by Barbara D. Bates
Get a last look at a building that once housed the Chevy Chase Park and Shop Stores, Ice Palace, bowling alleys, The Evening Star Television Center and WMAL-TV studios, and other retail and office space before the wrecking ball hits what is now the Van Ness Square at 4455 Connecticut Avenue, NW.
The Chevy Chase Park and Shop/Ice Palace was the second “park and shop” on Connecticut Avenue and the first indoor ice skating rink to be built in Washington, D.C. Developed by Garfield I. Kass (1890-1975) and designed by architect James F. Hogan (1906-1979), it opened on November 23, 1938.
Stores included F.W. Woolworth and Co., A&P Food Stores, Peoples Drug Store, and the first Best & Co. in D.C. The sports center included an ice skating stadium, 41 bowling alleys, and table tennis equipment. The Palace Florists (now on 19th Street, NW) opened on the first floor below the rink and took its name from the Ice Palace. Professional skaters such as Norval Baptie taught ice skating classes; government agencies formed skating clubs who used the rink; and it was long the headquarters for the Washington Figure Skating Club. Neighbors who recall skating or bowling duck pins said that they entered on the left side of the center building, walked upstairs to the ice skating rink or went downstairs for bowling.
In 1950, the Evening Star Broadcasting Company signed a long-term lease to have the ice skating rink on the second floor converted into three large television studios for WMAL-TV (later to become WJLA-TV). The Ice Palace equipment and facilities were removed for an outdoor skating rink to be built on Wisconsin Avenue.
A number of different stores occupied the retail space on the ground level. According to the Polk’s Washington, D.C. City Directory for 1954, stores continued to include F.W. Woolworth and Best & Co.; the Connecticut Pharmacy had replaced Peoples Drug Store; and Farr’s Jewelers had opened. The Diamond Ordinance Fuse Laboratory (Connecticut Avenue Annex) was also listed and most likely had taken the space where the former bowling alleys were located. The studios were a major presence where the pioneer female telecaster, Ruth Crane, began her television version of Modern Woman. The Jimmy Dean Show was also televised here and on March 23, 1956, Elvis Presley appeared as his guest. In 1988, the studios moved to another location.
According to articles in The Washington Post, Garfield I. Kass and associates offered a large package of properties, including the Chevy Chase Park and Shop, for sale in September 1958. A British firm combined with Real Properties Corp. of America (RPCA) to purchase these properties in October 1962. However, Westminster Investment Corporation of New York, a subsidiary of Oddenino’s Property & Investment, Ltd. of London, bought out RPCA’s interest and completed the transaction for the 77 parcels in March 1963. This was their first acquisition in the United States and one of the largest real estate sales in Washington, D.C. history. Westminster Investing Corp. became a subsidiary of B.F. Saul Co. and Saul Centers staff said that the company has owned the Chevy Chase Park and Shop property since 1973.
During a May 2013 walk-through of the building renamed Van Ness Square, Saul Centers staff pointed out the changes that they made after the studios moved out. They added another floor above the one where the ice skating rink and studios had been; added new walls and windows. They built the two towers visible today that hold two elevators, created a central entrance between them and a lobby area. They extended the front ends of the building, added the overhang to the center and the parking garage underneath with the entrance parallel to the sidewalk. The garage floors came up to the walls of the original building. While the inside has been substantially changed, with the exception of the outside additions, the building contains much of the original brick work on the facade and the multi-color brick can be seen at the base of the side of the former Pier One store. The Streets Of Washington blog’s John DeFerrari refers to elements of this building in his article as “notable examples of the Streamline Moderne architectural style.”
In remodeling this property, Saul Centers created an office building with retail space. In the most recent floor plan, the ground floor has eight retail spaces, the two floors above and three floors below have 16 office spaces. There are three parking levels underneath the front of the building. Over the years, many other well-known stores have been housed in the retail spaces such as W. & J. Sloane & Co.-Mayer & Co., Peerless Furniture Co., Kitchen Bazaar, and lastly Office Depot and Pier One.
Van Ness Square is scheduled for demolition this fall along with the Shanghai Garden next door at 4469 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Saul Centers purchased this second property from a developer who had intended to build a small apartment building to replace the restaurant. There has probably been a restaurant on this site since the first building permit was issued in March 1929 for a BBQ stand. Some may recall Carmack’s Restaurant at this address for many years. Saul Centers plans to replace these properties with “Park Van Ness,” a 271-apartment complex with ground-level retail space (Read more about the design for the property, and an architect’s view of the plans.-Ed.).
Sources for this article include The Evening Star and The Washington Post, city directories, building permits, company web sites, oral histories as well as John DeFerrari’s article, “Chevy Chase Ice Palace,” January 8, 2010 (web site: StreetsOfWashington.com) and Anne Rollins’ chapter on “Connecticut Avenue” in Forest Hills (edited by Margery L. Elfin, Paul K. Williams, and the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance, Arcadia Publishing, 2006). Additional documentation of this property is in progress. This author seeks any photographs or stories that readers may have on this commercial landmark. She can be reached at bbates9 at juno.com.