Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington
In 2007 I stumbled into a Washington, D.C., historic preservation kerfuffle. A local preservation advocate desperately wanted the District of Columbia government to designate a large brick home in Chevy Chase as a historic landmark. Although never designated, the brick home at 3637 Patterson Street NW came to have three stories attached to it before it was demolished. This article documents the man who built the house; the building’s place in space and history; and, the historic preservation battle fought to prevent its demolition.
Historic preservation professionals and regulatory authorities often find it difficult to explain to preservation advocates and the public why seemingly stunning buildings do not meet legally established criteria for designating something “historic.” It is the opposite of justifying designating ordinary, or in some cases “ugly,” buildings historic. Two well-known local examples of this include the ubiquitous vernacular farmhouses in Montgomery County’s Upper Patuxent Planning Area and Washington’s Third Church of Christ, Scientist.
The house at 36367 Patterson Street NW fits into the former category. The report I independently filed with the DC Historic Preservation Office probably is collecting dust and the research materials I donated to the Historical Society of Washington may never get used. The house and its builders had interesting stories to tell and the historic preservation fight that erupted itself may interest historians at some point.
Built in the 1920s just before the Depression by a German baker and civic activist named Albert Schulteis, the house in my opinion lacked the architectural and historical qualities that would have qualified it for listing as a District of Columbia historic landmark. The DC Historic Preservation Office agreed and the DC Historic Preservation Review Board declined (link to Northwest Current PDF) to designate the property.
No important events occurred at the property. The house was a private residence throughout its active lifespan (1927-2006). There is no evidence that the property was the site of any meeting, creative act, or other event significant in local, regional, or national history. And, the person who built it was an interesting but historically unremarkable individual. In retrospect, perhaps the most historically significant event associated with the property was the 2007 effort to have it designated historic.
Albert Schulteis (1865-1929) was born in Wisconsin and moved as an infant when his parents relocated to Washington after the Civil War in 1866. He entered the workforce in his mid-teens, c. 1880-1881, as his unemployed father, Herman Schulteis (1818-1889) sunk deeper and deeper into debt.
Washington city directories published in the 1880s ad 1890s identify the young Schulteis as a clerk. By 1900 the U.S. census identified him as a “flour merchant.” Various accounts of Albert Schulteis’s life suggest that he began working in the 1880s for the newly chartered (1879) Bakers’ Co-operative Association, an entity formed by Washington bakers to buy and sell flour at competitive prices.
No records were identified that could have shed additional light on the bakers’ organization Schulteis entered. Its earliest officers mainly were German bakers and it likely was one of many contemporaneous trade organizations bounded by ethnicity, language, and craft.
“The speaking was interspersed with songs by the bakers, many of whom are Germans,” wrote The Washington Post in an article on the group’s 1906 banquet. Unlike trade unions established to protect the interests of labor, the Bakers’ Co-operative Association was founded by firm owners. Studies of nineteenth century immigrant communities in American cities have shown that Germans clustered in such trades as baking, apparel, brewing, tanning, and meat. German bakers in butchers found a safe and viable economic haven in these trades because of the durability of ethnic foodways in immigrant communities. “German immigrants with their fondness for meats and sweets prepared in familiar ways, offered these craftworkers [bakers and butchers] some economic viability,” wrote historian Nora Faires on nineteenth century Germans in America.
The Bakers’ Co-operative was a collaborative effort by bakers to reduce transaction costs — the costs of raw materials and the costs of selling products — by creating a network. This network of tradesmen who were competitors in the marketplace likely afforded young Albert Schulteis with an early lesson in the values of strategic alliance building. His role in the organization is unclear until the first decade of the twentieth century.
Evidence from city directories and other sources suggest that Schulteis was able to accumulate sufficient business skills and capital to establish his own flour dealing firm by the early 1890s. One strategic alliance that may have contributed to his jump from clerical worker to entrepreneur may have been his 1888 marriage to Anne Isabel Oyster, the daughter of Washington dairy merchant George M. Oyster. The 1888 marriage corresponds to the time when Schulteis moved out of the family’s I Street home and his identification as a “general wholesale and retail flour dealer.”
Sometime during the 1890s Schulteis became an officer (trustee) of the Bakers’ Co-operative Association and by 1907 he had purchased the organization’s assets at the expiration of its charter. He continued the family’s membership in the Catholic Church and joined two Washington Catholic social groups: The Knights of Columbus and the Carroll Institute.
Schulteis also was a member of the German fraternal organization, the Saengerbund. The lessons he learned in strategic networking from his early years in the Bakers’ Co-operative Association were deployed well as Schulteis joined a wide array of civic and business organizations. By 1907 he was on the board of directors of the Business Men’s Association, the Oriental Building Association, and the St. Joseph Hall Association. He also was an early member of such groups as the Washington Chamber of Commerce and was a staunch advocate for Washington suffrage and civic improvements. He was, by all accounts — as the 1907 newspaper sketch asserted — “identified with many business and fraternal bodies.”
Though Schulteis served on many boards and held elected offices in many organizations locally and nationally, he does not appear to have been individually distinctive. The many newspaper accounts covering the activities of the organizations identify Schulteis as one of many individuals to whom particular actions were attributed.
Schulteis died in October, 1929 after being ill and “confined to his home” for two years, essentially much (if not all) of the time he lived in the house. From all evidence recovered it appears that once Schulteis died and his estate was settled he was quickly forgotten. Both the Washington Post and Evening Star published obituaries and reported on his funeral. After those articles Schulteis’s name never again appeared in Washington daily newspapers except in the classified death notice published in 1946 after his widow, Annie, died. Schulteis left no enduring legacy in Washington, D.C. and he rapidly became a minor footnote in the District’s business and social history.
The building, its neighborhood. and its racial restrictions
Although located within a Washington subdivision that originated with the ambitious land development program by the Chevy Chase Land Company, the house did not appear to be individually significant. Its associations and setting were more significant than the building itself.
Furthermore, the large lot on which the house and garage were located represents the consolidation of the original two lots (7 and 8 in Square 1863) that Schulteis bought in 1921 plus properties acquired by his son, Herman A. Schulteis, in 1924 and 1929.
Albert Schulteis never owned all of the five contiguous lots that now comprise 3637 Patterson Street NW. There is no evidence to suggest that he ever intended to create a singular large parcel at the location where he built the house. His son, Herman, was the sole purchaser of the adjacent lots and there is no indication in Albert Schulteis’s 1928 will that the original two lots should be expanded. In fact, the timing of the 1929 purchase by Herman A. Schulteis of the lot to the east, Lot 6, in June 1929 strongly suggests that he was acting in anticipation of his father’s death (which occurred four months after he bought the property).
There were two buildings at 3637 Patterson Street NW: a 2.5-story house and a garage. The property’s main architectural element, the 1926-1927 Schulteis house had undergone significant alterations to its original fabric. These alterations, including the removal of a projecting bay and balustrade over the porte cochere, removal of the pedimented and tile-clad front porch roof, and the wholesale removal of original windows and doors by the property’s current owner diminished the property’s integrity of materials. Porches, windows, and doors are character defining features and their loss significantly diminished property’s integrity.
The property where in 1926 Albert Schulteis began building his house started its transformation from farmland in rural Washington County to twentieth century automobile suburb in 1888. The property that now comprises 3637 Patterson Street NW was first laid out in a subdivision plat filed with the District of Columbia’s surveyor’s office in December 1918. Filed by the Chevy Chase Land Company, Fulton R. Gordon, William L. Miller, and Harold E. Doyle, the plat illustrates lots north of the original Chevy Chase D.C. subdivision and includes the area north of Livingston Street and south of Rittenhouse Street and Connecticut Avenue to just east of Nevada Street. Once part of the Charles R. Belt farm, the property was one of several tracts acquired in 1888 by Jackson H. Ralston from Martha Parsons and subsequently incorporated into the Chevy Chase Land Company’s holdings. Maps published in the years just after the turn of the twentieth century illustrates a 94-acre tract in the former 96-acre Belt holdings.
The 1918 subdivision plat was filed two days before the Chevy Chase Land Chase Land Company settled a 1915 $250 thousand loan debt with the Fidelity Trust Company of Washington, D.C., for which they used the land as security on the note held by the Union Trust Company of Washington. Square 1863 was one of ten squares platted. Originally Square 1863 included thirty-one lots: twenty-eight rectangular house lots, one irregular lot on Connecticut Avenue where the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church was planned, and two irregular lots abutting an alley in the east side of the square. The lots all had fifteen-foot setbacks (“building restriction line”) from the roads. The rectangular house lots facing Patterson and Quesada streets fronted forty feet on the street and were 139 feet deep.
Albert Schulteis built his house in lots 7 and 8 on property first sold by the Chevy Chase Land Company in August 1921 to retired Washington dentist A. Thomas Utz. Three weeks later Utz sold the lots to Albert Schulteis, who did not undertake any improvements for five years. The deed conveying the property from the Chevy Chase Land Company to Utz contained the company’s standard restrictive covenants governing land use, building setbacks, and minimum house costs allowable. The covenants read:
- All houses upon the premises hereby conveyed shall be built and used for residence purposes exclusively, except stables, carriage-houses, sheds, or other outbuildings, for use in connection with such residence, and no trade, business, manufacture or sales or nuisance of any kind shall be carried on or permitted upon said premises.
- That no structure shall be erected within fifteen (15) feet of the front of street line of said premises, except such as are allowed under the Building Regulations of the District of Columbia; and no stable shall be erected except on the rear of said premises.
- That no Apartment House or Apartment Houses shall be erected thereon.
- That no dwelling house shall be erected on said premises at a cost less than thirty-five hundred (3500) dollars.
When Utz sold the property to Schulteis, the deed simply noted that it was “subject to covenants of record.”
In August 1926 Schulteis filed an application for a building permit. He proposed to construct a 2½ -story brick and hollow tile house and brick garage. The proposed house was to be thirty-nine feet wide by thirty-eight feet deep with a pitched roof and face south onto Patterson Street. A concrete driveway was proposed east of the house, leading from Patterson Street to the garage which was located in the rear of the property. Although Schulteis’s application did not name an architect, it did identify Henry N. Brawner Jr. as the proposed home’s “designer.”
Brawner was a dairy executive and it appears that he designed and built functional buildings for use in his business. The former Schulteis house appeared to contain many architectural stylistic elements used in Brawner’s own house at 3516 Rittenhouse Street, a building designed by Washington architect John Albert Hunter. Brawner liberally drew from Hunter’s architectural vocabulary and aesthetics in adapting the various elements to the Albert Schulteis house.
The building permit application was filed after Schulteis had been assured by the District of Columbia’s engineering department that construction of a sewer line in Patterson Street NW “between Nevada Avenue and Chevy Chase Parkway” had been ordered as well as an eight-inch water main in Patterson Street. Schulteis’s application was filed on 30 August 1926 and a building permit was issued September 17, 1926.
Construction of the house likely began shortly after the permit was issued. Sanborn Map Company fire insurance maps published the following year, in 1927, show the house (minus a front porch) and garage footprints. Presumably the front porch was under construction or not yet begun at the time the map survey was conducted.
Albert Schulteis spent the final two years of his life in the house. When he died in 1929, Brawner and his son, Herman, became trustees of his estate. Although accounting records in Schulteis’s probate records indicate the house was valued at $40,000 at his death, this amount appears to have been inflated to correspond to the value of a 1928 loan Schulteis received from Brawner. The 1926 building permit application shows that Schulteis estimated the proposed house’s value at $20,000 and the U.S. Census taken in 1930 also show’s the house’s value at $20,000.
Albert Schulteis’s widow, son Herman A., and daughters Mary, Rosa, and Marion continued to live in the Patterson Street house until 1938. Herman Schulteis prior to his father’s death had acquired the parcels to the west (Lots 9 and part of 10) and east (Lot 6) of 3637 Patterson Street NW.
After Herman’s father’s estate was settled, the five contiguous lots were consolidated into a single parcel at the 3637 Patterson Street address. Although the Chevy Chase Land Company had attached its standard restrictive covenants to the deeds conveying these lots to the first owners of the lot to the east of 3637 Patterson (Lot 6), William H. Ritchie and Horace C. Bailey, attached an additional, racial covenant, to the deed conveying the property to Chester Jacobs. This 1921 deed increased the minimum house cost to $7,000 and included the covenant, “No part of said land shall be sold to, occupied by, or used for residence or any other purpose, by negroes or persons of negro blood commonly called colored persons.” And, unlike the earlier Chevy Chase Land Company covenants, the term of these new restrictive covenants were made effective for ninety-nine years.
Albert Schulteis’s close friend Brawner died in 1937 and the $40 thousand loan remained outstanding, plus an additional $9 thousand dollar loan Brawner had made to Schulteis. To compound the Schulteis family’s debt to Brawner, son Herman Schulteis also owed Brawner money: $7,750. Brawner’s heirs called in the notes and foreclosed on the 3637 Patterson Street property and Herman A. Schulteis’s property in Montgomery County, Maryland. The property was sold to Katherine A. Munter for $20 thousand and Brawner’s estate received $18,403.33. The deed from Herman Schulteis and Edgar Brawner, Henry N. Brawner Jr.’s son, preserved the racial restrictive covenant first attached to Lot 6 only by extending it to the entire combined parcel.
The Munters (Katherine and husband, laywer Godfrey L. Munter) owned the property until 1954 when they sold it to Hanna Szgedy-Maszak and Maria de Kornfeld. In 2006 the property was sold to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington (Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington).
The creation and development of Chevy Chase was facilitated and influenced by two key pieces of federal legislation: The 1888 “Act to Regulate the Subdivision of Land in the District of Columbia” and the 1893 “Act to Provide a Permanent System of Highways in that Part of the District of Columbia Lying Outside of Cities.”
While these acts provided the legal and regulatory controls governing the subdivision of land and expanding the District’s transportation infrastructure, each subdivision created in the wake of the wake of the acts represents a singular act influenced by the economic motives of the subdivider. The 1918 subdivision in which the Schulteis house was built is not unified by a single architect or builder. It grew incrementally with large, multiple lot sales like those to Gordon R. Fulton, and with individual lot sales to small-scale speculators like retired dentist A. Thomas Utz, the lot’s original owner.
The former Schulteis house did not “possess high artistic or aesthetic values that contribute significantly to the heritage and appearance of the District of Columbia or the nation.” The house was an unremarkable vernacular building that incorporated elements of Prairie, Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean Revival architectural styles. The individual architectural elements that marked this property — its fanlight and sidelights framing the main entrance, stone window lintels and sills, bracketed eaves, low roof pitches, shingle-clad dormer and tile-clad roof, basket weave bonded brick frieze, and stretcher bond brick finish — all appeared to be liberally borrowed from dairy executive Henry N. Brawner Jr.’s house in Rittenhouse Street, built some four years before the house at 3637 Patterson Street NW.
The DC Historic Preservation Review Board held a hearing July 27, 2007, to determine if the former Schulteis house met any of the legal criteria for designation as a District of Columbia historic landmark. The neighboring Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church had proposed razing the former Schulteis house and the proposed designation was contentious because it was initiated by a third-party, i.e., a historic preservation advocate, and the property owner — the Catholic Church — opposed the designation.
Historic Preservation Office staff recommended against designation in a report (links to PDF) submitted to the HPRB. Tim Dennée, the staff reviewer commented that the former Schulteis house was “a very nice residence, perhaps nicer than the average in the area.” Dennée noted that the building had been altered and that, “its architecture alone is not enough to justify its being designated, as it is simply not enough of a stand-out in that respect nor a true exemplar or the work of a master.”
About Schulteis as a notable historical figure, Dennée wrote,
Although Albert Schulteis may have been prominent for a period in his field and among his social circle, with the perspective of time it is difficult to single him out as especially prominent or important individual among the hundreds of businessmen, civic activists, minor politicians, etc. who have populated the District of Columbia over two centuries.
The HPRB agreed with the staff report and declined to designate the former Schulteis house. A demolition permit was issued and the house was razed.
At the same time that the HPRB was evaluating the Schulteis house as an individual landmark, efforts were underway to establish a Chevy Chase Historic District. Had a historic district been in place or had the former Schulteis house been evaluated as a property that contributed to the historic district (as other architectural historians had recommended), the building might have been spared and there would be one less vacant lot in the District of Columbia.
After years of debate and consultations with District officials, residents within the proposed Chevy Chase Historic District voted in 2008 against creating the district. The preservation advocate who fought to designate the former Schulteis house essentially was asking the HPRB to create a place-holder for the anticipated historic district that never materialized.
“It is a property that would fit comfortably within a historic district that gives it context,” I wrote in a Northwest Current opinion piece (PDF file). “But alone it is just a brick building with an interesting but unremarkable story.” Historic preservation commissions and review boards cannot legally designate properties as place holders for speculative historic districts that may or may not appear down the road.
In his staff report to the HPRB, architectural historian Dennée astutely reported,
There is an outstanding permit application to raze the house. It is regrettable that such a nice house would be proposed for demolition; such a proposal is reflective of the escalating values of the underlying real estate in Washington, an escalation that has rendered many serviceable buildings expendable in the face of other land-use demands. But the Historic Preservation Review Board’s consideration of landmark nominations is based upon criteria of historical significance and not upon the immediacy or level of threat to particular resources.
Historic preservation regulatory bodies like the HPRB are required to act according to the law. In the District of Columbia historic preservation law, like federal law and many state and local legislation, there are precise criteria for what may be called “historic.” Those criteria often find themselves at odds with preservation advocates and others who have strong attachments to buildings and places. When historic preservation review bodies and historic preservation professionals make decisions that citizen preservation advocates view as inconsistent with their own, rifts emerge in communities whose members share the same goals: preserving the built environment.
In the aftermath of the 2007 historic preservation battle, the Schulteis house acquired another chapter in its story. All too often historic preservation work products like the research presented in this article end up forgotten in regulatory agency files. And, once the dust settles, except for attorneys and historic preservation graduate students, few people read about contested historic preservation designations. Although the Schulteis house is gone, it still has lots to teach Washington residents.
 “Bakers at a Banquet,” The Washington Post, 23 January 1906, 11.
 Nora Faires, “Ethnicity in Evolution: The German Communities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, 1845-1881” (Ph. D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1981), 251-52; Nora Faires, “Occupational Patterns of German-Americans in Nineteenth-Century Cities,” in German Workers in Industrial Chicago, 1850-1910: A Comparative Perspective, ed. Hartmut Keil and John B. Jentz (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 1983), 37-51; Stanley Nadel, Little Germany: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in New York City, 1845-80 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 66-70.
 Faires, “Ethnicity in Evolution: The German Communities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, 1845-1881,” 231.
 “Albert Schulteis,” The Washington Post, 24 February 1907, 34.
 “Albert Schulteis,” The Washington Post, 24 February 1907, 34.
 Annie Isabelle Schulteis death notice, The Washington Post, 24 March 1946.
 25 Stat. 451; 27 Stat. 532; Elizabeth Jo Lampl and Kimberly Prothro Williams, Chevy Chase: A Home Suburb for the Nation’s Capital (Crownsville, Md.: Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission and the Maryland Historical Trust Press, 1998); Michael R. Harrison, “The ‘Evil of the Misfit Subdivisions’: Creating the Permanent System of Highways of the District of Columbia,” Washington History 14, no. 1 (2002): 26-55.
© 2010 David S. Rotenstein