September 15, 2015 - 3:30 pm

Free history walking tours of LeDroit Park this month

U Street in 1908U Street in 2009

Come on out for a free history walking tour of LeDroit Park.  I conduct this tour annually as part of WalkingTown DC.

We will explore the unique architecture and the historical figures who transformed the neighborhood into the home of Washington’s black intelligentsia at the start of the 20th century. Neighborhood notables included Dr. Anna J. Cooper, Mayor Walter Washington, Sen. Edward Brooke, Rep. Oscar De Priest, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary Church Terrell, Duke Ellington, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. We will also admire the unique 19th-century houses and the 12 distinct architectural styles present in the neighborhood.

The tours will be on Saturday, September 19 at 1 pm and Sunday, September 27 at 1pm. Meet me at the arch at 6th Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The tours are free and open to the public.

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August 03, 2015 - 11:48 am

Buy a McGill house for $1.4 million

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One of the original McGill houses of LeDroit Park is up for sale for $1.4 million. The Second Empire manse on Anna Cooper Circle (1901 Third St, specifically), contains seven bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms across 3,235 sq. ft. The house is one-half of a duplex and both are pictured in the 2010 photo above (1901 is on the right).

The house’s mansard roof is a signature feature of the Second Empire style along with window moulding, ornate porches, ornate brackets, prominent eaves, and prominent cornices.

In the late 19th century, the house was the home of General William Birney, a southern abolitionist who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.  After the war, Birney moved to Washington to establish a law practice.  He lived in LeDroit Park for a few years and eventually retired to Montgomery County, Md.

The house previously sold for $133,636 in 1997.

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September 12, 2013 - 10:29 am

Get a free history tour of LeDroit Park on Oct. 5 & 6

How was LeDroit Park established and who built all those unique homes on U Street? Why did the neighborhood start as exclusively white but become important to black history? As part of the annual WalkingTown DC event, I will lead two free walking tours of the neighborhood.

The tours will be on Saturday, October 5 at 1 pm and again on Sunday, October 6 at 10 am. Meet me at the arch at 6th Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The tours are free and open to the public.

We’ll cover

  • The neighborhood’s founding
  • Relationship with the Howard Theatre
  • Architectural history
  • The Park at LeDroit
  • Walter Washington
  • Ernest Everett Just
  • Robert & Mary Church Terrell
  • Anna Julia Cooper
  • William Birney
  • Edward Brooke
  • Octavius Williams
  • Oscar De Priest
  • Griffith Stadium
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September 12, 2012 - 7:40 am

Get a free history tour of LeDroit Park on Sept. 30

How was LeDroit Park established and who built all those unique homes on U Street? Why did the neighborhood start as exclusively white but become so important to black history? As part of the annual WalkingTown DC event, I will lead two free walking tours of the neighborhood.

The tours will be on Sunday, September 30 at 1 pm and again at 3:30 pm. Meet me at the arch at 6th Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The tours are free and open to the public.

We’ll cover

  • The neighborhood’s founding
  • Relationship with the Howard Theatre
  • Architectural history
  • The Park at LeDroit
  • Walter Washington
  • Ernest Everett Just
  • Robert & Mary Church Terrell
  • Anna Julia Cooper
  • William Birney
  • Edward Brooke
  • Octavius Williams
  • Oscar De Priest
  • Griffith Stadium
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June 20, 2012 - 9:21 am

Can you identify LeDroit Park’s 12 distinct architectural styles?

The Washingtoniana Division of the M.L.K. Library contains a great collection of books on the history of Washington. Since all the material in the section is reference material, none of it can be checked out.

The kind librarians, however, permitted me to scan the entire book LeDroit Park Conserved, produced in 1979 for the DC government.

The book covers the historical development of the neighborhood, documents the different architectural styles, and offers suggestions to residents who wish to restore their properties with greatest historical accuracy.

Most surprising to me was the number of architectural styles represented in LeDroit Park.  Let’s review:

Chateauesque

Georgian revival

Italian villa

Italianate

Queen Anne (brick row house)

Queen Anne (frame row house)

Queen Anne (free-standing)

Renaissance revival

Second empire

Spanish revival

Victorian gothic

Washington row house

View the entire book for all the details, photos, diagrams, and maps.

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May 15, 2010 - 12:33 am

Where Have All the Craftsmen Gone?

Grant Epstein

DC development blog DCmud interviewed Grant Epstein, who recently withdrew his proposal for 1922 Third Street NW.  Mr. Epstein’s development company focuses primarily on adaptive reuse of historic properties.

One part of the interview caught our eye, as Mr. Epstein confirms what we have long suspected: ornate houses are difficult to build today because it’s harder to find skilled craftsmen to built custom ornaments:

It’s amazing the amount of craftsmanship that went into these houses on [Capitol Hill]. Detail that it’s very hard to replicate today. So the old townhouses, they inspire me. We’ve lost a lot in our new buildings, in the construction of them. It primarily has to do with the number of pieces that go into a house. There aren’t many craftsmen that know how to do the details.

….

[T]he people don’t exist anymore… the trades don’t exist. For instance, iron staircases. Two or three guys in the area do iron staircases the right way. Two or three guys! Back in the early 1900s there were forty! It’s a big difference. At M Street we found the iron treads from an old turn of the century house and recast the iron posts in order to use the same style that was supposed to be there, but was missing. There were only a couple of guys who knew how to do that.

While walking around LeDroit Park, we frequently notice detailed architectural ornaments that never adorn contemporary buildings.  How many bricklayers today have the experience and skill to lay bricks as was done at the Mary Church Terrell house when it was built?

Mary Church Terrell House

And how many bricklayers have the experience to construct a façade like this one on the McGill carriagehouse at 1922 Third Street?

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The owners of this house on Third Street told me how impossible it was to find somebody to replicate these columns:

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Rarely will you find anything like the gingerbread on the Anna J. Cooper house:

Gingerbread on the Cooper House

Brackets like these require a good amount of craftsmanship to carve and paint:

Juniper Eaves

Contrast these houses with the vacant apartment house at 1907 Third Street NW:

1907 Third Street NW

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