Now and a Long Time Ago: Wisconsin and Volta

This week in Now and a Long Time Ago, GM swings up Wisconsin Ave. to what is now the George Town Club. While this is not a terribly interesting selection from a visual point of view, the history of the property is in fact quite rich.

Or is it?

The George Town Club is a rather exclusive private city club that was formed in 1966. According to its website, the building it is housed in was once Suter’s Tavern.

That is not an idle claim. Suter’s Tavern (actually it was the Fountain Inn, it just was run by someone named John Suter) was one of the popular taverns that existed in Georgetown in the 1780s. It was supposedly the location of where George Washington set up his headquarters while surveying the future federal city. Pierre L’Enfant also supposedly stayed there. And Thomas Jefferson left this 18th century version of a Yelp review when he said “no man on the Atlantic coast can bring out a better bottle of Madeira or Sherry than old Suter.”

Its exact location is a mystery. But most historians agree that it was somewhere between Bridge St. (now M St.) and the river, just east of High St. (Wisconsin). In the early 20th century, most were convinced it was one of the frame houses that stood at the northwest corner of 31st and K. But by the 1940s, many were claiming that the Old Stone House was Suter’s Tavern (it most likely was not).

But where did the idea that the tavern was really all the way up at Wisconsin and Volta (or rather High St. and Fourth as it was called then)? There were not many buildings up in that part of Georgetown in the 1780s. And while the portion of the property that has wood siding could theoretically be from the 18th century, most of the rest of the properties on that block are from the mid to late 19th century.

The history of the club might shed some light on the question. The property was bought in the 1960s by Tongsun Park (a relative of the Korean president) at the urging of socialite Louise Gore (aunt of Deborah Gore Dean of Gore Dean Antiques). In the 1950s, the property housed a restaurant called the Garden Gate:

 

In the 1940s, it housed a different restaurant called Ann’s Kitchen. In 1917, it housed some families (the children of which got hit by a car at the intersection of 33rd and Wisconsin. Some intersections were just born bad.)

But nowhere in the Post’s archives is the property referred to as Suter’s Tavern until Park showed up and created the Suter’s Tavern Corp. to hold the property.

And who was Park anyway? Well he was identified as a relative of the President of Korea. But in the 1970s, he became involved in a Congressional bribery scandal dubbed “Koreagate” (which must be one the first instances of a scandal getting “gated”). Moreover, the IRS started to come after him for nearly $10 million in back taxes. Much later he was tied to the U.N. Oil For Food scandal and was sent to jail.

With that shady background and a total lack of evidence, it seems likely that the connection to Suter’s was either invented whole cloth, or based on a false rumor.

GM is convinced that this building was not the location of the real Fountain Inn. Maybe it was the location of another tavern owned by John Sutter? Even that is unlikely since Sutter died while still running the Fountain Inn. Plus, GM is not convinced this property was built before  the mid 19th century.

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2 Comments

Filed under Now and a Long Time Ago

2 responses to “Now and a Long Time Ago: Wisconsin and Volta

  1. Andy

    GM this is why I love reading the Georgetwon Metropolitan – a big thanks for this!

  2. Walter

    Thomas Jefferson lived near 31st and K. Jefferson lived on the southeast corner of what is now Thomas Jefferson St.and the C&O Canal. To my thinking I don’t believe a tavern would be built right on Water St., –too vulnerable to flooding. Perhaps a bit up the hill on 31st St..

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