Posts by John DeFerrari

John DeFerrari is a native Washingtonian with a lifelong passion for local history and writes about it for his blog, Streets Of Washington. His latest book about DC history is Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, DC. John is also a trustee of the DC Preservation League. The views expressed here are his own.

  • Then and Now: General Post Office to Hotel Monaco

    She’s a grand old lady, an exquisite neoclassical landmark, and Washington’s first all-marble building. But the old General Post Office between 7th, 8th, E, and F Streets NW, nevertheless is not well-known and hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It is now leased out as a boutique hotel because the government couldn’t summon the wherewithal in the…  Keep reading…

  • Lost Washington: Childs fast food restaurants

    On Massachusetts Avenue at North Capitol Street NW, close to Union Station, stands a rather striking SunTrust bank building. How did this stately little building with its big windows and rough, pumice-like walls land on this corner, and why is it put to such nondescript use? It’s lived a number of lives through the years. Designed as a restaurant, cheery and inviting, it…  Keep reading…

  • “Woodies,” the sentimental favorite

    For many longtime Washington residents, The Woodward & Lothrop department store, or Woodies as everybody knew it, is a touchstone for memories of easier days and simpler pleasures when Washington was much younger. The looming 9-story building at 11th and F Streets, NW, taking up virtually an entire block in the heart of old downtown, served as the stage for many happy moments…  Keep reading…

  • Historic almost-losses: Dolley Madison’s house

    On the northeast corner of Lafayette Square sits a distinctive yellow house with an ornamental wrought iron porch. Quaint and domestic as it is, it seems transported from a bygone era, a time when Lafayette Square was where the rich and famous lived and this house on the corner was the epicenter of Washington social life. Dolley Madison (1768-1849) owned the house at one time and…  Keep reading…

  • Doctors’ Hospital, a “hotel for the sick”

    It seems that as long as hospitals have been around, they’ve seemed dreary and depressing, or at times even unhealthful. The first DC hospital, for example, was a decidedly morbid place, opened at the Washington Asylum for indigents during a cholera epidemic in 1832. Medical practitioners have been trying for a long time to do better than that. One major step forward occurred…  Keep reading…

  • Washington’s first convention center

    It wasn’t that ugly concrete behemoth on H Street, completed in 1980, that was mercifully imploded in 2004. No, the first convention center was to the northwest of that, in what is now Mount Vernon Triangle, on the east side of 5th Street NW between K and L Streets. The City Vista apartment and condominium complex now rises there. It was built as a market house in 1875, a grand…  Keep reading…

  • Lost Washington: The “Notorious” Sterling Hotel

    The Sterling Hotel, originally the Hotel Johnson, once stood on the southeast corner of 13th and E Streets, NW, a corner that now fronts on Freedom Plaza and is just north of Pennsylvania Avenue. This was never one of Washington’s great hostelries, but it was listed as one of the 30 “principal hotels” of Washington in Rand McNally’s Pictorial Guide to…  Keep reading…

  • The legacy of Charles Bond

    Born in Saugus, Massachusetts, Charles Henry Bond (1846-1908) became fabulously wealthy and successful in the latter part of the 19th century. He made his fortune in the cigar business, as president of Boston-based Waitt & Bond, Inc., manufacturers of Blackstone and Totem brand cigars. A cameo biography of him in Samuel Eliot’s 1909 Biographical History of Massachusetts…  Keep reading…

  • Washington’s first sidewalk cafe

    A modest, four-story storefront once stood near the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW overlooking Washington’s first sidewalk café. From an illegal gambling parlor to a trendy 1960s discotheque, the building saw much in the way of what Washington had to offer for nighttime entertainment. It began its colorful career in about 1872, although according…  Keep reading…

  • Lost Washington: The Arlington Hotel

    Quick, what was the swankiest hotel in Washington in the 1880s and 1890s? Was it the Willard? No, sorry; the Willard that we know hadn’t been built yet. The National or the Metropolitan? No, they had peaked earlier in the century as well. The best hotel, in many people’s view, was the Arlington, located on Vermont Avenue just a block from the White House. The site, between…  Keep reading…

  • The little shop that survived (sort of)

    A recent article in The Washington Post about the historic synagogue downtown that was moved once and will be moved again soon got me thinking about historic buildings in D.C. that have been moved. Georgetown’s exquisite Dumbarton House is another example; it was moved north about 50 feet in 1915 to allow the Georgetown stretch of Q Street to be connected up with its Washington…  Keep reading…

  • Lost Washington: The old Palais Royal department store

    Many Washingtonians remember the Woodward & Lothrop department store, which used to be downtown at 11th and F Streets, N.W.  The old Woodies Building is still standing. But less well-known is its old rival, the Palais Royal, which was located in the block immediately to the north, at 11th and G. The Palais Royal got started in 1877 on the northeast corner of 12th Street…  Keep reading…

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