History of House at 306 Sixth Street NW
transcribed by William H. Boswell
History of the House
The history of this unpretentious brick dwelling begins when one John Emmerich (the name is variously spelled in records of deeds and in city directories, but this seems most correct in light of current practices), shoemaker, bought a part of lot 6 in square 459, in the year 1839. At the time that he purchased the Sixth Street lot, Mr. Emmerich probably lived around the corner on the south side of Louisiana Avenue (now Indiana Avenue), for the City Directory of 1834 lists him at that location although he did not own the property. At the time he bought it the lot contained a small improvement, valued at $150--probably a small wooden building. Sometime during 1840, however, according to the tax assessment books for the District of Columbia, Mr. Emmerich built a new improvement, valued at the much higher sum of $2000. Although the building presently standing is of a style that might indicate it to be of an earlier origin, and it has been estimated to date as far back as the year 1800, the tax records would seem to deny this theory. The building is a modest but substantial brick dwelling, of two stories plus an attic. The brickwork was done in Flemish bond, the roof was gabled with a wide dormer window. The windows in the main façade were surmounted by flat arches, and the small doorway on the right-hand side of the façade was topped by a small brick arch. The tax books note that in 1841 the old building was off the property.
Mr. Emmerich apparently moved in when the building was completed, for the 1843 directory lists his address as on the west side of Sixth Street west, between C Street and Louisiana Avenue (now Indiana Avenue). As the directory only lists the one address, very likely he both resided there and kept his shop there.
In 1844 John Emmerich, together with his wife Sophia C. Emmerich, went into debt for $500 to one F.C. Labbi. The lot, with improvements, was deeded in trust to Lewis Johnson and Nicholas Callan, Jr., who were empowered to sell the lot if the note was defaulted upon. Part of the proceeds were to go to pay off the debt, and the remainder was to go to the Emmerichs. Before the year was up, Mr. Emmerich unfortunately died, leaving the note upaid, and his wife was apparently unable to pay the note. As a result the lot and house were put up for sale to the highest bidder.
The "highest bidder" was actually a group of three men: Christian, Frederick, and George Emmerich (again variously spelled in deeds and directories). Presumably they were related in some way to the deceased John Emmerich, a conclusion indicated not only by their name but by the fact that all three of them were also shoemakers. Christian in 1843 was living just a few blocks away on Fifth Street, while Frederick and George moved into the city from Washington County in 1845 or 1846, the 1846 directory listing them on Sixth Street near Pennsylvania Avenue, a short block down from the house they had just helped to buy.
I have been unable to determine who lived in the dwelling from 1845 to 1879. Very likely Sophia Emmerich continued to live in the house some time, perhaps until she died, but the city directories do not list her. Neither Christian, Frederick, nor George moved into the house, nor did the various other Emmerichs that appeared in the directories over the years. In 1847 title to the property was deeded exclusively to Frederick and George, who later acquired federal clerkship jobs and began to deal in real estate, as did other persons of their surname. However, they retained uninterrupted title to this particular lot and presumably leased it until 1891 when they sold it to one Henry Reiter.
Henry Reiter had been running a restaurant and apparently also living in the house since about 1880 (the directory lists him there only back to 1881, but the census of 1880 also lists him at that location). He kept the combination restaurant-saloon for twenty-seven years, buying the property after eleven years and enlarging the kitchen after another thirteen. He probably lived there part of the time, though perhaps not all of it, for the building permit for the extension, made in 1904 indicated that the building was not being used as a dwelling.
In 1906, just shortly after adding a one-story extension in the rear of the building, Henry Reiter leased the house to James O'Connor, previously a bartender, who kept the restaurant-saloon until sometime in 1911. The change is not noted in the city directory until 1908, but Mr. O'Connor probably took over in October of 1906, at the commencement of the lease.
In 1911 Mr. Reiter leased the property to a Robert D. Fones, a clerk who lived a couple of blocks north on Sixth Street. The 1912 directory lists a John P. Fones, perhaps Robert’s son, as running a billiards room at 304 Sixth Street, probably a misprint. However, the Fones’ only kept the place for a year or less, for it was leased again in 1912 to a Clyde W. Bell, previously a plumber, who not only moved in but applied for a building permit to make some fairly extensive changes in the front of the building. He planned to widen both the door and a window. Apparently these changes were not made, for by 1914 Mr. Bell is again residing at his previous address and a John J. Daly is running a saloon at 306 Sixth Street, and planning similar but more extensive changes. In August 1914, Mr. Daly lowered the first story floor slightly, put in a bathroom, closed two doors for windows (making the current first story front windows), and made the middle first-story window into a door (making the front much as it appears now, although the blueprint for the work shows the new door slightly to the left of and higher than the current doorway. Perhaps the plans were not carried out quite as depicted.) Mr. Daly also planned to put on, at a later date, an elegant marquise over the doorway along the first story cornice (a cornice which was probably added in the nineteenth century and has since been removed). However, he only stayed in the building through 1915; in 1916 the city directory lists it as vacant, and in 1917 William L. Hardin moved in and began to run a pool room.
In the meantime, on December 26, 1913, Henry Reiter had died. His will provided that his real estate would pass to his wife, Louise W. Reiter, "while she lives," and then to his son Charles H. Reiter. Sometime between 1913 and 1933 Louise Reiter passed away, for in 1933 the owner is listed on an application for a building permit as Charles H. Reiter.
William L. Hardin rented the property from 1917 through 1923. A Nicholas Poulas (last name spelled various ways) also lived there, probably occupying the second story as a flat. He maintained his residence there from 1919 probably through 1930, although he is not consistently listed in the city directories. His occupation is given in 1919 as a bootblack, in 1921 as a huckster, in 1923 as a tailor--during which year a Peter "Poulis," also a tailor, resided at the same address. Possibly he was the Nicholas Poulas who, with a Kanicaris, ran a restaurant south of Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925. In 1930 his occupation is given as counterman as John Gratsias’ "South Capitol Lunch."
In 1924 or 1926 an L.C. Irby replaced Mr. Hardin as proprietor of the pool, or "billiards" room at 306 Sixth Street, and ran the room through 1927, but did not live in the house. In 1928 a Bernard M. Snowden replaced Mr. Irby’s pool room with "Snowden’s Transfer and General Express," but also kept his residence elsewhere. In 1930 Mr. Snowden added a furniture business, called "A&B Furniture," but that enterprise was short-lived, and was not listed the following year.
In about 1932 Mr. Snowden moved his business, and also his residence, over to Northeast, and a Mr. And Mrs. Philip C. Ross moved into the house. The coupled lived in the house for several years, Mr. Ross working as a barber nearby and Mrs. Ross (Sarah) once again opening a restaurant in the house. The Rosses remained in the house until 1937. That year the city directory contains no listing for Sarah Ross, but lists Philip as running the restaurant. Perhaps she died and he tried his hand at the restaurant. If so, the change did not suit him, for the following year he moved farther uptown and returned to his former occupation.
Mr. William Penn ran the restaurant during the year 1938, but did not keep the business long. He took another job and the house fell vacant during 1939. In 1940 and 1941 a John DeShear opened the place as, once again, a billiards room; in 1942 and 1943 a Mrs. Grace Harding returned it to a restaurant. After 1943 the city directories were not published so frequently, and there are some gaps in the record of occupancy.
The 1948 and 1954 directories list the property as vacant. In 1956 the building once again got some fairly permanent occupants. Jack Purcell and Leon Loeb opened offices there, with listings as Jack Purcell Associates, Leon Loeb & Co., and Sound Studios, Inc. The business of the first firm was "public relations counsel," of the second "advertising," and that of the third--with which only Mr. Loeb and his wife were connected--was recording. The name of Jack Purcell was gone in 1960, but the two businesses of advertising and recording apparently remained unchanged through 1969.
In 1970 Credit Bureau, Inc., from one block down on 6th Street, rented the house as overflow office space. In 1973 it was again vacant, and remains so today.
To return to the story of ownership, the property once again changed hands in 1945 and passed to Ceylon T. Boswell, the originator of the Capitol Hill restoration movement. He was interested in the house, and had in fact tried to buy it in 1927. In 1946 he did some restoration work on the house, and in 1949 made a small addition at the rear. He died a year ago, and his nephew, William Boswell, holds the property today.
History of the Neighborhood
The modest little brick dwelling at 306 6th Street, N.W., now looking so out of place among the larger, often empty and dilapidated office buildings that are its neighbors, stands in an area that during much of the nineteenth century was the most central and one of the most important areas of the city. A block to the east was Seventh Street, an important road into the city, down which much of the produce came to the Centre Market, on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue at Seventh. The triangular area on the north side of the avenue was referred to as "Market Space" (the street sign still bears that name), and many of the main drygoods merchants of the city clustered about it. A short block and a half to the south of the house was, again, Pennsylvania Avenue, for a long time the major business street of the city. A block and a half to the east was the City Hall building, the place where most of the legal business of the city was conducted.
When the federal government came to Washington in 1800, this particular area, like much of the rest of the city, contained only a small number of scattered buildings: a few shanties of Irish laborers employed to build the public buildings, a frame building used as a hospital for the laborers, and some old farm buildings, including one used as a temporary jail and termed "McGurk’s Jail" in honor of a notorious prisoner who was hanged nearby (see illustration). Pennsylvania Avenue was as yet only a swath cut through the wilderness, a low-lying area which became a small river jumping with fish during hard rain, "its course marked by a tangle of elder bushes, swamp grasses, and tree stumps." Yet the future of the area is perhaps foreshadowed in the announcement made by Samuel Harrison Smith, editor of the National Intelligencer, upon the removal of his printing office from New Jersey Avenue to the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets. In his announcement to his readers he termed the new office "a more central location." Perhaps his perception of the area as "central" was due to its nearness to the Centre Market, already established as the small city’s main market; perhaps it was due as well to its location approximately midway between the White House and the Capitol. In any case, his vision was prophetic.
Growth was not rapid, however, particularly in the blocks toward the public reservation known as Judiciary Square. The building on the square used as an infirmary for the laborers began to be used in 1801 as a poorhouse, "McGurk’s Jail" began to be used as a slave pen, and in 1802 the city built a new jail on the square, giving the reservation the nickname "Jail Lot" which it retained into the 1870’s. As James Croggon puts it, the jail was not "conducive to the appreciation of property thereabouts." Just to the east were brickyards, and to the south, even as late as 1807, "the avenue," as Pennsylvania Avenue came to be called, was paved only in the manner of a road through a country swamp, with "corduroy"--logs laid down side by side. The Centre Market quickly acquired the name "Marsh Market"--shortened to "Mash Market"--due to the nature of the ground roundabout.
Yet as the population grew, the avenue near Sixth Street began to fill up, in spite of the lack of major improvements other than Jefferson’s Lombardy poplars. Hotels and boardinghouses were the primary means of accommodation for Senators and Representatives, and though such places at first congregated on Capitol Hill, they soon began to appear more and more along Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1820 Jesse Brown’s "The Indian Queen," located on the north side of Pennsylvania between Sixth and Seventh Streets, "appears for the first time as a popular resort for guests." The same year marked the beginning of construction on the City Hall, at the southern end of Judiciary Square. This improvement lent the square "a certain amount of dignity," and encouraged settlement north of the avenue towards the square in spite of the onus of the jail. In 1825 the land around the new City Hall was graded; the building was in use by this time although it was not completed until much later. A few blocks away, the low grounds south of Pennsylvania Avenue were largely filled in, and two squares were enclosed with trees.
Signs of the growth of the area are the expansions required in the Centre Market. In 1821 and 1825 enlargements were made, and at the end of the decade the "New Market" was opened in the block immediately west of the main building, between Eighth and Ninth Streets on the avenue. In 1833, after receiving only bare maintenance since early in the century, Pennsylvania Avenue was finally graded and macadamized. And on June 11, 1838, "the National Intelligencer "stated that the business center of the city was Pennsylvania Avenue between John Marshall Place [then Four-and-a-half Street] and Eighth Street."
Thus John Emmerich selected an auspicious time to invest in real estate property on Sixth Street. Perhaps he intended to use the property as an investment--or--perhaps more likely considering the conservative style of the house--possibly he intended to settle in and earn a comfortable living in the steadily growing small city.
The area in the vicinity of Emmerich’s house continued to see growth and improvements through mid-century. Pressure for a new jail resulted in the erection of a new building in 1839 at the northeastern-most corner of Judiciary Square, away from the center of population and commence. Unfortunately, due to the perennial shortage of funds, the size of the jail was inadequate and its construction shabby; its blue-gray stuccoed exterior, intended to resemble masonry, quickly began to deteriorate and the place rapidly became an eyesore as well as a nuisance to the community. Colloquially termed "the Blue Jug," the jail probably hampered growth in the area, particularly north and east of the square.
Nevertheless, improvements continued to be made in the neighborhood of 306 Sixth Street. In 1842 Congress appropriated money to light Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol with oil lamps. In 1847, the avenue was paved with cobblestones, although due to shortage of public funds the stone roadway was narrow; the sidewalks, thirty feet wide, were bricked. In 1849 more lamps went up, and pressure built to improve the Centre Market as well as the condition of the still largely ramshackle Judiciary Square. The National Intelligencer in 1851 pronounced "the condition of the Centre Market. . .to be ‘unseemly.’" A jumble of sheds surrounded the original buildings, and stands and wagons cluttered Pennsylvania Avenue. Market Space was paved with cobblestones in 1852, Pennsylvania Avenue was cleared in 1856, and in 1857 Congress passed an act that encouraged the city to replace the Centre Market buildings by 1862. Replacing the Market was beyond the city’s political and financial capabilities at the time, however, and so the opportunity passed.
Drafted no doubt at least partly in response to neighborhood public sentiment regarding Judiciary Square, several proposals were put forth by the Commissioner of Public Buildings in 1855 for its improvement. They included moving the jail to the outskirts of the city, removing the small school house which had been built on the square, and closing E Street to traffic (illegally opened through the reservation). In addition a sewer was to be constructed to replace the stream in which a man had drowned during a rainstorm in 1852 and which ran as an open sewer through part of the reservation "endangering the health of the central part of the city." Finally, the reservation was to be planted and graded. In 1856 a sewer was constructed, and the filling in of the ravine and the grading began but remained unfinished due to the shortage of funds for improvement of the public reservations. The Commissioner asked for funds again in 1859, but larger issues were rocking the country and Congress, and the request went unanswered. The schoolhouse, jail, and street remained.
In spite of the lack of some highly desirable public improvements, the neighborhood in the vicinity of 306 Sixth Street reached its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century. The population increase for the city accelerated from the increase of approximately 5000 per decade the city had enjoyed since 1800 to an increase of approximately 20,000 per decade between 1840 and 1860. And in a city where walking was still the most important form of transportation and the omnibuses travelled largely across town along Pennsylvania Avenue rather than in pathways radiating out from the city, the main business section naturally thrived. The area’s closeness to the major market of the city, to a major road over which goods came into the city (Seventh Street), to the center of official local affairs (City Hall), and also to the Capitol, assured the area’s importance for a variety of functions; and once it had gathered a number of important functions, it rapidly acquired others. Important as a business center, it became the preferred location for specialty shops as well as attracting a large number of the usual kinds of shops. Near to the Capitol but in a more "central location," the area was a preferred one by Congressional boarders and hotel-dwellers; and the area around Judiciary Square, particularly to the south and west, was a choice one for those public men who wished to establish a residence in the city. In a central location but containing the open areas of Market Space and Judiciary Square, the area was also the scene of many kinds of public gatherings.
A sketch of the topography and social life of the neighborhood in 1852, as told by a contemporary walking through the neighborhood to a visitor, might read somewhat as follows:
"Sixth Street above the avenue is a quieter street than some nearby, but near to everything. The busiest place on it is here on the corner, the National Hotel--one of the biggest and best in this city. See all those fine homes on C Street down there to the right? That’s what they refer to as "Senator’s Row." Many men of distinction have resided there, and many reside there now. Francis Scott Key once lived there, and next door to him lived Daniel Webster, and next to Webster, Henry Clay. Mr. Webster now lives up the hill there, next to the Unitarian Church at Sixth and D Streets. Mr. Charles Bulfinch designed that church, and resided just north of it on Sixth Street. Lawyers are well represented here, as the neighborhood is convenient to the courts in the City Hall, and successful merchants on the avenue like to live up here also.
"Of course there are many humbler folk in the neighborhood also. That old-fashioned little dwelling on the left there belongs to the Emmerichs, all shoemakers. And this stable here on the right-hand side is run by a colored man. Down there on Louisiana toward Market Space there are a number of humble shops--a tailor, a grocer, a bookseller, a carpenter--and there’s a good oyster house there on the left-hand side. And a number of boarding houses are scattered through here, though most are down on the avenue. Up to the right on Louisiana are the popular public baths, and the Assembly Rooms, used for entertainment and various kinds of public meetings. The bottom stories of the Mason’s lodge on the corner there of D and Four-and-a-half are used that way also, and have been the scene of inaugural balls and magic tricks. Of course for things that need a lot of space Judiciary Square is used. Political gatherings often take place in front of the Hall. In 1844 there was a Mechanical Fair on the Square, with exhibits of some fine-looking new machinery, and in 1849 a great temporary building was erected behind the Hall for Zachary Taylor’s inaugural ball. And the Square is the mustering place for the militia, too.
"You can see the spires of other nearby churches over the housetops. Up there near the Square is the Trinity Episcopal Church, and down the hill a bit on Four-and-a-half is the First Presbyterian. A block up Sixth Street, at E, is the Third Baptist Chapel.
"Yes, I think this neighborhood has a lot to recommend it. They say the area around Lafayette Square is more exclusive because men of the Executive Departments often quarter there, and Capitol Hill has some very respectable dwellings and establishments also. But this area is quite as respectable, and it has the advantage of a central location. The most distinctive mercantile establishments, such as Keyworth’s jewelry store, are nearby on the avenue; in fact, one can purchase very nearby anything one might want from a cigar to a fine china plate. And the avenue is where many gather to meet with friends; ladies chat in the ice-cream and cake parlors and gentlemen in the epicurean restaurants along the way. Franklin’s paper-hanging warehouse is a favorite spot for the aldermen to meet and talk politics. During the season, when Congress is in session, many turn out on afternoons to promenade, strolling up and down the north side of the avenue to enjoy their fellow citizens’ company, show off their finery, and be entertained by the variegated scenes of the metropolis of the nation. Eminent men, as well as "dandies" and street vendors turn out, and one rubs elbows with all sorts. The "dandies" tend to hang about the entrances to the principle hotels, such as Brown’s on the north side between Sixth and Seventh.
"Let’s walk down Louisiana to the avenue, and I’ll point out some of the sights to you.
"This wide space in front of us is termed Market Space because of its location in front of the Centre Market. It was just cobbled this year, though the avenue was done a few years back. The major drygoods merchants are located here. The Centre Market across the street over there is in sad shape; its vendors clutter the avenue. Complaints have been made, and though nothing has been done yet the avenue has become too busy to let the situation continue for long. The building here at the corner of Louisiana is the Bank of Washington, the oldest bank in the city.
"The area for promenade is the whole lower avenue, from Fifteenth up there to the foot of Capitol Hill. There’s Brown’s on the left; he just redid his façade last year and has dressed the place up quite a bit. The avenue between Seventh Street here and the foot of Capitol Hill is the major location of boardinghouses in the city; many Congressmen and Senators dwell along this stretch either in the boarding houses or in the hotels. The south side there is largely wholesale liquor and grocery stores, with the boarding houses above. The greater variety of shops is on the north side, many of which also house boarders on their upper levels.
"You might notice the numbers of lottery offices at places along the avenue. They sell tickets for all sorts of schemes. And there are gambling houses here and there too. The most notorious, and popular, one is here between Sixth and Four-and-a-half Streets. I have seen some quite respectable men suddenly turn and disappear into its portals Gambling is quite popular in this city, and many Congressmen indulge in it.
"Yes, Washington is growing fast and this area is benefiting from it more than any other area in the city. Here on the avenue is the Centre Market and many fine shops, there on C Street is on of the best residential locations in the city, and up the hill beats the city’s legal and political pulse. This area is without doubt the hub of the city, and I can see only good in store for it."
The bright future predicted by this optimistic observer, however, did not materialize. The period of the Civil War marked a turning point for the neighborhood. During the Civil War the neighborhood in the vicinity of 306 Sixth Street, like many other areas of the city, suffered from the exigencies of support and care for men in the Union Army. "Public buildings, churches, hotels, and private homes had to be pressed into service" as barracks and to house the wounded. The "Palace of Aladdin," a temporary structure behind City Hall built for Lincoln’s inaugural ball, was used as a barracks, as were the Assembly Rooms across the street on Louisiana Avenue. The first wounded to come into the city were brought to the Washington Infirmiry on Judiciary Square, the public hospital run by the medical school of Columbian College in the old jail building. When that building burned in 1861 a new hospital was built which soon earned the Square "a notorious reputation as an open burial ground" by its storage of corpses prior to burial on vacant lots nearby "in full view of the populous neighborhood."
The Civil War period was significant for the neighborhood beyond simply the immediate effect of the war itself. The federal government began to expand more rapidly and to grow increasingly bureaucratic, the population of the District grew rapidly in conjunction with the growth in government, and, perhaps most important, the streetcar came to town. As a result of these events the neighborhood began a decline in its importance to the city that has continued to this day. The city began to expand considerably to the northward, particularly to the north and west, and as the population moved the main business district moved also. The neighborhood lost the "central location" it enjoyed when the city was largely clustered around "the avenue." Moreover, suburban growth began to move forward rapidly after the war, facilitated by expanding streetcar and railway lines. Purely residential areas proliferated, and most people who could afford it moved into them. The area around Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol became more and more commercial, with only the poorer citizens living there. And with the growth of the railroad, the importance of Seventh Street as an arterial road into the city declined.
Ironically, the beginning of this period of change was marked by major improvements in the neighborhood. In 1871 Pennsylvania Avenue was paved with wood. In 1872 the new Centre Market building was opened, replacing the ramshackle buildings that had burned in 1870. By 1873 the canal along B Street (now Constitution Avenue) had been replaced by a sewer and covered over. Over in Judiciary Square, a park began to appear. In 1868 a statue of Lincoln had been raised before City Hall. In 1873 the Civil War hospital buildings and the small old schoolhouse on the square were removed, subdrainage and grading were done, and the area was laid out in plantings and walks. E and F Streets were made into park drives and street lamps were installed. In 1878, the "Blue Jug" was finally removed and the northeast corner was improved to fit in with the rest of the square. A fountain was placed in the center of the park and seats were provided. The decade of the 1880’s saw an extension of the City Hall building, by this time used entirely by United States courts, the erection of the Pension Building on the northern section of the square, and repair and improvement of the park grounds.
The neighborhood, however, became "a quiet backwater scarcely touched by modern growth." In the 1870’s it was still a "select residential area." But by the turn of the century, most of the old residences had been transformed into lawyers’ offices, with a few modern office buildings being constructed to meet the lawyers’ demand for office space near the courts. Some roominghouses and residences remained in the area and the park was still used for various public gatherings, but the residences were largely north of the square rather than in the vicinity of 306 Sixth Street as before. The remaining businesses in the area were apparently largely restaurants which served lunch to the "small army" of lawyers in the area and to government workers in the Court and Pension buildings. Among them was Henry Reiter’s restaurant at 306 Sixth Street. And if the rapid change of management at Reiter’s restaurant is any indication, even these were soon not doing well, contrary to a prediction made in The Washington Star in 1903 that "none" of them "will go into bankruptcy."
In the first two decades of the twentieth century little changed in the neighborhood other than the continuance of its gradual decline. In the following two decades several major changes occurred that brought the area closer to its present state. These changes included a large amount of federal building in the area and the coming of the automobile age.
The first indication of these changes was the purchase by the federal government of the Centre Market in 1922 as part of the plan to beautify the Mall area. Although the new Market had increased its volume of business every year since it had been opened in 1872, it was no longer so vital a part of the city as it had once been, and its site was included in the planned takeover of the area that has since become known as the "Federal Triangle." Although the Market was not closed until 1930 and the National Archives did not replace it until the end of the decade, other federal buildings were already rising in the Triangle by 1927.
In the late 1930’s a major building program was carried out in Judiciary Square and across Indiana Avenue facing the square. Three new court buildings were placed on the central area of the reservation, so that the area lost its identity as an open square although areas of open space remained. Across the street, plans were made for a new Municipal Center to occupy the entire four-block area between Judiciary Square and Pennsylvania Avenue. A good deal of the area was cleared, but only part of the Center was built.
The greatly increased federal use of the downtown area together with the increasing use of the automobile inevitably created a huge demand for nearby parking facilities. In the vicinity of 306 Sixth Street, the demand was due largely to the new court and municipal buildings. In 1937, before construction began on the municipal buildings, two entire cleared blocks were used as a vast parking lot, and the Park Service reluctantly allowed small scattered lots around the buildings on the Square. Yet demand was so great that cars parked on the lawn adjacent to the driveways and parking lots that were provided.
The large amount of public use received by the open areas of Judiciary Square in the 1930’s would at first seem to bely the changing character of the neighborhood. Not only did children from nearby areas use the grassy areas of the Square as play space and the fountains as bathing pools, but many adults lounged in the park benches--day and night. An important factor in the Square’s heavy use was the Depression, which greatly heightened the numbers of park bench dwellers in Washington, and Judiciary Square was used so extensively that the Park Service installed an alarm bell that rang at 8 A.M. every morning in order to clear the area somewhat before government workers arrived.
The "downtown" area as a whole, defined as the area bordered by the Mall, Sixteenth Street, Florida Avenue, and North Capitol Street, was highly populated during the 1930’s, and had a density substantially higher than that for Washington as a whole. The boundaries themselves indicate, however, that "downtown" was moving north with the rest of the city. The children that played ball on the Square, and most of the groups that still used the Square for public gatherings, came from the neighborhood north of the Square. Number 306 Sixth Street was left on the fringes of "downtown" and of the central business area, and was being to a large extent surrounded by federal buildings and parking lots.
Since World War II suburban growth has expanded tremendously. Shopping strips, and later shopping centers, proliferated. The downtown area began to lose even its preeminent place as the business center of the city. Even the lawyers moved away from the vicinity of Sixth Street, as prestige called for a more "uptown" location on Fifteenth Street. In the 1960’s plans were made for the "redevelopment" of the Pennsylvania Avenue area which, if carried out, will wipe out the few remaining structure from the first part of the nineteenth century, including 306 Sixth Street. Extensive new court buildings are currently near completion at the end of what was once "Senators’ Row." The only resident in the immediate vicinity is a hopeful soul who has set up a small shop called "The Artifactory" in one of the relic houses on Indiana Avenue near Seventh Street and, nineteenth-century style, has moved in on the third story.
A brief sketch of the neighborhood scene and social life today would read as follows:
"It is Wednesday morning. Looking from the doorway of 306 Sixth Street, I can see that the parking lot across the street is filled nearly to capacity. Not unusual, it is every day. There are a number of people on the street, perhaps travelling from one government office to another; some are undoubtedly coming or going from business at the Court buildings or the Municipal Building. The street is pretty busy, but it will probably be a lot busier when the Metro finishes its construction at the intersection of Indiana and Seventh and allows more through traffic to pass by. Most people in the area are working in some kind of bureaucratic office, and most of those are in government, of course. The smell of coffee wafts over from the building on the corner of C and Sixth--they’re packing it in there. Walking up to the corner of Indiana and Sixth I can see Mr. Litwin out in front of his antique furniture store talking to a customer. He wants to save his old house, but doesn’t know whether he will be able to.
"Lunchtime--the street is much busier. Workers from the Municipal Building are coming down to eat at McDonald’s on C Street and at the Golden Bull, next door to number 306. Noon: the Central Union Mission, an old charity establishment, is playing its recording of bells. A very pleasant sound, odd relic from an earlier era. "The Artifactory" has some customers.
"Down on Pennsylvania the view is of cars and government buildings--from the Capitol, to the museums, along the Federal Triangle, and back across Pennsylvania Avenue to the new F.B.I. building. Some pretty exciting things are probably going on in some of those buildings, but the facades are blank--they tell me nothing.
"The following Sunday--the parking lot is empty; the streets are nearly so. A few visitors touring the National Art Gallery are parked along Sixth Street and the telephone men are working nearby. The resident-owner of "The Artifactory" is probably sleeping late, wishing he had a neighbor or two for company. Maybe he’ll visit some friends uptown."
Slides: A Walking Tour Through the Immediate Neighborhood of the House
- The Bank of Washington, oldest bank in the city and therefore something of a landmark. The Bank moved to this location in 1832, though the present building was not built until the late nineteenth century.
- Front of the Bank of Washington, with the Apex building next to it. Now housing a liquor store, this building in the middle of the nineteenth century was an imposing hotel and later housed a bank. These two buildings front on Seventh Street and Market Space, the area across Pennsylvania Avenue from the old Centre Market. The National Archives now stands on the site of the Market.
- Looking down Indiana Avenue (formerly Louisiana Avenue) toward Market Space and the National Archives. On the marvelously broad sidewalk by the Bank of Washington is a small, overgrown garden--an unexpected delight in this now largely dilapidated area.
- A few of the garden’s pleasant surprises.
- Across the street from the Bank and the garden on Indiana Avenue is this pleasant little group of buildings, probably built in the 1830’s or 1840’s. They serve as a reminder of the quality of the neighborhood in the mid-nineteenth century. The building on the right at least--and perhaps all three--was built with three wide doors, in both the front and the rear, so that the first story could be opened wide for summer breezes and the convenience of shoppers. Like similar buildings formerly existing to its right, it had a long, slanting awning in front extending far out over the wide sidewalk. The whole was an ideal arrangement for a grocer. The building on the left has recently been redone and is used as both a shop and a dwelling by its occupants.
- Looking down Indiana Avenue from Sixth Street towards Market Space. The three buildings viewed previously can be seen far down on the right-hand side, squeezed in next to the modern office building. The Bank is on the left, but cannot be clearly seen. The street is used fairly extensively during weekdays; at noon particularly the sidewalk is busy with pedestrians.
- From a little farther up Indiana. The intersection on the right-hand side is Sixth and Indiana; the same three buildings can barely be picked out to the far right. The buildings on the left are on Sixth Street, and are being viewed from across a large parking lot. The little red brick building half hidden behind the tree is 306 Sixth Street.
- Looking to the right from about the same spot as above, are two more remnants from the first half of the nineteenth century. These were probably also built in the 1830’s or 1840’s. A couple of lots to the left of these buildings, at the corner of Sixth and D Streets where the Office of the Recorder of Deeds now stands, stood a Unitarian church designed by Charles Bulfinch and erected in the 1820’s. Bulfinch lived just north of the church on Sixth Street. On D Street, between the church and the two buildings shown, lived Daniel Webster for a time; the building was torn down to make room for the present office of the Recorder of Deeds at Sixth and D Streets. To the right in the slide is Fifth Street, and across it, of course, is the old City Hall building and Judiciary Square (not shown in the slide).
- Walking back down to the corner of Sixth and Indiana, this is the view down Sixth Street. Number 306 can be seen on the right; a short block and a half beyond that is Pennsylvania Avenue at its point of intersection with Constitution Avenue (formerly B Street), and beyond that, of course, the National Art Gallery.
- View of the house itself. The street level may have been lower when the house was built. In the location of the center door there was once a window.
- A close-up of the iron eagle grills below the first story windows. I found no clue as to their age.
- A view from C Street--"Senator’s Row"--up the hill to the house, across another piece of the same giant parking lot. The lot is empty as the picture was taken on a Sunday; the street parkers are mostly visitors to the Art Gallery.
Busey, Samuel C. Pictures of the City of Washington in the Past. Washington, D.C.: William Ballantyne & Sons, 1898.
Green, Constance McLaughlin. Washington, Village and Capital, 1800-1878. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962.
_______. Washington, Capital City, 1879-1950. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.
Stanley, Joan H. Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C.: A Park History. Division of History, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, July, 1968.
Croggon, James. "Old Washington: Judiciary Square, Part II," The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 10, 1913.
Milburn, Rev. Page. "How Washington Grew--In Spots." Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Volume 26, 1924.
Proctor, John Clagett. "Judiciary Square in its Early Days." The Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.), August 30, 1936.
_______. "Landmarks Linked with Judiciary Square Court Site." The Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.), August 30, 1936.
Topham, Washington. "Centre Market and Vicinity." Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Volume 26, 1924.
Vertical file, Washingtoniana Room in the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, Washington, D.C. Headings consulted were "Judiciary Square," "Centre Market," and "Downtown, 1930-1960."
Public Documents and Records
Census Records. Tenth Census of the United States in the City of Washington, District of Columbia.
Land Records. Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Washington, D.C.
Tax Records (Corporation of Washington). Record Group 351, National Archives.
Wills. Office of the Register of Wills, Washington, D.C.
Eig, Emily Hotaling. "The Federal City Square: An Analysis of Open Urban Space." Senior thesis, George Washington University, 1973.
Photograph in the possession of A. Litwin, 637 Indiana Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Real Estate Atlases of the City of Washington.