Archive for the ‘History’ category

Refresh of Petworth’s Chez Billy Hardly Refreshing

December 5, 2016

Back at the end of July 2016, Petworth’s Chez Billy closed to “refresh the decor” and launch a new “concept.” Now, four months since, it appears that we have a clue as to what a refresh of the decor actually means. I was very disappointed to see that the exterior of the building is being painted an interesting shade of green with the covering or removal of the handsome Tudor elements.

former-chez-billy(Transformation of Petworth’s former Chez Billy at 3815 Georgia Avenue, NW)

Personal tastes aside, the transformation of the exterior is particularly disappointing as the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 (read nomination here) due to the site’s association with Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks — which was historically significant for playing a notable role in the social and political culture of the District of Columbia’s African American community. The restaurant was frequented by many notable people in politics and government, and the owner, William W. “Billy” Simpson, was an avid supporter of civil rights and anti-war causes.

When the building was renovated for Chez Billy, the exterior was tastefully restored to be in keeping with the site’s history. Now it appears that all that will remain will be a plaque alerting passers-by that the building  is on the African American Heritage Trail with a brief paragraph of explanation.

The photo below shows what the building looked like before the refresh.

Chez Billy's

Preservation Office’s New Online Application Maps Historic Development and Preservation of DC

November 29, 2016

I thought this was interesting, yesterday the Historic Preservation Office announced the launch of HistoryQuest DC, a GIS-based web map that provides historical data on approximately 127,000 extant buildings in Washington, D.C. The Office of Planning’s Web site provides the following description of the application:

The application, HistoryQuest DC, is an interactive GIS map that provides historical data on approximately 127,000 extant buildings in Washington, D.C.  The map offers several operational layers of information for the user including historic data on individual buildings, links to documentation on properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, information on historic residential subdivisions, and the identification and boundaries of the L’Enfant Plan, and the city’s Squares, and Wards. The featured layer in the map—the Historical Data on DC Buildings—provides information from a variety of sources on original dates of construction, architects, owners and builders of the city’s historic buildings.

The application also includes a Query tool that allows the user to analyze the historic data within a specified geographic area or city-wide.

This application has evolved out of the DC Historical Building Permits Database project and is still a work-in-progress. Anyone with additional information or knowledge about specific buildings that will enhance, enrich, or correct the map, please use the “Propose Data Change” on the banner at the top of the map, complete and submit the GeoForm.

By using the search box, anyone using the maps can quickly get to basic data on any property, including when a house was built and who the architect and builder were. The various layers also can generate some interesting maps. In addition to historic landmarks, the following maps show some examples of the maps that it generates.

history-quest-1(In looking at the map generally, it is easy to quickly get an idea of how old section of DC are. The older the building, the darker the color.)

history-quest-2(In exploring the various layers, one option is to show existing historic districts.)

history-quest-3(Another interesting feature, many of the original subdivisions have been recorded.)

Park View Walking Tour Happening This Saturday

October 26, 2016
The Park View School is one of the points of interest on Saturday's Park View walking tour.

The Park View School is one of the points of interest on Saturday’s Park View walking tour.

If you’ve wanted to go on a walking tour of Park View and just haven’t been able to in past years, there is another opportunity this Saturday, October 29th. I will lead the tour, which is part of the Washington Walks series and begins at 11 a.m. at the leaf sculpture by the Georgia Avenue Metro station. The tour will occur rain or shine and last for about 2 hours. No reservations are necessary, though Washington Walks tours have a $20 fee. Full details of the tour can be found here.

1909 Mural in Anderson House Shows Automobile Driving Through Park View

August 26, 2016

Here’s a connection to the neighborhood that I wasn’t aware of (though I’m sure many already do). In reading up on the history of the Anderson House — located at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue in the Dupont Circle neighborhood — I read a reference to murals inside by H. Siddons Mowbray that drew my interest. Today, the house is the national headquarters of the Society of the Cincinatti, and according to their Website, the Mowbray murals in the Key Room and Winter Garden are his only works in Washington, D.C.

I was particularly interested in the description of the two Mowbray murals in the Winter Garden, which are of Washington, D.C., and its surroundings. Between the two murals, they map Larz and Isabel Andersons’ favorite local driving routes and nearby landmarks — some of which include the National Zoo, Old Soldiers’ Home, Great Falls, Arlington House, and Mount Vernon. They were painted in 1909 so its a nice reference to car culture at the beginning of the 20th century. Its also an interesting representation of how much of D.C. was developed and where people would drive on outings at the time.

I’ve not had a change to go to the Anderson House yet (which is open to the public for free), but was able to find a blog post online here that provides more information on the house as well the image below of the mural that shows driving routes up Georgia Avenue, along Rock Creek Church Road, and through the Soldiers’ Home.

Anderson House mural soldiers home(Photo from Museum a Week blog.)

Century Old Photos of the Soldiers’ Home Lakes

August 24, 2016

Recently I came across the following two photos of the lower Lake at the Soldier’ Home. The lakes are located just east of the no closed Park Road gate. Judging from the other photos in the collection, I believe the images date to around 1913. I especially like the geese/ducks/swans on the water and the houses on the small island for them.

soldiers home lake

soldiers home lake

Want to Know More About Who Built Our Capital? Check Out Sankofa For Additional Reading

August 9, 2016

During the Democratic National Convention, there was a lot of commentary on Michele Obama’s speech in which she said ““I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn…”

Sankofa, located at 2714 Georgia Avenue, carries many books about African American history in D.C., such at the title above.

Sankofa, located at 2714 Georgia Avenue, carries many books about African American history in D.C., such at the title above.

It’s a history that was largely unknown to many in the country, and one in which I’m sure people would like to know more. If you are one of those people, I noticed that Sankofa has among the many books it carries on African American history here in D.C. the book Slave Labor in the Capital by Bob Arnebeck. The book describes the use of slave labor to build the Capitol and White House during the most difficult phase of construction from 1792 to 1800.

The book is an easy read, about 150 pages, and priced at $20. I’m about a third the way through it already and don’t regret picking it up in the least.

Metro Mural Tells History of Georgia Avenue

August 5, 2016
Commuters depicted in the mural at the Georgia Avenue Metro station.

Commuters depicted in the mural at the Georgia Avenue Metro station.

With Metro’s current focus on repairing and upgrading the Metrorail system — and the disruption it is causing for daily commuters — it might be easy to overlook some of the things Metro has done well. One example that I appreciate every day is the mural at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Station titled Homage to a Community.

The following description of the mural is from WMATA’s Web site,

Homage to a Community, by Florida artists Andrew Reid and Carlos Alves, is located at Georgia Avenue-Petworth station on the Green Line in the District of Columbia. The artwork consists of two components. The 130-foot-long stylized painted mural by Andrew Reid illustrates the rich history of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth community. The bold design of the contoured mural is a flowing chronology of defining events in the George Avenue-Petworth community in the context of local and world histories. The high energy of the handmade clay and cracked tiles of the accompanying frieze by Carlos Alves captures the spirit and promise of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth community.

In 2015, the Georgia Avenue station served about 6,300 daily riders. That’s a lot of people walking past the mural every day — yet I suspect  few pay much attention to the mural and possibly fewer still take time to appreciate some of the imagery and how it relates to the community. In looking at the images, the mural largely shows a history of Georgia Avenue south of the Metro station and reads from right to left.

Among the images are references to Native Americans; Abraham Lincoln, the civil war, & the emancipation proclamation; Schuetzen Park; Howard University; Griffith Stadium and the Senators & Grays; the Bakeries of lower Georgia Avenue, such as Corby and Bond Bread; Duke Ellington and U Street; World War II; Civil Rights; and modern commuters.

Below are a few images from the mural:

IMG_1295(Native Americans are depicted at the beginning of the mural as one enters the station from the west side. One of D.C.’s oldest continuous streets is Rock Creek Church Road, which likely started at a trail blazed by Native Americans.)

IMG_1294(Abraham Lincoln is prominently included in the mural. Lincoln summered at the nearby Soldiers’ Home and would  travel on Rock Creek Church Road and Georgia Avenue on his daily commute to the White House.)

IMG_1291(Germans drinking and shooting game refer to the old Schuetzen Park, located near Georgia Avenue and Irving Street.)

IMG_1292(Baseball at Griffith Stadium — located where Howard University Hospital now sits — is represented by this section of the mural.)

IMG_1287(The once active bakeries of southern Georgia Avenue are shown above. The section also includes a streetcar.)

IMG_1293(Duke Ellington and the vibrant U Street community are depicted above.)

Inaugural Evelyn Greenberg Preservation Awards Includes Recognition of Historic Hebrew Home Building

August 4, 2016

On June 9, 2016, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) presented their inaugural Evelyn Greenberg Preservation Awards — a tribute for Evelyn Greenberg, who was instrumental in re-discovering and saving the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue from the wrecker’s ball in 1969. The building is destined to be moved again as a result of the Capitol Crossing project.

Two Greenberg Preservation Awards were presented this year. I received one for my work that resulted in the successful nomination of the buildings at 1125-1131 Spring Road, NW — the former home of the Hebrew Home of the Aged and the JSSA (Jewish Social Service Agency). Both properties are now on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites and listed on the National Register.

I thought you would enjoy watching the video of the event, and my presentation on the history of the Hebrew Home, which was released yesterday by the JHSGW and view-able below.

Check Out the Ward 1 Heritage Guide, Great Overview of Ward 1 History and Neighborhoods

July 20, 2016

The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) finally has the Ward 1 Heritage Guide available on their Website (click on image below). It’s an interesting overview of Ward 1 history, culture, and neighborhoods. HPO’s Ward Heritage Guides and a fun introduction to what makes each Ward/neighborhood special. While I’ve posted it before, you can also check out the Ward 4 guide here.

Ward 1 Heritage Guide

The Tiber Creek Seeps Are Active If You Want to See Them

June 15, 2016

I’ve posted about Tiber Creek before, and how a few of the seeps that are located just inside the Soldiers’ Home’s fence along the Rock Creek Church Road are still visible if you know what you are looking for. Right now they are active and you can see the water draining into the brick gutter that was created years ago to drain the water down towards the pond near the old Park Road gate to the southwest.

Below are two short videos showing two of the three active seeps.


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