Changes of Forty Years In Ebbitt House Corner

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, March 25, 1906 [pt. 2 p. ?]

     (Article contains picture of Ebbitt House Corner 1906 and Ebbitt House Corner in 1866)

Those who have a recollection of Washington during war times and for some time afterward will have no difficulty in recognizing a picture of the buildings which at that time occupied the southeast corner of 14th and F streets northwest. That corner was then known, as it is today, as the Ebbitt House corner, but, while the structure of today is one building, at that time the hostelry was a group of structures that apparently were once a row of private houses. The 14th street front afterward famous as Newspaper Row, had then come into existence only in part.

The small building adjoining the hotel on 14th street was the office of the New York Times, and farther down was the office of the New York Herald, while in the one-story structures between were the office of the New York Evening Post and other newspapers. Subsequently the small buildings were replaced by larger ones, which were occupied by newspaper offices, and then "The Row," as it was called, became a well-known locality and flourished for a number of years.

Forty years ago F street was mainly a place of residences, while the business part of Washington was to be found lower down on Pennsylvania avenue. Then the fashionable place to live was in the vicinity of the city hall. The streets were paved with cobblestones, when any pavement was in use at all, and a street car service, such as it was, was provided and no doubt was the subject of as much comment as is the case today.

The telegraph poles were in evidence to a greater extent then than they are today, fortunately, as instead of three poles at 14th and F streets, distributed on three corners, there is today but a solitary pole. The towering office and other buildings which are to be found now in this section and which indicate the growth of the city in population and the increase in the volume and value of the business, have, of course, no counterpart in the days referred to.

There were still frame buildings to be seen, and one and two-story structures, and property owners as a rule had more modest ideas of values than is the case today. Thirty or forty dollars in those days would have bought and paid for a number of square feet of ground, instead of being only sufficient, as is now the case, to secure the title to one square foot.

Special provision for office buildings was then un known, and the large structures provided now for that purpose would fill the visitor of today who was familiar with the city forty years ago with amazement. The city ahs grown as the nation has grown, a prediction which was made about it in its infancy, and a graphic proof of this fact can be found by contrasting conditions on most any corner in the business or residence sections of the city forty years ago with those of today. It will not be necessary to go back quite as far as that in order to get striking contrast, but comparisons can be made with much later periods with practically the same result.

The name of the hotel is interesting as it brings out a trait of the late Caleb C. Willard, who owned the property and subsequently acquired the entire frontage on the block between 13th and 14th streets. Instead of naming the hotel Willard or giving it some other name which might have suggested the real ownership he simply retained the name of the former owner of the property.

This practice he continued as he acquired other places of property, and so as one walks along the south side of F street on that block and notices the names of the buildings which are used for offices he will find upon inquiry that they all have some connection with the past history of the property. In some cases the name of the more prominent person in the list of the owners was selected. At any rate whatever the motive for the choice the principle remains un changed, and the names that have been associated with the various properties are retained with scrupulous regard for the past history of the place.

The Adams building, on the opposite side of the block, which also belongs to the Willard estate, is an illustration in point and perhaps the most conspicuous, for the reason that it perpetuates the interest in that piece of property on the part of the illustrious statesman and ex-President of the United States, John Quincy Adams [cenotaph R54 S101]. For it was on the site of that building that Mr. Adams had his own home for so many years, both before he became President and afterward when he served in the House and won a national place by the single-handed contest he maintained for the right of petition.

Perhaps no other man who has held the highest office in this country has become so thoroughly identified with this city as John Quincy Adams. It is also true that his period of residence here far exceeded that of any of his predecessors or any of his successors, owing to the fact that he continued for so many years as a member of the House after he served his country in the White House.

While he lived here - and he only went away for the summers which he spent at his home in Quincy - he interested himself actively in local affairs. When a public meeting was to be held to consider any matter of importance, if Mr. Adams was not called upon to preside it is likely the record will show his presence and also his active participation. He was one of the strong supporters of the church organization which preceded that of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and in its days of struggle it was largely Mr. Adams' substantial contributions that saved the congregation from serious trouble, if not from dissolution.