Wednesday, December 9, 2009

1320 9th Street (4 in 1) has a bright future!

The property bought by Darryl Carter is actually a collection of four individual buildings (including the yellow stable in the alley) reflecting progressive expansion since the original building was constructed. Section #2 was built in the mid 1800’s as was the stable. The dormers (shown at the arrow) define one original face of the building. The front section on 9th Street appears to have been built in the mid 20’s like its neighbor the EFN Lounge. Fortunately the property is protected from demolition under law by virtue of its status on the National Register of Landmark Historic Properties. It is also protected by HPO and HPRB. The neighborhood anticipates great new developments here!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Naylor Court Stable To Begin Another Life!

The word on the street in the Shaw neighborhood is that Darryl Carter, a well-respected Washington designer, recently bought 1320  9th Street. It is understood that the restoration of the 1800’s buildings will begin in shortly. The plans include preserving the stable at the back of the property which is vital because of the historic importance and legal protection of the stable and the Naylor Court alley. The little yellow stable in Naylor Court has been heavily modified over its lifetime, yet it retains its essential configuration as a stable with the central second story hayloft door and beam. Given the high quality of Darryl Carter’s design work and his eye for design that is respectful of the past and elegance of the traditional, it can be reasonably assumed that when he turns his hand to developing this languishing property – a former antiques store in another life - it will delightfully come alive once again.

        Even though Naylor Court and Blagden Alley are a collection of historic landmark properties protected by the National Register they have been relentlessly ravaged by neglect and willful destruction. However, there is still hope for the future preservation of its remnants. This will occur with one property at a time. Creative adaptive reuse of the stables through new owners such as Darryl Carter sets a high water mark in the history of the resurrection of one of the city’s little recognized or appreciated collections of alley gems in Naylor Court.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Blagden Alley/Naylor Court Historic District Designation

Bounded by 9th, 10th, M, and O Streets, NW
This district of residential, commercial, and service structures is notable for the network of alleyways enclosed behind a facade of middle-class residential streets. In isolated and cramped conditions, amid the stables and warehouses, such alleys provided habitation for the working poor. Blagden Alley in particular inspired humanitarian reformers to eradicate the deplorable living conditions that these alleys came to embody. While African-Americans were disproportionately represented in the alley population, the area developed as an economically and racially mixed neighborhood with a rich variety of architectural styles and diverse quality. The district includes dwellings of freedmen, examples of black real estate ownership prior to emancipation, and houses like the home of Blanche K. Bruce, the first African-American to serve a full term as U.S. Senator.
There are approximately 150 buildings, c. 1833-1941, and sites with archaeological potential; DC designation September 19, 1990 (effective November 13, 1990), NR listing November 16, 1990; designation superseded by an expanded DC district July 22, 1999 (effective September 7, 1999); NR listing amended September 9, 1999 to create a larger Mount Vernon West Historic District; original DC designation reinstituted December 16,
1999; see also Shaw HD

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stabilizing Businesses in the Alley (Part I)

In a lovely 1978 monograph simply titled “Alleys as Hidden Resources”, Grady Clay expresses his vision of the modern day beauty of alleys. Clay’s book was reviewed in the Louisville Courier-Journal by his friend and architecture critic William Morgan. 

In his review Morgan writes … “Despite the fact that alleys are often seen merely as traffic shortcuts, places in which to dump trash, or as places where you wouldn’t want to meet people in the dark.” Clay points out that the alley is “an institution as American as apple pie.”

Morgan expressed the hope that Clay’s monograph “will not be forgotten or placed on a shelf as is so often the fate of such studies.” He then quotes Lewis Mumford whom he considered to be the dean of American planning historians – “I would prefer to walk in the rear alley … precisely for all those little hints of life, activity, transition which the placid visual arts of suburbia did their best to suppress or politely disguise.”

This book has indeed found new life in this author’s library shelf and on the shelf of this blog for many to appreciate - something that was unimaginable in 1978. In fact the book came into the author’s hands through the internet and the graces of William Morgan himself! It will be a valuable tool in the quest to nurture and protect the more picturesque and historic stable alleys in the city.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

EFN Bar Responsive to Cleanup Efforts Behind Stable

The owners of the EFN Lounge and Motley Bar have responded promptly to community questions about trash management in the alley behind the stable.

Due to the increase in traffic to the 1318 business there has been an extreme amount of waste generated.  After carefully assessing this issue and how to keep our staff and neighbors safe and in a clean environment, we have increased our waste removal to 3 days a week including Saturday.  In an attempt to maintain cleanliness, I have instructed all staff to store waste inside the building until it can be disposed of properly.  I read the blog and saw the images; I agree that it is unacceptable.

I do my best to respond positively to any concerns regarding 1318. I am open to discussion as to how waste can be disposed of in a way that eliminates a dumpster as the venue does not have an area that is away from customers on premise. Storing waste in the building near customers would be in violation of health codes.  My solution was to keep the waste in the building after the business day and I would personally load it into the dumpster for removal the following morning. This way waste is not every visible to customers or neighbors.

I do apologize for this hurdle in making our community more visible for positive growth. 

The EFN Lounge & Motley Bar
1318 9Th Street NW

Unstable Trash

It's really not necessary to trash the neighborhood (around the corner from Azi's Cafe on 9th Street). For a more encouraging view of Shaw Living check out this video (credit goes to RenewShaw for this link).
(the editor has no promotional or any other connections with this video source)

Monday, November 2, 2009

EFN Lounge Alley Trash

 Naylor Court "alleypaper"

Trash Talking in the Alley

(photo behind the "EFN bar" stable in Naylor Court)
Isn't it sad that there is a persisting mentality in much of Washington D.C. that the sole purpose of alleys is for trash, vehicular access, drugs, robberies and prostitution.? Alley trash is just like graffiti. It sends a message about the neighborhood - not a good one. Some alleys in the city may be beyond salvage but the National Register Historic alleys of Blagden and Naylor Court are in their early days of restoration and desperately need protection. NPO, HPRB, DCRA, BZA, ANC's and the community - step up it up a notch! We're talk'n trash here.

Community anger is rising about how badly these alleys are being treated. Don't you think that it is beyond time to leave the past of horse manure and corruption and move into a more civilized era of people and places? Let's stop trashing this place.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The "Restoration/Reclamation" Conversation Continues

The lines between freedoms of expression and excrescence.

Building Bones exposed

The original building that once lived beside the Queen of Sheba has long faded from local memories leaving the party wall we now see. The author has labeled this photo to clarify the elements of the composite building that today, fully occupies the property. Even the originally separate two-story stable has had a layer built on top of the original building. In the near future, this view of the building will disappear as a new Burmese restaurant and apartment complex will be born beside it to hide the glimpse of insight into how these buildings evolve over a century. This photo also serves to underscore why developers are tearing down stables at the rear of buildings so that they can quietly access and destroy the bones of the rest of the historic building while leaving the front facade (sometimes historically insignificant) undisturbed.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Building Bones

Interpreting the past lives of old buildings is like doing an architectural/archeological autopsy. Each building carries its own scars, personalities and underlying pathologic processes. Many have had superficial face lifts. Many look great on the outside but are in terrible shape inside. Some have had easy lives and others hard lives. The Queen of Sheba (1503 9th Street NW) is a great example. The original stable – the bones of which can still be made out – was built in 1890 for $400 and measured 20’ x 23’. [Two stories – Owner: A. Long, Builder: JC Yost]*

The associated home in front of it facing 9th Street, was built in 1901 for $5,000 and measured 23’ x 32’. [Three stories – Owner: A. Long, Architect: Edward Woltz and Builder: J.C. Yost]* Since the lot measures 95 feet in length and today has a fully occupied property footprint, the deduction is that forty feet (95 feet – 55 feet = 40 feet) of the property footprint consisted of “infill construction” to join all of the elements together.

You can see the same process in the wall of the building to the North of the 9th Street BP Station. It’s easy to see how this evolution would escape notice unless the building is revealed in its entirely as occurs when neighboring structures disappear.

The complexity of past architectural history can make the HPRB decision making process daunting at times. It can be difficult to sort out what is original, what has been added, what can be demolished and what needs to be saved!

* Data retrieved from the Kraft database of buildings in Washington DC

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Equine Artifacts

While horse drinking troughs were on almost every block years ago, few people would recognize them today. Sometimes owners add "equine artifacts" to their stable so that passersby can recognize the origin of the building. An example is on the wall of this stable in Georgetown near the Key Bridge. (The horse trough photo is from Shorpy's web site)

Friday, September 4, 2009

D.C. Equine Artifacts of the Past

Although horses have long left the city of Washington, lingering reminders exist all around us. These little artifacts are seen by many but are probably recognized by few. For example, when you walk down 10th Street between P and O NW you will find a rein ring embedded in the east side curb about half way down the block. Perhaps this would have tethered a milk wagon horse or a street cleaning horse and wagon. If you continue down walking down 10th Street you will encounter an old mounting block embedded in the sidewalk on the west side between M Street and L Street. This reminder of our equine past was saved from destruction by local resident Jim Loucks who manages an architectural firm, has a design education and is an historic architectural preservationist. The development of a “people’s” (10th Street) park on the east side of this block beside CafĂ© Cozy Corner is another example of Jim’s proactive thinking and community activism. Sometimes when walking in alleys you will even see horse-head-height rein rings secured between bricks in the walls of old stables. Too bad all of the old iron drinking troughs in the city have been destroyed, for they would have made great city boulevard planters or even homeland security barriers! Who could have predicted “back then” what life would be like in D.C. today. One suspects that the iron horse drinking troughs were scrapped decades ago to help support the efforts of another American war.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Claremont Academy to Ride Off Into the Sunset

The Claremont Riding Academy on West 89th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves. is closing this Sunday after the weekend's riding is done. Opened in 1892, Claremont is the oldest continuously operated horse stable in the U.S. It was initially used as a livery stable, but was turned into a riding academy in the 1920s. Riding lessons are given in a small ring on the main floor, while stables occupy the basement and upper floors, which horses reach via ramps. Owner Paul Novograd said he was closing the business because pedestrian traffic was becoming too congested along Central Park's bridle trails, making it difficult to ride. Homes will be found for the roughly 45 horses that currently stable on 89th St.

The building that houses the Claremont Riding Academy is located at 175 West 89th St. on the north side of the street. It was designed 115 years ago by Frank A. Rooke, who also built The Gershwin Hotel on East 27th St. According to the AIA Guide to New York City, the structure narrowly escaped destruction in the 1960s when urban renewal advocates called for its removal from the neighborhood and replacement as part of a consolidated stable facility inside Central Park, but preservationists prevailed. 175 West 89th is now a New York City Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, so any alterations will have to be approved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. We imagine that after washing away 115 years of horse smell, the four-story building could be worth a lot of money as a residential conversion project.

Last year we wrote about how luxury condo developers got the jump on the Landmarks Preservation Commission by removing the facade of the Dakota Stable on 77th st. and Amsterdam Ave. before the building could be landmarked, thus removing any reason for it to be landmarked. The stables at West 89th should avoid this fate because the building is already landmarked. Urban equestrians may now have to decamp to Brooklyn's Kensington Stables located in Prospect Park, which has well-used bridle trails. And although information is fairly difficult to come by, there is a horseback riding facility on Ward's Island.

New York Stables Closed

After more than 100 years of service, the nation’s oldest operating stables closed its doors.

The familiar sight of horse and rider cruising through Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York is only a memory now. The Claremont Riding Academy officially closed its doors Sunday after more than 100 years of service to equestrians throughout the city. The four-story stone stable located between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues originally opened as a livery stable in 1892 but became a riding school in the 1920s, offering lessons and hiring out horses for use on bridle paths within Central Park.
Owner Paul Novograd says dwindling business contributed to closure of Claremont, which was one of the oldest continuously operating stables in the United States. The building was declared a city landmark in 1990, so its exterior can't be changed without approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. However the building’s interior, which looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades, does not hold the same protection.
New homes are being sought for the 45 horses from the stable.


“The one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady. It sounds like a saddle horse.”

Jackie Kennedy grew up surrounded by horses, nurtured her passion and became a highly respected life long equestrian. When she was living in Washington Jackie would often flee the city to the quiet of Kennedy’s 300 acre retreat at “Glen-Ota” in Middleburg. Apparently JFK was allergic to animal fur and did not share her passion for horses. Caroline’s pony – Macaroni – would often wander the White House grounds eating the grass and occasionally the White House roses! There were no stables at the White House for they had been destroyed by President Taft to make way for his modern motorcar! Stombock’s Fine Riding Apparel on M Street in Georgetown supplied Jackie’s equestrian needs. For more formal attire she turned to Oleg Cassini and other haute couture designers. Her connection with Cassini had an strong equine link, for he had been an instructor of horsemanship in the US Army Calvary in Fort Riley Kansas, he had played polo for the army team and had hunted on more than 20 hunts. According to Vicky Moon’s book “they shared the passion although never rode together.” Her saddles were from the Steuben Saddle Company which was founded in 1894 and manufactured in Stans Switzerland. After her death the estate sale estimate for her saddle was $300 - $500 however, it surprised many by selling for $90,500.

Few assigned protective agents could keep up with Jackie when she was riding so a good looking 27-year-old US Parks Department Private by the name of Denis Ayres was assigned to cover her. Ayres eventually became a Sergeant Major of the US Park Police with over 90 horses under his control – most likely housed in the building that is now the DC Archives at 1300 Naylor Court. With guests, Jackie would ride at Rock Creek Park.

Nobody who has ever seen footage of JFK’s funeral could ever forget the pathos evoked by the riderless horse with reversed boots. The horse – Black Jack - was a sixteen year old hybrid between a quarter horse and a Morgan. He served at the funerals of Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and General Douglas MacArthur. “Several years after the funeral, Jackie received a letter from the secretary of the Army, asking her if she might want to include him in her stable. She wrote back and politely declined saying it would be better to have him continue in military service.”(ref) After 24 years of distinguished service he was euthanized at the age of 29 on Feb 6th 1976, he was given a full military funeral followed with burial on the Fort Meyer parade ground, Summerall Field. His stall became a shrine.

Jackie moved to New York (1040 5th Avenue) following JFK’s death after trying to live in Washington. While in NYC she continued to ride several times a week through the Claremont Riding Academy on the upper West Side at 175 West 89th Street. This was a 5 story Romanesque revival building built in 1892 by Edward Bedell listed in the NY Landmark Commission as a National Historic Site. Originally a livery stable, designed by Frank A. Rooke who specialized in stables and factories it is allegedly the oldest continuously operated stable in the country. There were more than 100 horses living in the stable and it housed a commercial sized elevator for the horses along with a 65’ x 75’ arena. The horses (and their perspective riders) were specially trained to be accustomed to the NY traffic.

Jackie usually rode alone in the morning. The Claremont Stables would bring a horse to the Engineer’s Gate north of the Guggenheim Museum at 19th and 5th Avenue for a ride along the 5 mile long bridle path around the reservoir, built by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead in 1858. Today the reservoir bears Jackie’s name.

“The Private Passion of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Portrait of a Rider” by Vicky Moon, Harper Collins Publisher 1st Edition 2005

Friday, July 24, 2009

Images that Evoke the Past

This creative adaptive reuse of an old corner gas station in Takoma Park is an excellent example of using a community theme from the past (art Deco and transportation) that at the same time allows new uses which somehow seem to "fit", as though it was always this way.

Adams Morgan-Columbia Area

If done well, homogeneous or thematic storefronts can be very effective in creating a sense of "belonging" and cohesiveness in communities without losing individuality.

Unstable Streetscapes

In 1980 Mary Means initiated and directed the Main Street program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation[1].This program focused on the importance of the historic interconnection between buildings, rather than on individual historic properties. Buildings lived and worked in concert with each other and it began to make sense that preservation of connected collections of buildings was important for sustained revitalization. The program established a “four-point approach[2]”for successful implementation.


This is the most difficult element of the process and generally needs to be under a single “umbrella organization.”


The streetscape project needs to promote itself by providing reasons for people to visit an exciting and revitalized area.


This is a highly visible element of the process, signaling to the community that something very different is happening.

Economic Restructuring

Local banks, particularly when working collectively can provide financial support for it is now well recognized that revitalized properties are good for business.

In addition to the “four-point approach” for preservation of streetscapes through Main Street programs, the NTHP outlined a further eight principles that it felt were also important for successful implementation.

1. Comprehensiveness: - the project needs to involve more than isolated buildings that do not have any connection with each other. It needs to be an ongoing process.

2. Incrementation: - small early projects are important to encourage others and also to increase the ability of the organizations involved to tackle larger projects

3. Self-help: - local leadership is important to sustain the initiatives, even though much help can be obtained through the National Main Street Center in Washington D.C.

4. Public-private partnership: - this is pivotal

5. Identification and capitalization on existing assets: -clarification of the uniqueness of the locale to help guide revitalization

6. Quality: - high quality must be a major focus in design, promotion and execution.

7. Change: - influencing the prevailing community attitudes is important, as the Main Street program shifts public preconceptions

8. Action orientation: - recognition of the value of visible change to remind the community of the vitality of the program

Tyler [2] in Historic Preservation importantly identified several reasons why Main Street programs sometimes fail in communities.

· “The project manager was not working full time and could not follow through on initiatives.”

· “Some downtown groups were unhappy with the new show in town and sabotaged efforts of the Main Street project office.”

· “The Board of Directors tried to accommodate too many groups and became too large and unwieldy.”[3]

Historic preservation is “good for business” and good for the vigor of communities. Awareness of the steps in the process, principles and reasons for failure as outlined above is valuable and vital for the success of initiatives. The work that is happening today along 9th Street NW and 7thStreet NW in Washington D.C.[4]is destined to succeed, given adherence to the advice offered by the NTHP National Main Street Center - an organization that since its inception has garnered over $11 billion in private and public investment, rehabilitated over60,000 buildings and created over 174,000 new jobs.

[1] National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20036 (

[2] In Historic Preservation - an introduction to its history principles and practice by Norman Tyler, W.W. Norton & Company, 2000

[3] Historic Preservation pages 174 - 176

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unstable "Stable"

A light blue Victorian home lives at 403 P Street NW with a small stable-like building behind it. There is currently a dumpster in front of the building on P Street and there are neighborhood rumors that the rear building is going to be torn down to make space for parking or expansion of the primary building. The home (built in 1890) was designed by George S. Cooper, an architect who designed about 850 buildings in Washington. The building in the rear was built in 1891, measures 15 feet by 27 feet and has many of the typical features of a stable or a small warehouse. The original permit describes it as being a “fuel house and storeroom.” No architect is listed for this building but the builder was Galloway and son.

Unlike Naylor Court NW, with a unique collection of small buildings that has been protected by law (every address) through the National Register of Landmark Historic Properties since 1990, this alley building has much less (if any) protection. The author is unaware of a unifying HPO policy that governs their decision making process about stables and other small alley buildings in the city. This little building (403 rear P Street NW) is not a part of a unique and cohesive collection, although there are several stables in the alley.

In the author’s opinion, at the very least, the building should be documented architecturally, (dimensions, inner structure etc), bricks salvaged where possible for use in historic preservation projects in the city (these bricks are in high demand), the original “hayloft doors” salvaged and eye kept out for archeological artifacts that might be uncovered during the process of its destruction, should that eventually happen.

Stables and other small rear alley buildings are prime targets for destruction, because their disappearance makes it so much easier for developers to gain access to work on the rear of the primary building. These are charming little properties that can almost always be restored, rehabilitated and adaptively reused given the expertise and the will to do so. Stables and utilitarian alley buildings are very simple structures. These buildings are a unique and characteristic historic architectural feature of Washington D.C. today, for no other major cities in America have such a sizable number of standing stables. Some go back to Lincoln’s era and are irreplaceable.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The legacy of alley life percolates out to the street in Shaw.

In many ways the lives of buildings, companies and communities function as ecology. One use gives way to another, as times and needs change. Everything is interconnected –so clearly witnessed today as we watch the downfall of practically everything. Vacant land in the late 1700’s gave way to stables and alleys which gave way to auto repair shops which gave way to either abandonment or adaptive reuse. Blagden Alley and Naylor Court like most alleys in Washington, housed people, horses and small community-based businesses. Needs were met, even if they were humble. For example, there was a bicycle repair shop in Blagden Alley in 1900 and artisan shops. Of course there were also illegal gin joints, and brothels filling somewhat less wholesome demands. It was a thriving macroeconomic culture that was easily understood and made sense. As alleys were destroyed by government intervention, focus turned to the street side of life allowing the inner core of blocks to quietly rot.

Little corner street side gas stations - once community fuel lines – eventually gave way to big oil corporations and were also gradually abandoned or destroyed. Yet all is not yet lost, for today Frank Asher has created a corner garden shop at the South West corner of 9th and N northwest called “Old City Green” on the site of a former gas station that had crumbled beyond recognition.

To invite nature back into the city by supporting local landscapers with market value product and by providing the Shaw community and D.C. at large with plants, garden supplies, training and opportunities to increase awareness of and appreciation for “our urban garden”.

This “new green growth” is helping to draw together a community in a loving and healing way, much like the early small tendrils of growth in nature after a forest fire. This is a welcome and healthy metaphor of new hope in a community that struggles daily to look for signs of anything positive. Maybe it’s time for all of us to take our eyes off the “big picture” of world economic crisis, “talking heads”, blogs and “politicomedia” and focus once again on helping each other in ways that are close to home and understandable.

In Frank’s own words…

Old City Green….Why now?

“I started out as a small gardener/landscaper, picking up dog poop and pulling weeds out of the tree boxes in Dupont Circle.” frank Asher explains, “I had to buy product from local garden centers nearby and/or nurseries out in the burbs…That was time consuming and hurting my business. There were discounts up to 20% given to industry gardeners, but it wasn’t any more than discounts given to regular “membership” customers. In essence, I was unable to really make a profit in cost of goods and supplies…Any small retail business will tell you where there profit is… I have always thought: How can I help other gardeners/landscapers like myself stay afloat? Especially now when people are cutting back. We’re still working out the business and legal issues, and hope to have to co-op up and running in full swing by mid April 09. The Landscapers Co-op will not only support the professional gardeners and landscapers it will also help community gardens and garden associations. It will help create a new urban capacity to grow food, mitigate environmental threats and cultivate a unique sense of beauty and common unity.” Noted cosmologist Thomas Berry says all communities need a compelling story. Well, said Frank: Old City Green is about honoring the connections we have with each other…How the individual can be supported by his/her immediate community of friends and a the same time, give back to the local neighborhood and the community at large.
What is strange about this is that most business people have never heard of the “triple bottom line” …I am happy that
Old City Green can introduce this model and be a part of something bigger than just making a buck.

It was 9 years ago when I started cleaning out tree boxes in my neighborhood. They had been abandoned and were full of dog doodoo and weeds... A merchant in Dupont Circle offered to pay me to maintain the boxes and in just a short time Fairies' Crossing was born. I then took a Master Gardening class and my business in planting and designing gardens just took off from there...I must admit, I am one lucky man to get to play in the dirt. I want to help bring people and plants together... Old City Green helps me make that wish come true.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Washington on the Move

The Architecture of Transportation in the Capitol Region

The eighth biennial symposium on the historic development of

Metropolitan Washington D.C., March 7th and 8th 2009, Society of Architectural Historians

The Adaptive Lives of Washington DC Stables over 150 Years

Stables are architecturally simple yet elegant structures, melding form and function. Because of this simplicity and their “hidden” location in alleys, many DC stables have been blessed with multiple lives over the past 150 years. Originally built to house horses, carriages and hay, their classic features – bollards, square two story configuration, hayloft door and beam, horse head height windows, cupolas and massive doors and hinges – make them readily recognizable today. Some were private and small while others were commercial and large. The occasional stable was born into elegance as part of an estate (such as the Heurich mansion). With the civil war, came a massive demand for D.C. stables that continued throughout the city’s period of reconstruction. However, by 1900 few new stables were being built as the automobile eclipsed the horse and carriage, street car lines developed and demand declined.

Nonetheless, their simple architecture allowed easy conversion of many stables to alley auto repair shops. The transition from stables for horses to auto repair shops was not difficult, for the mechanics of coaches had similarities to the early automobile. The leaf springs for example on a model T Ford as well as the wooden spoke wheels were easy for a blacksmith to repair. For a while, some large stables catered to both automobiles and horses. Eventually however, people either adapted or went out of business. In the peak of the automobile era, 14th Street was an auto showroom corridor. The alley stable auto repair shops served the needs of a poorer community who could barely maintain their cars. Cars were abandoned, stolen and set on fire. The drug and prostitution trade flourished in choked alleys and crime surged. The neighborhoods felt into decline for many years and people were fearful of investing in homes. Today, that is slowly changing.

These were hard lived years for stables. Some were abused but most were neglected. Many were destroyed as alleys began to be abolished by government fiat through a series of alley abolition acts started in the Depression by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1934 with the creation of the Alley Dwelling Authority “to provide the discontinuance of the use as dwellings of the buildings situated in alleys in the District of Columbia.” No alley houses were to be inhabited after July 1st 1944. Ironically a long period of building stagnation in D.C. (after the1968 riots) protected many of the remaining stables. Today, few alley auto repair garages exist but stables are slowly being rediscovered and restored to live adaptive new lives as musician and artist studios, offices or homes.

Unlike the labyrinths of London mews, intact collections of stables are virtually nonexistent in D.C. today. Almost none were built outside of the city as it was defined by turn of the century maps, for a moratorium of building stables was passed. To search for stables within Washington, one only needs to read a city map from 1900 which defined the borders of the city. After 1900, very few stables were built, partly because of the decline in demand and partly because of the inherent fire hazard of stables. They are almost all within the confines of an alley for they served the elegant homes on the street side and it was a way to reduce the noise and smell that accompanied an active stable.

Today, stables have a hard earned right to be protected (two D.C. alleys and their stables were recognized as National Historic Landmarks in 1990) and nurtured so that they can continue to thrive. They uniquely remind us of their struggles and the roles that they have played in the special history of Washington, its alleys, transportation, commerce and the arts. They have a special charm that is timeless.

The stables in Washington D.C. can be classified into several categories: - small and utilitarian private stables, moderate sized stables, large commercial stables (such as the US Parks stables) and elegant “mansion stables” such as the (White House stables). As one walks through the city with a trained eye it become easy to spot stables in the alleys even though many have either been joined to their primary building or been modified almost beyond recognition.

They are all two stories in height for the hayloft occupied the second floor. There is a second story central hayloft door with a beam and pulley. Remnants can still be seen in some stables. The lower level always had a large carriage door for the horses and vehicles with the edges protected by characteristic bollards and an adjacent smaller door for people. The huge stable doors were hinged to the wall, secured with massive plates that extended several brick spans into the wall and the row of bricks above the plate were laid “end on.” Many stables have “horse head height windows” that allowed sun and fresh air inside the stable. Older stables had been poorly ventilated and the toxicity of the ammonia levels and other equine respiratory threats resulted in a high sickness rate amongst the working horses. Occasionally one will glimpse a rein ring on the wall of the stable or the remnants of a cupola to vent the hayloft and control temperature.

It is not widely appreciated that some of the stables in Washington, especially the larger stables were built by well known architects, such as Nicholas T Haller, who also built the Warder Building and the Luzon Apartment building. The quality of his work and that of other architects is evident today, for a number of these stables are intact today.

Clearly, the lives of the stables in Washington D.C. paralleled the evolving story of transportation. In 1828 when the C and O canal was completed, goods were transported from the Town of George to Washington D.C. by horse. There is still evidence of a mule stable in Georgetown by the canal today. By 1835 canal traffic slowed with the completion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway into Washington. By 1862 the first horse car service began, connecting the Capitol to the State Department and an experimental electric trolley began in 1888. By 1890, a cable car operation commenced. All of these advances significantly affected Washington residents’ abilities to move goods and themselves around the city and the need for horses diminished rapidly. While the horse car operation ended in 1898 car barns at either end of the streetcar run still exist and have been adaptively reused as residences. In 1897 the first automobiles drove along Washington streets signally the finality of the horse driven era of transportation.

The 14th Street corridor car showroom era too has passed, for today there is only one remaining dealership within the city. Despite the rapidly fading past and new demands of the future, many stables have managed to survive and adapt to other lives.

The value of the contribution of the stables to the ebb and flow of city commerce and transportation is often lost in the quest to develop new businesses and residences. Even in circumstances where it is impossible to save a stable there is still the opportunity to at the very least archive its dimensions and structural features and even explore the site archeologically. This was done with the White House stables as reported in a 2004 Washington Post article “Below Ground, Washington’s Lost History.” The White House stables had been razed to the ground by Taft in 1912 to make room for his new motorcar.

There are many impediments to salvaging stables in addition to the government alley abolition acts. For example, it is still not legal to have a residence that faces a 15 foot wide alley. Stables cannot be easily separated from the rest of the property on which they reside so cannot be bought as individual entities. The wear and tear of many years of abuse and neglect have taken such a toll on many structures, that there is little incentive to properly repair and restore the building.

The art of brick and pointing repair was lost for many years and eclipsed by the ease of use of Portland cement which ultimately destroyed the very structure it was trying to save. Bricks became stress points through this rigid mortar and lost the limestone “give and take” that has allowed European buildings to stand for centuries. A welcome resurgence of interest in the value of limestone mortar is occurring today.

In one alley the Save Our Stables (S.O.S.) initiative was created this fall to spawn an awareness of the historic nature of the Washington alleys and the lives of the buildings within them. Despite protection through the National Register of Historic Landmarks, Blagden Alley and Naylor Court alley structures continue to be torn down and replaced with modern buildings. “The greenest building is one that already exists.”


  1. Alley Life in Washington – Family, Community, Religion and Folklife in the City, 1850 – 1970 by James Borchert, University of Illinois Press, 1980
  2. The Secret City – A History of Race Relations in the Nation’s Capital by Constance McLaughlin Green, Princeton University Press, 1967
  3. The Mews of London – A guide to the hidden byways of London’s past, by Barbara Rosen and Wolfgang Zuckerman, 1982
  4. The Timeless Way of Building, by Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1979
  5. Memories of the Buggy Days, by Henry W. Meyer, Brinker Printing Company, 1965
  6. American Stables – an architectural tour by Julius Trousdale Sadler Jr. and Jacquelin D.J. Sadler, New York Graphic Society Boston, 1981
  7. Saving America’s Treasures, National Geographic, National Trust for Historic Preservation 2001
  8. Preservation and Conservation – principles and practices, Proceedings of the North American International Regional Conference, Williamsburg, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Sept 10 – 16, 1972, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976
  9. Neglected Neighbors by Weller, The John C Winston Company, 1909
  10. Coach Houses of Toronto – by Margo Salnek, Boston Mills Press, 2005
  11. Loft Living – recycling warehouse space for residential use by Kingsley C. Fairbridge and Harvey-Jane Kowal, Saturday Review Press/E.P. Dutton and Co. Inc, 1976
  12. Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development by Patrice Frey, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2007
  13. A Timeline of Washington DC History: