820 by Isaac Peirce and owned by the family for three generations.  To learn more, visit www.FriendsofPeirceMill.org.

WAMU Features Mt. Pleasant’s Woodner — and How It and the Neighborhood has Changed over the Years

June 28, 2017

A view of the Woodner through the center of a round patio and staircase in the back of the building.
Tyrone Turner / WAMU

This morning I awoke to hear this WAMU feature on Mt. Pleasant’s Woodner Apartment building and its history. I found it to be an interesting history on how life in the building, and the surrounding Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, have changed over the years. The article touches upon segregation, gentrification, and the impacts that change has on a neighborhood.

While the focus of the feature is on the Woodner and Mt. Pleasant, I find that the story is relevant to all Ward 1 neighborhoods and well worth the listen.

Washington’s 1967 Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim Pools

April 26, 2017

In May 1967, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced that Washington would get 15 new swimming pools. The new pools would be 20-by-40-foot pools and were expected to be completed by July. The pools were designed to be shallow pools and to be located on playgrounds or community centers (including Park View), where they would be intended to be used by small children for wading and learning to swim.

The Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pool at Park View Recreation Center.

Image of Watkins pool with leaked water — from the Washington Evening Star, July 16, 1967.

The total cost budgeted for the new swimming pools was $40,000. The first three — at Watkins Recreation Center, Barry Farm, and Deanwood — were completed and open by July 16. However, they were found to have a design flaw that caused water to flow out of the pools and onto the grass surrounding them. The worst conditions were at Barry Farm and Watkins. At Watkins, the water ran to the sidelines of the softball diamond. At Barry Farm, the water ran downhill onto a children’s play area and directly under a set of swings. Efforts were undertaken to correct the problems and adjust construction of the other twelve pools then being built.

The final six pools opened in mid-August, behind schedule. They were the pools at Wilson, Benning Stoddert, Parkside, Lincoln-Capper, Garrison, and North Michigan Park.

While the pools were considered a success, when children began to enter the pools after hours the recreation department adopted a process of emptying each pool on a nightly basis, with each pool holding between 14,000 and 35,000 gallons of water — a very wasteful and time consuming practice. It also meant that the pools were not filled or used at all in 1977 due to an area water crisis.

With the pools now reaching their 50th anniversary, I reviewed the sites of each pool and discovered that only four of the original 15 pools still exist. These are at Park View, Watkins, and Lincoln-Capper. The map below shows the location of all 15 pools, with existing pools in blue and pools no longer existing in red.

Reviewing the locations of the Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pools also provides insight into the changing nature of playgrounds in the District of Columbia. For example, some pools have been replaced by aquatic centers (Barry Farm and Deanwood), some merely are gone while the playgrounds still exist, and in some cases the entire playground/recreation center no longer exists. An extreme example of the latter is with the old Garrison Playground which is nothing more than an empty field today.

(To the south of Garrison Elementary School is an empty field which was once the location of the Garrison Playground.)

It is difficult to tell what the future may hold for the remaining four Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pools. While the ones at Park View, Happy Hollow, and Watkins still appear to be going strong, the playground around the old Lincoln-Capper pool is currently surrounded by work to upgrade the surrounding playground, presumably to partially accommodate the neighboring Van Ness school.

Below are photos of Watkins and Lincoln-Capper as they currently appear.

(Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pool at Watkins.)

(Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pool at Lincoln-Capper.)

The Washington Times Sealed Bonnet Contest of 1907

March 16, 2017

One of 16 commemorative loving cups awarded to drivers who completed the 1908 Washington Times Sealed Bonnet Contest.

Georgia Avenue has played many roles since its creation in 1810. One of its more important functions  has been as a gateway into and out of Washington for commerce and transportation.

So when I found a loving cup that commemorated an early automobile endurance test and was able to fix part of the route as being on Georgia Avenue, I was eager to learn more about the event. One of the things I was able to learn was that the trophy was originally one of sixteen such cups that were created for each of those who completed the course in the time allowed. As the goal of an endurance test is to complete the test, there were no official “winners” of the event, merely those who finished and those that did not.

The loving cup is engraved with details of the event, with the full inscription as follows:

The Times

Sealed Bonnet Contest

December 10, 1907

Driver, Isadore Freund Car, Packard

Perfect Score

Washington, Frederick, Ellicott City

Washington

The inscription provides plenty of clues to help track down the story behind the contest — including that it was sponsored by the Washington Times newspaper, that is was a “Sealed Bonnet Contest”, and that the route was from Washington, D.C., to Frederick, Md., to Ellicott City, MD, and back to Washington.

Sealed Bonnet contests were automobile endurance contests that were intended to draw the public’s attention to the durability and reliability of automobiles. They were called “Sealed Bonnet” contests because seals were placed on mechanical parts and the hood (bonnet) of the car to prove that no mechanical repairs had been made during the contest. While the Washington Times contest was not the first such event in the nation (I know of one that was held in New York on May 4, 1907, and I’m sure there were others), it was the earliest such contest organized in Washington, D.C.

Luttrell Garage on 14th Street, where cars were inspected in preparation for the contest.

As suggested by the cup’s inscription, the contest began in Washington. Specifically, the event began at the Luttrell Garage located at 1711-1713 14th Street, NW, where drivers had their cars inspected and sealed the day before the contest, December 9th. The building which once housed Luttrell Garage still stands today.

From Luttrell Garage, the route followed the Seventh Street Pike (Georgia Avenue) north through Silver Spring, Leesboro, Norbeck, and Olney. Here it turned and went through Laytonsville and Damascus on its way to Frederick. Once at Frederick cars turned around and traveled to Ellicott City through New Market, where again cars changed course and headed back toward Silver Spring where they could pick up the Seventh Street Pike and return to the garage on 14th Street. The map below roughly shows the entire 118 mile course.

Weather played its part to make the contest more difficult than expected. Drivers began the contest at 8 a.m. From Washington to Olney they encountered a driving rain. Upon reaching Olney and turning toward Laytonsville, the drivers encountered what was described as a sea of mud. Twenty five of the twenty six drivers successfully navigated the muddy conditions. While a few drivers were able to pull through the mud without stopping, every driver encountered difficulty as the mud came up to the bodies of the cars. The rain continued nearly until reaching Frederick, where it began to break. By the time drivers neared Ellicott City they encountered clear skies with a bright moon. Upon leaving Ellicott City, drivers were again confronted by bad weather, this time by a squall of snow, hail, and rain.

Twenty six drivers had entered the contest. Remarkably sixteen completed the course without mechanical problems and within the time permitted. Each of these would receive a silver loving cup trophy commemorating their accomplishment. Four cars did not finish due to mechanical failures that included a broken cylinder, a broken spark plug, and a broken axle. Six drivers were disqualified.

The contest captured the imagination of Washingtonians and helped popularized automobiles in the District of Columbia. One result was that automobile dealers reported an unexpected increase in the sales of all types of cars following the event. Capitalizing on their success, the Washington Times held a second Sealed Bonnet Contest on June 9, 1908, which was sanctioned by the American Automobile Association and received wider interest that the 1906 event — including drivers from Baltimore and Philadelphia.

(Photograph of a Mitchell Runabout with two of the sixteen Sealed Bonnet trophies on its running board)

Early 20th Century Photo of Rock Creek Church Cemetery Gate House

January 6, 2017

Back in August I found this old photo of the Gate House to Rock Creek Church Cemetery. Based on the other photos that were with it, I’m dating the photo to ca. 1915.

St. Pauls Episcopal church gate house

The gate house is still there and anyone familiar with the cemetery should recognize it. There are two things I like about this photo, though. The first is that it also includes a man standing in Rock Creek Church Road set up to take a photograph of the Soldiers’ Home Cemetery to the east. The other is that it shows that the entrance to the cemetery was once at Harewood Road. Today, the entrance has been moved to the west and is now at Rock Creek Church and Webster. This means that the gate house is no longer located right next to the gate.

The map below is a detail from the 1919 edition of the Baist’s real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, on which I’ve included an arrow showing the direction from which the above photo was taken. It also shows that Webster Street had not yet been constructed to connect with Rock Creek Church Road.

1919-baist-map-harewood-gate-with-arrow

Advertising Spoon with a Link to Georgia Avenue’s Past

December 14, 2016

corby-spoon

I’m always on the look out for old items that have a link to the Georgia Avenue neighborhoods. A while ago I found this advertising spoon from the early 1900s showing Corby Bakery. Below is a close up of the bowl, which has an elevation of the bakery.

corby-spoon-close-up

You can still see the original building at 2301 Georgia Avenue at the intersection at Barry Place.

Corby's Bakery Building(Image from flickr user StreetsofWashington)


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