A bombing in Crestwood
Many Crestwood homes have interesting back stories. This week's blog focuses on one such house that has seen plenty of history in its 60 years. 1907 Quincy Street was the home of a controversial member of President Eisenhower's cabinet...was the site of a bombing, for which a Croatian nationalist group claimed responsibility...was abandoned as Yugoslavia broke apart...and remains in a state of disrepair, with ownership having passed on to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The home began, as a number of Crestwood houses did, as the residence of developer Paul Stone. He would build a home, live in it for a while and then sell it. In this case, Stone sold the house, perhaps reluctantly, to the Bensons. That would be Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, his wife Flora and their six children. They moved in during the summer of 1953, six months after he joined Ike's cabinet.
In his memoir, Cross Fire: The Eight Years With Eisenhower, Mr. Benson writes: "Paul Stone, the developer of the fashionable Crestwood subdivision between 16th Street and Rock Creek Park, in showing us around the area, made the mistake of including on the tour a house he had built for himself on Quincy Street. He had been living there for about nine months. It was the last house on the street and was right up over the Park, in a quiet neighborhood only 12 to 15 minutes from the Department. It was easy to see that Flora loved it. When we finished the tour, I said, 'The only house we're interested in is the one on Quincy Street.''You mean my house?' 'Yes.'Pretty soon, we found our roles reversed, and I was selling him on letting us buy his place."
Benson wrote that his family "soon learned to love our Crestwood home." "Best of all," he remarked, "it was practically in Rock Creek Park." Often I would have the chauffeur take me through the Park on my way to work at 7 o'clock in the morning. At other times, we would drive home that way at night, and the Park provided an opportunity for reflection, for reviewing the happenings of the day, and for that communion with my Maker which is so necessary to me. In the evening, to unwind, I would walk around a few blocks in the lovely area where we lived. Sometimes in the morning, I'd walk down several blocks to meet the car."
The Washington Post, on January 20, 1953, called Benson "the first clergyman of any faith ever to become a Cabinet member." At the time, he was one of the 12 Disciples of the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). He went on to become LDS President in 1985. Eisenhower had never met Benson when he asked him to lead the Agriculture Department. Though he was often the center of controversy, Benson kept his cabinet position through the entire eight years of Ike's presidency. He made the cover of Time magazine twice. The first time was in April 1953, when he spoke out against farm subsidies as unacceptably socialistic. Under his picture was this quote: "No real American wants to be subsidized." Benson also drew criticism for his views beyond agriculture. He supported the John Birch Society, although he was not a member. In a 1966 pamphlet, he warned that the civil rights movement was the unwitting "Tool of Communist Deception." A few of his ultra-right political writings have had a resurgence recently, being quoted by Glenn Beck and various Tea Party groups.
The Largess family moved into a house across the street from the Bensons, also in 1953. Zoe Largess still lives there. She told me this week that, after the Bensons moved out, the home at 1907 Quincy Street became the residence for a series of Yugoslav diplomats. Ms. Largess said they were good neighbors.
However, on June 3, 1980, international tensions shattered Crestwood's pre-dawn solitude when a bomb exploded outside 1907 Quincy. At the time, the residents were Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires Vladimir Sindjelic and his wife Leposava. The Washington Post reported that Leposava hadn't been able to sleep and had just "turned off the late-late show" in an upstairs bedroom. Vladimir was asleep in another bedroom on the second floor. A house guest, their son's best friend Slobodan Pesic, was asleep on the ground floor. At about four a.m., the Sindjelics' German Shepherd Astra, who had been restless for the past several nights, started whining and ran into Vladimir's bedroom, waking him up. Suddenly there was the sound of an explosion. A bomb planted outside in a window box off the Sindjelics' downstairs sitting room had gone off, "sending bricks and glass flying, twisting their copper gutter into a pretzel shape, tearing limbs from pine trees in the yard and shattering windows in four nearby homes."
No one was injured. But Zoe Largess told me the Sindjelics' son would have been killed if he had been home. And, according to the Post, the blast "brought puzzled and badly shaken residents into the streets in bathrobes and drew a crowd of predawn rubberneckers. Several said they had heard the explosion miles away." After calling the police, the Sindjelics and Pesic went across the street in their bedclothes into the Largess' yard. George and Zoe Largess "served the three steaming mugs of instant coffee beneath a towering apple tree as dozens of police and firemen swarmed onto the quiet, dead-end street, roped it off and cut the darkness with blazing searchlights."
The explosion did approximately $200,000 in damage. A Croatian nationalist group claimed responsibility, but there is no report that the FBI found the bomber. American officials had earlier warned Yugoslav diplomats about possible violence in the aftermath of President Tito's death on May 4, 1980. A State Department official viewed the bombing as an attempt to protest President Carter's upcoming trip to Yugoslavia later in June. After the US Congress voted in 1989 to condemn human rights abuses in Yugoslavia, the country's ambassador to the United States was recalled.
The home at 1907 Quincy Street was abandoned. As Yugoslavia broke apart, it became unclear what nation had title to the property. After years of uncertainty, the DC real estate database listed Bosnia and Herzegovina as owning the home as of January 2013. Today, however, the lot is overgrown, no utilities are turned on, the garage roof has collapsed, and the home's interior is bare and in need of significant repairs.
--David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace