Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thanks to Mr. Ray for tipping me off to a fascinating exhibit at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington on the mostly-vanished Jewish mom-and-pop grocery stores that once dotted every neighborhood in this city in the first half of the 20th century. (In case you don't know about it, the JHSGW museum is at 3rd and G, just up the street from the Casa d'Italia, in a former synagogue that was moved from its original location to allow for the construction of Metro headquarters--an interesting tale in itself.) The on-line version of the exhibit is here.
There is a database on the locations of the stores, and I counted at least two dozen in the Shaw area, including the one pictured at 1521 5th Street, which operated from 1921 until 1959. The building is now gone, replaced by the playground in back of the Scott Montgomery School. I was also able to verify that the building at 5th and O (1400 O Street) was indeed once a grocery store--probably the one that figures in several stories by Edward P. Jones. As the exhibit points out, many of the proprietors lived in the same buildings above the store--at least initially. There's not much information about most of them, and it looks as if many stores didn't survive too long, but they bear witness to the fact that diversity in the neighborhood goes way back.

I won't try to list all the addresses I found, but here are a few picked out at random:
414 R St.
1544 9th St.
622 N St.
1219 5th Street
1211 7th Street
9th and Q
411 O Street
5th and M
7th and O
461 Q Street
If you have a little bit of the history bug and some patience, run through the database and see what you find.


At 7/11/2007 12:03 PM, Blogger prof said...

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At 7/12/2007 10:48 AM, Anonymous Charles walker said...

I had a look at the pictures online, which matches up the pictures with addresses. The building shown here actually used to be across the street from my house, in the 1500 block of 5th. It is where the Scott Montgomery parking lot is now.

At 7/12/2007 10:49 AM, Anonymous Charles Walker said...

Sorry - I see that was already stated in the original post.

At 7/12/2007 7:46 PM, Anonymous Mr. Ray said...

Thanks, Daddy-O for the pic and story. The Jewish Historical Society also has a great archive of oral histories and their journal published a great article on the shop owners up and down Seventh Street.

The diversity in our neighborhood is profound but overlooked by local the historical revisionists among us who paint us only as Black. Saint George's Antiochian Orthodox Church was at the front entrance to the Convention Center. Haghia Sophia was kitty-corner from Immaculate Conception church, which was built and dominated by Irish American worshippers. A lot of Italian stone masons and tile setters were housed and headquartered in the same site. Crovato Tile Company used to adorn the site of Lake Woodson. Queen of Sheba was once a kosher chicken store, Ottenbergs Bakery down the street. When we finish collectively picking up the trash, I really wish we would descend on the Historical Society and build Excel spreadsheets of our neighborhoods to chronicle the businesses and people who lived on our blocks in the City Directories and census records. You'll see we were once a very diverse community like we are today. Celebrate.


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