Expansion Architectural Survey Report

Prepared by Pamela Scott, Historic Takoma, Inc. for the

DC Office of Historic Preservation

October 31, 2002

 

 

 

Overview of the study area

 

The Takoma Expansion survey includes all or part of 26 squares east, south, and west of the current 26 squares (or parts of them) which comprise the Takoma Historic District. Subdivisions of farmlands into the suburban lots that comprise the historic district began with B.F. Gilbert’s original tract in 1883, laid out on all or part of 12 squares in the District of Columbia and a much larger area in Maryland, the total extent estimated at about 1,776 acres.

 

Between 1886 and 1922, more than 30 additional subdivisions, all or parts of which are now included within the Takoma Historic District were recorded by the District government. The earliest subdivision within the expansion survey area dates from 1905 and the latest from 1936. The purpose of this survey is to record the developers, clients, architects, builders, and subsequent residents who were responsible for the formulation of Takoma‘s outlying areas and to define some of their salient characteristics.

 

One major distinction between the squares in the Takoma Historic District and several around its perimeter is the width of lots at the time the subdivisions were laid out. Lot widths in Gilbert’s original subdivision ranged from about 50 to about 75 feet, and those that were created during the 1880s and 90s from 55 to 60 feet. Squares 2965, 2970, 2971, 2971S, 3165, 3166, 3167, 3170, and 3194 (all within the survey area) originally contained rowhouse-sized lots, generally 20 feet in width. Rowhouses were only built on two of these squares, however: Squares 2965 and 2968, with both groups of houses facing Georgia Avenue. In most cases, two lots were combined to accommodate free-standing houses of 25-plus feet in width. Both the market place and activism by local residents worked to maintain the neighborhood’s original suburban character.

Major Developers and Builders of Takoma

 

Some of Takoma’s developers during the first third of the twentieth century were descended from original residents or had established business ties in the community. Heber L. Thornton (c.1871-1962), one of Takoma’s leading developers, although born in Port Royal, Virginia, was one of the inheritors of the Grammar’s Estate on which Takoma was laid out. He attended the University of Virginia but graduated from the Bliss Electrical School in Takoma Park, (later Montgomery Junior College and subsequently Montgomery Community College). Upon graduating, Thornton became one of the District’s first electrical inspectors, but by 1910 he was actively engaged in the real estate business. His Takoma office was located at 6900 Fourth Street or his home at 500 Butternut Street; by the time he took a full-page in Raymond E. Button’s Glimpses of Takoma Park (Pioneer Press, n.d.), published about 1930, Thornton’s business required a city office in the Southern Building.

 

Thornton’s obituary in the Washington Star noted: “He built and developed much of the District’s Takoma Park residential area as well as a large part of the commercial district of Takoma Park, Md.[1] Thornton worked with a number of builders and architects, including Doran Platt and E.N. Hamilton, specializing in bungalows, which are located within the boundaries of the historic district as well as in the survey area. In 1933, it was estimated that he had erected 150 homes in Takoma as well as developed the commercial rows on 4th and Laural Streets, owned the Old Colony Laundry and was an organizer of the Takoma Park Theatre Corporation.[2]

 

The apartment house developer Harry Poretsky was born in Poland and trained as a carpenter in England before emigrating to Philadelphia where he worked as a carpentry contractor. In 1923, Poretsky moved to Washington where he was responsible for building many large apartment complexes in and near the city. In 1928, in the partnership Poretsky, Silver and Rosen (possibly David Rosen, the developer of 6527 7th Street), the firm both developed and built the Dahlia Apartments at 7019 Georgia Avenue.

 

Samuel Eig, a grocer by trade at 5406 Georgia Avenue, became a part-time real estate developer and builder like many local small businessmen of his era. Eig employed the architect Wilcox to design four single-family houses on 9th Street, including 6810 and 6820 9th Street, NW, in the Tudor Revival style.[3]

 

In 1917 Edmund K. Fox had his own real estate business at 1106 9th Street, N.W., and by 1924 Fox Real Estate was located at 1311-1313 H Street N.W. No separate listing for Fox & Livingston was located, but they are listed on the permit as the builders and owners of 700 Fern Street.[4]

 

Realtor, builder, and building contractor George W. Chase was active in Takoma beginning in 1922, with his office and home at 415 Cedar Street. By 1926 he resided at 700 Butternut Street, moving again to 6816 Piney Branch Road by 1934. In 1939, Chase was the president of the Geo. W. Chase Realty Co., Inc. Between 1921 and 1928, Chase was issued 45 building permits to develop 57 Takoma properties, mostly for single-family homes both within the historic district (400 block of Aspen Street and along Piney Branch Road, for example) as well as on Fern and Elder Streets. The strong link between real estate development and building construction during the time Takoma was being developed is a more formalized version of America’s 18th and 19th-century heritage of builders who erected houses and then sold them rather than contracted directly with clients.[5]

 

Gilbert S. Seek was listed as a building contractor with his office in his home at 6969 Georgia Avenue in Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia for1916; by 1931 his office remained at that address but he resided at 4316 3rd Street and in 1938 at 7011 8th Street. Between 1909 and 1924, building permits for at least 36 Takoma houses were issued to Seek, all within the expansion survey area.[6]

 

William S. Phillips, the builder and developer of 703 and 711 Van Buren Street may be the same Phillips of the real estate firm of Phillips and Sager with offices in various downtown locations from 1914 to 1917.[7]

 

The E.C. Wood who built many of Takoma’s houses is probably Edward C. Wood, a carpenter who resided at 620 F Street, N.E., in 1924, at 1244 Irving Street, N.E., in 1926, and at 3001 14th Street, N.E., in 1934. Although itinerant carpenters were common in the building trades in the nineteenth century, they were less common in the twentieth century when builders more often worked in partnership.[8]

 

 

Major Architects of Takoma

 

Architect Joseph Schlosser (1890-1966) was born in Czechoslovakia, but was educated from the age of 13 in America, for six years in Greensboro, North Carolina, and for two years (1909-1911) at St. Mary’s College in Belmont, North Carolina. He later attended art school in New York (probably while employed as an architectural draftsman for Warren & Wetmore between 1919 and 1921). In Washington, Schlosser worked as a draftsman for Wood, Donn & Deming (1914-1915), the Construction Division of the Quartermaster Corps during World War I and the Municipal Architect (1930-1931). In the 1930s and 1940s Schlosser designed apartment houses and residences in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, Maryland, both for private clients and developer J.K. Williams. Between 1951 and 1958 his architectural office was located at 409 Butternut Street, NW. Scholosser’s design for the King Richardson house located at 400 Whittier Street attests to his quality as a residential designer.[9]

 

Architect Doran S. Platt (1884-1965) was the son of one of the original founders of Takoma Park and was the second child to be born in the new community. He was educated at McKinley Technical High School and attended George Washington University. By1911 Platt was working in real estate, and within three years was a salesman for H.L. Thornton’s Real Estate office. In 1926 Platt called himself an architect in city directories; two years later he was a building contractor, and by 1930 he was in partnership operating as Davis & Platt. He lived on the 400 block of Butternut Street, and continued to live there after the building business moved to Silver Spring in 1949. Within the survey area, Platt designed 6615 5th Street.[10]

 

Forrest G. Wilcox was listed in District of Columbia directories as an architect between 1930 and 1933, for two years located at 4105 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, and in 1933 at 907 15th Street, NW. All the many houses he is known to have designed in the Takoma survey area are very competent picturesque variants on Tudor Revival house designs popular throughout the country during the 1930s. One of Wilcox’s Tudor Revival houses is within the historic district at 6815 6th Street, but the majority are clustered east of Georgia Avenue between Butternut and Fern Streets. Wilcox worked with builder-developer J.N. Hughes, the Columbia Construction Company, and developer Samuel Eig. The houses Wilcox designed ranged in price from $6,500 to $7,000, the high end of Takoma houses of the 1930s. The Standard Homes Company, a Washington mail-order house company, published two Tudor Revival houses in its Better Homes at Lower Cost of 1930. They were among the company’s larger and more expensive house types.[11]

 

Thaddeus S. McClelland and Lawrence E. Allison were listed in the 1926 Boyd’s Directory of District of Columbia as architectural draftsmen in the Veterans Bureau. They apparently moonlighted designing houses for a short period; by 1934 Allison is no longer in Washington directories, and McClelland had advanced to being an associate architect in the Treasury Department. In 1926 they designed the house at 700 Fern Street for Fox & Livingston, their only known collaboration in the survey area.[12]

 

One of Washington’s most important and prolific architects of apartment buildings, George Thomas Santmyers (1889-1960), designed four in Takoma: A Tudor Revival apartment complex within the current Takoma Park Historic District at 300-304 Aspen Street (1939) and Whittier Gardens (1939), garden apartments at 301-305 Whittier Street and 6718-6722 3rd Street within the expansion study area. Both groups were commissioned by Ida Baylin.

 

Santmyer’s two more substantial apartment buildings are both within the study area, built in 1928 and 1938 on Georgia Avenue facing Walter Reed Hospital. The elegant Dahlia Apartment (1928) at 7019 Georgia Avenue is substantially the same design as Santmyers’s 3901 Connecticut Avenue apartments (1927), which was placed on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites in March 1996 for its contribution to Connecticut Avenue’s ensemble of high quality apartment buildings. His Normandie apartment house (1938), at 6817 Georgia Avenue depended on its bold, H-shaped plan and pyramidal massing, rather than ornate exterior decoration, to achieve architectural distinction. The Dahlia was built as an “apartment hotel” for short or medium term residency, apparently to accommodate temporary staff and visitors at Walter Reed Hospital. The Normandie, on the other hand, was built for long-term occupation by a middle class clientele. Both were notable for their early recognition of the need to accommodate private ownership of automobiles for apartment dwellers.

 

Santmyers was also the architect of a cluster of modest cottages on the south side of the 800 block of Whittier Place in 1917 for the builder-developer B. H. Grover. They are distinguished by their individuality—each is a unique and strong design, a variant on popular small single-story bungalows of the era.

 

Born in 1889 in Front Royal, Virginia, Santmyer was educated in Washington, D.C., including four years of study at the Washington Architectural Club Atelier between 1908 and 1912. Simultaneously he was employed as a draftsman in the office of Harding & Upman, one of Washington’s most important early twentieth-century firms. After opening his own office in 1914, Santmyers became a specialist in apartment house design and is credited with the design of more than 400 in the Washington area between 1916 and his death in 1960. Those in Takoma are typical of his output in their range of materials, scale, variants on the apartment building typology, stylistic language, and pragmatic solutions to the evolving needs of apartment house dwellers in Washington’s suburban neighborhoods.

 

John M. Faulconer, who resided in Silver Spring between 1914 and 1917, appears in city directories as a draftsman for the District government in 1914 and for the Navy Department in 1917. His design for the Avery house at 802 Fern Street was done while working for builder/developer G.S. Seek.[13]

 

Edmund G. Warther, designer of the Bennett house at 6601 7th Street, was listed in Washington directories during the 1920s and 30s variously as an architect, as a builder, as a mechanic, and as a building contractor. He resided at 233 7th Street, N.E.[14]

 

Louis E. Sholtes, the architect of 901 Aspen Street in 1930, is listed in city directories in 1924 as the president of Sholtes & Co. Contractors, with offices at 819 15th Street in 1924 and 1115 K Street, N.W. in 1926.[15]

 

 

Citizen Activism in Takoma, 1920s and 1930s

 

The March 1928 issue of the Pica Gauge, Takoma Park’s local monthly magazine, recounted the major achievements of the Takoma Park Citizens’ Association. Founded in 1888 as the Takoma Park Improvement Association, its membership drawn from both Washington and Maryland residents. Yet most of its major civic accomplishments were achieved within the District of Columbia, including the area within the expansion survey. Like citizens’ associations in other parts of the city, it focused on securing municipal services from Congress through the Commissioners of the District of Columbia that ranged from sewer and water systems to schools and playgrounds to streets and sidewalks.[16]

 

The purpose of the 1928 article was to recount the numerous successes of this association. It also defined Takoma’s perceived boundaries, because an alternate group of local residents had founded the Citizens’ Association of Takoma, D.C. in 1924 over the issue of development and city services along Takoma’s rapidly expanding edges. Both organizations nominally represented Takoma residents in Washington until 1949 when the Takoma Park Citizens’ Association disbanded because of lack of community interest. In 1924, the association had 557 members of whom 261 lived on the District side of the line.[17]

 

At the February 1934 meeting of the Citizens’ Association of Takoma, D.C., “Past Presidents’ Night,” the history of the nine-year-old organization was reviewed. On December 1, 1924, 225 Takoma residents had met at the Takoma Library, elected officers and appointed a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws and another committee to attend a meeting at the District Building regarding the development of the Shoemaker estate that lay between Georgia Avenue and Blair Road north of Elder Street, fearing that apartment complexes would soon be built there.

 

The list of civic accomplishments of the citizens associations included an auditorium addition to the public school on Piney Branch Road and the recreation center in the school grounds adjacent to Whittier and Fourth Street,s as well as a variety of street improvement projects. Their most important achievement in education was securing Calvin Coolidge High School on 5th Street at Sheridan Street in the 1930s, and the Recreation Center within its grounds in the early 1940s. After a great deal of effort, citizens were also successful in having an underpass built at Van Buren Street to insure the safety of school children who lived to the east of the railroad tracks that ran along Blair Road.[18]

 

By 1940, it was noted that historically the primary interest of the Citizens’ Association of Takoma, D.C. had been “to keep Takoma a residential section of individual homes. It has opposed erection of apartment houses even to the extent of initiating a court action.” In 1940 the association defined Takoma as the triangle bounded by Van Buren Street, Eastern Avenue, and Georgia Avenue, an area slightly larger than covered by this expansion survey.[19]

 

Conclusion:

 

Historically, architecturally, socially and aesthetically, the part of Takoma within the expansion study area is inextricably linked with the part of Takoma that is within the current boundaries of the historic district. This conclusion is made based not only on this architectural survey, but on the other documentation provided to the DC Historic Preservation Office as part of this project. The area should be considered for addition to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Takoma Park (DC) Historic District.[20]

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

-Raymond E. Button, Glimpses of the Past, Takoma Park, Pioneer Press, n.d.

-Boyd’ Directory for the District of Columbia, 1910 to 1940.

-James M. Goode, Best Addresses, A Century of Washington’s Distinguished Apartment Houses, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.

-Pica Gauge, March 1928.

-The Takoma Enterprise, December 1931; July 1933; and, December 1935.

-Hans Wirz and Richard Striner, Washington Deco. Art Deco in the Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984.

-Washington Post.

-Washington Star.

 



[1] Obituary, Heber L. Thornton, Washington Star, July 10, 1962.

[2] F.B. Linton, “Timely Topics,” Takoma Enterprise, July 1933, pp. 16-17.

[3] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1926-1934.

[4] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1917-1924.

[5] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1922-1939. Metta Barbour, Compilation of Builders of More than 6 Houses in Takoma,” 2002.

[6] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1916 -1938. Metta Barbour, Compilation of Builders of More than 6 Houses in Takoma,” 2002.

[7] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1914 and 1917.

[8] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1924, 1926, and 1934.

[9] “Joseph J. Schlosser,” April 18, 1950, application for architect’s registration in District of Columbia, District of Columbia Office of Public Records. “Joseph Schlosser Dies,” undated newspaper clipping, May 1966, Washington Star, Washingtoniana Division, MLK Library. Pamela Scott, “A Directory of District of Columbia Architects, 1922-1960, “ 2001, p. 250.

[10] Obituary, “Doran S. Platt,” Washington Post, May 28, 1965.

[11] Scott, “Directory D.C. Architects,” p. 310.

[12] Boyd’s District of Columbia Directory, 1926-1934.

[13] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1914 and 1917. Faulconer’s name does not appear in city directories in 1924 nor during the 1930s, apparently because he lived outside of the District of Columbia.

[14] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1924, 1926, 1934.

[15] Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1924 and 1926.

[16] Takoma’s first school was at the corner of Piney Branch Road and Cedar Street where the third school on the site is now located. The District of Columbia’s first branch of the public library, which served the entire community, was built at 5th and Cedar Streets in 1911 and “it was through the endeavors of this organization that the playground space at Fourth and Whittier streets was purchased by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission.”

[17] Pica Gauge, March 1928. Washington Star, December 8, 1924. A more detailed history is Walter Irey, “The Takoma Park Citizens’ Association,” The Takoma Enterprise, vol. 8, no. 2 (December 1935) pp. 1-21.

[18] Washington Star, December 8, 1924; December 9, 1924; February 11, 1934; November 8, 1936; and, February 8, 1955.

[19] Washington Post, October 12, 1940.

[20] This is the National Register definition of a historic district: "A district possesses a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.". (How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, p. 5)