Phot by Lis Wackman
Interview with:   Frank Taylor
Interview Date:  

February 3, 1999
February 24, 1999
March 15, 1999
April 7, 1999

Interviewer:   Nancy Metzger
Transcriber:   Nancy Metzger
    This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.
    Part I >  |   Part II >  |  Part III >   |   Part IV>  |   Part V > 

[Location of interview: Mr. Taylor’s home, at his home, 6605 32nd Street NW, Washington, D.C.]


TAYLOR: My family moved around in clusters on Capitol Hill. We had three locations over the years with two or three households of the family at each location. The first was at First Street NE, between C and D. At the peak of our occupancy there we were in about seven houses on each side of First Street between C and D. This grew out of the enterprise of my maternal grandfather, Edward Kubel, who was born in Bayreuth in Bavaria and studied instrument making in Germany. I have his Bavarian passport from 1844 when he was about 20 years old. The authorities permitted him to go around Europe and perfect his trade. I don’t have his passport for coming here. I think maybe, like many of them, they were slipping out of the country just ahead of the consolidation. At any rate, he came to Washington in 1849 and immediately became foreman of an existing instrument shop. After 25 years of working for that man who retired, my grandfather was prepared to open his own shop. That was 25 years after 1849 so it would be 1874. So in the course of his work he prospered and he either built or purchased three houses across the street which were for three of his children and he made a business of the others. I was born in one of those -- number 327.

This was a period of building of Union Station and the Senate Office Building and pretty soon all of these buildings were wiped out -- the shop site, my grandfather’s residence and my father’s residence on the west side of the street. Now they are all part of the park. The three houses on the other side of the street were torn down by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to build a headquarters there. Before they could do it the Senate moved in and took the property from them for a parking place for the staff. And then by chance they [Veterans of Foreign Wars] went up to Second and Maryland Avenue where my father and two of his business associates had built an apartment house, an old apartment house, and they bought that property and tore it down and put up their headquarters. So for historical purposes, people like to know who lived in these old houses, the houses are all gone.

METZGER: So there was another set where you all lived, after the first group?

TAYLOR: In 1909 I was six years old we moved to the general vicinity of Tenth and Massachusetts Avenue NE. My oldest uncle had a quite imposing house at the corner of Tenth and East Capitol Street, which seemed very large to me when I was young. It is large enough to have been a church since and now it is an apartment house I believe -- all within the original.

METZGER: That was just your uncle’s house...

TAYLOR: Yes, that was my uncle’s house -- Stephen Kubel, 1000 East Capitol Street. And my father bought a new house at 909 Massachusetts Avenue. Just across the street was my other uncle Ernest Kubel. He moved in his in 1908 and we moved in 1909. [Note: City records show Ernest Kubel’s house at 908 Massachusetts Avenue NE was built for him in 1901.]

METZGER: It was wonderful to have uncles, aunts, and cousins I presume...

TAYLOR: It was a very close-knit family -- that’s not the total family -- but later we all went to Northwest. It’s not of any interest to you I’m sure, but two families located on Kenyon Street and two of us on Upshur Street. So we were all in walking distance there -- more spread out. My mother’s two brothers and her sisters came to our house so it was that kind of an atmosphere that I grew up in. Everybody’s birthday meant that everybody came to dinner -- no invitations were ever sent out.

METZGER: Everyone knew that it was so-and-so’s birthday and you showed up… I presume you ran around with your cousins, or were there big age gaps?

TAYLOR: Oh no, of course we were together in generations. My oldest cousin was Herbert Kubel, Stephen’s son. Like his father he had studied in Germany and was getting into aerial map making. He was commissioned in the Signal Corps and was experimenting with aerial surveying but contracted pneumonia and died right when the war was ending. It was very sad, a very handsome man.

My Uncle Stephen had a nice boat. We were frequently on that, many of us together... During the Jamestown World’s Fair in 1907 my uncle let my cousin have the boat down at Jamestown and he ferried people from the mainland to the Island. We had a ride in that too, so we did mingle quite a bit. No generation gap -- when parties were held everybody was there. If thirteen were there, one of my aunts wouldn’t sit down so we had to peel the children off to sit at a card table.

METZGER: One of the things the [Historic District] committee [of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society] is interested in is how houses were used. There is often in Capitol Hill houses a very small room in the back -- on the second floor, often about 10 x 10. I don’t know if any of your houses had such a room…

TAYLOR: There was a serving area for the dining room, which moved up to the second floor (the kitchen remained in the basement). We had one of those in the back of our house that I think was added by my father as the best place for his brother to live. His brother was retarded and lived with us in that little back room. I wonder if you would like me to describe our house.

METZGER: Yes -- this would be the one at 327 First Street?

TAYLOR: It was what was then called an English basement house -- about half a story down in the ground. And on that floor there was a dining room and in back of that the kitchen. The dining room had a Latrobe in it, which was a stove that was designed to be built into an existing fireplace and use coal. Have you heard of that? [Metzger indicates yes.] In the kitchen was a coal range that heated the upper floors over the back of the house and the Latrobe heated the upper floors in the front of the house. It was three stories, with the dining room and kitchen in the basement; the front parlor and back parlor on the second floor, with this room you mentioned added on the back. The third floor had a hall room and two bedrooms. The hall room had the stairs that went through the house and when it got to the top floor the hall ended in a room that was not very wide but it was a room. This was the subject of jokes in vaudeville and so on about boys in the hall room.

METZGER: Was it just you and your brother?

TAYLOR: I had a sister. My brother was six years older than I and my sister was three years younger. They’re both gone now.

The front parlor was heated by the Latrobe below. A nice room in the front with bay windows that looked out on a sea of mud left from the excavation for the tunnel to Union Station. My first memory was of a big mound of clay across the street. My first memory was being lost in the tunnel excavation.

METZGER: You mentioned that -- I did go to the Historical Society and got a copy of the article [Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 50 (1980), pages 508-521]. This is wonderful.

TAYLOR: That article told about the diversity of the neighborhood -- what I passed walking to school -- and that was the focus. I did leave out a few businesses I wished to put in.

METZGER: We’ll get them this time.

TAYLOR: One was the dairy…

METZGER: That was one of my questions -- the Swiss Dairy on East Capitol or another one?

TAYLOR: No, this was Castle’s on C Street NE. As an aside here, this is a problem I’ve had with most of the people who have interviewed me -- they’re from the Southeast and they’re interested in the Southeast. To me the Southeast was another neighborhood but the Northeast was my neighborhood. At any rate, Mr. Castle had a typical dairy of the time. He received his milk by railroad. He had a wagon and he’d ride down Second Street to about H where there were freight yards. He’d collect the number of cans that he was sent by his suppliers. Then he brought those cans back to his store, which was a ground-floor store. He had an area that was surrounded by a berm of concrete so that it could be flooded with water, about six or seven, maybe eight inches deep. He ran city water through that all the time and set the cans in that. That was his refrigeration. He had dippers of different sizes -- pint, quart and so on. When we went to his store (usually we went to his dairy) we had a pitcher with us and we would get a quart or so. He did have a wagon -- he delivered to a few customers. But most of his business was people going to the dairy. And this was when it was largely unpasteurized milk which worried my father. He didn’t like unpasteurized milk, even in those days. At any rate, it was whole milk which would rise and separate into cream and all. It was good. Mr. Castle lived up over his dairy, as many of the businessmen did in those days.

METZGER: In some things I’ve read I’ve seen references to “dairy lunches”. The Swiss Dairy on East Capitol Street used to have a lunch room. Does that ring any bells -- of dairies having lunch rooms?

TAYLOR: No, it doesn’t really. I’m not familiar with that. Every neighborhood had its own fish market. The fish markets would have a little area where you could sit down and have a bowl of chowder or fried oysters. One was over in Southeast on Second Street -- Captain Snow or Mister Snow, although sometimes we called him Captain -- a tall, gray-bearded, handsome man. He had a fish counter and a row of maybe four tables on the other side of the room. While he was getting your order together you could have a bowl of chowder or fried oysters.

METZGER: And that was over on...

TAYLOR: I think it was on Second Street, between A and B on the east side of the street. My father frequently, when he was closing his store at night, would go there and get a dozen fried oysters. Mr. Snow kept stale loaves of bread and he could slice off the top and hollow out the bread and put the hot fried oysters in the loaf of bread and put the lid back on. When my Dad got home my mother would be waiting up for him and they’d sit around and have hot fried oysters.

METZGER: That sounds great.

TAYLOR: It was -- pretty nice. The interesting thing about the city at that time was that there were many neighborhoods and usually the neighborhood was sort of anchored by the drugstore. In the area we’re talking about where my Dad’s store was, there was a drug store every four blocks in three directions. In the Southeast it was Sprucebank’s at Second and Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast. Has the name come up? He had a very fine drug store there.


TAYLOR: Sprucebank. And that reminds me that every drug store had a number coded from 1 to 10 that they marked the wholesale price of every item they sold before they put it on the shelf. Dr. Sprucebank’s was the same as his name -- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. Ours was. Well, at any rate these neighborhoods were quite small and usually anchored by the drugstores that were only four blocks apart. Of course they were lighted and were open fairly late at night, so they made the city quite safe. You could see what was going on -- the lights were on. That was the characteristic of the city. The reason that the neighborhoods were so small is that everyone walked. The neighborhood was distinguished primarily by transportation -- the streetcars as much as anything.

METZGER: Were there cabs? I mean, most people probably didn’t have horse and carriage. Could you hire...

TAYLOR: Hacks. Speaking of cabs, for a long time here the taxicab control body in the city that issued licenses and checked on cabs and drivers was called the Hack Department. I can remember my mother and father getting dressed up in the evening and calling a hack, driving off in style to the theater downtown. I can still smell my mother’s fur when she would come in. They enjoyed that. That was one of their recreations. My Dad worked long hours -- odd hours. So that was their relaxation -- maybe not as often as once a week but every ten days or so. One of them was the Columbia, which was a repertory theatre on F Street between Ninth and Tenth on the south side of the street, that was popular with everybody. Housewives would go downtown to shop; make dates with somebody else who was going down to shop, then they’d meet for lunch and go to a matinee.

METZGER: Were there any theatres on the Hill? I know that later there were movie theatres. But…

TAYLOR: That was something I wanted to tell you about. One movie theatre -- I thought you were going to ask me names of people who were prominent in the neighborhood. One of them was E. Lawrence Phillips whose claim to notoriety was that he was an announcer at the baseball park -- at the major league baseball park. In the days before the public address systems you had to have a man with a good strong voice and a megaphone who would come out in front of the stands and tell people who the pitcher would be, the catcher would be, the battery -- that was all the announcements that had to be made --and then if substitutions were made somebody would have to announce that. That was one of his jobs.

He owned a theatre -- the Stanton Theatre which was on Stanton Park -- on C Street that went by Peabody School. It began with movies that were very, very new -- thrillers, cowboys and Indians -- but he had a very interesting invention. When summer came, people stopped going to movies because it was so hot. So he started an open-air movie in the same block as his theatre. Of course later they did that with cars -- the drive-in movie became a fixture of the landscape. But this was not a drive-in but just an outdoor movie. You went in and set on benches, looked at the stage with the screen, sat in the open and watched the movies. I don’t know if that is still there or not.

METZGER: Is it on the same side -- right by Peabody?

TAYLOR: Yes, on the same side of the park. I think it would probably be Fifth.

METZGER: Between Fifth and Sixth or Fifth and Fourth?

TAYLOR: No, on Fifth between B & A, I think it was. And it was interesting because once a week he had a country store in the intermission for changing the film. He would come out on the stage dressed in overalls and a straw hat, a floppy straw hat and bandanna -- dressed like a farmer. He had tickets that had stubs on them and the stubs had been put in a big basket. They would shake them up and then reach in and pull one out, and whoever had the ticket would win a prize. The prize was announced first. I actually won a prize there once -- a rustic lawn swing made of small tree trunks with bark peeled off. We would have had trouble getting it up to the apartment house where we lived then. It was near the drugstore so we promised them a soda. We carried it up and it sat on the lawn of that apartment house for quite a while. People used it.

METZGER: I have never heard of an outdoor movie.

TAYLOR: I don’t think I ever have either. He was a smart, inventive man. I’ll mention one of the prizes that he gave were deeds to lots. My father said, Don’t ever to take one of those -- he says they were near the district line but he means the District line that’s over on the other side of Arlington County, way over in Virginia. My Dad says, “There’ll never be any building over there. All you’ll do is pay taxes on it and it’ll never be worth anything.” I never won one, so I didn’t have to turn it down.

At any rate one of the subjects that I thought ought to be mentioned was the vacant lots. The city at the time when I was growing up wasn’t all filled up. There were at least one or two big vacant lots on every block. Right across the street from the Capitol Grounds at Maryland Avenue and First Street was a huge lot and that was where we played baseball, trained for football; you could pole vault, you could do all kinds of things. My brother, being older than I, was more involved in it than I was. But his colleagues formed the Roland Athletic Club, named for the apartment house my father built at Second and Maryland Avenue.

METZGER: I noticed you had the Roland News too. Is that a family name or...

TAYLOR: No, that’s just a name that my father and his colleague picked out of the air, I think, when they built the apartment house. It might have been suggested by a section of Baltimore at that time that was very upscale.

METZGER: Yes, Roland Park, I think.

TAYLOR: At any rate, these lots were everywhere. The city was not finished. Imagine if there was actually a huge lot right across from the Capitol grounds today. Later I think the Methodist building was put there. That was just around the corner from my Dad’s store, one on B Street. The athletes would train and we would drag our high-wheel bicycles out of the basement and ride down the path that came down off the lot. Then east of Stanton Park along Massachusetts Avenue (I’ve forgotten the exact street) was a lot on top of a very high cliff. That lot even had a name –Activ. On top of this bluff there was a ball diamond and some semi-professional games were played there. There was a league -- a Christian league -- churches played churches. That was well known. If you told people in the neighborhood you were going to the game they’d know you were at the Activ lot. My brother played a very good game of baseball and he played there. There were rivalries between the Northeast and the Southeast.

By the way, I’ll ask you what the limits of Capitol Hill are now.

METZGER: (Laughing) It all depends on if you’re a real estate agent or not. The Historic District goes just a little bit beyond Lincoln Park, then down to F Street on the Northeast side, and to I Street, now the Freeway, on the Southeast side. That’s the basic, but it meanders a bit on the edges -- goes to about Fourteenth, not as far as Seventeenth.

TAYLOR: My father had a drugstore at Eleventh Street and East Capitol and then he was in some competition with the Peoples Drug Store on the other side, at Thirteenth Street.

METZGER: Facing each other across the Park.... Speaking of Lincoln Park, were there any special... How did people use the parks? Did they take carriage rides through it? Promenades? As adults, that’s different than what you were doing as a child...

TAYLOR: I guess they were used mostly by the domestic servants -- nursemaids we’d call them today -- with the small children and babies. They’d meet other maids and talk while the children played around.

METZGER: So it really wasn’t a spot for the boys to hang out in -- because you had vacant lots to do more fun things in.

TAYLOR: In more recent times, it became a place where men took off their shirts and got sunburns, suntans, lie around in the grass. People took folding chairs there, sat in the grass, and read in the shade and it was very pleasant.

METZGER: You don’t remember any concerts?

TAYLOR: The concerts were all on the Capitol grounds, the Marine Band.... One of the scenes that I remember that no longer exists, where my Dad’s store was at Second and Maryland Avenue and what’s now Constitution Avenue (we called it B Street) -- they all intersect there. This meant that between Second and Third there was a nice triangular park with grass and flowers and between Second and First, it was the same thing and so it was wide open -- a square really, like a square in a European town where people gathered and talked and ate. You can see a picture of my father’s store [in the Historical Society article]. We had tables out in the summer time and we always had a long bench.

There was always a crowd around the store; people would always come -- the boys on the drug store corner. It became such an institution that when some of those young men, when they became a little older, they organized a club called the Renroc Club, which is “corner” spelled backwards. They actually rented a small hotel on First Street near East Capitol to play poker, so they had a place to go to and play cards. The Renroc Club -- I looked it up in the directory.

The crowd that hung around the drugstore -- it was more than a place to hang out; it was really an institution. You learned about where to get a job. If you could play baseball they might say, “Go down and see the chief clerk at the Department of Agriculture. He’ll hire you if you’re a baseball player.” They had an interdepartmental league then, and this is the kind of information that was always available in that corner.

METZGER: Was that crowd segregated ethnically? Was it mostly German fellows?

TAYLOR: No, it was all nationalities -- very cosmopolitan -- English, Irish, German. I don’t remember any French people.

METZGER: Italian?

TAYLOR: Yes, Italian -- that was a part of the scene too. There was a large Italian community in the alley between First and Second, C and D, really a nice residential alley that was occupied largely by Italians. They opened that up later and made it Schott’s Court and Congressmen lived there in the same houses that were brought up to date. So much for living in an alley. It was a nice place to live--like the mews in London. They were very expensive. At any rate, no woman would hang out. Many times a young man would bring his date up and have a soda. When they were leaving, he’d stop and say, “Let me see if so-and-so is here.” She would walk on a little way and he’d say “Has anyone seen Harry?” and they’d say “Well, he was here a little while ago and we think he’s gone home...” You know, there were no phones.

METZGER: Did your father have one of the early phones?

TAYLOR: Yes, as a matter of fact, when they built the [Roland] apartment he had the switchboard for the apartment house in our store. It was the Lincoln exchange. That was an early exchange but not as early as Main, East, West or North. I thought I’d write a story sometime about the drugstore and the crowd on the corner.

Sometimes they would get a little noisy. My father would walk to the door and just stand there, looking out. Somebody would see him and say “Doctor Taylor is looking at us.” So they’d go sit in the park or go down the street a ways. Either way it would get quieter. But that was a square -- it’s all cut up now with traffic, traffic lights.

METZGER: It’s very difficult to get across.

TAYLOR: I can remember a time, in the nice weather, the young housewives would get dressed up, maybe with a child, walk down to the streetcar to meet their husbands, coming home at 4:30 or quarter to five. That was a nice time, in the evening, very colorful. Three or four of these ladies would walk by. Now you ask me a question.

METZGER: Did your family have domestic help or did your mom basically run the house by herself?

TAYLOR: Oh, we always had somebody. For example in the First Street house, we had several black women who were part -- they didn’t live there -- but they were part of the family. One would come in and do laundry, and she would work late. She’d be my babysitter when my parents were out late. She’d put me to bed, give me a bath in a tin tub and put me to bed.

METZGER: Was there indoor plumbing at that point?

TAYLOR: Yes. But in the block that had the apartment house was an alley that had water but not indoors. They had a faucet that every one went to and got water.

One of the scenes that I may have described, I’m not sure. One of the partnership that built the apartment was a doctor who built himself a nice apartment with an office below. He prospered. He was a doctor to the upper-scale people -- rich politicians and so on. He had a nice car when cars became nice (not like the Brush that we had). His was the next generation, a much nicer car. He would park it on Second Street. He had a contract with Standard Oil Company to come by and put oil and gasoline in his car. This wagon was very pretty -- green and gold wagon with a small tank, maybe 100 gallons or so. On the side and back were the standard kerosene cans that everybody bought to light their lamps. We used to watch this wagon putting gasoline in the car. In those days they had chamois to clean the cars.

METZGER: It would be wonderful… All these things to watch…

TAYLOR: Yes, that was the neighborhood. Then the huckster wagons would come in from the farms across the Branch. We used to call the men east of the Anacostia River “hucksters”. We called the Anacostia River the Eastern Branch or Branch. People would say, The Branch pears are in or the Branch peaches are in, Branch what not...

METZGER: Ok -- when you said in your article about the Branch fruit, I thought you meant -- I had never heard the expression so I thought you meant apples are on a branch -- but that explains it.

TAYLOR: The Anacostia River was always called the Eastern Branch and Rock Creek was the Western Branch. It never had that name but that was what we called it.

METZGER: Did you -- in the article you talk about men of the household going down to Center Market and getting food and then coming back. I gather, given the location where you were, Center Market was probably closer or as close as Eastern Market -- or you just didn’t use Eastern Market?

TAYLOR: Center Market was about nine blocks away because we were at Second and C and the market was at Seventh and F [Streets] NW.

METZGER: Going down wasn’t so bad but coming back up...

TAYLOR: I guess I mentioned that we did that about twice a week, with a boy’s wagon.

METZGER: Did most people use Center Market?

TAYLOR: Well, the prices were better and there was more to choose from; the produce was fresh, brought in every day. Many little grocery stores started out selling only staples; they didn’t have fresh foods. They’d sell maybe a slice of ham or bacon. They’d sell flour, salt, coffee, canned goods.



METZGER: One of my interests is landscaping. What were the front yards like? How were the back yards used?

TAYLOR: On Capitol Hill the city blocks are very large. Out here they’re half the size where we have Thirty-first Street and Thirty-second Street with Thirty-first Place in between, so the blocks have been cut in half practically. On Capitol Hill there on First Street and on Massachusetts Avenue where we were, the blocks were very deep. Usually in the front yard we had grass and iris or flags. In the back we had grass down the center with wide borders of annuals on the side. There was always a shed at the end of the yard where we kept tools and sometimes coal. My father used ours for canning the Branch fruit. Those blocks were quite deep.

At any rate, everyone planted certain flowers. There were always arguments about the names of the flowers. I can’t remember all the names -- like zinnias,


TAYLOR: Yes, roses. Usually people had a rose arbor with roses growing over it, maybe leading to the back door. On First Street we had a shed and my brother kept pigeons on the roof. Later there was a shop in the back where my Uncle Ernest carried on the instrument making. In the alley back of the house, for example, there was another shop where they ground copper plates. There was also a stable where a man lived who had a horse and wagon. He would do hauling for people.

One of the interesting figures of the city at that time was Henry P. Blair. Does that name sound familiar?

METZGER: I don’t remember it.

TAYLOR: Henry P. Blair was president of the Board of Education in the city for a very long time. He was a bachelor and lived in one of the row houses that was taken down for the Folger Library -- Grant’s Row. His father had been a senator and had built or purchased one of those -- he may have had something to do with the building. Mr. Blair lived in this house alone -- with no heat.

METZGER: No heat?

TAYLOR: He’d walk around the city with no overcoat. He was a man who did a lot of good deeds. For example, he encouraged a lot of the boys in the choir at St. Marks (there at Second and A) and Good Shepherd -- I don’t know remember where that was. He encouraged the boys’ choirs by giving every boy that came to the practice a token that was so big -- quarter size -- good for a soda at Taylor’s Pharmacy. If I remember correctly, when they had choir practice [was] on Wednesday night, and we could tell when choir was let out. We’d have the sodas prepared for them.

METZGER: Did your family attend St. Mark’s?

TAYLOR: No -- we went to St. Joseph’s. At any rate, Mr. Blair also provided the two choirs a camp at vacation time. My father was the surgeon of the camp. He never went to the camp but he was known as the surgeon of the camp. Mr. Blair would just tell my father how many boys would be there and my father would pack a big box and fill it with what they would need: first aid, sun burning and all the things that the kids might need. The man who lived in the back with the horse and wagon -- he did that kind of hauling for my father. When that box was packed -- it was almost as big as this dining room table -- it was loaded on Frank Howard’s wagon. Frank Howard would get up on the front seat and start off. I’d crawl up on the front seat beside him and we’d ride out to the steamboat wharf and put it on the steamboat. It would be floated down and eventually it would be put off at Piney Point and then they’d take it on a small boat to Point Lookout. They had a camp there every summer. Mr. Blair and his father had a boat -- a small boat -- and take the boys sailing. They’d learn a little bit about sailing and a little bit about the geography. He’d do that every summer.

Frank Howard always said I was named for him. He used to come to the back door to our kitchen -- on a holiday or for no reason at all -- and he was always good for a hot dinner. He’d take it back to his quarters and eat it.

METZGER: I was supposed to remind you about St. Joseph’s.

TAYLOR: Yes, I wanted to know if anyone doing what you’re doing had been to the rector of St. Joseph’s asking about history. There was a pastor there at one time whose name was McAdams who was doing a history of the parish, including the history of the area around there. He was very serious about it; he worked quite a long time at it. I never saw anything but it would be worth asking if Father McAdams…

METZGER: I will ask if it’s available in any form. I know they’re planning to do some renovation.

TAYLOR: Do you have a good history of the Belmont House?

METZGER: I worked several years ago with the Belmont House people -- more on the landscape, but we had a lot of questions about the families there before the Belmont time.

TAYLOR: We called it the Daingerfield House.

METZGER: Was that part of the Alexandria Daingerfields?

TAYLOR: I don’t know. The reason I’m interested in it is that I was trying to connect my uncle that lived at Tenth and East Capitol. I think he was involved with the first church to be built.

There was a joke. There were several German people in the neighborhood, and we always used to joke about German people. This one man objected to spending a lot of money for a new church. The man said, “After all Christ was born in a stable.” The pastor said, “Yes, but he didn’t spend 40 years there.” That was a family joke. I have an idea that they may have been using the stables at the Belmont house for church services.

METZGER: I didn’t hear of that -- it’s quite possible. The other thing that came up in looking at old pictures of the Belmont house was the difference in height between the street now and then. You mentioned about how it had been re-graded. I have to see what you said and look at the old pictures and see if that is what we were talking about. That’s an interesting thought about the stables. The stables are now the library -- and it’s quite a lovely room.

TAYLOR: Henry P. Blair -- he also sent a lot of youngsters to college. He was quite well-to-do. He didn’t have anything to spend his money on but himself.

There was another family -- the Brights -- they had a nice house up on Massachusetts Avenue and they would take young men into their house; put white coats on them and then train them as house servants. They observed these young men -- and some they’d help go to college.

METZGER: So a lot of what we think of as social services today were undertaken by individuals. Did the churches play much of a role in that kind of thing? For instance, food baskets for the poor?

TAYLOR: Well, sometimes when I’d go by the church with my little wagon the priest would pop out and say “Frank, we’ve been looking for you. Come up here and bring your wagon.” I’d go up to the rectory; they had nice grounds. He’d heave up a bag of flour and put it in my wagon and say, “Take this to Mrs. So-and-so. Do you know where she lives? Don’t take it anyplace else -- she needs this to make biscuits.” There was that kind of direct help.

My father used to complain about the man who came to his store and said his family was freezing and he needed help to get a ton of coal. There was a coal yard on A Street between Second and Third -- a feed store and coal yard, part of this diverse neighborhood. My father said he’d go half and half with him. So they came and dumped the coal at the curb, which they very often did. And this man came and complained that they hadn’t put it away for him.

We had the Little Sisters of the Poor who were at Second and H Street NE -- they came around with their prescriptions. They rode in a buggy to C Street where my father had another store -- one would go to the grocery store and one to the pharmacy.

Hydrangeas were part of the landscape.

METZGER: You mentioned your brother and the pigeons. Did he raise them for pets or for squab? I read another article by someone who grew up on Capitol Hill probably 20 years before you grew up on Capitol Hill and he raised them for squab.

TAYLOR: We had squab occasionally but he raised them for racing. He’d take them out somewhere and let them go, then come running home, timing the time it took them to get back. It was a competitive sport. He always got upset with me because I couldn’t recognize a desirable pigeon from an ordinary one. They all looked alike to me and he’d get very upset with me.

METZGER: Did you have any pets?

TAYLOR: We always had a dog. I started writing yesterday -- I’ve finished writing about the German side, but my father left a lot of notes and I’ll try to finish those. What I’m going to do is write up these stories in the first person -- and I’m going to write it in sections. I wrote yesterday about our first automobile. I’ll do this for other events in his life. I worked with him pretty closely from the time I was 13 or 14 until I left to go to the Smithsonian.

METZGER: Did you go to college here in Washington?

TAYLOR: I went to George Washington at night and took several summer courses. I got to the point where my grades were adequate and I could finish in a year.

[Digression into GW/ MIT courses]

METZGER: I was going to ask you about the gang fight between the Northeast and the Southeast the night of the Post Office dedication. [Records of the Columbia Historical Society 50 (1980), pages 508-521] Was there much fighting?

TAYLOR: There was a lot of rock throwing and a few shots fired, undoubtedly from the Southeast. There were some pretty tough people.

One of the pastimes of the day for people was roller skating. There were a lot of streets being paved with asphalt. They’d keep the street closed while the asphalt cured with stanchions up and people would come from all over to skate. That’s where it all began -- this fight.

METZGER: This one sounds like it was much bigger. Did people hustle others out of their little four-block neighborhood?

TAYLOR: I don’t remember anything like that. There was some tolerance. I was trying to think of the date of that building the other day. The Smithsonian Museum now has that building. I read recently somewhere about a Federal bank -- I don’t know why they did away with the Postal Savings Bank. That building was built almost like a bank -- the tellers and all. It was a very, very popular place for people to save their money where it would be safe. They had a little book to keep a record in -- and they could draw it out. I thought it was very great. I guess the banks didn’t think it was so good -- unfair competition.

METZGER: When we talked earlier and I said I lived near Christ Church, you said, “Oh, Southeast is a much older area.” Did you have a sense when you were growing up that Capitol Hill was an historic neighborhood?

TAYLOR: We knew it was historical because of the buildings that were around First Street facing the Capitol where they kept the people who were charged in the Lincoln assassination and before that where Congress stayed when the Capitol was burned -- the Old Brick Capitol -- and the Belmont House, where the man in the alley fired a shot when the British troops were coming up.

[Digressions on historical accuracy and Anthony Pitch’s book on the Burning of Washington.]

TAYLOR: They say that was the only armed resistance...

METZGER: In Washington, that’s true. Baltimore shows up a little bit better. So there was a sense of an old neighborhood. Did people value the old houses or was it like the 1950s when people wanted to get rid of them?

TAYLOR: They all wanted to trade up. There were a lot of very poor people. There were streets -- like this A Street -- the houses were very tiny.

My closest friend at one time was Lewis Chamberlain. His mother had a three-story house that she ran as a boarding house. She raised three very nice young people in that house -- and did a good job of it. I’m not sure what the rent was on that house but I know there were times when she couldn’t pay it. It wasn’t my job but we’d go out to cut some grass or do whatever we could to raise a couple of dollars to what she had so she could pay the rent.

What they were trying to do was move up to a better house or a better street. Of course, what happened to my father’s neighborhood -- it finally all got chopped away all to the east. On Maryland Avenue, from Second Street to First Street was lined with three-story houses that had been turned into rooming houses. Some were still occupied by a single family. That all disappeared when they had to tear down the buildings for the Supreme Court.

METZGER: So he lost a lot of his customer base.

TAYLOR: All the buildings on the west side of First Street NE went into the Park. I have to find out when they first began to condemn the land. All of my grandfather’s buildings, his shop -- he did a lot of work for the Survey and for a little while the Survey owned his shop. The house had been condemned and was to be torn down. But it’s my experience that when this happens people stay in those houses for a time. The Geological Survey said they needed the service, so they wanted him to stay in the house.

    Part I >  |   Part II >  |  Part III >   |   Part IV>  |   Part V >   
This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck
Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.