If Walls Could Talk: The Seaton at 150 Rhode Island Ave. NW

I received an email from a reader saying she learned of Ghosts of DC through this post on Big Bear Cafe. She kindly asked if I would look into the history of her Bloomingdale condo building in, as she knew very little about it (other than old stories from local cabbies).

I’m starting to see an increase in email requests like this, and I wish I could get to all of them, but for this one, I’m happy to oblige. I’ll see what I can dig up for her (and her neighbors) to bring to life the history of 150 Rhode Island Ave. NW, The Seaton. Plus, she asked very nicely and said please. So here’s our next “Reader’s Choice” and “If Walls Could Talk.”

150 Rhode Island Ave. NW
150 Rhode Island Ave. NW

The Seaton is born

The first thing I came across is the “birth certificate” for the building — a notice of a building permit being issued. Thomas H. Melton was granted a permit on August 17th, 1909, to build a four-story brick dwelling at 150 Rhode Islan Ave. The architect of the building was to be A. P. Clark, Jr. and the total estimated cost was … take a deep breath Seaton condo owners … listed at $20,000.

Thomas H. Melton was born April 4th, 1864 in Culpeper, Virginia and died April 20th, 1920 in Washington. Just before his death, the 1920 U.S. Census listed him living in at 2802 Wisconsin Ave. NW in Glover Park with his wife Martha Belle.

Thomas as Martha Belle Melton (1920 U.S. Census)
Thomas as Martha Belle Melton (1920 U.S. Census)

Melton was the president of the eponymous Melton Construction Company, which was involved in a number of projects throughout the area, including a large contract with the War Department to expand Fort Myer in Arlington and improve the officer’s quarters. The total value of the contract was somewhere near $200,000, a princely sum at the time. They also built the North Branch of Home Savings Building (the current Bank of America branch) sitting at 722 H St. NE in 1912.

A brother’s tragic suicide

Here’s a sad story. I came across an article in the Washington Post from February 14th, 1915 (Valentine’s Day).

Norman Boyer, 36 years old, a magazine writer and at one time editor of a periodical in New York city, was found asphyxiated Thursday morning in his room in the apartment of his brother, Stuart Boyer, in the Seaton apartments, 150 Rhode Island avenue northwest, the gas in the room being turned on. A note left by the young man, in which he said that he had realized too late that he had made a mistake that had wreck his life, indicated that is was a case of suicide. Boyer, who had been ill, was a guest of his brother. Coroner Nevitt issued a certificate of death by suicide.

This isn’t as gruesome as the story of the girl that ended her life by consuming acid, but nevertheless, it’s a sad one.

Norman was the former editor of a magazine called “The Smart Set” in New York, between 1909 and 1913.

The Smart Set (September 1911)
The Smart Set (September 1911)

A flaunted love affair

Here’s some juicy gossip for the current residents to discuss.

Back in September of 1940, the Baltimore Afro-American reported on an alleged affair and resulting marriage implosion of a Seaton apartments resident and his wife.

Charging her husband with openly flaunting his love affairs before her, Mrs. Helen S. Tolliver, 2032 Flagler Place, Northwest, on Monday filed suit in the District Court for an absolute divorce from Leroy Tolliver, a mail carrier, 150 Rhode Island Avenue, Northwest.

Shortly after their marriage, her mate found the society of other women more pleasing than her own, Mrs. Tolliver states. The situation grew progressively worse, she says, until five years ago, when he adopted a course of cruelty towards her.

She charges he has beaten her and caused her to flee from him and seek the protection of the police on several occasions.

Mrs. Tolliver asserts that he has openly flaunted his affairs with other women before her and on one occasion had the temerity to bring her a note from one of his lady friends. She says he has charged to his account apparel purchased for other women.

Tolliver’s salary is said to be $2,100 a year. His wife says she is unemployed and is forced to eke out an existence on $20 a month.

The couple married on December 22, 1923.

So this dude’s a giant ass. I gather that there were several occasions where building residents were uncomfortably forced to overhear some heated exchanges.

Another D.C. traffic death

Traffic deaths seemed to be quite common about 70 years ago. The paper often had articles about tragic accidents that claimed the lives of District residents. This is one of those articles from April of 1942.

The latest victim of Washington traffic was Emmett Bryan, Negro, 15, of 150 Rhode Island Avenue Northwest, who was killed instantly when he rode his bicycle into the side of a District trash truck in the first block of R Street Northwest at 2 p. m. yesterday.

Emmett, according to police, rode from an alley without stopping and was knocked under the wheels of the heavy refuse conveyor. The truck was driven by Roy Fewell, Negro, 33, of 1135 Sixth Street Northwest, and was westbound on R Street.

Poor kid … only 15 years old. And poor family that had to deal with this tragic accident. What a sad story.

…And another traffic fatality

There seems to be an epidemic of these.

As a result of the inquest into the killing of Mrs. Annie S. Litz, 50, of 112 Southern ave. se., who died at Casualty Hospital Monday, the operator of the car which struck her last Saturday will face grand jury action. He is LeRoy E. F. Toliver, Negro, 45, of 150 Rhode Island ave. nw., whose driving license had been suspended in November, 1941, because he was subject to fainting spells. The accident occurred at North Capitol st. and Florida ave. nw.

Oh crap … Leroy again! You screw around on your wife, you drive on a suspended license AND you kill a woman by hitting her with your car? You’re an awful person.

Also, the hospital is seriously named Casualty Hospital? That’s not where I want the ambulance to take me if I’m in an accident.

Below is a photo from the Library of Congress, which I found on The Hill is Home (a good Capitol Hill blog).

Casualty Hospital (1936)
Casualty Hospital (1936)

The creepy prowler

Here’s a story about a sketchy Seaton resident. This one is from April 5th, 1948.

A coroner’s jury today will investigate the fatal shooting Saturday night of a 22-year-old prowler by Fifth Precinct Pvt. Francis M. Moran.

The victim, Joseph Andrews Barnes, 150 Rhode island ave. nw., died at Casualty Hospital about an hour after he was shot.

Barnes Moran said, was attempting to break into a drugstore at 1444 B st. se. about 10:30 p. m.

Moran had answered a call for police from residents living next door to the store, who said they saw Barnes at a skylight on the roof of the one-story drugstore. They were John B. Douglass, brother of Herbert Douglass, who operates the store, and Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Webb, all of 1442 B. st.

From street level, Moran said he called to Barnes to surrender. Barnes was halfway down through the skylight at the time, witnesses said. When Barnes climbed out and started to flee, Moran shouted another warning, then fired three times.

The first two shots missed. The third struck Barnes in the head above the right ear.

Police said Barnes had no previous criminal record. At his bedside when he died were two brothers. Alfred Barnes, 1533 B st. se., and Roland Barnes, 207 16th st. se. The victim’s mother, Mrs. Jane Barnes, lives at 1700 2nd st. nw.

Moran was released in custody of his precinct commander for appearance at the inquest at 11:30 a. m.

No previous criminal record? And it seems as though the officer was a little trigger happy. I highly doubt this would happen today. I can’t even imagine the lawsuit this would trigger.

Three-alarm blaze rips through building

Here’s a Washington Post article from New Year’s Eve, 1960. Apparently, there was a nasty fire that broke out in the building, forcing 25 people to flee for safety during the afternoon on December 30th.

Four out of the twelve apartments in the building were extensively damaged by the time the fire was tamed. One of the families was left homeless as a result of the blaze, but with the help of James B. Montfort, the general manager of the National Press Club, temporary quarters were located for them at the Salvation Army, 5th and E St. NW. The family of six was that of Alphonso Horton, a 59-year-old dining room captain at the Press Club.

This fire wasn’t nearly as bad as the one that killed a group of elderly folks in Woodley Park. This one started when a workman attempted to clean the chimney by lighting a rag to burn off soot. Needless to say, this was a horrible idea, as the fire quickly spread to the woodwork and overwhelmed the building.

By the end, the blaze caused more than $15,000 of damage to the apartment units (I’m sure some of those that purchased condos in the building are choking at that pre-inflation amount).

Washington Post headline (January 1961)
Washington Post headline (January 1961)

The Post reported several weeks later that the firm responsible, Combustioneer Corp. at 1655 N. Ft. Myer Dr., Arlington, and the employee, Noonan A. Wilson, both were required to post $50 collateral each, due to negligence charges stemming from the blaze. That’s right, only fifty bucks in an effort to determine ultimate responsibility for the fire. I’m guessing that this was just to help pay for the investigation.

Filling in the gaps

Here are some smaller stories I came across in my research.

Let me start with another … you guessed it … a pedestrian accident. Woodrow Hickson (of no fixed address) was hit by a car in August of 1966. At the wheel was a Bennie W. Thorpe, Seaton apartments resident. Woodrow was taken to … yep … Casualty Hospital, and you know what happened there. No charges were filed against Thorpe.

The police blotter from April 20th, 1916 mentions that a bicycle owned by Ulysses Barton was stolen in front of 1116 17th St. NW (across the street from where National Geographic is today). He lived in the apartment building and was unfortunately without his $10 bike (I wonder if it was fixed gear – it is Bloomingdale after all).

Another, slightly more recent, police report from August 1st, 1969, has a Jasper Reed, 44, of 150 Rhode island Ave. NW being arrested during a narcotics bust at 215 P St. NW. He was part of a group of individuals charged with possession of marijuana cigarettes, heroin capsules and other narcotics paraphernalia. Some historical context … Woodstock begins two weeks later on August 14th. I don’t think Jasper was in attendance. Marijuana cigarettes were in attendance.

The Washington Post obituaries on November 19th, 1919 noted that an Emily L. Garrard passed away on Friday, November 14th. She was the wife of Samuel C. Garrard and they resided in the building. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where her husband was eventually buried. He was a veteran of the Civil War as a member of the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

A short article on March 10th, 1928 titled “Wife Charges Cruelty” mentions that a building resident, John H. Donnelly, was being sued for divorce by Virginia Donnelly (then living at 82 V St. NW) on the charges of cruelty and neglect. They were married only five years earlier and had one child. With the Tolliver’s and the Donnelly’s, it sounds like the building had a string of bad luck marriages.

Another accident involving a young boy was listed in the Post in February of 1926. Wilbur Shaw, 12 years old, was scooting around in his Radio Flyer wagon at 15th and S St. NW when he was hit by a car driven by building resident, William Patrick. Luckily for Wilbur, he escaped with lacerations and body bruises.

Nathaniel Johnson (Washington Post)
Nathaniel Johnson (Washington Post)

Nathaniel “Doc” Johnson, a Howard University graduate, was a resident of 150 Rhode Island Ave. NW and managed a grocery and drugstore at 600 3rd St. SW. In December of 1948, the store was held up by trigger man Lawrence Goodall and Edward Jackson, Jr. The robbery went badly and Goodall unloaded his .45-caliber revolver at point-blank range into Johnson’s body. The two suspects were tried and pleaded guilty to murder. Mr. Johnson had a daughter who was a D.C. public school teacher and his son was a District fireman.

Finally, an humorous one to cap off the short stories.

There’s a report of a great bridge game that took place at the residence of Mrs. Jeanette Edwards in the spring of 1954. I have to quote this article because I find it amusing that this made the newspaper. The one sentence paragraph in the middle is my favorite.

The Nineuves club met at the residence of Mrs. Jeanette Edwards, 150 Rhode Island ave., nw, Wednesday.

Bridge was played.

First prize was won by Mrs. Elizabeth Brown, second by Mrs. Felicia Brown, and third by Mrs. Juanita Jackson.

Other members present were Evelyn Johnson and Nettie Herbin.

First, it’s embarrassing that you’re reported as coming in third in your own bridge tournament. Second, it’s even more embarrassing to be listed as “present.”

If the residents of The Seaton are having a bridge tournament in the future, please make sure to share that information on our wall so other readers may be “present.”

Well, that’s all she wrote. Hope you enjoyed this one (directed at the young woman from The Seaton). I had fun looking into the building’s history.

For all others out there, feel free to post on our wall, tweet @GhostsofDC or email us ideas or requests. We’ll do our best to hook you up with some good stories.

150 Rhode Island Ave. NW
150 Rhode Island Ave. NW

If you know someone who lives in this building, send them this post. I’m sure they would find it interesting … and send them to our Facebook page so they can follow along with our future posts.

Have a great weekend.

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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