Posted tagged ‘Mt. Pleasant’

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.

Columbia Heights Initiative Holds Meet & Greet with Area ANCs to Talk Main Streets

February 27, 2017

main-streets-meeting(Participants from Main Street/ANC meet & greet. From l. to r.: Brad Gudzinas (1B02), Sharon Farmer (1A07), Christine Miller (1A05), Brianne Dornbush (Columiba Heights Initiative), Kent Boese (1A08), Jack McKay (1D03), and Zach Rybarczyk (1A03)).

On Saturday, February 25th, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners from Columbia Heights, Park View, and Mount Pleasant were invited to meet with Brianne Dornbush of the Columbia Heights Initiative and discuss the new Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant Main Street that was recently awarded to the Initiative. The Main Street is still in its early stages of organizing, so much of the conversation centered on how to share information, how to have the local ANCs work with each other and the Main Street, and suggesting priorities on where the Main Street could focus its efforts in the coming year.

One issue that was discussed was how to brand the main street, as Columbia Heights/Mt Pleasant Main Street is long. I suggested that a possible name could be the Mid-city Main Street as Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant are located within the Mid-city element of the Comprehensive Plan.

Another issue that was discussed was how to bridge the gap between Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant. Whether on Park Rd or Irving Street, the two business areas of the Main Street do not abut. The gaps between the business areas don’t encourage pedestrians to continue from one area to the other unless one already has a specific purpose in mind. Here, I suggested that public art could be one way to unite the areas, much like Capitol Hill did with their Alphabet Animals project a couple years ago.

Among the other issues that were mentioned was the relationship between the area Clean Team and the Main Street. Currently, they are two separate efforts that cover roughly the same area. In other main streets, the clean team is under the umbrella of the Main Street which helps with organization and ensures that both efforts are serving the same area. Several participants were of the opinion that the two should be combined in Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant too.

It will be interesting to see how the newest Main Street effort evolves and what its first projects will be. Future opportunities are sure to be scheduled soon to continue the networking and collaboration that are necessary for a thriving neighborhood Main Street.

Checking Out Mt. Pleasant Music Showcase and Jam at Haydee’s

February 11, 2015

On Saturday, I checked out the Mt. Pleasant Music Showcase and Jam Session held at Haydee’s on Mt. Pleasant Street. The event began at 4 p.m. and was scheduled to run until 7 p.m. While I was unable to stay for the full event, I really liked it and will be going back. The Music Showcase is hosted by Frank Agbro, who in addition to being a musician known a Franko is also one of the Mt. Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. You can learn more about Franko and hear some of his music at or clicking the image below.


The event is open mic, which allows local musicians to sign up and perform along with anyone else interested in sharing their art with those in the house. Another of the groups that performed on February 7th was Hellfire and the Brimtones, whose genre is described as Country/Americana, though I think it also had a bit of a folk flavor to it too. You can hear three of their songs by clicking on the image below.

Hellfire and the Brimtones

I understand that the Jam Session in Mt. Pleasant is a monthly event, and will be on the look out for the next event for those interested in checking it out in person.

Allen B. Hayward: The Man Who Lived in a Tree

August 28, 2014
Allen B. Hayward, photographed on May 8, 1920, at the age of 81 (Image from Library of Congress).

Allen B. Hayward, photographed on May 8, 1920, at the age of 81 (Image from Library of Congress).

Among the more curious tourist attractions, and Washingtonians, in 19th Century Washington was Airy Castle, the tree-top home of Allen B. Hayward. In actuality, during Hayward’s lifetime he had three tree-top homes. The first Airy Castle was located in today’s Columbia Heights. Hayward constructed it in 1883 and lived there for about a year until the property was sold, necessitating the need to build his second castle in 1885. The first tree-top home was described as being one block west of 14th Street and northwest of the Columbian College property placing in roughly at the northwest corner of 15th and Euclid streets. The structure was between two great oaks about thirteen to fifteen feet from the ground and consisted of a platform among the branches upon which Hayward pitched a good-sized “bell” tent. Access was gained via a ladder which was pulled up each night.

Hayward's Airy Castle in 1885 (Image from collection of Kent C. Boese).

Hayward’s Airy Castle in 1885 (Image from collection of Kent C. Boese).

The third and last Airy Castle was located in Forest Glen, about a half mile north of the streetcar station at the end of the line. He moved to this structure about 1903 by his own account.

But it was Hayward’s castle built in Mount Pleasant that was the most famous, and the one which Washingtonian’s long remembered. Hayward’s second tree-top home was located on the Fourteenth Street Road as it was headed downhill to Piney Branch creek, placing it on the west side of today’s Sixteenth Street and just south of the Piney Branch bridge. This is roughly the location of the Woodner Apartments.

The Mount Pleasant ‘castle’ was constructed on the side of the steep hill amide the arms of three or four great oaks, about 35 feet from the ground. After ascending a ladder, the visitor found themselves on a sturdy platform, below which was located “a big box that seemed to be hung under the platform.” This enclosed room – accessed by a short flight of stairs – served as Hayward’s dining room and kitchen.

Drawing of Airy Castle showing later addition of dance floor.

Drawing of Airy Castle showing later addition of dance floor.

The ‘castle’ was described as octagonal in form and longer one way than the other – the overall dimensions being 13 by 9 feet. The walls were constructed of wood to a height of four or five feet, above which rose a double roof of canvas, securely fastened and firmly supported by poles.

Hayward opened his tree-top home to visitors upon completion in 1885, and eventually entered into an agreement with his neighbor, Joseph R. Hertford, to combine their properties and create Airy Castle Park which included the castle and a pavilion for dancing, making the property an enjoyable city getaway. Hayward even marketed his house to visitors to the March 1889 inauguration of Benjamin Harrison by publishing a 32-page souvenir booklet on Airy Castle Park.

Allen B. Hayward

Hayward was a Union Army veteran who served three years in the 2d New Hampshire regiment, rising from the grade of private to that of First Sergeant. His term of enlistment expired in the latter part of May, 1864. While awaiting his formal muster-out his regiment went into the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3. Although Hayward’s official service was over, he took up arms and joined his company in the battle. This decision cost him his right arm. A rebel bullet found him, shattered his right arm, and the surgeons sawed it off nearly at the shoulder. After the war, Hayward settled in Washington and became a clerk in the Pension Bureau.

His decision to live among the trees was rooted in his personal opinion that city life was unhealthy and his belief that he was threatened with tuberculosis. As Hayward put it in 1907:

“I was not advised by any doctor to take up this outdoor life, as you may think; it was voluntary on my part. But it is healthy. I have never felt so well in my life as I have since I left the city. Why, the city is no place to live. … it is unhealthy in every way. You eat adulterated food and you breathe foul air. Do you know, I believe nine-tenths of the food that city people eat is impure. And that makes them weak and sickly.”

By all accounts, Hayward lived well into his 80s, passing away sometime between 1920 and 1922.



“A. B. Hayward Lived in House Atop Tree.” The Washington Post, December 6, 1927. P. 30.

“The ‘Birdman’.” The Evening Star, November 19, 1944. P. C-4.

“A House in the Tree-tops.” The Washington Post, May 28, 1884. P. 1.

“Life in the Treetops.” The National Tribune, May 28, 1885. P. 2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Mount Pleasant Inspires Recollections of Pastoral Condition.” The Evening Star, June 10, 1927. Part 7, p. 2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “The Story of ‘Airy Castle’.” The Evening Star, July 10, 1949. P. C-2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Unusual Citizens.” The Evening Star, November 14, 1937. P. F-2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “The Village of Mount Pleasant.” The Evening Star, October 26, 1947. P. C-2.

Spears, Edith B. “The Flowery 80’s Were Gay in Old Mount Pleasant.” The Washington Post, March 31, 1935. P. F3.

Swerdloff, David. “Airy Castle Park,” in Crestwood: 300 Acres, 300 Years. (c2013). Pp. 57-8.

“The Tree Man.” Democratic Northwest (Napoleon, Ohio), June 20, 1889. P. 9.

“Washington Man Lives in a Tree to Escape World’s Contamination.” The Washington Times Magazine, February 17, 1907. P. 2.

Sixteenth Street Bridge Decorated for the Season

December 23, 2013

Sixteenth Street bridgeOver the weekend I noticed that the Sixteenth Street Bridge — located just south of Arkansas Avenue on the Ward 1/4 border — was decorated for the season. I suspect that this is a tradition, but don’t know how long the bridge has been decorated in December.

Whether decorated or not, the bridge is a handsome structure that was built by the Pennsylvania Bridge Company and Cranford Paving Company from 1907 to 1910. It was designed and directed by the D.C. Bridge Division to span the Piney Branch Valley below.

Those familiar with the bridge may know that the four tigers — a pair flanking both ends of the bridge — were designed by sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor in 1910. These predate the bisons that Proctor designed for the Q Street (or “Buffalo”) Bridge in 1916.

What many people may not know is that the Sixteenth Street Bridge is notable for being the first parabolic arch constructed in the United States, making it a noteworthy engineering feat.

If you want to learn more about the bridge, you can open the bridge’s data pages on the Library of Congress Web site.

Sixteenth Street Bridge

Grace Meridian Hill Church Celebrating New Home with Jazz and Ice Cream Community Open House This Friday!

September 5, 2013
Click for printable version of the open house flyer.

Click for printable version of the open house flyer.

If you like Jazz, ice cream sundaes, and would like to help Grace Meridian Hill church celebrate their new home in the Mt. Rona Church building (13th and Monroe streets, NW) … you’ll want to consider attending their open house tomorrow night.

Grace Meridian Hill is a church that’s been meeting in the Dance Institute of Washington for the last 3 years. This Sunday they’re officially moving their meeting location to the historic Mt. Rona Baptist Church at 13th and Monroe streets. They’re pretty excited about the move, and about the chance to meet in such a historic neighborhood building.

On Friday evening, September 6th, they’re having an Open House and Jazz night featuring Attila Molnar (and friends) . It’s from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.  at the Mt. Rona Baptist Church. There will be Jazz, Pop, and maybe a little Funk music, and an ice cream sundae bar. They’re looking forward to a fun night and getting to meet their new community neighbors.

If you’re planning on going, print out the coupon below. It will grant you one free ice cream sundae.

Ice cream sundae coupon

Local History: Gheen’s Mt. Pleasant Stables

August 20, 2012

“Lady” Mrs. Harding’s horse, 11/30/21

While browsing historic images at the Library of Congress, I stumbled upon the image to the right of First Lady Grace Harding’s horse Lady from 1921. but it wasn’t the horse that caught my eye, but rather the sign on the building behind the horse — “John H. Gheen, Mt. Pleasant Stables, Established 1872.” This made me want to know a little bit more John H. Gheen and the stables.

According to Gheen’s obituary, he died suddenly at his home, located at 1516 Park Road, early on the morning of October 22, 1909. At the time of his death, he had resided in Washington for 35 years and was one of the best known liverymen in the city. The Mt. Pleasant Stables were located at 3118 Fourteenth Street, NW.  In looking at old real estate maps, this would place the stable roughly where the DCUSA IHOP is located.

The detail above, from the 1909 Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Washington, shows Gheen’s livery located on the north side of Irving Street, just west of 14th Street.

Upon John H. Gheen’s death, the business was carried on by his son, John O. Gheen. He also operated the Shoreham Saddle Club before establishing the Meadowbrook Club on the East-West highway, Chevy Chase, in 1934. Perhaps more notably during the time, he was among the first organizers of the National Capital Horse Show.

Gheen, the son, showed and judged horses all over the country and served on the executive committee of the Inter-American Horse Show Association. It is likely his notoriety with horses that lead to the First Lady’s horse being at his stables in November 1921, although I’ve not been able to find a specific reference to the occasion.

John O. Gheen driving “Boscobel” in the 1912 National Capital Horse Show

Gheen, along with other well known horsemen in Washington, organized a horse show in late April 1910 which became an annual spring event. By the time of the 1911 National Capital Horse Show, show grounds where leased for a minimum of five years between B and C Streets and 18th and 19th Streets, NW. Work began immediately building the stands, stables, and offices to run the show.

Below is a photograph from the late 1910s showing the location of the show grounds, just west of DAR Hall.

Aerial photo ca. 1918 with the intersection of 17th and Constitution in the foreground. The show grounds of the annual horse show are easily identified.


Transportation History: The Washington Rapid Transit Company

February 17, 2012

Herdic carriage, circa 1881.

As most residents of Washington know, streetcars once provided the lion’s share of public transportation needs in the city, with horse-drawn streetcar service beginning along some routes as early as 1852.

Even with the city’s fairly good streetcar, some residents of Washington found they were not served as well as other sections of the city. A good example of this was Sixteenth Street. While Seventh Street/Georgia Avenue, Eleventh Street (eventually north to Monroe), and Fourteenth Street all had good streetcar coverage, moving west the next trolly line was Connecticut Avenue. This created a gap in service that gave rise to alternative forms of transportation — leading directly to public bus service.

In response to the need for transportation on Sixteenth Street, the Herdic Phaeton Company began serving the corridor in 1884.  The service remained in operation until the company failed in 1896. This was followed in 1897 by the Metropolitan Coach Company, again operating herdics from Sixteenth and U Street to 22nd and G Streets NW. The Metropolitan changed from horsepower to gasoline motors in 1909, but the operation was not successful and the company ceased operation in 1915.

The next company to take up this route was the Washington Rapid Transit Company six years later. In response to developments in gasoline engines, improvements in pavement design, and the use of concrete for paving, the company incorporated in January 1921 and began operation on March 1 with ten buses of 21-passenger capacity and two routes covering about 5 1/2 miles of street.

The company's original ten buses photographed in 1921. Image from the Library of Congress

The new bus service was immediately successful. They ordered four additional buses and placed them in service on April 20. The increased fleet operated on three routes — Eighth and Pennsylvania Avenue, Potomac Park and Haines Point. Within the first six months the Washington Rapid Transit Company carried over 750,000 passengers and claimed public support existed for more routes.

By September 1921 the company decided to purchase an additional 16 buses, and received the permission of the Federal Utilities Commission for two new franchises.

This 1927 map of the Washington Rapid Transit Company's routes provides a good outline of the Petworth Division route. It shows points of interest, such as Park View's York Theater.

The first new route started at Eighth and Pennsylvania and traveled to Twelfth Street, to Massachusetts Avenue, to Sixteenth Street, to Harvard Street, to Thirteenth Street, to Park Road, to New Hampshire Avenue, to Grant Circle and return. This was known as the Petworth Division.

The second new route started at Eighth and Pennsylvania and traveled to  Twelfth, to Rhode Island Avenue, to North Capitol Street and return. This line was abandoned in 1923.

By August 1922, the Washington Rapid Transit Company’s interest in extending their Sixteenth Street line north to the intersection of Alaska and Georgia Avenues drew the attention, and opposition, of the Washington Railway and Electric Company. Residents of Sixteenth Street sided with the bus company, declaring it was needed since it was nearly impossible to get a seat on the streetcar line.

Washington Railway and Electric Company responded directly by expanding its operations to include buses. Washington Rapid Transit appealed directly to the District Commissioners that it was their belief that it was illegal for Washington Railway and Electric Company, or any street railway company, to operate motor buses.

An early accident on Sixteenth Street at V ca. 1921. The Washington Rapid Transit Company was able to boast in June 1929 that its buses had covered over 12,800,000 miles without a fatal accident to any of its passengers

The Washington Rapid Transit Company introduced its first four double-deck buses on February 1, 1925, along Sixteenth Street. The double-deck coaches had awnings to protect top-deck passengers from the sun and rain and were a unique feature in Washington at the time. Washington Rapid Transit added six more double-deck buses to the fleet in 1926 owing to their popularity with customers.

During this time, the Capital Traction Company and the Washington Railway and Electric Company also began to develop and expand their own bus operations leading to friction as the companies began to compete with each other. The areas where competition was the most fierce were in Chevy Chase (with Capital Traction Company) and Petworth (with Washington Railway and Electric Company). In both cases, the streetcar companies requested approval of new routes that would hem in and prevent further expansion by Washington Rapid Transit. These attempts were not completely successful.

Ultimately, the Washington Rapid Transit Company merged with the Capital Transit Company in June 1936. Capital Transit was itself created as a result of merger legislation hammered out in the Senate in December 1932, which united the Capital Traction Company and the Washington Railway and Electric Company and instructed them to purchase Washington Rapid Transit. For the fifteen years that the Washington Rapid Transit Company operated, it continued to update its service, modernize its equipment, and improve its routes.

Washington Rapid Transit Company

One of eight new buses added to the Washington Rapid Transit Company fleet in February 1929


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