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Utilitaire 12: #6

February 22, 2012

#6. Bike to Library, Round-trip Mileage: 5.6 Miles, February 18, 2012

I’m right on schedule for completing my utilitaire – 6 control points down with 3 weeks remaining. My halfway point was reached this weekend on a trip downtown to MLK Memorial Library for a DC house history workshop sponsored by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC. I find the history of our city fascinating and was eager to discover more about my home and neighborhood. The workshop was divided into five sessions each lasting approximately 30 minutes. The stations were just long enough for an overview by a historian and then a little bit of hands on research for our particular building of interest.

  • Microfilm Record: The first station was the microfilm section. The Washingtoniana Division of the library holds over 20,000 “rolls” dating back to 1822. Here we were able to see building permits (aka our home’s birth certificate) and city directories which supplied us with the home’s owner. It was here that we learned my apartment building was constructed in 1925 by Barney Robins. The architect was listed a H.H. Warwick. (Note: now that I know the fundamentals of microfilm viewing I can solve any murder/mystery cold case given the right musical montage – so watch out!).
  • Building Permit Database: Next, we moved to the computer database where most building records were inputted creating an easily accessible and searchable tool for our investigations. We were even able to search the records by owner or architect. We wanted to know what else H.H. Warwick constructed. To our amazement there was over 24 pages of building records from a career that spanned from 1919-1945 in DC alone. Looking through the list there was definitely some familiar buildings. In addition to designing my building in Mt Pleasant, he also designed apartment buildings the Trinity Towers in Columbia Heights and the grand Westchester on Cathedral Avenue. He worked closely with Morris Cafritz, a developer who built most of Petworth. Later that night, I was able to find Harvey Warwick’s registration to the American Institute of Architects. The AIA had electronic records pertaining to Warwick and it was interesting to follow his career progression. For example, in the 1950s, Warwick became owner of the Dunbar Hotel, the premier black hotel in the city. Following integration, the building declined and was razed two years after Warwick’s death. A pretty ugly (by comparison) apartment building now sits in its place on 15th and U St NW.
  • Photo Archives: The bulk of the library’s photos are from the 1880s-1930s. Most photos weren’t organized by neighborhoods but rather by landmarks such as parks, circles, or churches. We didn’t find any images with our building in the background but did find an article on Mt Pleasant from the October 3rd, 1977 Washington Star. It was talking about a hot button topic at the time…gentrification. The article questioned “why [are] all these folks moving to $100,000 homes?” The article went on to ask, “where do they come from with their Volvo’s and pets and passion for plants?”
  • DC Maps: It was neat being able to look through real estate maps dating back to 1877. Maps were colored coded to indicate what material a building or road was constructed from. A 1931 map of the area resembled present day Mt Pleasant however a map from 1896 revealed a completely different neighborhood. Not only were roads named differently but the street alignment also varied. In fact, the boundaries of Mt Pleasant stretched east to 14th Street but did not include the area west of 17th Street.
  • DC Digital Museum: The final station highlighted the efforts of the Humanities Council to preserve neighborhood history digitally. Interestingly, the historian informed us that DC has no formal neighborhood designations but over 131 informal neighborhoods. Additionally, because Civic Associations were segregation for the first half of the 20th century, the neighborhood in which you lived could depend on your race!

2 and a half hours later we had barely broken the surface into researching our home. However, now we have the knowledge of where to begin and the tools to do it. I look forward to what other surprises and interesting finds await me. For more information on researching your home check out the Humanities Council or the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library.

Crummy shot of my bike in front of the library...I was tired

The complete Utilitaire 12 series can be found here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rich permalink
    February 22, 2012 5:21 pm

    DC has some very interesting history…for the “Hstory Bug”!

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  1. Utilitaire 12 Roundup, Week 4 « chasing mailboxes d.c.

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