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
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
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
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
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.” 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.
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.
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
Realtor, builder, and building
contractor George W. Chase was active
in Takoma beginning in 1922, with his office and home at 415
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.
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
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.
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.
Major Architects of
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-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
-The Takoma Enterprise,
December 1931; July 1933; and, December 1935.
-Hans Wirz and Richard Striner,
Washington Deco. Art Deco in the Nation’s Capital,
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984.