If Walls Could Talk: 54 Rhode Island Ave. NW

I’ve always been fascinated by this building on Rhode Island Ave. It looks like something that belongs in New Orleans with the two-tiered porch.

54 Rhode Island Ave. NW
54 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Life begins as an apartment building

The building originally was called “the Bloomingdale,” assuming the neighborhood’s name. Here’s a note of the building’s sale and transfer on January 23rd, 1916.

The two-story apartment, known as the Bloomingdale, 54 Rhode Island avenue northwest, Moore & Barbour’s Addition, was sold to Frank R. Bavis by Benjamin E. Talbott, trustee. It is two stories high and contains eight apartments. The exterior is of pebble dash. Stamps affixed to the deed of transfer amounted to $21.50.

A confident basketball coach

W. H. Smith was a resident of 54 Rhode Island Ave. NW in 1925, and apparently he was the basketball coach of the Quincy Athletic club. They had a little rivalry with the Argyle Athletic club according to a bit in the Post on January 29th, 1925.

The Quincy Athletic club takes exception to the Argyle Athletic club’s claim for senior basketball honors. The Quacs claim that they have already beaten the Argyles twice this season and have yet to be beaten by them.

But, in order to relieve any doubts in any one’s mind about the relative ability of the two teams, the Quincys are willing to meet the Argyles again on any floor at any time. They may telephone Manager W. H. Smith at North 4177-W, or write him at 54 Rhode Island avenue northwest, about arranging another game.

A number of things are amusing (or quaint) about this. First … the Quincy Quacs? That’s not exactly a mascot that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents.

Second, the phone number 4177-W is interesting. Evidently, phone numbers were not fully numeric until the 1960s. Urban centers had “exchanges” representing their city, typically the first letter the area (e.g., W for Washington). Read more about this on Wikipedia.

Last, write him a letter to arrange a game? Life clearly was slower back then if that was the preferred communication method. Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter.

W. H. Smith makes another appearance in the November 5th, 1926 Post, again related to basketball, titled “St. Martin’s Tossers Ready to Open Season”. Now that is an unfortunate team name.

The St. Martin’s basketball team is ready to start the court season. Practice has been held during the past three weeks, with Dan Pyne and McFarland, newcomers, showing up well. The team numbers Devlin, Zinerli, Harrington, Lawton, P. Pyne, Smith and Tew of last year, and besides D. Pyne and McFarland, Sency and Krum, who have recently joined.

The Saints will meet Sacred Heart, of Baltimore, in their first scheduled game on November 17 in St. Martin’s hall, North Capitol and T streets. Arrangement for games may be made through W. H. Smith, of 54 Rhode Island avenue northwest.

Coworker cracks another over the head with a bottle

From the Washington Post on June 3rd, 1958 — “Man Sentenced For Skull Blow”:

William James Cole, 36, of no fixed address, was sentenced yesterday to a year in jail for fracturing the skull of a fellow Roosevelt Hotel employe [sic] with a soft drink bottle Sunday night.

Det. Otho J. Thomas said the blow shattered both the heavy glass bottle and the skull of John Gary, 20, of 54 Rhode Island ave., nw. Thomas said the men were arguing over a girl.

Municipal Court Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. imposed the maximum sentence on the assault charge, calling the case “one of the most vicious assaults I have ever heard of.”

Wow, that’s a brutal assault. The Roosevelt Hotel, by the way, is the current Camden Roosevelt apartment building at 2101 16th St. NW.

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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  • ectoplasm

    it’s now a single family house.

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  • bananas

    I’ve always loved this house too. It was for sale not long after I moved into the city- i’ve heard it was a brothel once? But that is probably said of any building in this city.

  • JLowe

    4177-W was a party line number–more than one subscriber on the same line, with different rings (see movie “Pillow Talk” and Wikipedia). Cheaper service thn a private line and often in rural areas the only serfice availble.

    Here is an excerpt from Yahoo Answers about party lines:

    Another very common arrangement on manual service which catered for up to 4 parties per line used a single letter J, M, R, or W after the number. So if your number was 387-J, the three other people sharing your line were 387-M, 387-R, and 387-W. When anyone asked for a call to any of those numbers, the operator would plug into line 387 and then just press a different key for J, M, R, or W which selected the type of ringing.