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The Passion of Pola: 1921

The Passion of Pola: 1921

January 1921. Washington, D.C. "Metropolitan Theater crowds for 'Passion.'" The line outside Crandall's Metropolitan on F Street to see Pola Negri in "Passion," aka "Madame DuBarry." National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.


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Below is the same view from September of 2009.

900 Block F St: Today

Somehow this photo has escaped a link to Google Streetview of a contemporary image. I don't know how well other cities do this, but D.C. building/zoning permits do (thankfully) appear to enforce a preservation of historic street-level facades. Now, mainly owing to all the Shorpy photos, I am much more aware of the numerous examples of this type of architectural preservation throughout the city.

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Norman T. Whitaker

Ran across Internet information on a Norman T. Whitaker who: graduated Georgetown Law School, was a patent attorney, in 1922 became Assistant Secretary of the Interior, was later disbarred, convicted of several unsavory crimes, including extortion connected with the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and served time in Alcatraz, where he became a friend of Al Capone. Oh, he was also an outstanding chess player, becoming an International Master, and spent the "last years of his life were spent driving around the country in his Volkswagen Beetle playing in weak tournaments he could win in the South." He continued to complete actively until his death at age 85 in 1975.

Crandall's Metropolitan

Headley describes the Metropolitan, 932-936 F Street, as Harry Crandall's flagship theater, with a seating capacity of 1,500. Opened in 1918 and remodeled in 1926, it premiered the first sound picture in Washington, "Don Juan" starring John Barrymore. Last screenings were in 1966.


Perhaps the curious man is Norman Whitaker, wondering why no one is coming upstairs to get a patent. Or maybe he's like me, gazing at the sidewalk as disembodied feet go walking by.

Farther Upstairs at the Whitaker

If you look in the windows above the curious gentleman, you will see two small posters for Harding and Coolidge. The Harding inauguration would be coming up on March 4.

Hommes pour Pola

Twice as many men as women lined up for Pola -- could it be because the film is about the private life of a well known courtesan who was Louis XV's mistress until her death on the guillotine? I think it was banned in Finland.

A different view

Here's a picture I took of these buildings in 2001. They were knocked down, and only their facade was left standing. The pic is from behind, with the Atlantic building on the left. They've since been integrated into totally new buildings, one of which I believe is an entrance to Ford's Theater, which is around the corner.

After 9:30

That was a great old space for the 9:30 Club. Even if it was a firetrap.

Practically that entire block was demolished a few years ago except for the facades.

Streetcar tracks

The streetcar tracks look to be for cable cars with the center "slot." There are no overhead lines for a typical electric connection for an electric streetcar. I wonder if they were still in operation at the time of this photo.

[Downtown Washington's electric streetcars had an underground power supply. - Dave]

Upstairs in the Whitaker

Upstairs in the Whitaker building, there is a man with a derby and a cigar poking his head out behind the Irish lace curtains. He looks up to something.
Also, behind the boy with the bike is a motion-blurred kerfuffle. It's probably a gesticulating meet-and-greet; it's fun to see it caught in time.

Guy Noir Lives!

On the third floor of the Whitaker Building one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions!


The tall building, the Atlantic Building, is the site of the original 9:30 Club. That venue drew big names in music in the 80s and 90s before moving to its new location up on V Street.

And before the Google street views show up, the architectural details of the two short buildings on the left have all been reconstructed. It looks like the original is still intact, but that's not the case. Metal storefront, windows hoods, etc. are all new.

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

If it had been a talkie, the film would've been in German, since it was made in Germany by the great Ernst Lubitsch. Pola Negri, by the way, was offered the role of Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," but refused to play a washed-up star. Her last screen appearance was in 1964.

Re: A Talkie

Anonymous might have confused Pola's "Passion" with Norma Talmadge's "Du Barry, Woman of Passion" from 1930. Reportedly a terrible film. "Passion", which was also about Madame Du Barry, was an early film of famed director Ernst Lubitsch.

A Talkie

Passion was an early "talkie." These people are probably about to see their first motion picture with sound.

[Where'd you get that idea? There were no "talkies" in 1921. - Dave]

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