Art Deco Rowhouses on Arkansas Ave. NW : LUSENET : Art Deco Society of Washington : One Thread

I am interested in any information or historic pictures on the history of the Art Deco row houses on the 4000-4100 block of Arkansas Ave NW in Columbia Heights. I know that they were designed by the architect Joseph Abel (known for the Broadmoor located at 3601 Connecticut Avenue) and were completed in 1941. Iv'e been told that they are featured in a book on DC architecture. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

-- R. Nelson (, March 10, 2004


A very quick look through "Washington Deco" came up blank, there are of course some references to Joseph Abel in it. I did not manage to find it quickly either in "Buildings in the DC Area" by Scott & Lee, but as the index to this is limited to personal names, it might be worth a more thorough search. Sorry.

Art Deco Ireland

-- Art Deco Ireland (, March 12, 2004.

I grew up a few blocks away, and had good friends who lived in the houses you asked about. They are only on the west side of Arkansas Avenue, by the way, and the neighborhood is not Columbia Heights, but Petworth. It has been a stable, predominantly African-American middle class neighborhood since the 1950s, but like much of DC is undergoing the onslaught of "gentrification" that has ravaged many of the city's most stable black neighborhoods.

The new people tend to be white, younger, and more interested in the house's architect that their next-door-neighbors. Their homes tend to be more landscaped. The children of the many elderly people who live on the block have been priced out of their homes. For these reasons, newcomers are understandably ambivalent about the "progress" that has made west-of-the-park neighborhoods suddenly "desirable" and "hot" and fueled a real estate frenzy in Petworth and nearby Crestwood, 16th Street Heights.

For those who believe a sense of connection to a place is important culturally and socially, the "turning over" of Arkansas Avenue is sadly unstoppable. I wrote about it first, in the hope that realtors, investors and new homeowners might appreciate how it feels to be ignored as a community until the discovery that your house was built by a Wardman or a Joseph Abel. If we took the same interest in people that we do in architecture and business development, this would be a truly world-class city.

Now, since I saw your message on the Art Deco Society website I assume you share my apparent interest in 20th century design. For that reason, I'll take off my "people first" hat and provide below what I know about the structural side of the 4000-4100 block.

A long block (broken by Taylor St on the east side, but unbroken for blocks on the west) begins to the south at 16th Street, (turn right onto Arkansas, after the Lioness Bridge if traveling north) from downtown. It can also be accessed easily from Rock Creek Parkway. The block ends at a narrow alley that runs behind all the houses, just before the unrelated house at the northwest corner of Arkansas and Upshur Street, NW.

The houses are all up on a hill, with access via a steep run of concrete steps that cut through the lawn. There is a tiny sheltered turnaround outside the front door. It has a tile floor, if memory serves me; the same type that is used for the front porches on row houses in Petworth and Crestwood neighborhoods, and it is generally kept painted. One enters the ground floor and finds an area that was often used as a recreation or family room. The light from the street side comes though a wall of glass block. Just in front of the door, a flight of stairs leads to the second level. You face a large dining area with one window, and behind it small Pullman-style kitchen at the back (with a door leading to a tiny garden off the alley). There is a large sunken living room with a fireplace, and a screened porch beyond it via sliding glass doors, which overhangs the front yard. A staircase off the dining room leads up to the bedroom level. A large master BR with en suite bath goes all the way across the front. A second bath in the hallway connects it to two smaller bedrooms. THE END.

-- Lea Adams (, July 08, 2004.

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