If Walls Could Talk: Red Rocks Pizzeria in Columbia Heights

I am obsessed with Red Rocks at 11th and Park NW. I have been since day one. In the hopes that I can convince my wife to go there tonight (or at least this weekend), I think it’s only fitting that they’re the first restaurant that I do a little historical research on. At least I know the proprietors will appreciate it, judging by the photos they hang on their walls.

I did some Internet sleuthing and this is what I came up with.

Red Rocks Firebrick Pizzeria

Red Rocks Firebrick Pizzeria (courtesy: Park View, D.C.)

Building on an empty lot

An article on July 7th, 1912 titled “Firms and Citizens Take Out Large Number of Permits” lists a the following building permit:

To Guy S. Zepp to erect three brick houses at 1032, 1034, and 1036 Park road northwest. Cost, $6,600.

First … $6,600. I know, I know, but that is amazing to think about. Second, I’m sure Mr. Zepp did not foresee his corner property becoming the best pizza joint in Columbia Heights … maybe all of D.C. (yes, a bold statement – maybe I’ll get a free pepperoni pizza out of it).

By the way, the same article lists a permit granted for 1744 R St. NW.

The largest permit of the week was issued to A. B. Butler for the erection of a four-story residence, which will cost approximately $35,000.

That sounds like a lot of money, even in today’s dollars. Alban B. Butler’s former residence at 1744 R St. NW happens to be the current location of the German Marshall Fund and I’m sure you’ve walked by and admired that building dozens of times. Now you know it took $35,000 to build it.

Watch your step

A little more digging through the archives of the Washington Post and I came across this one from May 7th, 1916:

Mrs. Julia A. Lee, 60 years old, 1036 Park road northwest, was bruised about the body yesterday afternoon, when she fell from the steps of an electric car at Eleventh street and Florida avenue northwest, She was taken to her home by T. E. Mullaney and treated by Dr. Barnhart. According to the police, Mrs. Lee was thrown to the pavement as a result of the car suddenly starting backward as she was getting off.

Judging by the date of aforementioned building permit, she was the first, or probably one of the first residents of 1036 Park Rd.

The marriage of Benjamin and Olga

Here is another thing I found in the Post tied back to the building. It’s a marriage announcement from October 22nd, 1936:

Benjamin Jerome Fonville, 22, 1036 Park road northwest and Olga Webster Vrooman, 21 780 Fairmont street northwest. The Rev. E. C. Smith.

A tiny little mention in the paper, but enough information to start finding out more about Benjamin and Olga. Ancestry.com had a copy of his World War II Army enlistment record, stating that he was born in 1913 and was originally from North Carolina. His race was “Negro, Citizen” and he enlisted on July 3rd, 1942 at Fort Myer in Arlington (there’s another connection to Fort Myer in this story). He completed four years of high school and his occupation was listed as “Clerks and kindred occupations, n.e.c.” He was a slight man at 5’4″ and 131 lbs … not exactly the stereotypical military man. He enlisted with an initial term of enlistment of “the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law.”

Digging a little more on Benjamin, I found that he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 48 Site 2176) and his rank was staff sergeant. On his headstone he is listed as being born November 4th, 1913 and died on August 25th, 1961. Hunting for some more information, it looks like he was living Essex, Massachusetts in 1920 with his sister Norma and mother Lillian. They were all from North Carolina, and Lillian moved the family up there to live with her sister and brother-in-law.

I can’t find as much on his wife Olga. She is buried next to Benjamin and the dates on her headstone are November 23rd, 1914 to January 9th, 2000. What I did find was a Commerce Department report as a supplement to the 1970 U.S. Census titled “Race of the Population by County: 1970″. Judging by this, I’m guessing she was employed by the Bureau of the Census. The report was prepared by an Olga V. Fonville and issued in December of 1975, which would make her 61 years old. I’m sure there weren’t too many Olga V. Fonville’s in D.C. at the time, so it’s probably her.

Retired from the Commerce Department

Here’s another former occupant of 1036 Park Rd. This one is from December 10th, 1966.

Joseph L. Bryant, 73, a retired employee of the Commerce Department, died Thursday night of a heart attack at his home.

He was born in Eufaula, Ala., and was educated in Alabama public schools and at Tuskeegee Institute, Tuskeegee, Ala., Minor Teachers of Washington, Howard University and the University of Chicago.

He moved to Washington in 1917 and went to work at the Commerce Department. When he retired in 1953, he was in charge of the Publications Distribution Section of the Office of International Trade and was honored by Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks.

He became a real estate broker after his retirement and maintained an office at 1036 Park Rd. NW.

Joseph was clearly a well-educated guy.

City Wide Learning

Here’s a little more recent one from December 12th 1976 from an article titled “Ex-DHR Foes, Now on Payroll, Silent”:

Ilia Bullock heads City Wide Learning Centers Inc. at 1036 Park Rd. NW. She was one of about 2,000 persons who rallied in defense of DHR director Joseph P. Yeldell last month, the day before he was suspended pending an investigation of charges that he put friends and relatives on the agency’s payroll.

According to records of the city’s contract review committee, chaired by assistant corporation counsel James E. Lemert, Horn negotiated a contract of $215, 248 with DHR, and Bullock and agreement for $180,000.

By the way, DHR is the Department of Human Resources for the District government. City Wide Learning looks to have rented the property in 1975 from the owner, W. Napolean Rivers. The property was sold in 1978 to Ronald J. Chancellor and H. Peter Larson. In April of 1982, the offices of City Wide vacated the premises, but Bullock allowed her two sons to live in the building.

In January of 1983, City Wide filed a tenant petition against the owners, claiming the rent was being unlawfully raised and since it was now occupied as a residence, it should be subject to rent control on D.C. law. To make a long story short, there was a legal battle that ensued, where City Wide maintained the position that the property was a domicile and should be subject to residential property laws whereas the property owners claimed the opposite. All rent was being paid into the court registry while the owner attempted to wrest control of their property away from City Wide. In the end, the court concluded that the property was, in fact, a commercial property and City Wide did not appeal the decision.

Red Rocks Firebrick Pizzeria

Red Rocks Firebrick Pizzeria


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  • David fielding

    Good post. Nice building. But now I am hungry for breakfast pizza.

  • lc

    True fact: until ~2003 when the TIP line was called, this building was operating as a brothel.

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