If Walls Could Talk: Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

I’m missing tonight’s slow braised pork shank, but a deal’s a deal (if you’re reading this on Friday, I wrote this Thursday night and ordered take out from Pho 14 … yum).

Winner of the inaugural “If Walls Could Talk” reader poll is Pearl Dive Oyster Palace (@PearlDiveDC), taking 33% of the vote. Cleveland Park’s representative, Dino (@dinodc), took second place with 27% of the vote, staying alive for the second poll (starting Monday). It was a tense and hard-fought battle between these two, but ultimately, Pearl Dive pulled out the victory.

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

Let’s dig into the history of the new hot spot at 1612 14th St. NW.

The human diamond mine

What the hell is a human diamond mine? Get ready … this is an odd story.

In 1906, T. L. Combs & Co. sold jewelry out of 1612 14th St. NW. Mae Thomas was a customer in the store when she “accidentally” swallowed a diamond. She was arrested and taken to trial for stealing the diamond.

“Judge, I never stole that diamond,” the woman said. “I swallowed it accidentally. I was looking at it, and put it between my teeth to see if I could bite it. That is the way I thought a diamond should be tested. When the detective came along he ‘rattled’ me so that I swallowed the diamond. If that detective had not interfered the diamond would still be on the tray. I ask for mercy, not only for myself, but for my baby.”

Judge Sutton said that he felt convinced that the woman belonged to a gang of diamond thieves which should be broken up. He pointed out that she had been under suspicion for a long time, and that detectives trailed her from store to store. It was due to the watchfulness of the detectives that she was seen to hide the diamond in her mouth.

“The swallowing of the gem may have been an accident,” the judge said, “but you certainly put it in your mouth with intent to steal. This robbing of diamond merchants must stop, and I intend to make an example of you.”

The sentence of five years’ imprisonment pronounced was only two years less than the maximum penalty provided for the crime. The woman almost collapsed when she heard the sentence, for she expected to get off lightly in view of the jury’s recommendation of mercy.

If the surgeon had been able to get the diamond out of her body the woman would not have gone to jail. Before she agreed to submit to an operation her lawyer obtained a promise of immunity from the prosecuting attorney, provided the diamond was restored. The gem had lodged near the woman’s vermiform appendix and because the operation would be a novel and interesting one, surgeons urged the district attorney to promise immunity, not only because the stolen article would be returned, but because the woman, by submitting to the operation, would contribute to scientific knowledge.

After exploring the insides of the prisoner the surgeons decided it would be too dangerous to cut out the gem, and they permitted it to remain where it was. The prosecuting attorney then put the gem swallower on trial and she was convicted.

That sucks. Go under the knife and then go to jail for five years.

T. L. Combs & Company are listed at 1612 14th St. with advertisement and notices in the Washington Post going all the way back to the spring of 1896 (the year William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan in the presidential election).

High-end automobiles from Dayton

Guess what? Much like another favorite establishment, this place once held an automobile dealership … Shocker.

I came across an ad from 1910 (can you see the error in it?) pitching Stoddard-Dayton motor cars, being sold by the Barnard Motor Car Company at 1612 14th St. NW. A price tag of $4,200 was quite steep back then, especially when you could build a house for $3,000.

Stoddard-Dayton was a high quality automobile, founded in 1905 and manufactured in Dayton, Ohio. They didn’t last long, being absorbed into the Maxwell Company in 1913. Unfortunately, Maxwell only lasted until 1920, when they were crushed by the post World War I recession.

Shortly after, a man by the name of Walter Chrysler took a controlling interest in the company. Maxwell did not fair well in the subsequent years, and was out of business completely by 1923. In 1925, Walter founded the eponymous, and still existing, Chrysler Corporation and took ownership of all Maxwell Company assets.

The Chrysler Corporation ended up working out (generally speaking), save for a major rough patch in the 1970s (help us Lee Iacocca!) and a bumpy merger/de-merger with Daimler-Benz.

Stoddard-Dayton & the Barnard Motor Company (1910)
Stoddard-Dayton & the Barnard Motor Company (1910)

Barnard out; Crescent in

In true early auto industry fashion, Barnard disappeared and was replaced by a new tenant, Crescent Motor Company. In 1914, they were the local dealer for the Mitchell Motor Car Company of Racine, Wisconsin. They lasted a little longer than Stoddard-Dayton, but were out of business completely by 1923.

Mitchell-Lewis Motor Company and Crescent Motor Company
Mitchell-Lewis Motor Company and Crescent Motor Company advertisement

Crescent out; Edelen in

Another short-lived company, Edelen Brothers Motor Company moved into the space and in 1916 was selling the Grant Six. These Brass Era automobile companies would come and go so frequently, it looked like Silicon Valley in 1999.

Grant Six and Edelen Brothers Motor Company
Grant Six and Edelen Brothers Motor Company

Cars out; tires in

President Wilson had thrown the United States full force into Europe and the Great War and instituted the Selective Service Act, drafting 2.8 million young men into the military. By the summer of 1918, we were sending 10,000 soldiers to France each day.

Also that summer, 1612 14th St. was serving as yet another automobile-related commercial operation. Hartig Tire and Rubber Company was selling ajax tires out of the building.

Hartig Tire & Rubber Company (1918)
Hartig Tire & Rubber Company (1918)

…And another tire company

I’m beginning to feel like turnover was the rule, rather than the exception at 1612 14th — don’t worry @PearlDiveDC, stick to oysters (like old Crowley’s on Pennsylvania Ave.) and you’ll be fine. By 1920, McLaren Tire and Rubber Company was in business selling their tires in the building.

McLaren Tire and Rubber Company advertisement
McLaren Tire and Rubber Company advertisement

Screw tires … we sell cars now

This is getting ridiculous. Out with the tires, in with Rine Motor Sales Company, the Washington dealership for George W. Davis Motor Company out of Richmond, Indiana.

Davis "Built of the Best" & Rine Motor Sales advertisement
Davis “Built of the Best” & Rine Motor Sales advertisement

A product of General Motors

We’re only up to 1925 and this is the seventh company I’ve come across. I feel like I’ll never get to the 1940s. Anyway … by the mid 20s, the Adams Motor Company was selling the Oakland Six, a General Motors automobile, out of 1612 14th.

Oakland Six and Adams Motor Company
Oakland Six and Adams Motor Company

Finally … no more cars

The first non-automobile dealer I came across was in 1955. The uniquely named Refrigeration Supply Company Inc., Washington’s oldest and largest supplier of refrigeration equipment.

Refrigeration Supply Company, Inc.
Refrigeration Supply Company, Inc.

Fix the damn TV

An amusing, and time-appropriate, advertisement from the 1972 Washington Post tipped me off to the TV repair shop, City & State TV Company at 1612 14th St.

When the television goes on the blink on Superbowl Sunday it is somewhat mollifying to know that the possibility of having it repaired by halftime does exist. Two of the repair services operating in the District on Sunday are City & State TV Co., 1612 14th St. NW, 462-3442; and Associated Television Repairing, 1825 Connecticut Ave. NW, 462-3222. City & State charges the same price for its services on Sunday as during the week; Associated has a basic charge o $7.50 for black and white or $12.50 for color plus parts and labor. They have only one repairman on duty Sunday.

Funny … I remember when we had a black and white television. Our extra TV in 1987 was still black and white with a turn dial. I prefer HD.

Renewable relics

This is an interesting article I came across in the February 17th, 1980 Washington Post. Logan Circle was beginning to show early signs of gentrification and one Georgetown company took notice and opened a store in the current Pearl Dive location.

Being the building boom town that it is, Washington always welcomes new sources of ideas and materials. One business that hopes to bring inspiration to the city’s burgeoning army of renovators and decorators is an extension of Georgetown’s Canal Company set in the renovation-crazed Logan Circle area. The new Canal Company is a gallery of architectural relics–old wooden and marble mantels, doors, solid brass hardware and lighting fixtures, fretwork, pedestal sinks and stubs. Whether the shopkeepers recover a piece from a flea market or a house marked for demolition, they insist on quality. “We make sure that it’s solid and that we can repair it,” says manager Douglas Christensen. “If it was pegged, it’ll get pegged back together and glued and clamped.” Their collection also includes furniture, quilts, rugs and linens. Wooden mantels, stripped, begin at $100. Other services offered by the store include reupholstering chairs, refinishing wood and keeping an eye out for items that customers request.

Canal Company, 1612 14th St. NW. 234 6637

This place sounds a little like the Brass Knob (bought our door knob here) with a pinch of Good Wood (awesome store; bought a chair here … please kill the music on your site). I found their name in the papers at this address all the way until 1988.

I scanned 1,039 old Washington Post articles and that’s all she wrote … scanned titles, not read.

Below is the current establishment at 1612 14th St. NW: Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. The photos below are from their website (and they’re awesome … who took these?).

Pearl Dive Oyster Bar interior
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace interior
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace kitchen
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace kitchen

Did you like this post? Check us out on Facebook or Twitter to keep updated with the latest Ghosts of DC posts. Your friends are doing it. You know you want to.

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.

Check Also

The front side shows the interior of Charlie Dietz's Rathskeller; the back side provides a Washington Nationals' game schedule. (Follow the See

Dietz’s German Beer Hall on 7th Street

Long gone are the days of the German beer hall in D.C., though some would …