A queen-sized hug

Queen Elizabeth II visited Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1991. Her itinerary included parts of the Capital City typically avoided by most visitors, royal and otherwise. An affordable housing development in the city’s Southeast was one of the places Queen Elizabeth visited.

In 2007, I interviewed people who were involved in coordinating the visit and who were principals in the housing development. The Washington, D.C., Local Initiatives Support Corporation continues to post excerpts from the oral histories done to document their history. Continue reading

Columbia Heights reborn

The riots that tore through Washington, D.C., after Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968 left many neighborhoods physically and emotionally scarred for decades. Columbia Heights was one of the most adversely affected. Continue reading

Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, Washington

The Washington, D.C., Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) office has begun posting excerpts from the oral history interviews I did for them between 2007 and 2009. The first excerpt posted is from my summer 2007 interview with Washington Parks and People executive director Steve Coleman.

My interview with Coleman covered a lot of territory. The clip posted at the DC LISC Website focuses on the rehabilitation of Washington’s Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park). Surf on over to the page or listen to the clip here:

 

Revitalizing Washington neighborhoods

In 2007 and 2008, I did more than 60 oral history interviews and documentary research for Washington’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) office. This week, LISC celebrated its 30th anniversary in Washington and it released a book derived from the interviews, written by community development expert Tony Proscio. Continue reading

Albert Schulteis: Baker, businessman and preservation flashpoint

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. Continue reading

Western Union’s microwave relay terminal in Washington, D.C.

Situated at nearly 400 feet above sea level, Tenleytown has the District’s highest elevation and some of the region’s most significant and contested radio architecture and engineering structures. Continue reading

The gas man, George Washington, and a magic lantern (Part I)

One hundred and sixty-three years ago this Thursday, gas lights replaced oil lamps in the U.S. Capitol. On the evening of Thursday, November 18, 1847, gas made in a plant beneath the Capitol flowed through newly installed pipes and into light fixtures throughout the building. “We witnessed last evening one of the most splendid and beautiful spectacles we ever beheld,” reported one Washington newspaper the next day. “It was the first time that the gas-lights of Mr. James Crutchett were exhibited.”

James Crutchett (1816-1889) was a self-styled engineer who briefly gained fame in 1847 for installing a gas-fueled lantern atop the Capitol dome in a failed bid to secure a contract to light the nation’s capital city. Crutchett spent the final 45 years of his life in Washington and his entrepreneurial exploits have largely been overlooked by Washington historians. His Capitol lantern scheme became a sidebar to architectural histories of the Capitol and his four decades as a gas man are little more than a footnote in the narratives on the history of Washington’s gas infrastructure. Continue reading

William Degges, the man who built “Lincoln’s Cottage”

The late 1830s and early 1840s were a period during which the United States government embarked on a public building campaign on a scale unseen in the District of Columbia since its founding some five decades earlier. While much of the nation was mired in a depression sparked by the Panic of 1837, entrepreneurs doing business with the federal government in the capital city appeared to flourish. William H. Degges (1812-1883) was a second-generation Washington builder and he was well positioned to profit from the boom. Continue reading

Tenley Tower II: Another Historic Preservation Battle Looms

There’s new controversy heating up in Tenleytown at the site where a telecommunications tower company aborted construction of a 765 756-foot broadcast tower that would have loomed over a historic landmark and the Tenleytown neighborhood.

Continue reading

Daniel H. Burnham and Washington’s Union Stockyards

Earlier this month PBS aired Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City. As an architectural historian I have long admired Burnham’s work. Union Station and the Mall are incredible amenities for folks like myself living in the Washington area. My interest in Burnham, however,  goes beyond the architectural and city planning spheres. When he married Chicago Union Stockyards president John B. Sherman’s daughter Margaret, Burnham became part of the extended Allerton family, livestock entrepreneurs who profited from the shipment of most of the meat animals shipped into New York City during much of the nineteenth century.

Although Burnham never went into business with his father-in-law beyond his firm’s design of Sherman’s home and the Chicago Union Stockyards landmark gate, he did benefit from Sherman’s Chicago interests and he may have benefited from Sherman’s longtime relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad. John B. Sherman (1825-1902) and Samuel W. Allerton Jr. (1828-1914) were cousins whose families had been in business together since the first decade of the nineteenth century. Continue reading