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Happy 75th Birthday, Crestwood

Tue, June 06, 2017 3:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Crestwood's early development

This week's blog is a birthday greeting to Crestwood itself. Congratulations, you're 75!

While some of the neighborhood's homes are more than a century old, the housing development that gave Crestwood its name had its groundbreaking 75 years ago next week.

In a photo in the Washington Post June 5, 1938, under the headline, "Ground Broken for Crestwood Residential Project," a shovel is wielded by William W. Mathewson (a Blagden relative who ended up owning some of the Argyle estate). Beside him is a smiling Paul Stone, the major developer of Crestwood; Stone’s associate, Arthur S. Lord; and builder (and Stone’s brother-in-law) George W. Phifer.

The article calls the new community "a wooded country in the downtown residential district and only 10 minutes from the White House" - in a neighborhood "surrounded by the perpetually assured forests of Rock Creek Park and Piney Branch Parkway."

One statement turned out not to be true: "There will be two entrances into the section from these [federal park] reservations, one from Blagden avenue and one from Piney Branch Parkway." For the first few years of the Crestwood development, Stone maintained plans to connect Crestwood with Piney Branch Parkway via the old right-of-way that today is located behind the Crestwood Apartments.

There also were to be no alleys in the project. Instead, residents would use "a system of cunningly and artistically devised driveways leading from traversing streets to the garages."

The Post was a sponsor of the first Crestwood exhibit home, which was opened to the public October 2, 1938. A Post story praised this home at 4220 Argyle Terrace as "beauty [and] science combined" with a kitchen so modern it was described as "a laboratory."

A week later, the Post promoted the home’s "robot kitchen." Worth special mention was a "device whereby electricity saves the housekeeper from chapped hands and unnecessary labor." The subhead hailed this new marvel: "Novel Dishwasher In Exhibit House Delights Visitors." The concept was so new that the story needed four paragraphs to describe how the contraption worked, beginning with this explanation:

"The dishwasher is a cabinet-like arrangement in which easy-gliding rust-proof metal dish racks are placed at convenient height for the user. When the cabinet door is closed, a perfect water seal is formed to prevent leakage during the washing and rinsing operations…"

In a display ad from Stone and his partners, 4220 Argyle is "The Home of Tomorrow, Electrified by Westinghouse." The home’s "picturesque setting" is "a virgin forest within the city." And, as for that kitchen: "Planned as a complete wall, this kitchen is the answer to every housewife’s problem."

The Post touted another electric wonder in the exhibit home. An article declared, "The day of home air conditioning is here." Instead of being found only "in pretentious homes," air conditioning systems "will soon be found in every home that pretends to be modern."

In these early days of the Crestwood development, Paul Stone began a pattern: he would build a house, live in it, get an offer on it, then move on to a new home he’d built.

Another exhibit home, at 1800 Shepherd Street, was "furnished by Colony House and draped by Wales Decorating Co." A June 1939 story about this home raved about the neighborhood’s tree cover and convenience: "Retaining its sylvan setting, this locality is, nevertheless, within walking distance of schools, stores, transportation and churches. Rigid regulations under which it was established, however, prevent an invasion of commercial, or less costly residential enterprise, perpetually assuring its rustic and select character."

Other early display homes between 1938 and 1940 included 4210 Mathewson Drive, 4216 Mathewson Drive, 1761 Shepherd Street, 1824 Randolph Street and 1811 Upshur Street. If you are wondering about price, a 1939 ad for "The Frank S. Phillips Section of Crestwood" offered "houses from $16,850 up." Interested buyers were to visit the exhibit home at 1712 Crestwood Drive "Surrounded by Towering Oaks."

Some of those oaks are still there, for Crestwood’s Diamond Jubilee. Happy 75th!

Please let me also wish a happy 95th birthday to an extraordinary neighbor, Julian Dugas.Julian has lived in Crestwood since 1970 - but he's been part of the fabric of DC life for far longer. In the 1950s, just three years after being admitted to the bar, he was working on the case that overturned segregation in DC public schools, Bolling v. Sharpe, which was part of Brown v. Board of Education. He went on to fight for the rights of the city’s poor as director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Project. He was an outspoken member of the DC Board of Education. He took on neglectful landlords as head of the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections. As director of the DC Department of Economic Development, he gave new opportunities to African Americans as both city employees and contractors. He served DC’s first mayor under home rule, Walter Washington, as his most trusted adviser and the first City Administrator. And, as a professor at the Howard University School of Law, he gave a generation of young idealists the training and inspiration they would need to become leaders in their own right. Happy birthday, Julian!

--David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace

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