Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Columbia Heights: A Neighborhood of Homes

On a recent trip through time, I made a splendid discovery. A little book, just about 30 pages, published in 1904 by "The Columbia Heights Citizens' Association." The book is delightfully entitled A Statement of Some of the Advantages of Beautiful Columbia Heights, A Neighborhood of Homes, and it was written to sing the praises of my neighborhood, and attract estimable and upstanding new denizens. A note on the title page lays out the objective clearly:
If it shall aid in bringing desirable residents to this section and thereby contribute toward the realization of the Congressional plans for Greater Washington, this presentation of the commanding advantages of Columbia Heights will most satisfactorily accomplish the object of its publication. THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
A little heavy on the upper-class snobbery, but heck, this is 1904. The first section begins:
Columbia Heights is an ideal section for homes. Every one of its residents thoroughly appreciates the advantages that he enjoys, and never ceases to sound the praises of the "Heights."
Still true!

Then, in the belief that "home-seekers of the desired class should be informed of the facts commending the 'Heights' to favorable consideration," the authors go about describing all the neighborhood's benefits. Proximity to schools and churches rank highly, as do police and fire protection, "street railway facilities," and "attractive residences will all the modern improvements." Most titillating, however, is the description of "Some Advantages of Elevation."

Columbia Heights, you see, sits at an average elevation of 180 feet, far superior to Pennsylvania Ave, a mere 6 to 12 feet above low tide, or even the 90 feet enjoyed on Capitol Hill. Rather:
Those who have tried each of the two locations report that in summer nights the temperature of Columbia Heights is ten degrees less than that of Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent streets. This has been demonstrated by practical tests. In ten degrees Fahrenheit, more or less, there is a powerful factor in the equation of comfort: and its influence is constant in the direction of high lands. Comfort induces sleep, "tired Nature's sweet restorer."

In hot summer nights, when open cars carry thousands in search of a charm that lulls to sleep, every northbound passenger up Fourteenth Street with his crossing of Florida Avenue, becomes a grateful witness to the soothing zephyrs of Columbia Heights.
Ah, those soothing zephyrs. The pamphlet concludes with "A Wise Man's Summary:"
A gentleman, of National reputation, who has just bought a house in Columbia Heights, thus summarizes:
"I bought on Columbia Heights, because--
"First. It is the highest point on the highlands surrounding the city. It offers me a cool retreat after a hard day's work, and is only twenty minutes' ride from my office.
"Second. It is free from malaria.
He goes on... Another real treat are the many photographs of the handsome Heights homes. I went searching-- most had addresses within a few blocks of my apartment-- and discovered many of these architectural extravaganzas are still standing, camouflaged (or not) in their modern surroundings. Here's one side-by-side comparison, from the corner of 13th and Roanoke (now Euclid):
Pretty neat. As I get other good replica shots, I'll post them here. What a fun look into the past of this neighborhood, which has surely changed in many ways.


Blogger Andrew said...

This book is so awesome, thanks for telling me about it! I'm not getting any work done today.

29/4/09 1:38 PM  

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