by Ann Kessler
On the Flagship Car Wash at 4432 Connecticut Avenue there’s a sign that says “Since 1941.” It’s off by a decade. The car wash was built in 1931. What else was on this block south of Albemarle Street in the 1930s?
The current home of Bread Furst, a one-story brick and stone building, has housed a variety of businesses through the years. It started life as a grocery store. On April 25th, 1930, Sanitary Grocery Co. received a permit to erect a $7,000 building designed and constructed by Spencer, Warren architects and contractors. Sanitary added the store to its list of Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in 1932.
The building was sold to Anna Cataldi, a real estate investor, in 1934. She continued to lease it to Sanitary Grocery Co. until the decision was made to close this store in the Piggly Wiggly chain in 1937. The property was advertised in the Evening Star as “For Lease: Desirable Stores: 100% Location: 4434 Connecticut Avenue… 25 x 75 feet, reasonable rentals. H. Clifford Bangs 200 Invest. Bldg.” It was sold in 1939 by the estate of Anna Cataldi to Thomas E. Clark, a plumbing contractor.
Thomas E. Clark, the plumbing company, had built a white storefront at 3407 Connecticut Avenue in 1930. But the population to the north was growing as new neighborhoods developed and Clark may have moved up the avenue to follow his customers. Thomas E. Clark would stay at 4434 Connecticut for over 60 years.
“They honored the old ways,” the Washington City Paper wrote in 1995. “As late as 1989, to step inside was to rewind the clock by decades. Mechanical adding machines and telephones with the Emerson 2-2300 number sat atop ancient desks, and an unadorned Standard toilet was perched prominently in the window…” Today Thomas E. Clark (“Family Owned and Operated since 1891”) is based in Silver Spring.
The next commercial enterprise to occupy 4434 was Town and Country Baths. While this may sound like a new business, it actually had its roots in Thomas E. Clark. One of the owners of Town and Country Baths was Joseph Whelan who, when starting out, had worked as a plumber for Thomas E. Clark. E.J. Whelan & Company bought the property and opened an upscale bathroom and plumbing supply store named Town and Country Baths in April 1991. Eventually the store was renamed E.J.’s Bath By Design. E.J.’s held a retirement sale in the fall of 2001, and closed its doors in November of that year.
By 2004, W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors, an old DC realty company founded in 1912, had relocated to 4434. To bring attention to the front of the store, a navy blue awning was added to its entrance. W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors would later move to Bethesda and become part of the Long and Foster Real Estate Company.
Bread Furst, owned by Mark Furstenberg (the winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker award in 2017), opened in 2014 at this location. This local bakery has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best in DC and a go-to place for neighbors to meet. The building is currently owned by “4434 Connecticut Avenue LLC” which is managed by the Aubinoe Management Company of Rockville, Maryland.
The “auto laundry” next door
In May 1931, Benjamin E. Skinker received a building permit for a one-story brick and concrete auto laundry at 4432 Connecticut Avenue for a price of $7,500. Thomas V. Terrett, formerly in the used car business, took over the business and operated the car wash, “Terrett’s Auto Laundry,” for ten years until illness forced him to sell in 1948.
The ad in the May 11, 1948 edition of the Evening Star reads: “Auto Laundry, best location in city; conveyor system, complete with stock; priced right for quick sale. Ill health forces owner to sell.” The buyer was Ely Wagner, who became active in the Automatic Car Wash Association-International, serving as its president in 1965-1966.
Wagner owned the car wash for 31 years before selling it to the Hinton family for $250,000 in 1982.
A fire tore through the car wash on August 29, 2002. This fire did $85,000 of damage and allowed the modernization of the exterior to its current shiny entrance. The Hintons have updated the facility but have chosen to maintain it as the oldest operating conveyorized car wash in the country. The car wash is currently part of the chain of Flagship Car Wash Centers.
Mini golf and a major service station
While these two buildings still stand, neither was the first to be built on the west side of the 4400 block of Connecticut. The 1931 Washington D.C. City Directory lists two commercial enterprises here: Tom Thumb Golf Course (Miniature) at 4440 and the Skinker Bros gas station at 4444.
“Tom Thumb” miniature golf courses were a fad in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These small courses – franchised out of Chattanooga, Tennessee – were so popular that H.A. Hollins, an insurance salesman, opened one here in April 1930. It was open from 9 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. every day. The fad of these miniature or “midget” golf courses (as they were also called) faded quickly. Thus this advertisement for the sale of the course at 4440 Connecticut appeared in June 1931: “genuine Tom Thumb, with the patented greens which are not damaged by hard rains, the most popular course in Washington last season.”
The Skinker Brothers gas station at 4444 was demolished in 1982 to allow for the construction of the Hastings condominiums. The drawing (above) from a 1932 ad illustrates what the corner looked like in the 1930s.
The same Benjamin E. Skinker who built the auto laundry at 4432 in 1931 received permission to build a two-story brick and terra cotta gas station with a canopy over the gas pumps at the corner of Albemarle Street in September 1928. Skinker was able to retain his businesses through the Depression. In January 1932, he advertised that he had pledged that his entire net profits for the month would go to the District of Columbia’s Committee on Employment to help Washington’s unemployed.
Skinker owned his “master automotive service center” for many years. He was quoted in the Evening Star in December 1944, when there were gas lines at his station during World War II, about the “panic buying” of motorists. “There is no gas shortage… [there’s] “too much stuff in the newspapers and on the radio.” By 1950 Skinker would still be running the service station but would be leasing 4444 from the Sinclair Refining Company. He would retire from the gas station and tire business, after 52 years, in 1971.
Now when you walk into Bread Furst’s fragrant and fine old building, or drive into the Flagship Car Wash, take a moment to look at their exteriors and imagine their past. And think of the role they have played in making our community what it is today.
“A ‘Tom Thumb’ Course Opened in Washington,” Evening Star, April 20, 1930.
“Auto Laundry [ad],” Evening Star, May 11, 1949, 33.
“Benjamin Skinker, Tire Shop Owner,” The Washington Post, September 7, 1976, C3.
“Building Permits,” The Washington Post, May 17, 1931, R1.
“Building Permits,” Washington Post, April 27, 1930, R2.
“Business Opportunities: Golf Course,” Evening Star, June 3, 1931.
D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. Property Detail for 4434 Connecticut Ave NW
D.C. Property Quest. 4434 Connecticut Avenue.
Daly, John J. “These Are Not the Missing Links,” The Washington Post, August 31, 1930.
Dolan, Michael. “Beauty and the Beast: Van Mess,” Washington City Paper, March 10, 1995.
“Elected by Car Wash Group,” Evening Star, August 4, 1965, 34.
“Ely Wagner, Past President of Car Wash Association, Dies,” The Washington Post, May 9, 1989.
“Fire Burns at NW Carwash,” The Washington Post, August 30, 2002, DMB2.
Flagship Car Wash Center (n.d.) [Facebook page]. Retrieved April 20, 2020 from facebook.com/pg/FlagshipGermantown/posts.
“For Lease: Desirable Stores. 100% Locations ad,” Evening Star, December 11, 1937, B9
Furstenberg, Mark. “We Begin,” Bread Furst (blog), September 5, 2013.
“Galt Jewelry Firm to Move in New Home,” The Washington Post, August 19, 1934, R1.
“Gas Station Giving January Profits to Jobless Fund,” Evening Star, December 27, 1931, A7.
“Motorist Still Crowd Stations to Fill Up Tanks,” Evening Star, December 21, 1944.
“Realty Negotiated by Bangs Office,” The Washington Post, April 23, 1939, R1.
“Retirement Sale” [ad],” The Washington Post, November 8, 2001.
Sietsema, Tom. “Bread Furst: The City’s Best Bakery, No Matter How You Slice It,” The Washington Post, October 2, 2015.
“Skinker Help Us Help Unemployed ad,” Evening Star, January 2, 1932, A3.
“Thomas E. Clark Inc. ad,” Evening Star, January 1, 1952, 49.
“Thomas Terrett, Former Owner of Car Wash,” Evening Star, January 1, 1972, 5.
Washingtonian Staff. “From Piggly Wiggly to Wegman’s: How DC Grocery Shopping Got Cool,” Washingtonian, March 25, 2018.