The Hall Tract

 

 

Philip T. Hall

 

Philip Thomas Hall was born in Portland, Maine, in 1854; in 1856 his family moved to Baltimore, where Hall entered the Methodist ministry. On the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1876, the Mount Pleasant Sabbath School, under the direction of Rev. Philip T. Hall, of the Congress Street Methodist Protestant Church in Georgetown, placed a memorial stone at Mount Pleasant Chapel at Fayette and High Street (35th and Wisconsin Avenue).

 

Memorial stone placed on the grounds of Mount Pleasant Chapel, on July 4, 1876, by the Methodist Protestant Sabbath School . Today this stone can be seen in the courtyard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

Memorial stone placed on the grounds of Mount Pleasant Chapel, on July 4, 1876, by the Methodist Protestant Sabbath School . Today this stone can be seen in the courtyard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

 

 

In 1878 Hall married Mary Anna E. Weaver, the daughter of Henry Weaver, who lived at 377 High Street, on the west side, just north of the cemetery. Hall’s father-in-law was a trustee of the Congress Street Church, and a key figure in the 1874 founding of the Mount Pleasant Chapel.

Hall ministered in various congregations until 1882, when he asked not to be reappointed, because of throat trouble. In 1885 he opened a haberdashery business, at 908 F Street, that later moved to 13th and F Street.

 

 

(Washington Post, April 12, 1890, p.5)

(Washington Post, April 12, 1890, p.5)

 

(Washington Post, April 1, 1899, p.3)

(Washington Post, April 1, 1899, p.3)

 

(Washington Post, October 3, 1899, p.12)

(Washington Post, October 3, 1899, p.12)

 

 

In 1920 Philip T. Hall turned his business over to James C. Dulin and retired; he died in 1925. (“Philip T. Hall––Retired Shirt Manufacturer Dies From Effects of Influenza”, Washington Post, February 15, 1925, p.9; “Philip T. Hall Dies––Long in Business Here. Retired Merchant, Formerly Minister, Was Prominent in Trade and Masonic Circles” Evening Star, February 14, 1925)

 

 

 

The Hall Tract

“Building Active in Section of City Near Georgetown––Large Number of Houses Being Constructed in the Hall Tract”.  (Washington Times, September 23, 1911)

 

As early as 1816 Lewis Kengla was assessed by the city of Georgetown for a two-story frame house on west side of what is now Wisconsin Avenue, near W Place, on lot 271 of Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown. Kengla later added lot 270 to the property. By 1865, another butcher, Henry Weaver, owned the two-story frame house, and had added lots 269 and 275. Weaver was also assessed that year for a tenement near the cemetery, various sheds, and a barracks, presumably left behind when the Signal Corps went home after the Civil War.

In 1894 Henry Weaver’s widow, Mary Ann Weaver, with her son-in-law Philip T. Hall acting as attorney, subdivided Henry Weaver’s estate along the west side of Wisconsin Avenue, creating Mary Ann Weaver’s Subdivision. She died in 1896. The 1897 Directory shows Hall living at 2438 Wisconsin Avenue, presumably in the 1814 Kengla-Weaver house. (Death of Mrs. Mary A. Weaver”, Washington Post, April 3, 1896, p.10)

In about 1903 Philip T. Hall built himself a new house on the same site, now called lot 307 in Mary Ann Weaver’s Subdivision. (Circa 1947 the house was replaced by a Giant Food store, at 2154 Wisconsin Avenue, which closed around 1967. It is now the Wisconsin Avenue Park, at 2150-2168 Wisconsin Avenue.)

Building permits were also issued for lots 311 to 314 on Wisconsin Avenue, above W Place, and the property became Philip and Mary Ann Hall’s Subdivision. “Mr. P.T. Hall, the F street haberdasher, has just received plans from F.B. Pyle, architect, for four houses, to be built in pairs on his Thirty-second street property, on the south side of the brow of the hill. This idea will not only permit considerable economy in building, but will allow practically the same light and air space as if constructed individually. Circular porches in front, combined with red brick and light woodwork, will constitute the exterior ornamental features. The general scheme will be what is known to builders as “”the Philadelphia house,” and each double structure will contain sixteen rooms.” (DC Engineer Files 99779, 99831; “Real Estate Market––On the Philadelphia Plan”, Washington Post, March 1, 1903, p.26; April 17, 1904, p.R6; May 15, 1904, p.A5; December 21, 1919, p.R3, col.2. A store was added in 1946. Star, April 27, 1946, p.13)

 

Washington Post, May 15, 1904, p.A5

Two double houses built by Philip T. Hall in 1903 once stood side by side. Only one of them, at what is now 2216 and 2218 Wisconsin Avenue, still survives.  (Washington Post, May 15, 1904, p.A5)

 

 

 

 

In 1909 part of the Hall property became Lewis Breuninger’s Subdivision. “An important deal, whereby Lewis E. Breuninger purchased from Philip T. Hall 300 feet frontage, extending from Tunlaw road, opposite Observatory Heights, to Wisconsin avenue, was consummated, the consideration being $40,000. Mr. Breuninger has had the property surveyed, with a view to building several houses in the fall.” (Washington Post, September 26, 1909, p.RC3)

 

 

Lewis E. Breuninger, a son of German immigrants, entered the building trades in 1902. His firm was responsible for large developments in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant; by 1929 it had erected more than two thousand homes and apartment buildings in the Washington area. (“Lewis Breuninger Retired Real Estate Dealer, Dies  at 83.” Evening Star, April 24, 1942; http://parkviewdc.wordpress.com/)

 

(Note that house numbers are those reported in contemporary sources, and may not correspond to the present numbering.)

2508 to 2516 Wisconsin Avenue (corresponding to today’s 2130-2140?) may have come on the market in 1910. (“Remarkably Attractive Homes Opposite Naval Observatory Grounds”, Star, September 17, 1910)

In 1911 advertisements began to appear for houses on Observatory Place––the original name of the east-west leg of Hall Place––on the east side of Hall Place, on W Place, and on Wisconsin Avenue “in a section that is rapidly developing, just south of the beautiful grounds of the Naval Observatory.” Proximity to the Observatory––the grounds of which were open to the public, and treated as a public pleasure garden––was a major selling point.  (Star, September 16 and 23, November 4 and 23, 1911; “Building Active in Section of City Near Georgetown––Large Number of Houses Being Constructed in the Hall Tract”, Washington Times, September 23, 1911, p.8)

 

 

Just completed houses at 2237 (with workmen), 2235, 2233, and 2231 Hall Place. (Washington Times, September 23, 1911, p.8)

 

“Herbert R. Morgan bought the premises at 3507 Observatory Place [now 2252 Hall Place] for $5,500, and will occupy the house as his home. The house is similar in design to that sold at 3511 Observatory place, which was also built by Mr. Breuninger.” Observatory Place was the name of the east-west leg of Hall Place in 1911, when Professor Morgan requested that District plant some trees; somewhere between 1912 and 1916 the name and numbering of Hall Place were extended around the corner, and the name Observatory Place was transferred to its present location, apparently in conjunction with the development of Observatory Heights, the predecessor of Glover Park.

(“Trade In Realty Good”, Washington Post, September 24, 1911, p.R2; DC Engineer Files 99779, 99831; Observatory Heights. “W place northwest, near Tunlaw road––Philip T. Hall et ux. To Lewis E. Breuninger, part of lots 270 and 275, square 1300, $10.”  (Washington Times, March 16, 1912, p.4; September 7, 1912, p.18; September 21, 1912, p.5; Star, September 28, 1912)

 

 

The First Apartment Building

 

While the developers of the Hall Tract built row-houses, the demand for apartments was addressed by the first apartment building in the neighborhood, whose name reflected the street name, which was still Observatory Place: “The Observatory Apartments”, at 2300 Wisconsin Avenue, were ready for occupancy in the fall of 1917 (and had a drugstore for rent on the ground floor).  (Washington Post, September 9, 16, 1917, pp. R2, R3)

 

 

 

Hall Place, As Advertised

 

In those years, none of the prospective buyers was expected to have an automobile; garages and parking are never mentioned, and “convenient to the cars” referred to streetcars. The first permit to build a garage on Hall Place was in 1916. (Permit 3506)

On W Place, houses with eight rooms, and mahogany finish interiors, cost $5,150. Hall Place houses, with six rooms, trimmed in oak, went for $4,950. (Houses on narrower lots cost only $4,250, while corner houses fetched $5,200.)

All came with edge-grain or parquetry floors, hot-water heat, and electric lights (combined with gas lights in the earlier houses). There was extensive wallpaper, and the dining room light fixtures had a fringe around the bottom. Brick exteriors were not painted.

Dry concrete cellars were advertised, which had “laundries”, i.e. laundry tubs and a “servant’s toilet”. The laundress came and went by the basement door. (“English” basements came later, when washing machines had put laundresses out of business.)

Front porches, the outdoor living rooms of the middle class, are often mentioned in Hall Place ads––as they are in the memoirs of early residents––but some houses came without. In back there was a small kitchen porch, and above that, a porch accessible from a bedroom, apparently meant for the enjoyment of the well-advertised view. Blessed with a “magnificent outlook”, the new Hall subdivision “overlooked the Potomac” and “commanded a view over the entire city”. The open fields, sparse houses, and very nearly treeless landscape of those days would have afforded a view that is impossible today, and some Hall Place houses had a balcony seat.

(There may have been summer nights when people slept on these upper porches, but that does not seem to have been their intended use. True sleeping porches were larger, had screens, and were originally envisioned for year-round use, to counteract days spent in poorly ventilated workplaces, and to prevent tuberculosis.)

 

 

Masters of Time and Space

The astronomer Asaph Hall (1829-1907), discoverer of the moons of Mars, neither lived on, nor bequeathed his name to, Hall Place. However, quite a few early residents of Hall Place were astronomers, and walked to work at the Naval Observatory.

 

2252 Hall Place

Herbert Morgan (1875-1957)

USNO 1901-1944. Much of Morgan’s work concerned the orbits of comets and asteroids. In his retirement he computed a catalog of the positions and motions of more than five thousand stars. Morgan probably bought the first house on Hall Place (1911), and had the first car on Hall Place (about 1918), a dilapidated Ford in which Morgan took his daughter Amy, and Amy’s best friend Margaret Woodward, on outings.

 

2250 Hall Place

Harry Burton (1878-1948)

USNO 1909-1948. Before a “computer” was a machine, it was a job title. Burton was also, not surprisingly, an invincible checkers champion.

 

2250 Hall Place

Chester B. Watts (1889-1971)

USNO 1911-1959. From 1915 to 1919 Watts worked in the Time Service Division, caring for standard clocks and sending out time signals. He was a leader in positional astronomy and instrument design, and after retiring, continued work on enormous project to survey the marginal zone of the moon. Precise knowledge of the moon’s profile for any time yielded a more precise measurement of its position, and resulted in better timekeeping. At the close of his career Watts did calculations for the astronaut space program.

 

2237 Hall Place

John Hammond (1871-1940)

USNO 1898-1934. In 1911 Hammond was placed in charge of the 26-inch equatorial telescope, got married, and bought 2237 Hall Place. Margaret Woodward remembers that Hammond walked to the Observatory every night, and was given to understand as a child that his duties there were to wind the clock, and at midnight, to send a signal to all the ships at sea, but these sound more like the duties of Chester Watts (above) than of Hammond, whose field was meridian astronomy.

 

2232 Hall Place

Wallace Eckert (1902-1971)

USNO 1940-45. Eckert wrote the American Air Almanac, a vital navigational aid for pilots in the Second World War. After the war he adapted commercial machines, such as credit balancing accounting machines, to compute numerical solutions of astronomical data, and worked on development of a large-scale general-purpose electronic computer at IBM. With Gerald Clemence he computed the precise positions of various planets; their improved lunar data formed the basis of Apollo orbital calculations.

 

2232 Hall Place

Gerald Clemence (1908-1974)

USNO 1930-1963. One of the world’s foremost authorities on celestial mechanics, Clemence calculated precise positional coordinates of the five outer planets at forty-day intervals to the year 2060, and was called “The Keeper of Mars” for his twenty-year project to produce the best general theory of the motion of that planet: where it has been, where it is now, and where it will be when we are ready to go there.

 

 

An interactive map of every structure in the city, showing square and lot, year built, original owner, and other useful information, was made available by the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Office in 2016.

 

___________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.