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If Walls Could Talk: Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe

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I’m really excited about doing this one and I’m sure there are a few of you out there that are really going to enjoy learning about our favorite spot, Kramerbooks.

Since 1976, this place has been a favorite place to find a book, grab a bite, some beer, or have some coffee and chat over dessert. Some of you may even remember when it hit the national spotlight in the late 90s when they refused to disclose Monica Lewinksy’s book purchases after being subpoenaed by Ken Starr.

Dupont would not be what it is today without this establishment and it’s clear that our President and his daughters agree. So, let’s get started with the next “If Walls Could Talk,” Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe at 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW.

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Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe & Grill
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe

By the way, let me prepare you for some serious turnover at this address. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

I should preface the first few stories by clarifying that the auto industry in the early part of the 20th century was very much a volatile industry, akin to the Dot-com world of the 1990s (or even now). It was a start-up world where companies would come and go, so it was not rare to see a company thrive for a few years, only to implode because they were unable to adapt to market conditions. Some of the companies you’ll read about are kind of like the Friendster’s, Lycos’ and Pets.com’s of the 1920s.

Walker Motor Company

I stumbled across an advertisement for Lafayette Motor Cars from March of 1920. They were a short-lived automobile manufacturer in the 1920s and the Walker Motor Company was bringing their vehicles to the Washington market.

Lafayette Motor Cars (1920)
Lafayette Motor Cars (1920)

Jordan Motor Car Company, Inc.

Lafayette Motor Cars did not last long at the address because in 1921 there was an advertisement in the Washington Post for Jordan cars. They were based out of Cleveland and built cars from 1916 to 1931.

Jordan Motor Car Company, Inc. (1921)
Jordan Motor Car Company, Inc. (1921)

Packard Motor Company

In November of 1922, the Washington Post reported that the Packard Motor Car Company was now being represented in Washington by P. W. Motors, Inc. They were building out their permanent sales building at Connecticut Ave. and S St. NW, but while that was in progress, they had a temporary salesroom at 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW.

Mr. Oscar Coolican was the president of the P. W. Motors, Inc., and he came from the Detroit branch of the company. While the sales store was to be located up Connecticut Ave., the Packard service facility had a location at 1707 Kalorama Rd. NW (currently occupied by Hinkley Pottery).

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1922 photo of a Packard
1922 photo of a Packard

Oscar was originally from Canada and by the 1930 U.S. Census, was living with his wife at 2101 Connecticut Ave., apartment 18. You’ve seen this building before. It’s quite nice.

2101 Connecticut Ave. NW
2101 Connecticut Ave. NW

George C. Rice Auto Company

Weird … another automobile company. By 1923 the Packard dealership was gone and it was now run by George C. Rice as a Chevrolet showroom.

Chevrolet-Stearns (1923)
Chevrolet-Stearns (1923)

George was originally from Illinois, but moved to Washington and owned a home at 1322 Shepherd St. NW. He lived there with his wife Beatrice, two sons, a daughter and his sister-in-law.

George Rice 1920 U.S. Census
George Rice 1920 U.S. Census

Franklin Motor Company

Are you sensing a pattern?

In 1928, the space at 1517 Connecticut Ave. was occupied by the Franklin Motor Car Company, which used it as their showroom. A small advertisement in October of that year mentions that they were having an aeronautical exhibit, which included the original engine taken from the airplane flown by Commander Richard E. Byrd over the North Pole in 1926.

Remember that back in the late 20s, pilots were seen as rock stars and Charles Lindbergh was pretty much the most popular man in America.

1928 Franklin Sport Sedan
1928 Franklin Sport Sedan

New Ford trucks shown by dealers

Given our proximity to this weekend’s Washington Auto Show, it’s only appropriate to head into the 1930s with another auto dealership at 1517 Connecticut Ave.

Ford Motor Company was holding a “Truck Week” in the District in June of 1931 and this is an excerpt from what the Post reported:

The Ford Motor Co.’s “Truck Week” opened yesterday with displays at 1517 Connecticut avenue and the salesrooms of all Ford dealers. The exhibits will continue throughout the week.

A new line of trucks and commercial cars designed to meet the transportation requirements of merchants, manufacturers, contractors, farmers and others is on display.

Hudson Air Conditioning Corp.

Finally, something other than cars. There seems to be an unbelievable amount of turnover in this space, and it’s now quite impressive to me that Kramerbooks has been in the same spot since 1976.

In 1936, Hudson Air Conditioning Corporation is selling oil furnaces out of the building. This is the advertisement that I came across from September of that year.

Hudson Air Conditioning Corp. advertisemtn (1936)
Hudson Air Conditioning Corp. advertisement (1936)

Looking for a dress?

By 1938, another non-automobile dealer is occupying 1517 Connecticut Ave. This time its dresses, gowns and coats. Here’s what I found in the Washington Post.

Looby, Inc. advertisement (1938)
Looby, Inc. advertisement (1938)

Peck & Peck

Peck and Peck advertisement (1949)
Peck and Peck advertisement (1949)

By 1948, there are advertisements for Peck and Peck at the address. The advertisement to the right is from the spring of 1949.

The Post wrote a short article about the opening of their store in September of 1948.

Peck & Peck, one of America’s oldest specialty shops will open a Washington store today at 1517 Connecticut ave. nw.

Miss Barbara Russell, 8003 Eastern ave., Silver Spring, will manage the store, which will specialize in women’s fashions. At today’s opening, college and country life clothes, a specialty of Peck & Peck, will be stressed.

The store has about 2500 square feet of space, with six dressing rooms. There are two entrances, one of Connecticut avenue and another on 19th st. The decor is canary yellow, spruce green and gray, with white oak show cased.

Peck & Peck is one of the few retail establishments in the country which has remained a family company since it was founded about 70 years ago. Its officers are A. Wells Peck, president, Frederic Carleton Peck, vice president, and Edgar Wallace Peck, vice president.

Peck and Peck has a good run at this location and, by the mid 1950s, ends up expanding to 4481 Connecticut Ave. NW as well as Seven Corners out in Falls Church.

They keep their success going into the late 1960s and expand to a fourth location in the metropolitan area, up in Wheaton Plaza.

Bill Kramer and the birth of Kramerbooks

Finally, here’s a nice bit of Dupont and District history that I came across, and it’s probably a good way to close this out.

In the Washington Post, on June 27th, 1976, there’s an article about the abundance of new book stores in the area.

A BOOK WAR seems to be brewing in Washington, with at least seven new stores opening in the next few months; At 1517 Connecticut above DuPont Circle, Bill Kramer will offer a restaurant along with the reading matter. He plans to make autograph parties a regular feature of “Kramerbooks and Afterwords, a Cafe” (his third retail store) and keep both parts open every day of the week from 10 a.m. to midnight …

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Well, Mr. Kramer, your store has been a resounding success and has been an anchor in the neighborhood for over 35 years. I would say that you’ve done an excellent job and we hope you stick around for another 35 years.

In closing, here is one of their first advertisements from back in 1976.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a Cafe (1976)
Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a Cafe (1976)
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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.