The Odd Fellows Hall, circa 1880. The two ground floor tenants are Asa U. Hazelton’s Boot and Shoe store on the left and the Webb & Beveridge China and Glass store on the right (author’s collection).
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Temple, standing at 419 Seventh Street NW downtown, represents the rare persistence of a private organization at the same D.C. address for more than 170 years. The IOOF built their first hall at this location in 1845; today they still hold meetings here in the building they completed in 1917. Their previous hall, an ornate Victorian palace, was the scene of many social activities in the late 19th century but has rarely been captured in photographs.
The Odd Fellows are a benevolent fraternal society devoted to charitable works. The group began in England as “an organization of mechanics and laboring men, united for social purposes and to aid its members to obtain employment, as well as to assist them pecuniarily, when in need,” according to the group’s 1888 history. Like the Masons, the Odd Fellows were known for secret rituals, colorful uniforms and insignia, and elaborate ranks and degrees. The first American Odd Fellows lodge was founded by Thomas Wildey (1782-1861), a London blacksmith who came to America in 1817, in Baltimore in 1819. Odd Fellow lodges spread steadily throughout the United States after that, with over one hundred established by the 1830s. The first Washington, D.C., lodge was formed in 1827, and a Grand Lodge for the District of Columbia was established the following year. At least half a dozen separate lodges were formed throughout the District in the first half of the 19th century. (more…)
W.B. Moses and Sons store at 11th and F Streets NW, circa 1915 (source: Library of Congress).
“Sell Furniture Earth Over” was the headline in The Sunday Star in November 1908 profiling the W.B. Moses and Sons firm headquartered at 11th and F Streets downtown. By that time the company was well established as “the largest exclusively retail furniture carpet, upholstery, drapery, bedding and wall-paper house in America,” as one promotional book put it. Elegant W.B. Moses furnishings, many of them manufactured right here in the District, graced hundreds of homes throughout the Washington area and as far away as Panama City, Panama. Though the firm disbanded in 1937, antiques collectors still find mahogany chairs, dressers, and tables sporting the W.B. Moses label. Even the Senate Reception Room, one of the most richly decorated spaces in the U.S. Capitol, is fitted out with elegant Flemish oak benches custom made by W.B. Moses in 1899. (more…)
The 100-year-old former Columbia Hospital for Women as it appears today (photo by the author).
The Columbia Hospital for Women and Lying-in Asylum was founded in June 1866 as a “hospital and dispensary for the treatment of diseases peculiar to women, and a lying-in asylum [maternity hospital], in which those unable to pay therefor shall be furnished with board, lodging, medicine, and medical attendance gratuitously.” Located at 25th and M Streets NW, just off of Pennsylvania Avenue, the hospital finally closed its doors in June 2002, ending an eventful 136-year history of serving Washington women from all walks of life.
Hospitals in the 19th century were charitable institutions that supported those who could not afford to have doctors visit them in their homes. Washington at the dawn of the Civil War had virtually none, aside from the recently-founded Saint Elizabeths asylum for the mentally ill in Southeast. Providence Hospital on Capitol Hill, organized by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (and profiled in Lost Washington, DC), was the first general public hospital, but it took in mostly war-related cases and could accommodate very few D.C. residents. (more…)
Ed. Note: This was originally printed in 2011 but just came across my facebook last week, thanks to John for being kind enough to let us repost this great story here.
Mary Foote Henderson, circa 1923 (author’s collection).
The Gilded Age, from the 1870s until the 1910s, was a unique period in Washington’s history. The city attracted many nouveaux riches who were drawn by the fact that upper-class Washington society in those days was wide open to anyone with lots of money, a circumstance not found in other major Eastern cities. Of all the wealthy people who moved to Washington to exert power and influence in the Gilded Age, one of the most powerful and influential was a woman, Mary Foote Henderson (1846-1931), who turned her City Beautiful dreams into reality along upper 16th Street. (more…)
Ninth Street downtown was one of the city’s liveliest entertainment zones in the early years of the 20th century, full of theaters like the Gayety Burlesque, which we’ve previously profiled, and a colorful array of exotic restaurants, bars, and diners. “Everything that ever happened in this city happened there. When you came to town you had to strut up and down Ninth Street or you hadn’t lived,” boxing promoter Goldie Ahearn later recalled. But by the World War II years, this had all begun to change. The theaters and restaurants were still there, but they tended toward the seedy. Many of their patrons were the city’s alienated loners, the gamblers and late-night drinkers, the soldiers and sailors at loose ends who sooner or later ended up causing some kind of trouble. “There are eight million stories in the naked city…” says the narrator of the classic 1948 film noir about New York City. In the case of Washington, this sad story, as told breathlessly by the city’s newspapers, is one of them.
Greek restaurants were once commonplace on 9th Street. Some, like the Athens Restaurant at 804 9th Street were prominent and long-lived, but others, including the small storefront at 719 9th Street, were less reputable. As a Greek coffee house in 1946 it was busted by the vice squad for illegal gambling. Four years later, reincarnated as the “Acropolis Club,” it was shut down again for the same reason. By the late 1950s, the joint had been renamed the Jo Del Grill (or Jo Del Tavern), and this is the place that George P. Kaldes purchased in 1957. Kaldes, a 33-year-old World War II Army veteran of Greek descent, had cashed in a life insurance policy and put up all of his personal savings to gain full ownership of the Jo Del, and in the months after doing so he had been proud that the little place was beginning to show a modest profit. (more…)
In 1857, radical conservatives of the “Know Nothing” party in Washington, imbued with contempt for Roman Catholics, mounted an extraordinary attempt to forcibly prevent the naturalized citizens of Washington from voting in local elections. The result was the infamous Election Day Riot on June 1 at a polling station just south of Mount Vernon Square. The New York Times called it “one of the most daring insurrectionary riots of bloodshed and murder that ever disgraced a city.” Six people were killed by a Marine detachment that was called in to quell the disturbance. While the troublemakers ultimately failed in their attempt to prevent voting by Catholic immigrants, the incident was deeply embarrassing for 19th century Washingtonians and gave them a tangible sense of the tragic consequences of religious intolerance in political affairs.
Marines firing on the mob at Northern Liberties Market, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 29, 1857. (Source: Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 24, 1922).
Upheaval overseas—including the Irish potato famine and the Revolution of 1848 in Germany—led to large numbers of Irish and German immigrants to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s. These desperate people, willing to making the arduous journey to America in hopes of a better life, would enrich the country immeasurably in years to come, and many were happy to see them come. But to Anglo American “nativists,” they were foreign transgressors bent on destroying American society as the Anglos knew it. The nativists pointed to the increasing numbers of destitute and homeless immigrants crowding the nation’s cities—Washington’s notorious Swampoodle was an example—as evidence that the newcomers were bringing the country down. They began organizing themselves in secret to resist the immigrants and all they stood for, especially their predominant religion, Roman Catholicism. Supposedly if a member of this secret group were asked anything about the organization, he was supposed to reply “I know nothing,” and so they became known as the Know-Nothings. Secretly calling themselves the “Supreme Order of the Star Spangled Banner,” the group foreshadowed the growth of the Ku Klux Klan later in the 19th century. (more…)
“Washington’s first streetcars trundled down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Civil War. By the end of the century, streetcar lines crisscrossed the city, expanding it into the suburbs and defining where Washingtonians lived, worked and played. From the quaint early days of small horse-drawn cars to the modern streamliners of the twentieth century, John DeFerrari’s new book, Capital Streetcars, tells the story of the dramatic rise and equally dramatic fall of streetcars in our city. John is the author of two previous books about DC history (Lost Washington, DC. and Historic Restaurants of Washington, DC) and is a frequent contributor to PoPville with articles about DC history from his Streets of Washington blog.”
Today Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez of Cuba once again raises the Cuban flag over the country’s venerable embassy building at 2630 16th Street NW, in the Meridian Hill neighborhood that was once home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. For decades the building has quietly served as the Cuban Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy, but before that it had a long social career, hosting many of the city’s classiest balls and receptions.
Photo by the author.
The Republic of Cuba had a diplomatic outpost in Washington even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted their war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada (1868-1915) established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. A graduate of Columbia University, Quesada had met revolutionary hero José Martí in New York at a rally of Cuban exiles; he quickly became an important figure in the struggle for independence. The movement had the sympathy of many Americans, and on President William McKinley’s inauguration day in March 1897, its flag flew proudly atop the Raleigh. “All sympathizers with the struggling patriots could not suppress a yell of patriotism as they observed the flag of the little would-be republic floating as proudly to the breeze as that of the big, powerful country the strong protection of which is sought,” wrote The Evening Star. (more…)
One of the oldest continuously-operating restaurants in D.C. is German, the venerable Old Europe on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, which opened in 1948. Beyond it, Washington boasts relatively few German eateries these days. That wasn’t always the case. In the late 19th century, after a wave of German immigrants settled in the area, German restaurants were common and among the city’s best. The thriving local beer industry, also dominated by Germans, went hand in glove with the restaurant business. Here are the stories of four of the most successful German eateries from the turn of the last century, all located on or near Pennsylvania Avenue downtown.
Postcard from Engel’s Hotel and Restaurant, circa 1900 (author’s collection).
One of the best known was Fritz Reuter’s. Reuter (1862-1906) had been born in Hanover and came to the U.S. when he was 21 years old. After spending a year in Baltimore, he moved to Washington to work in a saloon. He opened up his own gasthaus (inn and restaurant) in 1889 on the northwest corner of 4½ Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The building he took over had been a boardinghouse for many years in the early part of the century. Run by a Mrs. Elizabeth Peyton, it had catered to congressmen, Supreme Court justices, and other statesmen, including John Marshall, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. (more…)