The DC Public Library’s Washingtoniana collection needed a temporary home during the renovation of Martin Luther King Library. And for a little more than a year, Van Ness provided one. Washingtoniana moved out of its UDC Law School digs at 4340 Connecticut Avenue when DCPL’s lease expired early this year. And in a recent newsletter, it said, “Thank you, Van Ness.”
We opened the doors to our Van Ness interim location in September 2018, and offered reference services during the modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. We ended service this past spring and have officially packed up our collections in preparation for the move back to our home base. Thank you to everyone who stopped by with your research questions and curiosity. Stay tuned for more information on our newly renovated space and the fall opening.
Shortly after Washingtoniana moved into its temporary location, one of the special collections librarians took a walk around the neighborhood and was inspired to use the collection’s resources to dig into something he found outside ZIPS Dry Cleaners: “a section of wrought iron railing painted battleship gray.” ”
“Radiating out from a centered vertically-oriented opening were lightning bolts that culminated in sunbursts,” Jerry McCoy wrote in a Facebook post for Washingtoniana. “‘This is old and there has to be a story behind it,’ I surmised.”
Arriving back at WASH the first thing I did was to check the DC Government Office of Planning’s “HistoryQuest DC” map… Typing in the address of the building, 4420 Connecticut Avenue NW, resulted in discovering that the building was constructed in 1948 and that the original owner was the Chevy Chase Radio & Electric Company. I realized immediately that this railing had to be part of the original business that opened at this address 70 years ago.
The architect was architect Louis de Ladurantaye (1885-1956), who designed 87 buildings in Washington, DC between 1923 and 1949.
Next I conducted a search of the “Evening Star” newspaper at the DC Public Library Special Collections’ “Newspapers, Magazines & Journals” database… (available at any DC Public Library or remotely with a DCPL library card). Searching “4420 Connecticut” with the searched narrowed to just 1948 resulted in hits for two businesses at this address but neither of them were the Chevy Chase Radio & Electric Company.
Having recalled seeing another entrance at the south end of the building opposite the 4420 address imprinted on a canopy over an entrance at the north end, I searched for “4418 Connecticut.” Quickly I found four advertisements that the Chevy Chase Radio Company ran between April and August of 1948. Next up was to search WASH’s “Evening Star Photo Morgue” and the “Washington Historical Image Collection” to see if there were any photos of the building as it originally looked in 1948.
Next I consulted “Forest Hills,” an Images of American book (975.3 E398) published in 2006 by the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance (the neighborhood where WASH is located). No luck there either.
Lastly, I ran a Google Images search for “Chevy Chase Radio Company” and, in addition to lots of photos of the actor Chevy Chase coming up, found one black and white photo of a building titled “Potomac Electric Power Co.” But plainly visible on the building was signage that read “Dowd’s Chevy Chase Radio & Electric Company.” The poor quality photo was credited to Theodor Horydczak, whose photo archive (I knew) was housed in the Library of Congress.
Within seconds I was at loc.gov which had (unfortunately) the same poor quality exterior photo but included an interior image of the business as well. Both photos were taken by the photographer on April 15, 1948, the first month that Chevy Chase Radio began advertising in the “Star.”
It’s too bad that this nice example of wrought iron craftsmanship is not more visible to passersby on the sidewalk, but if it had been it probably would not have survived the past seven decades.