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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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School Shoes: 1921

School Shoes: 1921

Washington circa 1921. "Berberich's, Seventh Street." The Berberich store at 1116-1122 Seventh Street N.W., "Washington's most progressive shoe house." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Robert Berberich and Son’s Shoe Emporium

That’s my great-grandfather’s shoe business there. Amazing, what an incredible
historical building and era…


The Old Math

If this business opened 40 years before 1921, then it opened in 1881. In the article below, however, it states that "in 1877, only nine years after the business began." If the 1877 date is correct, than the company opened in 1868. Am I missing something here or do we have a case of "alternative" math?

[You're missing something. The article is from 1908, not from 1921. - Dave]


The Fortieth Birthday of Berberich's Shoe House

Started with Nine-Foot Front, Now Has 12,000 Square Feet Floor space.

Just forty years ago Robert Berberich opened a small store at 1118 Seventh street northwest. This store was only nine feet wide and less than thirty deep. A large part of the business done at first was made-to-measure work. Mr Berberich, who was an expert shoemaker, fitted and sold to the best people of that period their boots. He soon gained a reputation for style and high quality work which has followed him even to this day. Although he is now retired and leading a quiet dignified life, he watches with much pleasure the prestige which his two sons, who have succeeded to the business, are enjoying, knowing that they are reaping the benefits of the lucrative business of which he was the father.

From that small nine-foot front beginning the firm has grown until today it occupies 12,000 square feet of floor space of which 4,000 was recently added. The little nine-foot store was in a little frame building, but this was then one of the landmarks of the city, and was known as Berberich's - Seventh street being the busiest thoroughfare in Washington. Mr. Berberich was one of the pioneer merchants of this thoroughfare. Taking a just business pride, he soon outgrew his cramped quarters, and owing to this continually growing business he was forced to a larger more modern store.

He then bought the property at 1138 Seventh Street, this being in 1877, only nine years after the business began. At the time Mr. Berberich purchased this place it was a small frame building, set on a steep bank. After bringing this down to street level, he built upon the site a three-store brick dwelling, 25 feet front, at that time considered a handsome modern building. Here with 1,500 square feet of floor space and his store fitted up in the best manner, his trade continued to expand. ...

In 1902 the firm, which by this time included the two sons, Robert J. and Joseph A., purchased the property at 1116-1118-1120 Seventh street, of which the original store was a part. On this site was erected the handsome building which no adorns the neighborhood, and is the best appointed of the modern shoe stores in the city. This new store was fitted up in the most modern way, the best grade of oak being used for shelving with quartered oak and grill work decorate them in a proper manner.

In the rear of the store are three of the largest mirrors in Washington, which take up the entire back wall and give the store the appearance of being several hundred feet deep.
Only a few months ago they added the property adjoining them on the north, numbered 1222, to their store. This now gives them from 1116 to 1122, a total frontage of 60 feet.

[Article goes on to detail the many brands of shoes carried by Berberich, many of them under exclusive contract for Washington: Buster Brown Blue Ribbon Shoes, La France Shoe, Selz "Royal Blue," Burt & Packard "Korrect Shape," and American Girl Shoe.]

Washington Post, Sep 20, 1908

In 1927, Berberich's closed their store at 1116-18-20 Seventh street and relocated to Twelfth and F, northwest.

[And filed for bankruptcy in 1931. - Dave]


Anon sed: "I miss the days when cities were manageable. When your neighborhood had the butcher, the baker, the shoe and clothing stores."

There are many of those smaller, manageable cities thriving still across our wide land. I share your sentiment and will leave the greater LA area when I retire to Oregon -- to one of the cities for which we both pine.

Via this post, I consider the trout in streams neighboring that manageable city to have been formally warned.

Mme. Belle

Mme. Belle is not the first palmist to appear at Shorpy. We have previously seen signs for Mme. LaBey and a glimpse of Mme. Trent.

50c         MME. BELLE         50c

Egyptian palmist, gives true advice in business, love, health, and family affairs. Confidential readings daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 1124 7th st nw., between L and M sts.

Advertisement, Washington Post, July 22, 1921

I <heart> DC

There's no question that the loss of these historical buildings is a tragedy. But, there are still many buildings like them all around DC.

The city went through a period where many neighborhoods were more like slums and the houses were is such great disrepair that it would have been prohibitively expensive to renovate them.

In fact, when tax relief for investors seeking to renovate houses in DC was enacted, we all eventually benefited. That's where the "live in the house for 2 years and pay no capital gains on the profit (up to a certain amount)" comes from.

And to truly renovate a house like one of these in some cases required hollowing out the whole thing and starting from scratch. You could save the carved moldings, but many of the houses predate wiring, ducting, etc. And the roofs would be in bad shape allowing for water to get inside and the mold problem would be terrible.

They almost tore down the Willard Hotel in the 80's for gosh sakes! It is one of the most beautiful architectural structures in the city! (Not to mention a very nice hotel.)

And there is a "feel" to the city that you can only get by going there. These pictures, for me, are an enhancement. My father worked in the city for over 35 years--my parents met there. I was married there. The bustle of the traffic, the gravity of the stone granite federal buildings, the many different periods reflected in the architecture are a treat to the senses.

Are there buildings that are basically ugly brick boxes? Yes. There are also interesting buildings from the 60's and 70's.

Personally, I love the city in winter. Maybe because I was married there in the winter at St Dominic's and honeymooned at the Shoreham. But, it's not like New York or really any other city.

For one thing, the buildings tend to be shorter -- especially in the Federal Triangle.

And visiting the various museums is a real treat. There are parks here and there that kind of surprise you--beautiful parks. And the area by the zoo is old and beautiful. The college campuses are also gorgeous.

There really is more than "seeing" DC. It is an experience.

These pictures enhance my experience of the city. And while I mourn that many of these buildings are no longer there, there are plenty that will be there long after all of us are gone.

Progressive Shoes

At last, a really progressive shoe purveyor, a welcome relief from the myriad reactionary footwear specialists!


I miss the days when cities were manageable. When your neighborhood had the butcher, the baker, the shoe and clothing stores. You could walk to them, or take the trolley. I grew up in San Francisco in the late 1930s-40s, and these photos remind me so much of what was there. Of course in those days, there wasn't so much to buy, and we didn't "need" to buy so much.

What a marketing move!

Go to the Post Office and see the latest in shoe wear. You know you can't tell your wife not to go to the Post Office!

Mme Bell

I wonder if "Mme Bell, Scientific Palmist," knew that her office sign would appear on Shorpy someday.

Lovely building

Berberich's may have been an everyday shoe emporium, but its building was delightful. It's amazing the detail that brick and stone masons of the day put into their art (and architecture) for simple, business buildings that were torn down later without a thought or a care. I liked the multitasking the photo reveals, too: Shoe store and postal station. Please note that Mme Bell was a "scientific" palm reader!

Shoe Store Post Office

Those were the best of times. One simply cannot find a good shoe store/post office anymore.

Today, the Convention Center

Lower left corner...

I love these little glimpses - the man at the truck looking at the blur of a passing woman on the sidewalk!

The "scientific" palmist the only window open with fluttering curtains, the flat top windows on the second floor and the arches on the third, in both buildings, and the sunburst iron railing design, et cetera.

I wonder why so much of Washington, but still they are interesting!

[Aren't they indeed. - Dave]

There's Nothing There Anymore ...

Except "modernization" and general, all-round nothingness. One of the real downsides to visiting this website is that, although I've never been to Washington, D.C., I cannot think of any reason to ever want to go there. I feel like I'm seeing the best of it here -- and Google Maps is filling in the rest of the sad, sorry tale.

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