Lost Georgetown: Capital Traction Company Powerhouse

Since news is slow these days, and everyone seems to love history posts, GM is launching a new series today: Lost Georgetown. In it, GM will explore a significant building from Georgetown’s past that has been demolished. He is starting with about the largest possible candidate: the Capital Traction Company Powerhouse.

Name: Capital Traction Company Powerhouse

Built By: Capital Traction Company

Constructed: 1910

Current Use: Demolished 1968

The Capital Traction Company was one of the two major streetcar companies that serviced the District at the turn of the 20th century. It was the primary streetcar company servicing Georgetown at that time and was centered around the massive Car Barn at 35th and M, which still stands today.

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, Capital Traction operated a series of cable car lines. The decision was made to transition to an electric system and a powerhouse was needed to provide the necessary electricity. Thus the company built the imposing powerhouse at the foot of Wisconsin Ave.

According to the Historic American Building Survey, the building’s imposing size was a conscious choice of the company. The buildings gigantic size was intended to project the importance of the streetcar system.

When it was fully operational, the powerhouse contained twelve boilers that powered five turbo generators. This provided 18,500 kilowatts of electricity, which was distributed out through four substations to the streetcar system. The interior was as grand as the exterior:

Despite the grandness of this building, it was only used for 23 years. In 1933 it was shut down as part of the Capital Traction Company’s merger with Washington Railway and Electric Company to form the Capital Transit Company. By 1944, the powerhouse was decommission. By 1968 it was demolished.

The powerhouse made its way back into the news about ten years ago, when it was revealed that delays to the construction of Phase II of the Georgetown waterfront park were partially due to the discovery of remaining elements of the powerhouse’s foundation.

While a beautiful park is a great asset, GM can’t help feeling that this grand building could have been a part of a great civic space. Imagine it as a great museum a la Musée d’Orsay.

All photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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