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CRESTWOOD CITIZENS ASSOCIATION

WASHINGTON, DC       |       ESTABLISHED 1941

  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:43 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    George Lady, a former resident of Crestwood, has been going through old slides his father took of Crestwood. A few of the slides have been digitized and were provided to this website, along with some of George's memories.

    Hello Crestwooders:

    I am George Lady. I grew up in Crestwood, and have more or less considered it home ever since. I am writing to offer to share pictures of the neighborhood, against the chance that some of them might be considered appropriate to post on the Crestwood website. My history is briefly this:

    My grandfather, George Webster Lady, moved from Capitol Hill to Crestwood, building 1810 Shepherd St., around 1939, plus or minus a year or so. This is the very house in the background of the "Fun at the Fourth of July Parade" photo posted on the Crestwood website (as below):


    My father (David Franklin Lady) and mother (Dorothy Ellen (Dean) Lady) built 4028 Argyle Terrace in 1941 and my earliest memory is of that house (I was just 2). Around 1947 my parents sold 4028 and we moved a few doors down Argyle to 3930 Argyle Terrace, essentially the house that I grew up in. My father moved his dental practice in 1954 from Capitol Hill (from the SE corner of Lincoln Park) to the residence at the corner of 16th(4000 16th for the 16th St. entrance) and Shepherd (1601 Shepherd for the Shepherd St. entrance).

    This house had originally been built by Glen and Carolyn Pincock, both MD’s, with part of the house arranged to house their medical, and then my father’s dental, practice. I was married in 1962 and moved a few miles north, but returned to live for two years, 1965-1967, in the residential portion of 1601 Shepherd while finishing graduate school. My parents sold 3930 and moved to 1601 Shepherd in the fall of 1967. My father retired in the 1980’s and they sold 1601 and moved to the Kenwood condominium on River Road. Both of my parents have passed away, my mother most recently this past January. My sister, Carolyn Redmon (who lives in Lorton, VA), and I have finally faced up to looking over the literally thousands of 35mm slides that my father took over many decades. Of these, we have chosen several hundred, of which many show Crestwood during the 1950’s (and other years too), the golden age of my childhood. These are being converted to digital format and, once done, I plan to set up a website for my family. Many of the pictures may otherwise be interesting to current Crestwooders.

    For example, here is 3930 a few years after we moved in. My guess is that it is Thanksgiving 1949 or 1950. The cars show that it is a family gathering of my father’s father (from just down the street), brother and sister.



    And here is one of me, holding a football in my Redskins garp. This is pretty early, maybe even 1948. We are on the (then vacant) lot on the east side of Argyle Terrace between Shepherd and Taylor Streets. This was our neighborhood playing field throughout my childhood. The fine home there now, built I suspect in the 1970’s, is of course in my mind viewed as “the new house.” To my right in the green helmet is Bobby Simpson, son of Robert Simpson who lived across the street to the north (4000 Argyle Terrace) and next to him is (I am pretty sure) Jack Vernstein, son of J. Elsworth Vernstein who lived across the street to the east in 3911 Argyle Terrace (I am good at these addresses because we found the 1953(!) Crestwood Citizens Association Directory among my mother’s things). The three boys to my left I cannot, at this point, remember. In any event, I will soon have hundreds of these pictures. I will post many on a website (http://www.optima-com.com/old_pictures/pictures.htm). As I go through these pictures, the ambiance of Crestwood comes back to me…a wonderful neighborhood that remains beautiful to this day.



    George Lady

    (I currently live in Hainsport, NJ and am a professor of Economics at Temple University in Philadelphia. I still have my Redskins season tickets and come down each year for games, to visit with my sister, or as a sometimes consultant to the Department of Energy. Every once and a while I come back to Crestwood to enjoy the pleasant memories).

    Addendum

    I will have to think about it, and you might also. I am bound to know something(s) that current Crestwooder's would find interesting. For example: six or so houses up from 3930, in the small cul-de-sac on what becomes Quincy, in the near-north house of the several in that cul-de-sac lived at one point Ezra Taft Benson, Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower. Edward R. Murrow did one of his, "You Are Here" or some such program which brought full TV coverage to the neighborhood in the day when that was pretty new (it would be pretty exciting now). My friend Buddy Smith, who lived over on Randolph St., and I tried figure out how to pull the plug on the TV coverage. But we failed, which I suppose was best, but it was exciting.

    Here is a very early picture of me (on the front porch) at 3930. This is before the "cars in the driveway" picture, which showed my father's new, and greatly proud of, 1949 Cadillac. Here we see his earlier 1947 Pontiac. Of course, I am the stately youngster standing on the porch.




  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:40 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    The story of Carter Barron and the tennis stadium

    If you are wondering why there is a tennis stadium, an amphitheater and ball fields just north of Crestwood in Rock Creek Park, you can blame (or credit) the DC Water Department. While nearly the entire park is preserved in a natural state, this parcel was developed because of a precedent set by a DC Water facility at the end of the nineteenth century.

    From 1899 to 1937, the tract was the site of the Brightwood Reservoir (also called the Sixteenth Street Reservoir or Middle Reservoir). This "first major incursion into the park" (as it was described in a 1991 article in the magazine of the Historical Society of Washington DC), then made it possible to consider many other uses for land in that part of the park - even radical ideas like a pro sports stadium or the Jefferson Memorial. Here's the story.

    When the DC Water Department proposed building a reservoir on the property in 1897, the US Attorney General declared that such a use of parkland was prohibited under the law that established Rock Creek Park. DC authorities then appealed to Congress. When it became clear to the Park’s Board of Control that lawmakers would authorize construction of a reservoir, the Board gave the Water Department the use of nine acres of parkland in exchange for the city’s purchase of some private land on the eastern boundary of the Park.

    Construction of the Brightwood Reservoir commenced May 1, 1899, some 300 yards south of the Brightwood Driving Park harness track. The south basin of the reservoir was in use by the end of June 1900. The north basin was finished in December 1900. The total area of the two basins was 245,000 square feet.

    The clearing of the land presented opportunities for recreation at the site. First, a nine-hole golf course was laid out next to the reservoir in 1907, with hopes that additional land could be purchased to expand the course to 18 holes. There were reports that a clubhouse might be constructed near the intersection of Sixteenth Street and Blagden Avenue. The golf course plan fell through for lack of funds. But playing fields, tennis courts and a large picnic area were built adjacent to the reservoir in 1916. The Olmsted master plan for Rock Creek Park in 1918 noted that the site was on a plateau "separated topographically from the rest of the Park, easily accessible from adjacent residential areas and, by car, from other parts of the District…[and] admirably adapted for more or less intensive recreation--tennis basket ball, cricket, football, and band concerts."

    The land became the site of community gatherings, especially after 16th Street was extended past the reservoir in 1910. Washingtonians celebrated the Fourth of July in both 1915 and 1916 with a horse show and tournament at Brightwood Reservoir. The Post reports in 1915:

    "The grassy slopes about the reservoir at the head of Sixteenth street were crowded long before 2:30, the time for the start of the sports. More than 15,000 persons were present…Every event of the sixteen was of engrossing interest, from the mile-long work-horse parade with which the tournament opened, to the steeplechase at its conclusion."

    The 1916 celebration also began with a work-horse parade that assembled on 15th Street south of Pennsylvania Avenue and proceeded to the reservoir for the judging at 2:30. Other events included a horse show, horse races, a mule race and a mounted tug-of-war. Workers in the street cleaning department also participated in a tug-of-war and a greasy pig chase.

    Shakespeare was performed in Rock Creek Park decades before the construction of Carter Barron Amphitheater (where a number of seasons of the Shakespeare Free-For-All were to be staged). As the Post reported (5/11/1916): "The tercentenary of Shakespeare was celebrated with pageant on the natural stage south of the Sixteenth street reservoir in Rock Creek park yesterday by students in English literature of McKinley, Business, Central and Western High Schools, with the assistance of the art, music and physical training department and the dramatic associations of several schools.” The performances over three nights included scenes from several plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale.

    The Brightwood Driving Park had closed in 1909 because of the extension of 16th Street through the middle of the oval. But the success of the holiday celebrations near the reservoir led to proposals to open a municipal racetrack on the property. The Post reported (10/12/1916):

    "The track will be used exclusively for races in the nature of the Fourth of July and Labor Day celebrations. It will be merely a large bridle path fenced in. The track will comprise a half-mile flat track and a steeplechase course…It is expected that work on the project will be begun early this winter and that it will be complete by early spring."

    When a new filtration plant at the Dalecarlia Reservoir went on line on October 7, 1927, the Brightwood Reservoir was no longer needed. The Post reported it would "be retained until the new plant is working well." Soon the reservoir stood empty next to the recreation area.

    The high ground along the reservoir came in handy on Election Day, 1928, as ballots were counted in the presidential election between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith. Every two minutes, residents could see a pair of 300-million candle power searchlights sweeping the sky, one from the reservoir and the other from the driveway of the District Building. If the lights burned continuously, Smith was leading; if the lights flashed on and off, Hoover was ahead. When a winner was determined, the beams would either stay on or keep flashing. Roy O’Neal also flew a small airplane over DC and the close-in suburbs during the evening, firing red flares to indicate that Hoover was ahead (Smith supporters were looking for green flares). The pilot was not able to signal a Hoover victory because the plane was damaged on landing after his first flight.

    During the winter of 1931, the empty reservoir "was filled with water to a depth of a foot or two for the purpose of affording recreation to ice skaters in case of cold weather," as explained in a letter to the Post (2/27/1931). The writer added, "Since the Sixteenth Street Reservoir has steps built for the purpose of descending to the bottom, I think it should be flooded with a foot or so of water in summer for the purpose of providing the kiddies an opportunity to wade and splash around."

    The bigger question was: what should be built in place of the unneeded reservoir? In 1929, news reports showed that the Piney Branch Citizens Association was considering a proposal by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission to erect a football stadium with a running track around the field and a swimming pool to one side. By 1931, the Commission was calling for a more general recreation center. At that point, the Sixteenth Street Heights Citizens Association voted to oppose the plan. At a meeting in January 1931, US Marshall Edgar Snyder told the Association that children in the area had sufficient playing facilities in school playgrounds and their own backyards and that "having a lot of children playing in the center of the Sixteenth street residential section would be a nuisance." Snyder suggested the site be converted into a sunken garden.

    The reservoir sat unused until December 21, 1937. The front page of the Post the next morning featured a large photo with this caption: "Dynamite yesterday blasted a hole through the obsolete Sixteenth Street Reservoir so that steam shovels could begin razing the plant for an athletic field and playground to be erected there. Photograph was taken just as the high explosives went off." The Works Progress Administration hired some 250 laborers to transform the site into a recreation center. The Post (12/28/1937) reported it would feature 16 tennis courts, a field house, a baseball diamond and fields for football, soccer and lacrosse.

    Local opposition continued. In February 1938, Sixteenth Street Highlands Association President W. E. Stoutameyer again raised the proposal for a sunken garden instead. But he added: "Almost anything that would beautify the plot would be acceptable. We do not want the whole area made into tennis courts and swimming pools. It is the main approach into the city from the north and it is important how it looks. Someone suggested putting the Jefferson Memorial there. That, of course would be all right with us." (Construction of the Memorial on the Tidal Basin began in December 1938.)

    Finally, it should be noted that the idea of building a stadium at the site of Brightwood Reservoir did not disappear. DC Stadium (later RFK Stadium) opened to the public in October 1961, right after the original Washington Senators had played their first season in Minnesota as the Twins. While still in Washington, the team had weighed in on the site of the facility that would replace Griffith Stadium. A member of the Senators’ Board of Directors, C. Leo DeOrsey, wrote an opinion piece in the Post (1/20/1958) explaining his vote against putting the new stadium at the Armory site:

    "They tell you all about the 'plans' for larger highways to this new site, but the way they attend to things in our Nation’s Capital, it may take too long, and by that time, with pay TV, you may not need a stadium. The game may be played in a TV studio. And furthermore, I’m not going to engage in an argument about good or bad neighborhoods. I’m just against the site. My choice for a site would be around the Ellipse, or Hains Point, or Foggy Bottom, or 16th Street Reservoir or the present site with better parking facilities."

    So the building of a reservoir set in motion a process that could have brought pro ball to Crestwood.

    The Crestwood History Project is sponsored by the Crestwood Citizens Association. A book about the neighborhood's history will be published this fall, to benefit the Association.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:40 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    More where they came from and why

    This week’s blog follows up on last week's discussion of the street names we find in and around Crestwood.

    Many of the oldest roads in the area have names based on natural features, including Broad Branch Road (built in 1839) and Piney Branch Road (a north-south route from Washington city to Brightwood by the time of the Civil War).

    Mills were early destinations and inspired the names of historic roads. Pierce's Mill Road was constructed in 1831, with part of the route duplicated today by Tilden Street. One block of what is now called Pierce Mill Road still exists off of Park Road. Blagden's Mill Road appeared on city maps into the 1950s, and you can still discern part of its track from Colorado Avenue (near Blagden Terrace) down to Rock Creek (south of Boulder Bridge).

    Other early roads were named after people, including Joshua Peirce's Road, laid out in 1831 (later renamed Klingle Road). Beach Drive was named in 1901 after the man who oversaw its construction. Army engineer and Rock Creek Park Superintendent Lansing Beach didn’t let the lack of Congressional appropriations stand in his way…he began construction using prison labor. The second Thomas Blagden donated land to create Blagden Avenue in 1899. Blagden Terrace is a more recent road named after the family.

    As described last week, the names of most of Crestwood's non-numbered streets date back to a decision announced August 14, 1901. East-west streets (arranged in alphabetical order) were to be named after famous Americans. That changed the names of streets that were already in existence or on planning maps east of our neighborhood in Petworth and Brightwood Park. Here again is a list of some of the former names of streets and what they were changed to: Philadelphia Street became Quincy Street; Quincy was changed to Randolph; Richmond to Shepherd; Savannah to Taylor; Trenton to Upshur; Utica to Varnum; Vallejo to Webster; Yuma to Allison; Zanesville to Buchanan; Albemarle to Crittenden; Brandywine to Decatur.

    So who were these famous Americans after whom our streets were named? There are a few mysteries to be solved, beginning with the first street in alphabetical order.

    The most prominent American for whom Allison Street might have been named was William Boyd Allison, an influential US Senator from Iowa for 35 years. However, he was still in office in 1901, until his death in 1908. Both James Allison, Jr. and his son, John Allison, represented Pennsylvania in the US Congress. Although each served only one term, John Allison did have several other claims to fame that could make him the inspiration for the street name. He was an early supporter of the Republican Party, attending the Republican National Convention in 1956, where he nominated Abraham Lincoln to be the party's first vice presidential candidate (the convention chose William Dayton)...he served as Register of the Treasury, with his signature appearing on US currency...and his tenure at Treasury was cut short when he died suddenly in 1878. Another possible candidate would be Richard Allison (1757-1816), who held the post we now call Surgeon General.

    Buchanan, of course, was named for President James Buchanan (1791-1868).

    John Jordan Crittenden (1786-1863) was a US Senator, Congressman and Governor from Kentucky best known for the Crittenden Compromise of 1860, an unsuccessful effort to keep the South in the Union by guaranteeing the permanent existence of slavery in slave states and south of a particular latitude (but prohibiting it north of that line). His father was a major in the Continental Army. His two sons were generals on opposite sides of the Civil War.

    Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) was a US naval officer hailed as a hero during the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. While serving in Washington as Commissioner of the Navy, he built the first private home on Lafayette Square, now called Decatur House, after purchasing the land with prize money he was awarded for his naval conquests in the War of 1812. Decatur died of a pistol wound after a duel with Commodore James Barron in Bladensburg in 1820.

    Mathewson Drive was named after the Mathewsons, who married into the Blagden family and ended up owning significant parcels of land in the neighborhood. Brooklyn doctor Arthur Mathewson married Harriet Silliman Blagden, a daughter of the first Thomas Blagden. Their son, William W. Mathewson, is pictured in the June 5, 1938 Washington Post wielding a shovel at the groundbreaking for the Crestwood development.

    There were many famous people with the name Quincy, from Revolutionary War Colonel Josiah Quincy to various lawyers, Boston mayors and Harvard presidents. The road may honor John Quincy Adams, who was more than a US President to the people along Rock Creek. He also owned the Adams Mill, located on property that today belongs to the National Zoo.

    The Randolphs were a very prominent Virginia family. John Randolph (1773-1833) was a powerful Congressman and Senator from Virginia and the subject of Whittier's poem "Randolph of Roanoke." Peyton Randolph was the first president of the Continental Congress. Edmund Randolph was America’s first Attorney General.

    Alexander Robey Shepherd (1835-1902) earned the nicknames "Boss Shepherd" and "The Father of Modern Washington." In the 1870s, first as head of the DC Board of Public Works and then as DC's Governor, he took a war-worn Washington City and filled in the Washington Canal, paved roads and sidewalks, built sewers and gas and water mains, planted trees, and installed street lights and a system of horse-drawn streetcars. However, after his public works projects put the city in debt to the tune of $13 million, he was fired, and the territorial government was abolished in favor of a three-member board of commissioners. After declaring personal bankruptcy in 1876, Shepherd moved to Mexico and made a fortune in silver mining.

    Taylor Street was likely named after another US President and military hero, Zachary Taylor (1784-1850).

    The derivation of Trumbull Terrace is somewhat in doubt. If it was named after a figure from the 1800s, that person might be Illinois US Senator Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896), who was co-author of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery. Another possibility is American artist John Trumbull (1756-1843). Four of his historical paintings of the Revolutionary War hang in the Capitol rotunda (and one of them is on the back of the two-dollar bill). Coincidentally (or not), Trumbull was also a family name among the Mathewsons ever since John Trumbull’s sister married Arthur Mathewson’s great grandmother. Before Trumbull Terrace appeared on DC maps, the street plan called for Crestwood to have its own traffic circle called Trumbull Circle, which was to be constructed near the present-day intersection of Upshur Street, Argyle Terrace and Mathewson Drive.

    Abel B. Upshur (1790-1844) served as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of State, and was instrumental in negotiating the secret treaty that led to the annexation of Texas. When Secretary of State, he was among eight people killed when a gun exploded on board the USS Princeton as President Tyler, his cabinet and about 200 guests were cruising along the Potomac to mark the launch of the new steamship. Another Navy man in the family was Admiral John Henry Upshur (1823-1917), who served during the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and on Commodore Matthew Perry’s expeditions to Japan.

    Joseph Bradley Varnum (1751-1821) was a Congressman from Massachusetts. He served as Speaker of the House under both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and was succeeded in that post by Henry Clay. His brother, James Mitchell Varnum (1748-1789), was a general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He advocated allowing African Americans to enlist in the Army, resulting in the establishment of the all-black First Rhode Island Regiment.

    Daniel Webster (1782-1852) was a US Senator from Massachusetts and Secretary of State under William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. Alternatively, the street could have been named after author, spelling reformer and creator of the modern dictionary, Noah Webster (1758-1843).

    The remaining named streets in Crestwood include Crestwood Drive, named after the Crestwood development that began in 1938, and Colorado Avenue, one of Washington’s boulevards named after US states. As for the back-story for Argyle Terrace, Argyle was the name of both the estate that grew into Crestwood and one of the mills attached to the property. The word was derived from Argyle Cowall and Lorn (various spellings), the name for the original 300-acre plot described in a 1722 Maryland land patent. You may find the phrase Argyle Cowall and Lorn on the deed to your house. And, except for the property taken for Rock Creek Park and some land in the northeast corner of the estate that was cut off by the extension of 16th Street, that 300 acres still pretty much defines the area of Crestwood.

    The Crestwood History Project, including this blog and a book to be published this fall, are sponsored by the Crestwood Citizens Association.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:39 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    Where they came from and why

    Before getting into today's blog post, let me thank the Humanities Council of Washington DC for generously funding a grant so that the history of Crestwood can be published in book form. The grant period ends October 15. So expect to be able to purchase a book in the fall, with proceeds to benefit the Crestwood Citizens Association. It should be full of maps, photos and drawings that help tell the story of our neighborhood and how it arose from a single estate established nearly 300 years ago.

    This week’s blog is for those of you who have wondered why the names of streets on one side of Rock Creek Park are generally different from the ones on the other. For example, in Crestwood we have Allison, Buchanan, Crittenden and Decatur Streets. But west of the park the streets are Albemarle, Brandywine, Chesapeake and Davenport.

    It all goes back to a decision announced August 14, 1901. The DC Commissioners released a plan for naming streets in more than 100 subdivisions, including the streets that would eventually be extended into Crestwood. The system formalized the pattern we see today with numbered streets running north and south; east-west streets were to be arranged in alphabetical order with a series of one-syllable, two-syllable and then three-syllable names. Moreover, each of the east-west streets was to be named after a famous American.

    Not only did that rule out street names like Albemarle and Brandywine, it also changed the names of streets that were on planning maps or already constructed east of our neighborhood in Petworth and Brightwood Park. Here is a list of some of the former names of streets and what they were changed to:

    Philadelphia was changed to Quincy...Quincy to Randolph...Richmond to Shepherd...Savannah to Taylor...Trenton to Upshur...Utica to Varnum...Vallejo to Webster...Yuma to Allison...Zanesville to Buchanan...Albemarle to Crittenden...Brandywine to Decatur.

    Some of the mandated changes did not wind up as part of the street grid. Wilmington Street was to become Yancey, and Xenia was to change to Ziegler. Today there is no Yancey or Ziegler Street, although you can find Wilmington Place and Xenia Street in Southeast. In Columbia Heights, Harvard Street, Kenyon Street and Columbia Road were all slated to be renamed. Those changes also did not take effect.

    Some street names were altered in Mt. Pleasant in anticipation of the extension of 16th Street into our neighborhood. Pine Street in Mt. Pleasant became 16th Street itself. However, one block of Pine Street still exists. Going north on 16th, in order to turn west on Park Road, you have to veer right onto Pine Street by the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

    Also, Piney Branch Road in Mt. Pleasant was renamed 17th Street. That seems appropriate, since the road used to come north from Mt. Pleasant, cross the creek over a small bridge, follow what is still an official right-of-way behind the site of the Crestwood Apartments, then continue north into Crestwood along what is also called 17th Street today.

    The old street names make everyday places seem unfamiliar. For example, if the road system had not been changed, Grace Lutheran Church would be at Piney Branch and Utica, not 16th and Varnum.

    Next week we’ll look at the people after whom many of the Crestwood roads were named.

    Here are several updates on last week’s blog about 1907 Quincy Street, which was the home of Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson in the years 1953-1961 and later became the official residence of Yugoslav diplomats.

    George Lady recalls when he was a teenager in Crestwood and Edward R. Murrow interviewed Secretary Benson live on CBS television from the Quincy Street home. Mr. Lady writes:

    "This involved the arrival of a number of large CBS network trucks and the setting up of much gear in order to shoot the show…There was, accordingly, much excitement in the neighborhood, especially among the kids…There was a thought, passed among the community of kids hovering around the occasion, which was swamped with bright lights, that it might be fun to figure out how to pull the plug on the whole business. No one figured out how to do it; or at least, it wasn't done.”

    Murrow interviewed Benson at least twice. The first time was on the program See It Now on October 13, 1953; the broadcast also featured Winston Churchill. It is more likely that George Lady was recalling the episode of Person To Person from September 25, 1954. That show featured interviews in the homes of Mr. Benson and actress Eva Marie Saint.

    I have also done further checking into a statement I quoted from a Washington Post story about Benson in 1953 that declared he was "the first clergyman of any faith ever to become a Cabinet member." Clearly, many early American politicians were trained as ministers, and a number of them went on to serve in the cabinet. However, Benson seems to have been the first clergyman in the cabinet for quite a while. Benson biographers have concluded you have to go back nearly a century to 1852, when Edward Everett became Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore. By the way, Everett is remembered most today for a two-hour oration he gave in Pennsylvania -- immediately preceding a short speech by Abraham Lincoln that we now call the Gettysburg Address.

    And Crestwood neighbor Jonathan Higman forwarded an interesting response to last week's post. As Yugoslavia broke apart, the diplomatic residence on Quincy Street was abandoned, and I had suggested that might have taken place after Yugoslavia withdrew its ambassador in 1989. Jonathan writes that a Serbian diplomat was still living there in the early 1990s.

    He goes on to describe frustrating conversations with the diplomat’s daughter, who claimed the White House and the Washington Post were "making up lies about the sufferings of the Bosnians." Jonathan says the daughter also thought Americans were foolish to feed their dogs commercial dog food; her family gave their great Dane chicken and rice. He tells a story about walking his own dog one night shortly before midnight:

    “There was a man holding a rifle standing on the lawn of 1907, a man I recognized as the diplomat. So I asked him what he was doing. 'We have rats,' he replied. 'We have rats in the yard.' Again I held my peace, though I felt like pointing out that if you live only yards from Rock Creek Park and leave chicken and rice glop outside, you will get rats. Anyway, Mr. Diplomat said, 'I was a great hunter in Yugoslavia. I used to go up into the mountains and shoot deer and wild boar and everything.' I nodded but said that if he shot off a rifle in Crestwood at midnight, there might be an unfriendly reaction. I guess he agreed with me, since I never heard a gunshot."

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:39 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    A bombing in Crestwood

    Many Crestwood homes have interesting back stories. This week's blog focuses on one such house that has seen plenty of history in its 60 years. 1907 Quincy Street was the home of a controversial member of President Eisenhower's cabinet...was the site of a bombing, for which a Croatian nationalist group claimed responsibility...was abandoned as Yugoslavia broke apart...and remains in a state of disrepair, with ownership having passed on to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    The home began, as a number of Crestwood houses did, as the residence of developer Paul Stone. He would build a home, live in it for a while and then sell it. In this case, Stone sold the house, perhaps reluctantly, to the Bensons. That would be Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, his wife Flora and their six children. They moved in during the summer of 1953, six months after he joined Ike's cabinet.

    In his memoir, Cross Fire: The Eight Years With Eisenhower, Mr. Benson writes: "Paul Stone, the developer of the fashionable Crestwood subdivision between 16th Street and Rock Creek Park, in showing us around the area, made the mistake of including on the tour a house he had built for himself on Quincy Street. He had been living there for about nine months. It was the last house on the street and was right up over the Park, in a quiet neighborhood only 12 to 15 minutes from the Department. It was easy to see that Flora loved it. When we finished the tour, I said, 'The only house we're interested in is the one on Quincy Street.''You mean my house?' 'Yes.'Pretty soon, we found our roles reversed, and I was selling him on letting us buy his place."

    Benson wrote that his family "soon learned to love our Crestwood home." "Best of all," he remarked, "it was practically in Rock Creek Park." Often I would have the chauffeur take me through the Park on my way to work at 7 o'clock in the morning. At other times, we would drive home that way at night, and the Park provided an opportunity for reflection, for reviewing the happenings of the day, and for that communion with my Maker which is so necessary to me. In the evening, to unwind, I would walk around a few blocks in the lovely area where we lived. Sometimes in the morning, I'd walk down several blocks to meet the car."

    The Washington Post, on January 20, 1953, called Benson "the first clergyman of any faith ever to become a Cabinet member." At the time, he was one of the 12 Disciples of the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). He went on to become LDS President in 1985. Eisenhower had never met Benson when he asked him to lead the Agriculture Department. Though he was often the center of controversy, Benson kept his cabinet position through the entire eight years of Ike's presidency. He made the cover of Time magazine twice. The first time was in April 1953, when he spoke out against farm subsidies as unacceptably socialistic. Under his picture was this quote: "No real American wants to be subsidized." Benson also drew criticism for his views beyond agriculture. He supported the John Birch Society, although he was not a member. In a 1966 pamphlet, he warned that the civil rights movement was the unwitting "Tool of Communist Deception." A few of his ultra-right political writings have had a resurgence recently, being quoted by Glenn Beck and various Tea Party groups.

    The Largess family moved into a house across the street from the Bensons, also in 1953. Zoe Largess still lives there. She told me this week that, after the Bensons moved out, the home at 1907 Quincy Street became the residence for a series of Yugoslav diplomats. Ms. Largess said they were good neighbors.

    However, on June 3, 1980, international tensions shattered Crestwood's pre-dawn solitude when a bomb exploded outside 1907 Quincy. At the time, the residents were Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires Vladimir Sindjelic and his wife Leposava. The Washington Post reported that Leposava hadn't been able to sleep and had just "turned off the late-late show" in an upstairs bedroom. Vladimir was asleep in another bedroom on the second floor. A house guest, their son's best friend Slobodan Pesic, was asleep on the ground floor. At about four a.m., the Sindjelics' German Shepherd Astra, who had been restless for the past several nights, started whining and ran into Vladimir's bedroom, waking him up. Suddenly there was the sound of an explosion. A bomb planted outside in a window box off the Sindjelics' downstairs sitting room had gone off, "sending bricks and glass flying, twisting their copper gutter into a pretzel shape, tearing limbs from pine trees in the yard and shattering windows in four nearby homes."

    No one was injured. But Zoe Largess told me the Sindjelics' son would have been killed if he had been home. And, according to the Post, the blast "brought puzzled and badly shaken residents into the streets in bathrobes and drew a crowd of predawn rubberneckers. Several said they had heard the explosion miles away." After calling the police, the Sindjelics and Pesic went across the street in their bedclothes into the Largess' yard. George and Zoe Largess "served the three steaming mugs of instant coffee beneath a towering apple tree as dozens of police and firemen swarmed onto the quiet, dead-end street, roped it off and cut the darkness with blazing searchlights."

    The explosion did approximately $200,000 in damage. A Croatian nationalist group claimed responsibility, but there is no report that the FBI found the bomber. American officials had earlier warned Yugoslav diplomats about possible violence in the aftermath of President Tito's death on May 4, 1980. A State Department official viewed the bombing as an attempt to protest President Carter's upcoming trip to Yugoslavia later in June. After the US Congress voted in 1989 to condemn human rights abuses in Yugoslavia, the country's ambassador to the United States was recalled.

    The home at 1907 Quincy Street was abandoned. As Yugoslavia broke apart, it became unclear what nation had title to the property. After years of uncertainty, the DC real estate database listed Bosnia and Herzegovina as owning the home as of January 2013. Today, however, the lot is overgrown, no utilities are turned on, the garage roof has collapsed, and the home's interior is bare and in need of significant repairs.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:38 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    Crestwood's early development

    This week's blog is a birthday greeting to Crestwood itself. Congratulations, you're 75!

    While some of the neighborhood's homes are more than a century old, the housing development that gave Crestwood its name had its groundbreaking 75 years ago next week.

    In a photo in the Washington Post June 5, 1938, under the headline, "Ground Broken for Crestwood Residential Project," a shovel is wielded by William W. Mathewson (a Blagden relative who ended up owning some of the Argyle estate). Beside him is a smiling Paul Stone, the major developer of Crestwood; Stone’s associate, Arthur S. Lord; and builder (and Stone’s brother-in-law) George W. Phifer.

    The article calls the new community "a wooded country in the downtown residential district and only 10 minutes from the White House" - in a neighborhood "surrounded by the perpetually assured forests of Rock Creek Park and Piney Branch Parkway."

    One statement turned out not to be true: "There will be two entrances into the section from these [federal park] reservations, one from Blagden avenue and one from Piney Branch Parkway." For the first few years of the Crestwood development, Stone maintained plans to connect Crestwood with Piney Branch Parkway via the old right-of-way that today is located behind the Crestwood Apartments.

    There also were to be no alleys in the project. Instead, residents would use "a system of cunningly and artistically devised driveways leading from traversing streets to the garages."

    The Post was a sponsor of the first Crestwood exhibit home, which was opened to the public October 2, 1938. A Post story praised this home at 4220 Argyle Terrace as "beauty [and] science combined" with a kitchen so modern it was described as "a laboratory."

    A week later, the Post promoted the home’s "robot kitchen." Worth special mention was a "device whereby electricity saves the housekeeper from chapped hands and unnecessary labor." The subhead hailed this new marvel: "Novel Dishwasher In Exhibit House Delights Visitors." The concept was so new that the story needed four paragraphs to describe how the contraption worked, beginning with this explanation:

    "The dishwasher is a cabinet-like arrangement in which easy-gliding rust-proof metal dish racks are placed at convenient height for the user. When the cabinet door is closed, a perfect water seal is formed to prevent leakage during the washing and rinsing operations…"

    In a display ad from Stone and his partners, 4220 Argyle is "The Home of Tomorrow, Electrified by Westinghouse." The home’s "picturesque setting" is "a virgin forest within the city." And, as for that kitchen: "Planned as a complete wall, this kitchen is the answer to every housewife’s problem."

    The Post touted another electric wonder in the exhibit home. An article declared, "The day of home air conditioning is here." Instead of being found only "in pretentious homes," air conditioning systems "will soon be found in every home that pretends to be modern."

    In these early days of the Crestwood development, Paul Stone began a pattern: he would build a house, live in it, get an offer on it, then move on to a new home he’d built.

    Another exhibit home, at 1800 Shepherd Street, was "furnished by Colony House and draped by Wales Decorating Co." A June 1939 story about this home raved about the neighborhood’s tree cover and convenience: "Retaining its sylvan setting, this locality is, nevertheless, within walking distance of schools, stores, transportation and churches. Rigid regulations under which it was established, however, prevent an invasion of commercial, or less costly residential enterprise, perpetually assuring its rustic and select character."

    Other early display homes between 1938 and 1940 included 4210 Mathewson Drive, 4216 Mathewson Drive, 1761 Shepherd Street, 1824 Randolph Street and 1811 Upshur Street. If you are wondering about price, a 1939 ad for "The Frank S. Phillips Section of Crestwood" offered "houses from $16,850 up." Interested buyers were to visit the exhibit home at 1712 Crestwood Drive "Surrounded by Towering Oaks."

    Some of those oaks are still there, for Crestwood’s Diamond Jubilee. Happy 75th!

    Please let me also wish a happy 95th birthday to an extraordinary neighbor, Julian Dugas.Julian has lived in Crestwood since 1970 - but he's been part of the fabric of DC life for far longer. In the 1950s, just three years after being admitted to the bar, he was working on the case that overturned segregation in DC public schools, Bolling v. Sharpe, which was part of Brown v. Board of Education. He went on to fight for the rights of the city’s poor as director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Project. He was an outspoken member of the DC Board of Education. He took on neglectful landlords as head of the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections. As director of the DC Department of Economic Development, he gave new opportunities to African Americans as both city employees and contractors. He served DC’s first mayor under home rule, Walter Washington, as his most trusted adviser and the first City Administrator. And, as a professor at the Howard University School of Law, he gave a generation of young idealists the training and inspiration they would need to become leaders in their own right. Happy birthday, Julian!

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:38 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    How Carter Barron was named

    With the summer season about to begin, this week we remember a production that was designed to be staged each summer within earshot of our neighborhood (much to the chagrin of many Crestwood residents). While the show had a short run, it did give rise to the Carter Barron Amphitheatre.

    In advance of the District of Columbia’s 150th birthday as the Nation's Capital, Congress established the National Capital Sesquicentennial Commission. Lawmakers authorized the Commission to erect some sort of building or buildings to mark the anniversary in 1950. The Commission decided on an outdoor stage where a historic pageant could be shown each year during the summer months. Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman presided over the groundbreaking for the Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre in December 1949. The structure was completed in July, 1950 at a cost of more than $560,000.

    Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Paul Green was hired to write a dramatic play for the venue, similar to other pageants he created. In his lifetime, Green authored 16 such "symphonic dramas." The most famous one is The Lost Colony, which continues to be staged each summer in an outdoor pavilion on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Visitors to Williamsburg, VA could see Green's production "The Common Glory" nearly every summer from 1946 to 1976. For the DC production, the playwright came up with "Faith of Our Fathers," a musical about the life of George Washington. Advertising described the show this way: "It portrays the benevolent, wise and just character of the Father of Our Country. You will be stirred by the author's capture of Washington's contribution to the fibre and strength of our original democratic concepts. You will be thrilled with the Washington story told with all the ingenuity of modern theatre: pantomime, folksong, dreams, music, choreography."

    Local actors and ordinary residents lined up to audition for roles. Professional actor Charles McClelland portrayed George Washington. But the cast member who would go on to the most fame was a veteran of Arena Stage and Olney Theater productions: playing the part of New York Governor George Clinton was Pernell Roberts, who was still nine years away from his signature role as Adam Cartwright in the television series Bonanza.

    On August 4, 1950, President Truman attended the premiere, which the Baltimore Afro-American remarked "had all the glamour and glitter of a major theatrical event." However, the newspaper said there was nothing "to rave about" on opening night "except for the singing of the Sesqui chorus and the acting of John Tate." Tate (who played William Lee, a slave who served as Washington's personal servant) was one of several African Americans in the cast. The review noted that "the period of American history presented by Mr. Green's pageant was a tragic and often horrible one, in which the words "freedom" and "liberty" sound a little ironic to the members of the race."

    The show's run that first summer was brief because of construction delays. A disappointing total of about 46,000 people came to the Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre over eight weeks. Tickets cost 90 cents for general admission; reserved seats went for $1.80 and $2.40.

    The Commission's executive vice chairman, Carter T. Barron, died November 17, 1950. A week later, the venue was renamed in his honor.

    Faith of Our Fathers returned the next summer "drastically redesigned" from the season before, according to Evening Star reviewer Jay Carmody: "New in production, lighting, music, dancing, and radically revised in script, the pageant drama bids everyone to forget the flaws and vicissitudes of last year's abbreviated run." For one thing, a large orchestra (described in various newspapers as comprising anywhere from 19 to 22 pieces) replaced the first summer's simple organ music. Still, Carmody called the production "frankly circusy in flavor, with fireworks, horses and tableaux." Tate returned as William Lee, and the new script made the part of Benjamin Banneker a speaking role. During the last performance in 1951, a disgruntled former cast member waved a pistol backstage just before the opening curtain and was arrested after threatening he was "going to get" three people working on the production.

    Many Crestwood residents signed a petition opposing a third season of Faith of Our Fathers. According to the Evening Star, neighbors complained of "loud amplification, causing sleeplessness until as late as four in the morning; rehearsals after midnight, and loud and excessive noise of patrons leaving the theater at night," plus "dust from parking areas blowing for blocks into the houses, and parking patron's cars in the neighborhood, making it impossible for guests of residents to find parking places." The Crestwood critics won the battle, but not the war. The historic pageant was not renewed. Nevertheless, after the Sesquicentennial Commission was disbanded, federal authorities allowed Carter Barron Amphitheatre to be used in future summers for ballets, musicals, concerts and even the circus.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:38 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    If you are planting a vegetable garden, this week’s Crestwood History Blog lets you know you are following a long tradition of agriculture in and around the neighborhood.

    The most patriotic use was during World War II. In 1943, the developers of Crestwood let residents use about three acres of vacant land for "victory gardens." The site was bounded by 18th Street, Shepherd Street, Argyle Terrace and Taylor Street.

    Farming in the Rock Creek valley dates back to the early 18th century. As tobacco farms exhausted the soil, farmers switched over to wheat. To serve them, millers set up shop up and down the creek. The Argyle mills attached to our neighborhood pre-date Peirce Mill, and may have been built before 1800. When Rock Creek Park was established, what was left of the Argyle mills was destroyed during the construction of Beach Drive.

    A farming settlement sprouted at a crossroads just northeast of present-day Crestwood as early as 1730. This village along Milk House Ford Road (not far from where Military Road is today) was called Crystal Spring. The name came from a spring that flowed into Rock Creek down the hill from a site just north of where the Fitzgerald Tennis Stadium is today. By 1825 the settlement would become Brightwood.

    Later in the 19th century, Thomas Blagden did some farming when he owned the Argyle estate that became Crestwood. Figures from the 1860 US Census show that his farm produced 400 bushels of Irish potatoes and ten bushels of sweet potatoes. Blagden also owned six horses, four asses or mules, 20 swine, and three milk cows that produced more than 100 pounds of butter. In addition to the milling complex, 15 buildings are identified on the property including a farmhouse, barn, ice house, gardener’s house and grapery.

    Blagden’s son, also named Thomas, was a self-proclaimed “deer farmer.” He fenced off 20 or 30 acres of the estate and raised deer, a rare creature at the time. His stock of deer grew from a pair he imported from his property in the Adirondacks in 1874. In an 1899 Washington Post interview, he said there was a market for the animals he raised, because “pretty nearly all the millionaires in the country are interested in buying deer” for their own game parks. Washingtonians would ride out to Bladgen’s Deer Park to gawk at the strange animals. In a letter Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his son Archie from the White House in June 1904, the President described how he “climbed into” the Deer Park and frightened a “pretty wee fawn, all spotted.” Teddy drew a picture of the deer to show how it “made great jumps and held its white tail straight in the air.”

    Even in 1900, an ad in the Suburban Citizen newspaper advertised more than a dozen dairies in DC, including three in Brightwood. One of them, owned by Hugh McMahon, retained the village’s early name: Crystal Spring Dairy. Tenant farmers like McMahon were allowed to lease land in Rock Creek Park until 1912 (and a few even thereafter).

    Happy gardening!

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:37 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    Baseball fans: if you attend a Nationals home game, you will be close to a piece of Crestwood history. At one time, Blagden’s Wharf was located just three blocks away from where the stadium is today. Back in 1833, Thomas Blagden purchased the wharf between Third and Fourth Streets SE on the shore of what was then called the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. The wharf, along with real estate holdings and a lumber business, provided the means for Blagden to purchase his properties in Washington – including the farmstead along Rock Creek that grew into our neighborhood.

    Blagden’s son, also named Thomas Blagden, would occasionally host baseball games on the estate we now call home. As the Washington Post reported on April 24, 1901: “For the second time this season the fast playing nine of the Riggs National Bank yesterday defeated a picked team at the country place of Mr. Thomas Blagden.” Riggs broke open a 3-3 tie with eight runs in the top of the seventh inning to go on to an 11-6 victory over “the Blagdens.” As a property owner who was looking forward to developing his land, perhaps it was good business to let the banker win.

    One can only guess where Blagden might have located the playing field. Much of Crestwood has at least a gentle slope, with steep drop-offs that could claim foul balls. My best guess would put the batter’s box in the far northeastern end of the estate, where Thomas Blagden (as opposed to various other members of the family) still had title to the land in 1901. Perhaps the hitter would step up to the plate around present-day Emerson or Farragut Street facing toward the southwest. If so, one of the houses that would eventually sprout in the middle of the infield (at 4720 Sixteenth Street) would belong to Clark Griffith, the owner of the Washington Senators.

    Just to the north of our neighborhood, local baseball teams would take the field from time to time at the Brightwood Driving Park. This was a horse racing track that remained popular up to the time it was closed in 1909 when Sixteenth Street was extended right through the middle of the property (about where Kennedy Street intersects Sixteenth today). The final season of baseball at the track included a May 31, 1909 Suburban League match-up in which Brightwood defeated Petworth 9-6. The Washington Post called it “one of the most exciting contests of the season at the Brightwood driving park…First one team would take the lead, only to lose it in a few minutes. The winners were presented with a handsome silver loving cup by A. Davis after the game.”

    Play ball!


    -David Swerdloff


  • Fri, June 28, 2013 3:33 PM | Pavan Khoobchandani (Administrator)

    Our neighborhood origins

    As the real estate market heats up, this week’s Crestwood History Blog centers on a land deal that came out of the blue in 1904 to shock our neighborhood into development.

    Thomas Blagden owned the estate that grew into Crestwood when he died without a will in February, 1870. By 1876, the property had been partitioned into about 40 lots owned by members of the Blagden family. It appeared on DC maps as the Blagden Sub-Division. The maps included small but mostly phantom roads that separated the lots. In truth, very little development on the estate had taken place for years – save, perhaps, for a home along Blagden Avenue for Thomas Blagden’s daughter Harriet and her husband, Arthur Mathewson. The main manor house and large portions of the estate were controlled by Blagden’s widow, Laura (who lived in the house until her death in 1908) and their son – also named Thomas Blagden.

    By 1904, there were indications the former estate would be ripe for development. A bridge was on the way to span the deep Piney Branch Valley and bring Sixteenth Street out from Mount Pleasant into our neighborhood. The old Washington Times reported in April, 1904: “Foreseeing the extension of Sixteenth Street, a number of years ago Mr. Blagden had accurate surveys made, and built on the line of said street, introducing at the same time city water, sewer and gas.” The trolley was coming nearby, as well, with the Capital Traction Company tracks along 14th Street open all the way to Brightwood by 1906 (accessible via Decatur Street).

    But the younger Thomas Blagden still was surprised when a real estate broker named Herbert A. Gill approached him in 1904 with an offer from patent attorney Shelton T. Cameron to buy a chunk of the estate for a whopping $17,000. The Times report called the offer “unsought by (Blagden), the property never having been placed on the market up to the present time, excepting for renting purposes.” This “lot of unusual size” was located just outside today's boundaries of Crestwood in the northeast corner of the estate along Piney Branch Road. The large tract had at its southwest corner the present-day intersection of 16th and Allison Streets.

    As the Times story related, the sale convinced Blagden “to place his property on the market” and “sell it by metes and bounds, so as to meet individual requirements of purchasers.” Mr. Cameron came back for more, purchasing ten acres of the estate along the path of Sixteenth Street for more than $80,000 in 1906. The Washington Post called the price “$4,500 more per acre than has ever been paid before for land in (the) vicinity.” On a modern map, the property would appear today bounded on the north and south by Emerson and Decatur Streets, and on the east and west by Piney Branch Road and Blagden Avenue.

    Many buyers and many builders were to follow “by metes and bounds” - with the earliest building permits in the neighborhood issued in 1910. They were all within that second parcel purchased by Cameron - on Blagden Avenue, Sixteenth Street and Decatur Street. But the First World War intervened to put off a real boom until the 1920s.

    Plans are underway to publish a book about Crestwood history to raise funds for the Crestwood Citizens Association.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace


This website and the Crestwood Citizens Association is supported by the dues of CCA members. Membership has its benefits including access to members-only resources and the knowledge that you are supporting a great neighborhood!


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