Category Archives: Now and a Long Time Ago

Now and a Long Time Ago: M and 31st

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. Continue reading



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Now and a Long Time Ago: M and Wisconsin

This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM swings by M and Wisconsin. Today, this is the location of Calvin Klein Underwear, the former Unos, and the ever going-out-of-business Riccardi’s.

In 1966 the scene was somewhat different. For one thing, there was a huge neon sign on the side of the building. It spelled out “Comley’s” and it was advertising the George A. Comley flower shop that stood at that spot. Comley started selling flowers in Georgetown in 1905. His shop was located originally at 1204 32nd (which, confusingly, it was Wisconsin Ave. was called back then) right next to W.T. Weavers and Sons.

It seems that Comley’s wasn’t open too much longer after this photo. By the mid 70s, this was the location of the Old Thread Oriental Rug company. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading


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Catching Up on a Few Now and Thens

GM had some computer problem in August that prevented him from publishing the “swipe” versions of his Now and a Long Time Ago series. Now that his computer is back in shape, he went back to pull a few of them together. Enjoy:

P and 33rd Continue reading

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Now and a Long Time Ago: Wisconsin and M

GM finally has the Flash swipe trick back in action for this week’s Now and a Long Time Ago! Today, GM is checking in with an old, old Georgetown family company; one that is still open too boot.

That store is W. T. Weaver and Sons Hardware. This is a store that GM has already profiled on Not So Long Ago when he compared the current facade with how it stood in 1993. Today, GM goes back a lot further. This photo is from 1926. Continue reading

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Now and a Long Time Ago: 33rd and P

This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM walked down a block and a half from his house to check out 33rd and P. GM is still working out some kinks in his computer, so this week he’s trying out a new way to merge the old with the new, what do you think?

The full old shot is here, taken from the wonderful repository of old streetcar photos: Continue reading

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Now and a Long Time Ago: Cissel Alley

This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM heads down below the canal to Cecil Place, or how it used to be called, Cissel Alley. A reader directed GM to the great book “Neglected Neighbors: Stories of Life in the Allies, Tenements, and Shanties of the National Capital” written by Charles Frederick Weller in 1909. The book was the result of a methodical documentation of the meager living conditions of DC’s poorest residents just after the turn of the 20th century. The focus was primarily on the unsanitary conditions of these living quarters, but it captured the general squalor as well.

A whole section of the book is on Georgetown’s alley dwellings. And one of those was Cissel Alley. Cissel Alley took its name from the Cissel family that owned the flour mill at Potomac and Grace at the end of the 19th century. This is how Weller described the inhabitants of Georgetown from Cissel Alley over to 31st St.:

Below the Chesapeake and Potomac Canal and running south from Grace street between Thirty-second [Wisconsin Ave.] and Thirty-third [Potomac St.], is “Cecil Alley” or “Cissell Alley” whose ancient cobblestone pavement leads down a steep hill past a row of two-story-and-basement bricks inhabited by rather needy white families. Back of this row is “Cherry Hill” with its cluster of brick and wooden dwellings occupied by colored people. Further east, on Thirty-second street, Grace Church stands near the end of the uncouth little street which bears its name. Behind the church is “Brickyard Hill” where both white and colored people have lived for many years in a remarkable collection of insanitary houses. The first one noticed as the writer climbed up the clay bank above the alleyway, was a large, old. wooden tenement which was formerly a pretentious private mansion. Continue reading

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Now and a Long Time Ago: Washington and Gay St.


This week for Now and a Long Time Ago, GM is going a long ways back, all the way to the Civil War. The above photo from the Library of Congress is of the Seminary Hospital on Washington and Gay (30th and N nowadays).

The building was originally Miss Lydia English’s Finishing School for Girls. As this writer recounts:

From 1820 to 1861 this was “Miss English’s Seminary for Young Ladies”. Many of the daughters of Washington’s elite families were educated here under the direction of Miss Lydia Scudder English.

Miss English wrote in her brochure that she would provide girls with “that amount of mental and moral culture necessary to render them amiable, intelligent, and useful members of society”.

About 140 girls boarded each year at Miss Lydia English’s Georgetown Female Seminary. One of the most famous was Harriet Williams, the teenage bride of the middle aged Russian nobleman whose marital home is at 3322 O St. NW. Continue reading


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Now and a Long Time Ago: 37th and O St.


This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM swings by Georgetown University. That steel frame you see above turned into this:


The old photo is dated October 18, 1932 (just think, they were weeks away from electing FDR for the first time. Well, not if they were DC residents that is…) According to Georgetown, “The White-Gravenor Building takes its name from Andrew White, S.J., and John Gravenor, S.J., two of the first Jesuits to come to Maryland in 1634. The building was completed in 1933.” Either that date is wrong, or they really knew how to finish a building fast back then. Continue reading


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Now and a Long Time Ago: the Georgetown Waterfront


This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM returns to the Georgetown waterfront. According to the Library of Congress, the photo above dates from anywhere between 1909 and 1932. GM’s looked closely, and the only building in the photo whose construction GM can date if the Capital Traction Power House towards the center right. But that was built in 1910, so that doesn’t help much. So all GM can say is that this photo is from somewhere between 1910 and 1932.

Here’s the shot from today:

Before getting into the differences, GM is struck by the similarity of angle, which suggests that the old shot may have also been taken from the Key Bridge. Since that span was constructed in 1923, it would narrow the window a bit.

While GM can’t quite date the old photo, he can identify a few of the buildings in the shot. Beyond the Capital Traction Power House there’s the flour mill:

On the riverbank there’s a boathouse for canoes: Continue reading


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