Posted tagged ‘Howard University’

Brief History of Howard University Power Plant

November 15, 2017

The Howard University Power Plant, constructed in 1934. View toward northwest.

There are many examples of beautiful and historically important architecture on Howard University’s campus. One example that may be overlooked by many is the Howard University Power Plant, a structure designed to provide power to Howard constructed as part of the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression. The power plant was designed by Albert I. Cassell in 1934. It’s a handsome Georgian Revival style building adapted in scale and configuration as a power plant. Of particular interest are the inclusion of a few low-relief Art Deco details on the building which allude to the buildings industrial use.

The Great Depression had a severe impact on Federal construction projects, and in the Washington, D.C. area this impact was acutely felt by efforts to expand Howard University and meet their growing needs. Two forward looking priorities – the construction of both a new library and a heat, light, and power plant – were placed in jeopardy in early 1932. Even after the Interior Department appropriations bill passed the House with an appropriation of $1,075,000 for Howard University, an amount $535,000 less than budget estimates for Howard, the Senate appropriations committee removed an additional $400,000 leaving only $675,000 for Howard’s needs. The Senate pointedly removed both the $300,000 budgeted for the heat, light, and power plant and the $100,000 required for the new library from the appropriations bill.

The Senate’s removal of the Howard power plant followed testimony from H. A. Brooks of the Potomac Electric Power Company who appeared before the Senate sub-committee and spoke in opposition to the construction of the power plant. Brooks told the sub-committee that PEPCO could furnish service at such a rate that no private power plant would be able to compete with it.

The Senate sub-committee restored funding for both the library and power plant in March 1932 following a lively debate, only to remove funding for the project again in April. Howard needed an advocate, and Representative Oscar Stanton De Priest rose to the occasion.

Oscar Stanton De Priest was a civil rights advocate from Chicago who served in the House of Representatives from Illinois. He  was the first African American to be elected to Congress from outside the southern states and the first in the 20th century. During his three terms, he was the only African American serving in Congress.

In December 1932, De Priest recommitted the Interior supply bill in the House of Representatives in order to reinsert $460,000 for a Howard power plant, a move that was rebuked in the House Appropriations Committee. Despite the opposition, Representative De Priest prevailed when the House voted 138 to 105 on December 27, 1932, to provide $460,000 in the Interior bill for the Howard University heating, lighting and power plant. De Priest considered the plant not only necessary for Howard, but also an opportunity for students to benefit scholastically.

The timing of funding for Howard could not have come at a better time as Congress began to focus on approved projects lacking funding for inclusion in the new Public Works Administration. In the first round of PWA projects, $3,474,347 was allocated for projects in the District of Columbia, and this included $948,811 for Howard University alone. The Howard projects included:

  • The Howard University Power Plant — $460,000;
  • A new chemistry building — $390,000; and,
  • Reconditioning existing buildings — $98,811.

Funding for the new chemistry building was increase by an additional $70,000 in September 1933, as the PWA prepared to issue contracts for the construction of both the chemistry and power plant at Howard.

Art Deco detail at top of facade, reinterpreting the Georgian swag motif as a gear, chain, and hooks.

Plans for the 100 foot square and 60 foot tall power plant were completed by Howard University instructor and architect Albert I. Cassell and submitted to the Fine Arts Commission for consideration on March 17, 1934. By September 1934 construction had begun on the site and progressed well.

The power plant was nearing completion by January 1936. It was an important part of Howard University’s 20-year physical development program. The plant was designed to serve the needs of both the University and Freedmen’s Hospital. Additionally, it was directly connected with the teaching program of the school of engineering and architecture, for purposes of demonstration and mechanical engineering apprenticeship. Upon the plants completion in the late summer of 1936, the total cost of construction amounted to $550,000.

The power plant was designed to have a capacity of 4,000 horse power. It also contrasted sharply with the usual coal-fired boilers in use in other local power plants as the Howard plant was equipped with high-rating oil-fired combustion units.

Upon its completion, the Howard University Power Plant became one of the first projects in the District of Columbia, and the nation, to be constructed through the Public Works Administration.

View of Howard University Power Plant toward the southwest.


“$948,811 for H.U. in Public Work Division.” Afro-American, July 22, 1933, p. 22.

“$3,474,347 Allocated for First Federal Projects Here.” The Washington Post, July 18, 1933, p. 1.

“Amendments Add $535,000 to Howard.” The Washington Post, March 15, 1932, p. 2.

“Appropriation at Howard is Only $675,000.” The Chicago Defender, April 16, 1932, p. 2.

“Arts Body Gets Design of Howard Power Plant.” The Washington Post, March 13, 1934, p. R9.

“Crowd Hears President at Howard U.” The Evening Star, October 27, 1936, p. A5.

“De Priest Explains Efforts in House.” The Washington Post, January 8, 1933, p. 4.

“De Priest’s H. U. Amendment Wins, 138-105.” Afro-American, December 31, 1932, p. 1.

“Fine Arts Body Will Consider Shaft Repairs.” The Washington Post, March 4, 1934, p. 13.

“H. U. Staff Trained for New Power Unit.” Afro-American, October 17, 1936, p. 21.

“Howard Gets Funds Under Recovery Act.” The Chicago Defender, September 16, 1933, p. 4.

“Howard to Begin 68th Year With Three New Dormitories.” The Washington Post, September 8, 1935, p. X8.

“Howard Project Inserted into Bill.” The Washington Post, December 28, 1932, p. 1.

“Howard U. Power Plant Nearly Ready for Use.” The Washington Post, January 18, 1936, p. 23.

“Howard University Cautions Students.” The Washington Post, October 1, 1933, p. 12.

“Howard’s New Power Plant Begun.” Afro-American, September 1, 1934, p. 20.

“New Buildings Show Advance at Howard U.” The Washington Post, September 9, 1934, p. S11.

“New Howard Univ. Power Plant Is Near Completion.” Afro-American, January 18, 1936, p. 15.

“Powerhouse at Howard U. Opposed.” Afro-American, March 12, 1932, p. 2.

“PWA Helped To Finance 3 Additions.” The Washington Post, September 13, 1936, p. F7.

“Roosevelt Vote Bid Called Aim Of Howard Talk.” The Washington Post, October 25, 1936, p. M1.

“Secretary Ickes’s Address at Howard.” Afro-American, October 31, 1936, p. 21.

“Yesterday in Congress.” The Washington Post, December 23, 1932, p. 2.

“Yesterday in Congress.” The Washington Post, December 29, 1932, p. 2.

New Dedicated Bus Lanes on Georgia Ave. Begin Service on Monday, April 11th

April 8, 2016

Georgia Avenue Bus LanesThe new dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Avenue from Florida Avenue (south) to Barry Place (north) are finished and scheduled to be activated on Monday, April 11, 2016 (more information at Georgia Avenue Bus Lanes Project Web site).

Only transit buses, tour buses, charter buses, school buses, active passenger service taxicabs, bicycles (NO pedicabs), paratransit service vehicles and authorized emergency vehicles are allowed to travel in the bus lanes.   Driving in the bus lanes is restricted for all other motorists, unless making a turn at an intersection or driveway.  When making turns, the motorist is allowed to enter the bus lane 40 feet prior to turning.  Parking is also restricted within the bus lanes while they are in operation.  The dedicated bus lanes will be in effect Monday – Saturday between the hours of 7:00 am to 10:00 pm.

During this time, DDOT will conduct a study of traffic through the corridor prior to installing a red, high friction surface treatment to further delineate the bus lanes. DDOT’s construction management team will be visiting with the local ANCs (including ANC 1A on April 13th) and community organizations as well as performing door-to-door visits of businesses within the project corridor to spread the word on this upcoming change.

A red, high friction surfacing will be added to the Georgia Avenue NW Dedicated Bus Lanes in late Spring 2016 to further identify them.

Unauthorized parking or traveling in the bus lanes, aside from making turns, can bring a $200 ticket.


Photo of Lower Georgia Avenue in 1943

August 18, 2014

lower georgia streetcar 1943

I recently found this snapshot of lower Georgia Avenue dated December 12, 1943. According to the writing on the back of it, it shows Capital Tranist car #1334 at the Georgia Avenue plow pit. Back when Washington had a citywide streetcar system, the areas outside of the original city used overhead wires. When cars reached the point where they switched to overhead operation, they stopped over a plow  pit like the one shown on Georgia Avenue where the conduit plows were detached and the trolley poles raised. The reverse operation occurred on inbound runs.

The photo above shows a northbound streetcar, so it is in the early stages of switching to overhead operation (the pole has not been raised yet).

It’s also interesting to see the Wonder Bread factory in the background, which was originally Corby Bakery. The building today is known as Wonder Plaza.

Notable Past Residents: Louia Vaughn Jones (1895-1965)

June 20, 2014

Not so long ago, I was asked to see if there was anything historic about the Howard Manor Apartment building located at 654 Girard Street, NW. This is on the southeast corner of Girard and Georgia Avenue neighboring Howard University. While I am still digging around to see what I can learn about this property, I did come across on notable resident of the building — violinist Louia Vaugn Jones.

Photograph of Jones from his passport application of 1924.

Photograph of Jones from his passport application of 1924.

Based on my preliminary research, Louia Vaughn Jones was an internationally known violinist and professor of violin at Howard University for 30 years. He was born in 1895 in Circleville, Ohio, though considered a native of Cleveland, Ohio, where he was educated in the public schools before studying violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After graduation from the Conservatory in 1918, Jones served in France during World War I with the Army as assistant conductor of the 807th Pioneer Infantry Band. Later he returned to Boston and conducted a violin studio there for two years.

After a concert season in the United States and in Nova Scotia, Jones returned to France in 1921 and spent two years at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. He then studied in Budapest. In 1923, Jones was called upon to play a command performance before King Alfonso and Queen Beatrice of Spain at the American Embassy in Madrid. After studying abroad for seven years he returned to the United States in 1928 and became nationally known as a concert violinist.

In 1930, Jones became professor and head of the violin department at Howard University, a position he held until 1960. In this post he also began Howard’s string orchestra, the Symphonette. At the time of his appointment, Jones was considered by many to be the most finished black violinist in America. In a letter of recommendation written by W.E.B. Du Bois supporting Jones’ application to Howard, Du Bois stated that Jones “is by far the greatest violinist that the Negro race has at present in the United States.”

As violinist, teacher and composer, Jones was recognized by music critics throughout the country. Jones was among the first African Americans to perform with the National Symphony Orchestra, when he appeared as a soloist with the orchestra in 1935. The concert was staged at Howard University because Constitution Hall was at that time closed to African American artists. During the Roosevelt Administration, Jones also played at a White House reception.

Louia Vaughn Jones passed away on February 1, 1965. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963. Letter from W. E. B. Du Bois to Howard University, April 25, 1930. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. Available at:

Harrington, Richard. “The Classical Muse.” The Washington Post, March 1, 2002, p. T33.

“Louia Jones to Take Howard Music Post.” Afro-American, September 6, 1930, p. 8.

“Louia V. Jones, Celebrated Musician, is Now in Paris.” The Chicago Defender, July 16, 1927, p. 6.

“Louia V. Jones Dies; Ex-Violinist, Teacher.” The Evening Star, February 3, 1965, p. B-5.

“Louia Vaughn Jones, Violinist.” Afro-American, February 15, 1930, p. 2.

“Violinist Louia V. Jones, Howard Teacher, Dead.” The Washington Post, February 3, 1965, p. B12.

Custom Fuel Pizza Opening on Georgia Avenue on January 7th!

December 31, 2013
Custom Fuel Pizza-Salads will open at 2301-L Georgia on January 7th.

Custom Fuel Pizza-Salads will open at 2301-L Georgia on January 7th.

For those interested in additional food options in the area, Custom Fuel Pizza*Salads will be opening down by Howard University on January 7th. They will be located in the former Corby Bakery building at 2301-L Georgia Avenue, NW. Fuel opened its first location in Washington, D.C. in January, 2012, which is located at 1747 Pennslyvania Avenue, NW.

According to their Website:

At Custom Fuel we keep it real and put the custom in customer. How? By allowing each and every customer to custom make their own pizza. It’s simple: Choose your Crust; Original Unbleached, Multi-Grain, or Gluten-Free then pick your sauce which are all made in-house and from 100% natural ingredients, and then your toppings. Now this is where the fun begins. We have Cheeses to choose from, fresh Veggies, Meats, Poultry and Seafood. The choices are endless. If you like a little extra flavor season your pizza with one our incredible cold finishes. And in just moments you have your own crispy, delicious pizza.

You can see their menu here.

Howard University Homecoming Parade this Saturday

October 25, 2013

As a heads up, this is Howard University Homecoming Week. If you need to travel up and down Georgia Avenue, you can expect much heavier automobile and pedestrian traffic in the Georgia Avenue and Sherman Avenue corridors through this weekend.

Tomorrow is Howard’s homecoming parade. In addition to Georgia Avenue being closed during the parade,  the 70-bus will be detoured to Sherman Avenue during that time. Below are details about the parade and associated road closures.


This event is scheduled for Saturday, October 26, 2013. The staging area time will be at 7:00 am in front of the Johnson Administration Building (2400 6th Street, NW) on the Howard University campus.

Parade Route

The parade start time will be at 10:00 am until approximately 12:30 pm at which time the roadways mentioned below will re-open to traffic:

  • North on 6th Street, NW to Fairmont Street, NW
  • West on Fairmont Street, NW to Georgia Avenue, NW
  • South on Georgia Avenue, NW to Florida Avenue, NW
  • Southeast on Florida Avenue, NW to 5th Street, NW
  • North on 5th Street, NW to T Street, NW
  • East on T Street, NW to Anna Cooper Circle, NW
  • Southeast around the circle to 3rd Street, NW
  • North on 3rd Street, NW to Elm Street, NW
  • East on Elm Street, NW to 2nd Street, NW
  • North on 2nd Street, NW to Bryant Street, NW
  • West on Bryant Street, NW to 4th Street, NW
  • North on 4th Street, NW to the Valley (between College Street, NW and Howard Place, NW where parade will disband)

Historic Photos from Howard University’s Beginning

September 27, 2013

Below are two photographs of Howard University, both from the early 1870s, I believe, though they could be slightly earlier. Alexander Gardner is the photographer for both, and as he is reported to have given up photography in 1871, its a safe bet that they are no later than that.Howard University 1870 1

The one above shows Howard’s Old Main. the view is from the southeast. Old Main was designed by Rochester, N.Y., architect Henry R. Searle Jr. in 1867, who also created the master plan for the university grounds. If you look to the left of the building, you can see General Oliver Otis Howard’s house in the background. I’ve previously posted a photograph from the same period of that building as well.

Below is a view of Old Main (to the right) from the northwest — perhaps from General Howard’s house. To the left of the photo is Miner Hall. Both buildings have long ago been razed.

Howard University 1870 2

Photo of Lower Georgia Avenue Area ca. 1870

August 16, 2013

Here’s another great early photograph related to our area — although a tad to the south. The image, as you can see, is from an old stereoview of Washington, D.C. The view is to the southwest of Howard University and in all likelihood was taken from Howard’s Old Main. Old Main was designed by Rochester, N.Y., architect Henry R. Searle Jr. in 1867, who also created the master plan for the university grounds. The building was replaced by Howard’s currently library building in 1940.


To help provide an orientation of the view, below I’ve provided a larger version and labeled the streets as nearly as I can figure them out.

Labeled 1870 Georgia Avenue

Views of the Area from Columbia Heights’ Highland Park

August 15, 2013

Last night I had my first opportunity to experience the views from the roof of the Highland Park Apartments at 1400 Irving Street, NW. I have to say, the views were stunning … especially the views of downtown Washington which were much better than what I remembered from Petworth’s Park Place Apartments. The interior finishes of both buildings were very similar, as one would expect since Donatelli Development built both of them.

Below are a few photos giving an idea of what you can see from Highland Park.

View to toward Howard University.

View toward Howard University.

View east toward Park View.

View east toward Park View.

View to the south.

View to the south.

View to the southwest, toward Adams Morgan.

View to the southwest, toward Adams Morgan.

Historic Photo of General Oliver Otis Howard House ca. 1870

August 13, 2013
The Oliver Otis Howard house ca. 1870. From the author's collection.

The Oliver Otis Howard house ca. 1870s. From the author’s collection.

Recently I was fortunate enough to find a carte de visite of General Oliver Otis Howard’s house probably taken in the early 1870s. This house has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.

According to the National Park Service’s Web site:

The General Oliver Otis Howard House … [was] constructed between 1867 and 1869, it was the home of Major General Oliver Otis Howard, the founder of [Howard University] and its first President from 1869 to 1873. The house still retains many of its decorative elements such as the high mansard roof, elaborate dormer windows, tower, and decorative iron balustrades. The Board of Howard University was able, through General Howard, to purchase a one-acre lot including a frame building to begin operation of the school. The Howard House was among the first buildings constructed. Although the Trustees voted to give General Howard a lot upon which to build a residence, he instead purchased the lot for $1,000.

In 1909, when the University began to expand, the Howard House was purchased. The house has had varied uses over the past century. For example, between 1936–1942, the Howard House was the home of Miss Lulu V. Childers, and served as the Conservatory of Music which she directed. From 1967 to 1972, the African Language Center and African Studies Department were located there. The building presently is used for conferences and special events.

While the house still exists with a high degree of integrity, its setting has certainly changed over the years. The sweeping lawn and surrounding structures are long gone, with the house surrounded by university buildings to the north and south and a parking lot to the west (which is located at a much lower grade than the original sloping hill. Below is a familiar view today from the southwest.

Howard Hall in 2013.

Howard Hall in 2013.

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