The Architecture of Transportation in the Capitol Region
The eighth biennial symposium on the historic development of
The Adaptive Lives of
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,
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
Unlike the labyrinths of
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
The stables in
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
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,
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
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– A History of Race Relations in the Nation’s Capital by Constance McLaughlin Green, Princeton University Press, 1967 Secret City
- The Mews of
– A guide to the hidden byways of London ’s past, by Barbara Rosen and Wolfgang Zuckerman, 1982 London
- The Timeless Way of Building, by Christopher Alexander,
Press, 1979 Oxford University
- Memories of the Buggy Days, by Henry W. Meyer, Brinker Printing Company, 1965
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- Saving America’s Treasures, National Geographic, National Trust for Historic Preservation 2001
- 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
- Neglected Neighbors by Weller, The John C Winston Company, 1909
- Coach Houses of
– by Margo Salnek, Toronto Mills Press, 2005 Boston
- 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
- Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development by Patrice Frey, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2007 http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/sustainability/additional-resources/DiscussionDraft_10_15.pdf
- A Timeline of
History: http://www.h-net.org/~dclist/timeline1.html Washington DC