If Walls Could Talk: Corte Salon and Arzo Boutique

My wife is a huge fan of Corte Salon and she convinced me to start going there a couple of years ago … and I have to say, it’s definitely the best haircut I’ve ever had. So yes, this is a plug for them and the folks that work there. But second, my wife and I were chatting with the owner Carlos and his assistant stylist, Courtney, telling them about this blog. They were intrigued and were kind enough to tell me the concept was great.

Given that they’re right in the historic U Street Corridor, about 47 feet from the legendary Bohemian Caverns, I’m sure their building has seen its fair share of history. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Red Rocks in my first “If Walls Could Talk,” so why not try another local business which we frequent and see what I can uncover.

1017 & 1019 U St. NW
1017 & 1019 U St. NW

Bandit with toy gun robs storekeeper

Less than a year after the ’68 riots, the U street area was not a place you wanted to be. It was a sad, burnt out shell of its former self. The Post had, what is now, an amusing story.

Crawley F. Smith did not quite foil a robbery at his store yesterday. He traded $7 and his watch involuntarily for half a plastic pistol.

Smith, 72, was behind the counter in his Afro Electric Shop, 1019 U st. nw., at about 1:30 p.m. when a man about 35 years old entered with a drawn gun and announced a holdup.

The gunman was not content with what Smith gave him, and ordered the storekeeper to get more money from the rear of the store.

When the two men reached a storeroom, Smith suddenly punched the man, who was half Smith’s age. He knocked the gunman down and grabbed for the gun. It snapped sharply in half.

Smith then lunged for his watch and money, but the assailant fled.

A bold move by Crawley that could have ended badly if it was a real gun, but it sounds like he’s a bit of a bad ass … and he was 72 years old!

On a sad note, Crawley Smith was eleven years removed from a major family tragedy. In May of 1958, his wife Margaret, was killed in an automobile accident on the day of their 38th wedding anniversary. They were married in 1920 when he was 24 and she was 16. Margaret was returning from a trip to Cleveland with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, helping them move to D.C. Her son-in-law was to start a new job as an architect the following Monday. She was the only one killed in the accident.

One amazing thing I found for Crawley was his World War One Draft registration card. Take a look below and click the image for a larger view.

Crowley F. Smith - World War One Draft registration card
Crawley F. Smith – World War One Draft registration card

Mrs. Gertrude Ruppert

Gertrude is a serious old person name. How many Gertrude’s do you know? Well, that’s because it came out of the paper on August 7th, 1892 in the “City Brevities” section.

A small fire in the residence of Mrs. Gertrude Ruppert, 1019 U street, about 10 o’clock yesterday did about $100 damage.

That was brief, but $100 was not a trivial amount of money then, probably the equivalent of $10,000 today. I can get two haircuts at Corte Salon for $100. Mrs. Rupert would be appalled.

In the 1881 Boyd’s City Directory, Mrs. Ruppert is listed as a dressmaker at 418 New York Ave. NW. Definitely no dress making going on there these days as that’s a parking lot (likely soon to be high-rise apartments) at the entrance to I-395. She’s still at the same spot in the 1891 directory, so she likely was commuting from U street to her work on New York Ave.

Digging a little further, it appears that she came to the United States from Germany with her husband Henry, a butcher. They were both born in Hesse-Kassel in what was then technically known as the German Confederation. She was born in 1836 and he was in 1826. Also, their neighbors were also Rupperts from Hesse-Kassel, so it’s a safe bet that Henry’s younger brother Anton (also a butcher) moved his family there as well. Another thing I discovered was a D.C. tax record from 1865, listing Henry’s residence at 12th & W, He had a tax liability of $19.75 for his income, $2 for his carriage, and $2 for his watches, bringing the grand total to $23.75. You cannot get a haircut at Corte Salon for that. But maybe after this post, my wife will be charged that for her next visit.

Now that’s some cheap rent

I came across a classified ad from September 25th, 1988. I’m sure just about everyone would jump on this one today.

NW/LOGAN CIR-1019 U St. 1BR, LR, kit & BA. Immed occup. $388+utils. 499-4778 or 667-4744.

First of all, it’s not Logan Circle, but that’s how real estate works. Try to stretch the nicer neighborhood boundaries as far as you can. I’m shocked they didn’t call it east Georgetown, given how rough most of the city was back then.

Filling in the gaps

Some other small bits came up in my research, but nothing major. A giant drug bust at 1341 R St. NW, resulted in 17 arrests at a rooming house in May of 1964. Among those arrested was a Paul B. Mason, 35 years old, listing 1019 U St. as his residence. In the June 24th, 1893 edition of the Post, it mentioned that William Jackson, of 1019 U street northwest, was seriously injured by being struck in the abdomen with an iron crowbar while unloading stone.

Another interesting one I came across was on September 24th, 1973. The Washington Area Cab Drivers, Inc., was holding a meeting at 2 p.m. that day to discuss taxicab relations with the public and how to improve them. If they’re having meetings to improve relations with their customers, I’m guessing it wasn’t great at the time. Now their biggest gripe seems to be about painting all the cabs yellow (a unified and logical color, kind of like most major metropolitan areas).

Henry J. B. Artis, Jr. and Mary Grace Reid were listed as having applied for a marriage license in July of 1941 — a short four months before the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor. Henry’s residence was listed as 1019 U St. NW.

Corte Salon, 1019 U St. NW
Corte Salon, 1019 U St. NW

The next time you walk through the above door, you’ll have plenty of stories to discuss with Carlos, Courtney, David, and the rest of the Corte crew. Ask for a cut like Gertrude Ruppert.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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