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On the Grid: 1939

On the Grid: 1939

Washington, D.C., in 1939. "Aerial view in front of the Willard Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, showing pedestrians and rather dense traffic in autos and streetcars." View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by David Myers.


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Second opinion

It is not too hard for casual visitors and friends of Washington DC to think this view is from the Willard Hotel at 14th & PA Av NW. However, as a streetcar historian living in Washington DC since 1953 and keeping records of track and cars from 1862, I can positively suggest to you that the view is from the office bldg on NE corner of 14th & G Sts NW. The SE corner is the National Bank of Washington. The SW corner was the city ticket office of Pennsylvania RR. The NW corner was the city office of Western Union by the late 1930s. If you look at the width of Pa Av - it is much wider than shown on this view. This switch was used for rush hour trips from Bureau of Engraving/USDA to G St for cars running to North Capital and Hyattsville. I have had this print in possession for more than 50 years.

Rodchenko perspective

The style of this photo is very much like those of Alexandr Rodchenko, the Soviet modernist photographer, a decade or two earlier.

14th & Pennsylvania

The bottom photo, looking southeast at 14th and Pennsylvania NW, is prior to the 1935-36 Capital Transit reconstruction project, which resulted in a track connection for Route 54 Navy Yard streetcars southbound on 14th Street to southeastbound on Pennsylvania Avenue. The main photograph, however, does show the perpendicular crossing "specialwork" trackage at 14th & G streets.

Willard Hotel Streetcar Tracks

The caption identifying the location as 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue is incorrect. There were no junction tracks between the routes at the intersection of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The actual location of that picture is two block north at 14th and G Streets. the picture was taken from the upper floors of the Western Union building that still stands on the northwest corner of that intersection.

[I think you're mistaken. The caption was written by the photographer. Below, photos of the Willard and from the Willard circa 1923, showing the intersection and streetcar tracks. - Dave]

Actually not like San Francisco

The street car in this picture are electrically powered, drawing current from a "shoe" that runs in the slot. The San Francisco cable cars are an entirely mechanical system. The cars have a grip, which is described as being like a pair of pliers, that grabs hold of a cable that runs under the street on loop from a main power station where there are electric motors for each of the lines. The cable moves and physically pulls the cars along their routes. The advantages of this system over a conventional trolley system is that the cable cars have significantly less trouble dealing with steep hills.


Notice that the two street cars have their poles down on the roof. That is because power is being grabbed from the slot between the rails. This is somewhat like the SF cable cars, but in the case of the DC cars there is a 600v direct current cable in the slot which supplies electricity to the cars. This is fairly unique to the DC system.

D.C. Traffic

There are bikes in the middle of the street. And a traffic cop, remember those?


That's so funny - what "rather dense traffic" looked like as a baby!

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