by Ann Kessler
I was puzzled when I first read that the Forest Hills Citizens Association was almost named the Azadia Citizens Association back in 1930 when it was founded. Azadia was not a word I had ever heard — just Google it and find out how rare it is. Nonetheless, the word Azadia has a long history in our area.
A number of early houses in Forest Hills have the name Azadia on their deeds or building permits. In 1994, when the Carnegie Institution of Washington Geophysical Laboratory filled out a National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for their 1906 building on Upton Street (now the Levine School of Music), it stated, “The name Azadia, which is indicated as the subdivision name on the building permit for the [Carnegie] Laboratory and in institution reports, is never indicated on maps as a subdivision, but is a name historically associated with the land since at least the middle of the 19th century.” In fact, in the D.C. Building Permits Subdivision Names Index compiled by Victor Morrow and Matthew Gilmore in 2000, both Azadia and Azadia Park are listed as accepted names of neighborhoods within D.C.
If Azadia and Azadia Park are official names for subdivisions or neighborhoods in D.C., then, where are they? Well, as the Carnegie Institution researchers found out, that is hard to pinpoint. The street directory in the 1912 Boyd’s City Directory lists Azadia as being at Connecticut Avenue and Grant Road. The 1917 Boyd’s City Directory locates Azadia Park at “Connecticut Avenue east at Albemarle or Grant Road.” Research shows that Azadia Park was also the name of the Shoemaker family estate. According to a 1916 Baist map, the Shoemaker family land holdings spread roughly between Connecticut Avenue and Rock Creek, and Tilden and Davenport Streets. Presumably Azadia laid somewhere within those boundaries.The Shoemakers were large landholders in D.C. from the eighteenth to the 20th century. They were related to the Peirces (of Peirce Mill), and were one of the oldest and most distinguished families in D.C. The Shoemaker most involved in the creation of Forest Hills was Louis Peirce Shoemaker, the son of Peirce Shoemaker and Martha Carbery, who was born at Cloverdale (now the Education Office of the Chinese Embassy on Tilden Street NW) in 1856. Louis was a prominent Washingtonian, with his fingers in many pies, but in this case we are only interested in his role as real estate broker, attorney and heir.
In 1903 and 1904, acting as trustee for the estate of his father, Louis made known he was selling one acre lots in what would later become Forest Hills. The land was sold with the provision that no residence be built that cost less than $3,500. In 1903 Louis also donated the land for Albemarle Street, which ran through the middle of the Shoemaker holdings, with the hope that Congress would appropriate money to grade Albemarle from Connecticut Avenue through to Rock Creek Park.
Louis P. Shoemaker died suddenly in 1916, throwing his estate into a dispute between his son and adopted grandson, and Louis’s siblings. His estate would not be settled until 1929. The development of the Azadia/Shoemaker land would be delayed, but not stopped. In between the death of Louis P. Shoemaker in 1916 and 1925, the realtors Jesse H. Hedges and E. Eliot Middleton purchased 45 acres in the neighborhood. As they began to sell 111 lots cut out of that acreage, they started calling it Forest Hills. These lots were in demand and by 1928 there were only 11 unsold.
The question is why did Hedges and Middleton (assuming it was their decision) drop the name Azadia and adapt the name Forest Hills? It is still hard to say. Were they thinking of the beautiful trees in the area or the Forrest Hills estate nearby that Grover Cleveland bought from George F. Green or did they just want to get away from the Shoemaker’s old name?
Speaking of Shoemakers, it is interesting to note that when you Google the name Azadia you will come across a portrait painter named Azadia Newman. She was, indeed, related to the Shoemakers and their Azadia estate. She was the niece of Louis P. Shoemaker, being one of the daughters of his sister Clara and her husband Edwin A. Newman, one of Louis’s attorneys and occasional business partner. Azadia was as much an individual as her name would indicate — she led a fascinating life as an outstanding portrait painter, mainly of Washington’s leaders and Hollywood stars. Her third husband, whom she married in 1945, was Rouben Mamoulian, the successful Broadway (Oklahoma and Carousel) and Hollywood film director (The Mark of Zorro and Silk Stockings).
And finally, even if we do not know who chose the name Forest Hills for our area, we do know why the Shoemakers’ estate was called Azadia. The name Azadia dates back to the original land grants for this part of what was then Maryland. In 1763 Col. Samuel Beall Jr. was granted a patent for 125 acres called Azadia in Frederick County, Maryland. Where Col. Beall got the name Azadia is unknown, assuming he named it upon making his request for the patent from Lord Baltimore. Azadia entered the Shoemaker family holdings when Isaac Peirce, Peirce Shoemaker’s grandfather, bought the land, probably around 1800 when he was amassing property near Rock Creek.
What is known is that this neighborhood/area of D.C. was named Azadia from 1763 to the 1920s. While Forest Hills is a more modern name, there is something distinctive in having such a unique name as Azadia.
Thanks go to Anne Rollins who was again a great help to me in preparing this article.