This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM slides down M St. a bit to M and 31st. Today the three buildings in question hold a German television station, Sports Zone, and Georgetown Tobacco.
The first thing that GM noticed looking at the Library of Congress’s shot of these buildings from 1966 is that the huge windows were there already. GM always figured they were a more recent addition.
Well according to the report of the American Historical Building Survey, the windows are original to the building. It was built around 1909 and the AHBS describes it as “an unusual structure for Georgetown…[which] typifies an increasingly rationalisitic and functional early twentieth century approach in commercial.” In essence, this building is a proto-modern structure. While it still embraced the classical ornamentation, it pointed towards the clean and glassy aesthetic that would ultimately dominate 20th century architecture.
It makes this building historically interesting in a way unlike most historic buildings in Georgetown. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that it’s currently occupied by such a crummy store that rather than use the windows to open up the interior to the outside, uses the windows to erect billboards. (Arguably these billboards are already illegal, but if they’re not, they will be once DDOT adopts new signage rules next year.)
To be fair, back in 1966 the tenant, a furniture store called the Door Store, also blocked all the windows (at least in this case it was with curtains, not ugly ads). It would be such a better use of this beautiful facade for the interior to be opened up to the outside.
In the 1920s, this property was a furniture store. It appears to have become a Sears retail store in the 1930s.
By the 1950s, it was a Western Autos autopart store. On April 29th, 1951, a recently fired employee tried to break into the safe after hours. He failed, and decided to burn the building down. He was arrested and convicted for arson, receiving a 3-9 year sentence.
According to the Post, while drums of oil kept in the basement worsened the fire, luckily the shotgun shells kept upstairs did not go off (Western Autos also sold guns).
It appears the fire was so bad that Western Autos never reopened. By 1957 the Door Store was there, which itself appears to have stayed open until the mid 80s. GM’s not sure what was there between then and 1997 when the Sports Zone opened.
As for the store at 3144 M St. (Georgetown Tobacco’s space), it appears to have been a pawn shop called Rosslyn Loan Co. According to Georgetown Tobacco’s website, they opened in 1964, but they must have been at a different location initially. There was a pawn shop at that location until at least 1969, but Georgetown Tobacco was definitely open there by at least 1971.