Though hardly an historic figure, Morris Kanfer was one of the more interesting neighborhood residents who turned up in researching the Forest Hills history book. Mr. Kanfer lived on Chesapeake Street in a home now owned by Gary and Rebecca Stevens, who bought it from his estate. He spent his last years in that house.
He was a real estate developer and lawyer. He owned a large tract of land at the northeast corner of Connecticut and Albemarle, where the Avalon apartment building (formerly The Albemarle) now stands at 4501 Connecticut Avenue.
At the height of the Cold War in 1951, Morris Kanfer proposed that the federal government build underground shelters in case of Soviet attack. There was a plan at that time to move federal workers out of their offices to Maryland and Virginia. The National Bureau of Standards took up acreage from Tilden Street up to Van Ness and from Connecticut to 36th Street, and Kanfer thought that these workers could be evacuated to his seven acres if he built offices with bomb shelters underground. He wanted to lease these structures to the government. He testified to this effect before the Senate Public Works Committee.
Although Kanfer’s idea dead-ended in committee, he soon received approval from the District Board of Zoning to construct an eight-story apartment building with up to 532 dwelling units (he had requested an 800-unit building). Thus the bomb shelter morphed into an underground garage four levels down.
In 2003, when I interviewed Mary Rodgers, a longtime resident (now deceased) and neighbor of Kanfer, she recounted her memories of his personality.
Morris Kanfer, whom she knew as an elderly man, living with an attendant, was determined to live to 100; and he made it. He turned 100 in May 1998 and died that June. He once told her he wouldn’t replace a dishwasher that broke near the end of his life because it wouldn’t be worth it. She also had a funny story about his locking himself out one morning when he went to pick up his newspaper and had to come across to her house in his pajamas to get the extra key. They took a lot of teasing about that as she was a widow.
Margery Elfin has lived in the neighborhood since 1984. Since she retired as professor of political science at Hood College in Frederick, MD, she has pursued her interest in the history of Washington, DC and co-authored Forest Hills history book published in 2006.