If Walls Could Talk: Smith Commons

Smith Commons
Smith Commons

I’m a little tardy with delivering this next “If Walls Could Talk” … sorry.

The winner of our second IWCT poll is the H Street hot spot, Smith Commons (I don’t think I like that acronym).

I came across some interesting stories related to the spot at 1245 H St. NE, not to mention my favorite D.C. police officer. The next time you hit up happy hour at Smith Commons, you’ll have plenty to talk about with you friendly bartender.

Smith Commons street side
Smith Commons street side

Four riders in a heap

I’m not sure if this was drunk biking, but this is a weird story. Also, I don’t know how this warrants an article in the Washington Post, but it did. I guess news was slow in 1896. This was from May 28th.

A bicycle accident which might have been more serious happened in the White Lot oval about 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Mr. George ball, of 1245 H street northeast, and Mr. Harry Gier, of 1413 Eighth street northeast, procured a tandem and went into the White Lot road for a spin. Mr. Willard Lenicker, of Twenty-second and P streets northwest, happened to be in the same place at the same time, and on the same business, and the trio began racing. Mr. Lenieker, in some unaccountable way, ran into the other pair, throwing them to one side, and straight at Mr. Fred Moore, of 325 P street northwest, who was passing on his wheel.

For the space of five minutes it was difficult to tell which was who and where the wheels began and ended. Then the crowd interfered and got the quartet disentangled, after which an Emergency ambulance made its appearance and the riders were taken to the hospital. There it was found that all but Mr. Ball had got off with bruises and scratches. He had not been so fortunate, having received a long, jagged cut on the head. The wounds of all were dressed, and after a short rest they returned to their homes. The bicycles will have their wounds attended to later.

At least it’s nice to see that the author had a sense of humor at the absurdity of this story.

Erecting a garage

A small mention of a building permit led me down quite an interesting path. I came across a permit approval in the Washington Post from August 12th, 1917.

L. Birkle, owner; to erect brick garage, 1245 H street northeast; cost, $1,000.

On an aggressive night (with a large group) you could probably rack up a bar bill more than the cost of that garage. The good thing for me is after this post, I will drink for free at Smith Commons. Okay, well maybe my wife and I will get a DC Brau on the house … and maybe some Cheetos to snack on.

Leopold Birkle was German immigrant and his children were first generation Americans, born in Washington. Even cooler is the fact that he was a brewer (of course, he’s from Germany).

In the 1900 U.S. Census, he was living at 1400 E St. NE with his wife Katie, brother Baltias (also a brewer), young daughter Katie, son Baltias and infant daughter Josephine. They also took in a 25-year-old male boarder from Germany, Jacob Ensel (also a brewer).

Leopold Birkle family in 1900 U.S. Census
Leopold Birkle family in 1900 U.S. Census

The Birkle’s had a little scare in May of that same year. The following was reported in the Washington Post.

Mrs. Katherine Birkle, 1245 H street northwest, found unconscious in her room from gas yesterday, is recovering at Casualty Hospital.

Mrs. Birkle in that article was the young daughter, born in 1894. Sounds like the lights in her home sprung a leak, spewing gas throughout her bedroom. Katherine, or Katie, lived through this incident and didn’t die until 1967 at the age of 72.

“Padlock” injunctions for Prohibition violators

Here’s an interesting one from April of 1924, right in the middle of Prohibition.

Assistant District Attorney Frank J. Kelly applied to the District Supreme court yesterday for three “padlock” injunctions, to prevent further alleged violations of the prohibition laws. The persons named are Leopold Birkle, proprietor of a near-beer saloon 1245 H street northeast; Verling Harris, 525 T street northwest; James W. Hunter, malt and hops dealer, and his clerk, Sarah G. Hunter, 919 D street northwest.

Lieut. Joshua L. Sprinkle, of the Eleventh precinct, was arrested in the Hunter establishment and later indicted with James W. Hunter and others on a charge of conspiracy.

OMG … our favorite D.C. police officer! Officer Sprinkle was a badass.

Our friend, Leopold Birkle was the proprietor of this near-beer saloon. Given his German heritage, he must have thought Prohibition and the temperance movement was utterly ridiculous.

The Redskins marching band

It’s almost like college football. In 1941, the Washington Redskins were the first team to have a band support them on the field (also the first team to have a fight song — Hail to the Redskins). Evidently, after a game against the Giants, a freak window accident injured one of the band members.

Bernie Eisenberg, a member of the Washington Redskin band, suffered slight facial cuts in a freak accident on the return trip from the New York Giant game last night.

Six car windows were broken when a northbound train passed the Redskin special and Eisenberg, of 1245 H Street Northeast, was seated next to one of the broken windows.

Train officials could not explain the incident but a track crew was dispatched to the scene immediately.

First, I love that the train is called the Redskin Special. Second, that glass should be tempered. Oh, and to make matters worse, we lost to the Giants 20-13.

Need some paint?

Here’s an advertisement from 1948. At that time, 1245 H St. NE was the location for Norman’s Pure Paints.

Norman's Pure Paints advertisement (1948)
Norman’s Pure Paints advertisement (1948)

Off-duty policeman steps out for a bite

Pvt. William Rosenthal (1952)
Pvt. William Rosenthal (1952)

Here’s one from crazy town in 1952. These kleptomaniac women seem a little nuts.

Police Pvt. William Rosenthal had his own alertness and the strong teeth of two women to blame for spoiling his day off yesterday.

According to the 32-year-old Sixth Precinct policeman’s account, all began when he left his home at 1311 E st. ne. about 11 a. m. to do a little shopping in the 1200 block of H st. ne.

There, he relates, he saw two women come out of a store. One pulled a mass of garments from beneath her skirt and hastily stuffed them into a shopping bag. Then they both calmly entered another store in the block.

Rosenthall asked Joseph Kipperman, who runs Kip’s Kiddie Shop at 1245 H st. ne., which the women had left, whether anything was missing. Kipperman discovered some children’s trousers were gone.

As the women came out of the second store, Lord’s Department Store, 1221 H st. ne., Rosenthal attempted to take them into custody. But he reports, they screamed, bit and beat him so furiously he finally had to let one go and concentrate on the other.

She was identified by police as Estelle Mitchell, 20 of 1608 New Jersey ave. nw., a former known narcotics addict who is currently under bond on shop lifting charges.

It’s never a good day off when you’re bitten by a former narcotics addict. At least he looks reasonably chill in the photo from the Washington Post. Even though he had permanent bite marks, he’s still not as cool as Officer Sprinkle.

Police charge D.C. painter with entering

By the mid 1950s, the address was a residence again. And here’s a strange article from June 27th, 1954 (also, the world’s first nuclear power plant that day).

A painter, who told police he carried a tire iron under his shirt to open windows when they stuck, was charged with housebreaking Friday.

Lieut. James Sartain of the Fourth Detective District said Nevin O. Barber, 43, of 1245 H st. ne., broke into the apartment of Margaret DeHart, 7414 Georgia ave. nw.

Police said she told them she heard someone trying the door to her apartment about 11 a. m. Thursday. As she looked out the front window, the door opened and Barber walked in, they said He [sic] apologized, said he had the wrong apartment and left.

Barber was arrested Friday when she again saw him walking in front of her apartment and called police.

Sartain, said police, found a hack saw, tire iron and cotton gloves on him. They were tools of his painting trade, he told police.

Not sketchy at all.

Only $1.00 per inch

That’s a super awkward line for an advertisement. Well, you could buy a TV at 1245 H St. in 1960 according to the advertisement I found in the Post.

Muntz TV advertisement (1960)
Muntz TV advertisement (1960)

Furniture for sale

In 1966, the building held Sweet’s Discount Sales. Just two years before the riots, this was the place where you could get your home furniture for the reasonable price of $277. I’m guessing this wasn’t high-end stuff.

Sweet's Discount Sales (1966)
Sweet’s Discount Sales (1966)

So, now that you know all you could ever want to know about 1245 H St. NE, you will have plenty of talking points to cover while waiting for your next pint. Saddle up to the bar and have a little chat about Leopold Birkle or everyone’s favorite, Officer Sprinkle. Hmmm … Sprinkle and Birkle. I like the sound of that.

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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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