Observatory Heights

 

Ephraim Macht’s long-forgotten subdivision in the heart of Glover Park.

 

 

Ephraim Macht (1866-1944) immigrated from Russia at the age of twenty; buying old houses and inexpensively remodeling them for resale or rental, within five years he had established himself as the first Jewish real estate broker in Baltimore. In 1909 Macht made a brief excursion into the Washington real estate market.

The greater part of the 104-acre Kengla estate (which extended from Tunlaw Road to Foxhall Road) had been purchased in 1907 by banker Charles Carroll Glover, who had no immediate intention of developing it. Two years later Ephraim Macht purchased seven and a half acres of the Kengla estate on the west side of Tunlaw Road. Macht, who preferred to see a more immediate return on his investment, gave his subdivision a name that would capitalize on the prestige of the nearby Naval Observatory, which was at that time open to the public for use as a pleasure park: Observatory Heights.

But although the tenor of his advertising copy soared, Ephraim Macht was only selling undeveloped lots, and his subdivision was soon forgotten. (The only trace it has left on the map is Observatory Place, a street which is inexplicably distant from its namesake, but right in the heart of Observatory Heights.)

 

(“Macht Burial Set For Today: Builder Headed Welsh Construction Company”, The Baltimore Sun, December 20, 1944: p.17; Charles V. Flowers, “A Time-traveling Rowhouse Bus”, The Baltimore Sun, March 11, 1983, p.B1)

 

 

 

In 1909 the name Observatory Heights briefly included all of what is now Glover Park, and a fair amount of what was to become Glover-Archbold Park as well. The road west of the area marked Observatory Heights is the original Arizona Avenue; the name was later transferred to its present location.  (Washington Herald, July 18, 1909)

 

 

(Washington Herald, July 11, 1909)

 

 

1911 Engineer

By 1911 the reduced outline of Observatory Heights are indicated by the solid lines just west of the intersection of 37th Street and Tunlaw Road.  (Map of the Permanent System of Highways of the District of Columbia, Office of the Engineer Commissioner D.C., 1911)

 

 

Notes and Sources

 

The 104-acre Kengla estate extended from Tunlaw Road to Foxhall Road. The greater part was purchased by banker Charles Carroll Glover, and not immediately developed. “Georgetown Land, $701.50 An Acre”. “Charles Carroll Glover buys the estate of the late Henry Kengla, at public auction, for $60,000.” “Mr. Glover, it is understood, made the purchase on speculation.” (Washington Times, May 26, 1907, Real Estate, p.7)

Seven and a half acres on the west side of Tunlaw Road––lots 293, 294, 295, and parts of 292 and 296, of Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown––were purchased in 1909 by a straw buyer. “Marowitz Purchases Georgetown Lots: Buys Tract in Extreme Northwestern Section from Trustee.” This buyer held the land for little more than two weeks: “Realty Transfers.––Thirty-Seventh Street extended: Max Marowitz to International Realty and Development Company.” (Washington Times, June 26, 1909, p.12; July 12, 1909, p.9)

The International Realty and Development Company was Ephraim Macht, Baltimore’s “King of the Homebuilders”, who did not let intend to let the grass grow under his feet. Macht’s first move was to give the Max Marowitz subdivision a name that would capitalize on the prestige of the nearby Naval Observatory, which was at that time open to the public for use as a pleasure park. “Old Kengla Estate Opened Tomorrow: “Observatory Heights” Is Name Given to New Subdivision.” “Observatory Heights, on the old Kengla estate, to be developed by Ephraim Macht.” (Washington Times, July 10, 1909, p.12; Washington Herald, July 11, 1909)

Although Macht had purchased only a fraction of the Kengla estate, his advertisements soared above this detail. “A beautifully elevated terrace, consisting of a large tract, was sold by order of the court to satisfy the estate. We are offering you the chance of your life to own a home surrounded by wealthy people of fame and influence, who are constantly beautifying and improving their own large holdings, thereby, of course, adding to the constantly increasing values of all the property in this entire section.” (Washington Herald, July 11, 1909)

 

“This is positively the handsomest town site ever opened to Washington home buyers, having every advantage of the most beautiful suburbs, except the distance and inconveniences. No problematical values to this property. Price it much farther out. It will convince you that Observatory Heights is the Lowest Priced and Will Be the Suburb De Luxe of Greater Washington.” (Washington Times, July 10, 1909, p.5)

“A beautifully elevated terrace, consisting of a large tract, was sold by order of the court to satisfy the estate. We are offering you the chance of your life to own a home surrounded by wealthy people of fame and influence, who are constantly beautifying and improving their own large holdings, thereby, of course, adding to the constantly increasing values of all the property in this entire section.” (Washington Herald, July 11, 1909)

Offers Home Cheap: Wage Earner May Buy One At Observatory Heights––A Subdivision Established––Baltimore Capitalists Purchase the Kengla Estate, and Will Sell Sites for $3500 Houses––Will Form A Pretty Residential Park––Water and Sewer Connections Provided.––“Observatory Heights is the name given to the new subdivision which the International Realty and Development Company has established on the old Kengla estate, one square west of the United States Naval Observatory.” “First there will be sale of lots “of such a size as to make detached homes typical of the subdivision”. (Washington Herald, July 11, 1909, Southern Progress section, p.2)

New Realty Company: Tract Near Naval Observatory Is Purchased.––Lots At Moderate Cost: International Realty and Development Company, With Offices in Colorado Building, To Place Property on Sale Tomorrow––Ephraim Macht, Baltimore Capitalist, Back of Enterprise.––“Mr. Macht has purchased a valuable and desirably located tract of land, known as the Kengla estate. This property is situated one block west of the United States Naval Observatory, within one block of the car line, and has sewer and water connections. This property is to be known in the future as Observatory Heights.” (Washington Post, July 11, 1909, p.CA8)

“Observatory Heights Is the Lowest Price Property and Is Without a Doubt the handsomest Suburb in the District.––The Advantages of Purchasing in this Suburb De Luxe.––The location is in the best and most rapidly improving section of Washington. The property owners surrounding this suburb are the most prominent and influential business men of the District, and it lies just one block west of the U.S. Naval Observatory, a short distance from the new seven-million-dollar Cathedral, and many other large improvements are in its immediate vicinity, representing many millions of dollars. Fifteen lots sold since our opening day last Sunday. Terms as low as $50 cash and $10 per month. Lots from $500 to $1,500.” (Washington Times, July 17, 1909, p.12)

“See the New Subdivision Today: Observatory Heights. Get off Wisconsin ave. cars opposite the United States Naval Observatory. You can see the property, only one block away from this point. A few splendidly located lots for $500 each on monthly payments. One lot for $400. You are not offered a chance like this every day.–– International Realty and Development Company.  (Washington Post, September 12, 1909)

“See Lot 328 Today. It fronts on Benton street and runs through to Huidekoper place. Observatory Heights is one block from Wisconsin ave., opposite the Naval Observatory.” (Washington Post, October 9, 1909)

 

W Street Northwest, between Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth streets––International Realty and Development Company to Lillian T. Conway, lots 312 and 313, square 1301, $10. (April 2, 1912)

“Benton Street and Tunlaw Road––The International Realty and Development Company to Michael B. Inscoe, lots 342, 343, 344, square 1301.” (“Real Estate Transfers”, Washington Post, September 9, 1915, p.12)

“North of Benton Street Northwest and West of Tunlaw Road––Michael B. Inscoe to Rose Inscoe, lot 342, square 1301.” (“Real Estate Transfers”, Washington Post, December 20, 1916, p.10)

 

 

 

2400 Tunlaw Road

 

2400Tunlaw

 

One of the first purchases was of an existing frame house, covered in clapboard, of unknown age, at what is now 2400 Tunlaw Road.

“Kengla Homestead Sold.––The International Realty and Development Company reports many sales during the past week in their subdivision opposite the United States naval observatory. The company is arranging for the building of a number of homes this fall and the extensive improvement of the streets running through the property. James S. English has purchased the Kengla homestead on this tract, with two lots fronting 75 feet on Tunlaw road, and expects to commence this week to remodel the building. After extensive improvements are completed Mr. English will make this his home.”  (Washington Post, September 26, 1909, p.RC3)

The 1900 census shows a James S. English, a Georgetown butcher, born in the District of Columbia, in 1868. Remodeling of 2400 Tunlaw Road began in 1910. “The property purchased by James English in Naval Observatory Heights, at the corner of Benton street and Tunlaw road, is being remodeled by Richard Ough & Son, at a cost of $1,500. The old frame building on the site will be entirely altered.” (Washington Times, March 26, 1910, p.4)

 

 

 

 Observatory Place

 

The timing––and possibly the rationale––for the shifting of the name Observatory Place, from the east-west leg of Hall Place to its present location, is suggested by this transaction: “Realty transfers: Observatory Place, Northwest; International Realty and Development Company, to Harry B. and Laura V. Matchett, lot 407, square 1301.” (Washington Times, October 26, 1912 p.7)

By the time the following ad appeared, the International Realty and Development Company was no longer involved: “Lots 375 and 375, square 1301, Benton st. and Tunlaw rd. nw., Observatory Heights––At reasonable figure. Paul H. Primm, 1337 Lawrence st., Brookland, D.C.” (Washington Times, October 23, 1916, p.9)

 

The subdivided lots that constituted Observatory Heights––with Observatory Place at their heart––can be seen at the right, between Tunlaw Road and Huidekoper Place.  (Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Washington, 1916)

 

(Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Washington, 1919)

 

___________________________________________________________

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.