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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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DOJ: 1915

DOJ: 1915

Washington, D.C., circa 1915. The Department of Justice building at 1435 K Street N.W. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.

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Re: Architectural confusion

Yes, I think I was confused in my original post here regarding which portion of the building is the older part. I think Dave's right that the right hand side is the original building.

"My original plan was to build a forty-thousand dollar house here," said Senator Palmer to a Post reporter last evening, "but the figures have increased beyond ninety thousand, and the end is not yet in sight. still I do not regret my action, for real estate is not destined to retrograde in Washington and a more charming spot for a residence cannot be imagined."

Washington Post, Jan 4, 1886

Architectural confusion

I'm confused by the descriptions of this building. The second paragraph under "Senator Palmer's House" describes the right half of the building almost exactly. But "Big Building Projects" doesn't match what I'm seeing on the left. I don't think the front door was moved; to me it seems like William Schneider's big plans were simplified before the structure was built. It appears the entire facade was covered with stone so the two halves blend seamlessly. At any rate, this is a fascinating building and it's a shame it was demolished.

[It looks like the original house is the right side of the main building, with the entrance, and the addition is the part to the left of the entry. Some of the features described in "Big Building Projects" (the entrance, the oriel bay) were already there, in the older right half. - Dave]

Potomac red, Hummelstown brown

During the last part of the 19th century, Allen Walton, owner of Hummelstown Brownstone, was promoting his product in the D.C. area. It came in various hues that probably matched existing stone quite well. The Christian Heurich mansion is an example of Hummelstown brownstone with a pink to purple hue.

Sen. T.W. Palmer Residence

This attractive building saw many uses over its short 41 year lifetime. Sorting through all the history has proved to be one of the more substantial projects I have done here at Shorpy.

It was originally erected in 1884 as the residence of Senator Thomas W. Palmer of Michigan. The initial building, the left half of what is seen here, was designed by J.R. Thomas (probably John R. Thomas) of New York. The right half of the building was added ten years later under the direction of its then owner, William E. Schneider. After this expansion it became the new home of the Norwood Institute: an elite preparatory school for girls. The Norwood Institute appears to have graduated its final class in 1897, at which point the building was adapted to serve use as the Hotel Baltic.

In 1899, with the old Department of Justice Building falling down, Congress authorized money for construction of a new building and the department took up what was supposed to be a short term residence in the Hotel Baltic: the original lease was for 18 months. Months turned into years as congress squabbled about costs, siting, etc. Finally in 1916, the Department of Justice was able to move into its new building at the nearby corner of 15th and Vermont.

In 1920, the building was purchased by George Washington University to house their Law School. After 5 years, the law school moved to its new home in Stockton Hall. After this, things turn to the worse. The building was razed in January 1926 to make way for the construction of a "modern office building" to house the real estate firm of Shannon & Luchs, Inc.

The following 1894 article refers to this architectural style as "modern gothic." By today's definitions, I think it falls more under the umbrella of Richardsonian Romanesque

Senator Palmer's House

Col. Robert I. Fleming has just received from Mr. J.R. Thomas, a prominent New York architect, the drawings for a residence which he will soon erect for Senator T.W. Palmer, on K street, fronting on McPherson square, and adjoining the fine residences of Col. Payson on the west and Mr. Lowry on the east. The drawings show one of the finest single houses about Washington and denote at once the practicable and artistic ideas of the architect. The building will have a frontage of 32 feet, with an entire depth of 123 feet 6 inches, and will be five stories in height. The facade, of modern Gothic design, is constructed entirely of Potomac red sandstone, and will present an effect as handsome as it is novel in this city. This design is extensively used in New York, but will be accepted here as an agreeable change.

The principal entrance is reached by a flight of stone steps, ornamented with heavy newels and balustrades, and above the massive doors a semi-circular door-piece of rich design is crowned by a beautiful buttress in the form of a sea shell, which supports a heavy stone balcony. There are two large semi-circular windows opening from the parlor on separate balconies similar in design to the one overhanging the main entrance, while from the second story springs an artistic oriel, resting on handsome carved stone and finished with rich cornices and balustrade. Above this, accessible from the third story, is an elegant loggia, or gallery with in the house, but open to the street, a feature seldom seen here, but extensively used by the Italians. The fourth floor is ornamented by a group of six arched windows, and the whole is surmounted by cornices of handsome though simple design. [ article goes on to describe interior]

Washington Post, Jun 30, 1884

Note, in the following account of the addition, the entrance was moved. I think the original entrance was the third window from left on the ground floor. Also curious to me, is the change in building stone from Potomac red sandstone to Hummelstown brownstone. It is somewhat difficult to tell in black & white, but the materials appear to match well. I'm hardly a qualified field geologist so am not familiar with the comparative appearance of Appalachian sandstones. Of note, though, is that Hummelstown brownstone is characterized by reddish to purplish hues.

Big Building Projects

Another project of interest is announced to the effect that the vacant lot adjoining the late residence of Senator Palmer, 1435 K street, is to be improved by a handsome residence building, which will be in design and detail a duplicate of and connected with the existing house. William E. Schneider, the owner, is having plans prepared for a five-story structure, 25x120 feet, with the entire front of Hummelstown brownstone and porch of same material. The entrance will be by way of a large recessed arch, and on the upper story the windows will have balustraded balconies. At the second story there will be an ornamental oriel bay window. The top floor will finish with a row of colonnaded windows. ... The new building and the residence of Senator Palmer will be occupied when completed as a boarding-school for the Norwood Institute, of which Mrs. William D. Cabell is principal. No approximate estimate has as yet been made of the cost of the building. The Palmer house originally cost $110,000, and is finished in very expensive style.

Washington Post, Sep 7, 1894

Bureaucracy constrained

This was back in the time when people really did believe in a small central government. Even into the 1940s: Truman wrapped up WWII with a White House staff of 11 people.


How did they fit all that bureaucracy into such a tiny building? Maybe the ghost was J Edgar Hoover spying on his future bosses several years before he started working there.

Dude Descending a Staircase

Two ghosts, or one?

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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