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Bloomingdale Historic District

City of Washington, District of Columbia, DC

Bloomingdale Historic District

Bloomingdale [†] is significant for its status as one of Washington's largest cohesive rowhouse neighborhoods. Located immediately outside the city's original boundary and only a mile from the U.S. Capitol, its development started with the arrival of a streetcar line (see: Streetcar Suburbs) and continued relatively rapidly. Most of it was built between ca. 1892 and ca. 1916 by a small group of speculative developers and builders. What is most striking to the first-time visitor is the neighborhood's large stock of substantial rowhouses of high-quality design and materials, houses that obviously were intended to attract increasingly stable middle-class residents. The size of the houses and quality of the architecture illustrate that the success of speculative development for the city's rising middle class was all but assured during the years in which the neighborhood was built. Bloomingdale also offers a primer on the architectural transition of the city's rowhouses away from the fanciful, three-story, Victorian building forms of the early 1890s to the more regularized, two-story, front-porch rowhouse form of the 1910s. Looking more broadly, Bloomingdale is also one of the first large developments in the District to be laid out in conformance with the Permanent Highway Plan of 1893, which standardized the layout of new subdivisions beyond the city's original boundaries.

One of the earliest mentions of houses for sale in Bloomingdale appears in a February 1893 Washington Post article with the subtitle, "Architects Busy Designing Residences for Opulent Citizens." The article describes a row of houses in progress on R Street's unit block, numbers 25-53. Two years later, 261 people were living in the Bloomingdale subdivision, 169 and in 1897, Bloomingdale had 403 residents.

By 1900, the "opulent citizens" who occupied R Street's unit block were typical of most of those who lived elsewhere in Bloomingdale: white families headed by men who worked as government clerks, telegraph operators, bookkeepers, store clerks, stenographers, printers, salesmen, bookbinders, attorneys, and physicians. While many of these families rented their homes, as did those who lived around the corner at 1700-1712 First Street, a mix of owners and renters lived in the neighborhood. The owners included many of the men engaged in building Bloomingdale, including Edward Kern, who designed the R Street houses described in the Post Bloomingdale's evolution represents the work of many of the city's most well-known developers and architects of the time, including builders Harry Wardman and Middaugh & Shannon and architects Francis Blundon, Thomas Haislip, Joseph Bohn, Albert Beers, William Allard, Nicholas 4 Report Grimm, and George Santmyers. (Most of these architects began by designing rowhouses for other builders but went on to become developers in their own right.)

Water was the most significant natural feature of the future Bloomingdale area. In the early 19th century, prolific springs on the site of today's McMillan Reservoir quenched the new capital's thirst, and Tiber Creek was "a formidable stream that drained about half of the original District of Columbia area." According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Tiber's headwaters started about 3.5 miles north of the Capitol, with many small branches originating in the northern part of the District. In the Bloomingdale area the stream followed roughly the path of today's Flagler Place NW. A larger branch flowed into it close to the intersection of today's First and S streets NW, a few blocks north of Florida Avenue. After crossing Florida Avenue (then called Boundary Street) the Tiber veered southeast, where it flowed together with various other branches and then headed south toward the Capitol.

Bloomingdale originally extended as far as Lincoln Road NE, but as a result of North Capitol Street's evolution into a major transit corridor, the Northeast unit blocks effectively became part of Eckington. Tiber Creek, which ran just east of today's Second Street, originally served as a natural boundary on the west.

The early builders instituted racial covenants accompanying their properties. These were tested and litigated throughout the first 5 to 6 decades of neighborhood development and expansion.

In 1943, what became an important African-American cultural institution opened at 127 Randolph Place, the Barnett Aden Gallery. The first privately owned black gallery in the U.S., the gallery was operated by James Vernon Herring and Alonzo Aden, respectively the chair of Howard University's Art Department and the curator of the Howard University Gallery of Art. The gallery showcased a number of nationally important black artists, including Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, and is a designated site on DC's African American Heritage Trail. The gallery continued to operate until 1968.

The 100 block of Randolph was also home to three young African-American women who grew up to be judges: Anna Diggs Taylor, Alice Gail Clark (n e Pollard), and Norma Holloway Johnson. DC Court of Appeals Chief Judge M. Annice Wagner grew up around the corner on First Street, just below R Street, and Chief Justice of Tennessee's Supreme Court Adolpho Birch, Jr., grew up in the nearby St. George's Episcopal Church parsonage as the son of the church's first rector. Dr. Ernest Y. Williams, who in 1940 founded Howard University's Department of Psychiatry and Neurology and was among numerous African-American doctors in Bloomingdale with home offices, lived at 1747 First Street. This block was also home to Edward Brooke, who in 1966 became the first African American elected to the Senate in the 20th century; he served as a Massachusetts Senator until 1979. After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1936, Brooke had lived at 1730 First Street with his family and walked to Howard University, where he received a B.S. in sociology.

A number of other notable residents have also contributed to Bloomingdale's rich African- American history. Physician and public health advocate Dorothy Ferebee, who presided over the National Council of Negro Women and was the personal physician of noted black educator and political activist Mary McLeod Bethune, lived at 1809 Second Street in the 1930s and 40s.325 Prominent Washington businesswoman and activist Flaxie Pinkett grew up at 122 V Street. At 14 years old, Pinkett began working for her father John R. Pinkett, the founder of the successful real estate and insurance firm John R. Pinkett, Inc., and she took over the company in 1958. A much-honored member of the city's business establishment, in 1981 Flaxie Pinkett became the first African American, and the first woman, named "Man of the Year" by the Washington Board of Trade. Diplomat and scholar Will Mercer Cook, son of famed composer Will Marion Cook and singer Abbie Mitchell Cook, lived at 127 V Street while teaching at Howard University between 1945 and 1961, when President Kennedy appointed him ambassador to Niger. Actor and dancer Chita Rivera grew up at 2134 Flagler Place in the 1940s, and comedian Jackie "Moms Mabley" lived at 1635 First Street, a block from her friend Odessa Madre, a notorious local nightclub operator described by local newspapers as DC's Al Capone.

Adapted from: Mara Cherkasky, Historian, and Sarah Jane Shoenfeld, Historian, Prologue DC, LLC, 2017, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., accessed March, 2022.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
1st Street NW • 2nd Street NW • Adams Street NW • Bloomingdale Court NW • Bryant Street NW • Flagler Place NW • Florida Avenue NW • McMillan Drive NW • North Capitol Street NW • Quincy Place NW • R Street NW • Randolph Place NW • Route 1 • S Street NW • Seaton Place NW • T Street NW • Thomas Street NW • U Street MW • V Street NW • W Street NW