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Comments () | Published March 1, 2009

The home of Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, and the office building where John L. Lewis ran the United Mine Workers union are listed, as are the homes of Civil War nurse Clara Barton, women’s-rights activist Alice Paul, and Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member. The environmental movement is recognized by the inclusion of a 1956 ranch-style house in Colesville once occupied by Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. Poised for listing by DC is the residence of Franklin Kameny, one of the city’s first gay activists. So far no sites here associated with Hispanics or Muslims are on the list, though the Chinatown headquarters of the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, a pagoda-decorated building on H Street, was landmarked in 1996. Danzanksy Funeral Home on 14th Street, built in 1910 as the city’s first Jewish-owned funeral home, was declared a landmark in 2007.

With DC’s large African-American population, it is no surprise that there are protected sites associated with black leaders. The DC homes of Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell, Carter G. Woodson, and Ralph Bunche are landmarked as well as the small clapboard home of Dr. Charles Drew in Arlington. The federal government’s National Register, though not DC, recognizes John Philip Sousa Junior High School in Southeast, which figured in legal challenges to segregation, as well as Langston Golf Course, which opened as a nine-hole course for blacks in 1939.

Other African-American institutions listed include several churches, the Lincoln Theatre, the old Whitelaw Hotel, and the True Reformer Building. DC also has recently listed the Georgia Avenue building that housed Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks, a favorite of Adam Clayton Powell, Dick Gregory, Sidney Poitier, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Architecture alone is enough to qualify a building for historic status. Some landmarked buildings are the work of name architects: those who practiced in the 19th century such as William Thornton (the US Capitol, Tudor Place) and Adolf Cluss (Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, Eastern Market), between the world wars such as Paul Cret (Federal Reserve Board, Folger Shakespeare Library) and John Russell Pope (National Gallery of Art West Building, Jefferson Memorial), or afterward—such as Harry Weese (Arena Stage) and Marcel Breuer (HUD).

Even projects of well-known developers are recognized, especially Harry Wardman, whose work included early-20th-century rowhouses and grand apartment houses such as the Dresden on Connecticut Avenue. Also protected are the works of sculptors and landscape architects who produced many statues, fountains, and parks.

A succession of hotels has stood on the site of the Willard since 1816. Favor seekers in the lobby gave rise to the term “lobbyist.” This building, built in 1901, was boarded up and threatened with demolition in the 1970s but was saved and reopened in 1986. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

Some buildings are landmarked even if the architect is unknown because they are examples of certain styles—an approach some have dubbed Noah’s Ark preservation. Houses done in Federal, Georgian, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and stick style or shingle style—all have been preserved for their style alone. There also are Sears mail-order houses and a narrow “shotgun house” on Capitol Hill.

Among the 20th-century styles that have gained historic stature are art moderne and art deco, which were popular in the 1920s and ’30s. Several of these structures have been landmarked, including the old terminal at Reagan National Airport, National Naval Medical Center, Folger Shakespeare Library, the old Greyhound bus terminal, and the Kennedy-Warren apartment house. Art deco or art moderne movie theaters in Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Greenbelt are on the list along with a former Sears store in Tenleytown, a Chrysler dealership in Arlington (now a Gold’s Gym), and warehouses once used by Woodies and Hecht’s. The Hecht’s warehouse, on New York Avenue, has been bought by a Philadelphia company that hopes to incorporate it into a new retail hub.

A building or place may also qualify for landmark status if it exemplifies some aspect of American culture. This is a category that includes structures as humble as tobacco barns and as elaborate as grand hotels. DC has landmarked numerous churches and synagogues, fire stations, cemeteries, apartment houses, public schools, rowhouses, trolley-car barns, bridges, and banks.

DC’s oldest landmarks include the scenic Potomac Gorge and archaeological sites with evidence of Native American presence. The city plan conceived by Pierre Charles L’Enfant in 1791 is listed along with early military installations. The industrial history of the Georgetown waterfront is recalled in remnants of mills, a foundry, warehouses, and a lime kiln. Pre–Civil War federal buildings include the Capitol, the White House, Treasury, the old Patent Office, and such cultural and scientific institutions as the Smithsonian Castle and the first Naval Observatory on the hill east of the Kennedy Center. One of the largest landmarks is the Washington Aqueduct, the innovative water system engineered by Montgomery Meigs.

Between the Civil War and World War I, Washington grew from a modest-size town to a real city, leading to a boom that left many landmarked buildings. Among the most impressive government buildings were the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and the Pension Building (now the National Building Museum). Many Gilded Age mansions were built, especially around Dupont Circle, including those of a beer baron (Christian Heurich), a gold-mine magnate (Thomas Walsh), a wealthy diplomat (Larz Anderson), a railroad-car manufacturer (the Pullman family), and another railroad millionaire named Richard Townsend, whose home became the Cosmos Club. Also landmarked from this era are Union Station, the National Museum of Natural History, Benjamin Franklin School, the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, the Franciscan Monastery near Catholic University, and the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek Park.

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