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The History of Cathedral Heights, From Wild Dogs to Real Estate Mogul William Matteson

Learn the unique history of Cathedral Heights, from its early days of wild dogs to real estate mogul William Matteson. Read an article from 1907 that announced the birth of Cathedral Highlands and the important role Matteson played in its development.
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It’s been a little while since we’ve done a “Reader’s Choice” post, so this one is for GoDCer Samantha, who tweeted the request to do something on Cathedral Heights. I also haven’t really done anything about that area, so this works out well.

Cathedral Highlands advertisement in the Washington Herald - June 23rd, 1907
Cathedral Highlands advertisement in the Washington Herald – June 23rd, 1907 (click for more details)

Let me start with a quick fact … Cathedral Heights started out as Cathedral Highlands.

The neighborhoods of Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights are tightly connected throughout history. The former, named after President Grover Cleveland and the latter starting its life as the are where early Georgetown residents had their summer homes.

An article in the Washington Post back on November 16th, 1939, interviewed early resident, Thomas Kengla. He grew up during the 19th century in what would become Cathedral Heights.

Thomas Kengla, who now lives at 3627 Davis street, yesterday recalled the beginning of the modern suburban development in the area.

“It was started not much more than 35 years ago. I lived on the farm just opposite St. Alban’s Church in the house in which I was born. The house in which my father was born was next door. The hill down which Cathedral avenue runs today was wooded and dangerous, the wild dogs were so bad,” he said.

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Seriously … Wild dogs? Can you imagine?

Another article, several decades earlier, from April 7th, 1907, announced the birth of a new suburb northwest of Georgetown. The new subdivision, dubbed “Cathedral Highlands,” was built on higher ground, away from the sweltering heat closer to downtown.

One of the most important suburban movements of the year is the re-subdivision of the tract of ground just south of the intersection of Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues, formerly known as Tunlaw Heights. As the property lies on a high plateau, overlooking the city, affording an unobstructed view of the entire surrounding country for miles, and is directly opposite the famous Cathedral Close, the new name of Cathedral Highlands is very appropriate.

The tract has frontage of 1,348 feet on Wisconsin avenue. The subdivision has an area of thirty acres, equal to several hundred lots having a frontage of thirty feet. Fulton and Girard streets will run east and west through the property, while Thirty-eight street, Bellevue Terrace, and Thirty-ninth street will interest the tract running north and south, with Wisconsin avenue fronting the property on the east.

Below is the Baist real estate survey of the area from 1907. I don’t see a Girard street, so I’m assuming it was shuffled around in the street renaming and became Garfield. It also appears that, at one point, Garfield was Galveston and Fulton was Frankfort.

1907 Baist real estate atlas survey of Washington, plate 24 (Library of Congress)
1907 Baist real estate atlas survey of Washington, plate 24 (Library of Congress)

The article reads very much like an advertisement, promoting the benefits of living in the new neighborhood.

The extension and improvement of Massachusetts avenue, just completed, brings this property within ten minutes drive of the center of the city, over Washington’s most beautiful and fashionable thoroughfare. The extension of this avenue from Wisconsin avenue to the American University campus, for which there is an appropriation of about $50,000, is the cause of great real estate activity in this section. it is expected this work will be completed during the coming year.

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Nearly all of the streets of the subdivision have been graded, macadamized, concrete walks laid, and are adorned by rows of beautiful shade trees. Ten thousand dollars has been appropriated by the syndicate to complete the work of graiding and improving the one new street, extending water mains and sewers and otherwise improving the property, which is being sold under suitable restrictions guaranteeing the erection of residences of a high class only. The building of several houses ranging in price from $6,000 to $10,000 is contemplated for the near future.

William F. Matteson has been intrusted [sic] with the entire management of the property, and now has a large force of men on the ground carrying on the work of improvement.

That’s quite a serious responsibility for Matteson, who obviously had a significant impact on the development of Washington’s early suburbs.

Cathedral Highlands advertisement - April 14th, 1907 (Washington Post)
Cathedral Highlands advertisement – April 14th, 1907 (Washington Post)

So who is this Matteson guy and how did he land such a sweet gig? Check back later today. I was going to add it here, but it’s too good to slap on the end of a post. Trust me … you want to read it. It will be posted at this link in a few hours.

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Ghosts of DC stories.