In the 1920 photo, Hans Wunderlich stands on the stoop of his C Street townhouse with his dog Archie at his side. Wunderlich was a German immigrant and cornet player for the US Marine Band. His widow lived in the home, with its jaunty striped awnings, until her death in 1958. It was razed in 1964 to make way for the Hine Junior High School playground and is now the site of senior housing on the newly reopened street.
Wunderlich’s home is only one of many buildings—and their stories—surveyed by Hill historian Elizabeth Purcell in her new book, “Capitol Hill: Past & Present.” Presenting more than 80 pages of before-and-after photographs, she digs into Capitol Hill history, exploring what used to be, why it’s gone, and what’s there now.
Much of the story is sad: houses torn down to make way for government buildings, churches leveled to accommodate the freeway, businesses destroyed to create parking lots. Fires, riots—and even a rare tornado that damaged the 1200 block of C Street in 1927—also took their toll on the Hill’s older buildings.
But Purcell also points out some bright spots. The destruction of a stately 19th-century building at 500 East Capitol Street in 1972 so outraged local citizens that it led to the establishment of the Capitol Hill Historic District. Frager’s Hardware not only survived its 2013 fire, but moved back better than ever into its restored building. And the Old Naval Hospital’s transition to the vibrant Hill Center has been a boon to the entire neighborhood.
Purcell spent nearly a year researching “Capitol Hill,” reaching out to friends, the Historical Society of Washington, DC, and the Library of Congress to unearth the stories behind the Hill’s lost treasures. The result is a book that will intrigue—and sometimes dishearten—history lovers. We can only hope it will also serve as a cautionary tale to future generations about the importance of preserving our past.
Beth Purcell is both a past and current president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. All royalties from the sale of “Capitol Hill: Past & Present” will be donated to the CHRS. www.chrs.org
Did you ever stop to think about how your favorite Brazilian coffee got here? Hill economist Marc Levinson has. In his insightful new book, “Outside the Box: How Globalization Changed from Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas,” he describes how world trade evolved and how it is now shifting from goods to services. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Levinson starts by describing how globalization first came about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, aided by the development of canals, steamships, and the telegraph. WWI brought a halt to this first phase—and the Great Depression further “put an end to hopes of recovery”—but after WWII, the Second Globalization was able to capitalize on new, standardized containerships to “supercharge” international commerce. The bubble burst in the 1980s, due in part to shifting exchange rates that “turned banking into a game of three-care monte.”
The Third Globalization, fueled by deregulation, saw the rise of international trade agreements, paving the way for more countries, such as China, to become global players. Supply chains began shifting to “value chains,” where production of a given item could involve parts from one country, manufacture in another, and design, finance, and engineering from yet another location. This “age of stuff,” as Levinson calls it, fizzled out after the economic collapse of 2007.
Now, he contends, we’ve moving into a Fourth Globalization, in which “moving ideas, services, and people around the world matters more than transporting boatloads of goods.” The reasons why “stuff” is losing ground are myriad. Levinson points to an aging population that already has all the furniture and clothing they need. Digital downloads and streaming services, bike-sharing, and ride services also mean less need to purchase goods.
He warns, however, that building a new framework to guide international trade “is likely to prove far more difficult than demolishing the structures of the past.” It could be a bumpy ride. Happily, however, we’ve got clear-thinking analysts like Levinson to steer us through it.
Marc Levinson is an economist, historian and journalist who has written several books, including “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” and “The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America.” www.marclevinson.net
A Century of DC in Verse
If you’ve found yourself turning to poetry lately, you’re not alone. The restorative power of verse often helps us express the inexpressible. You need only look into Kim Roberts’s new anthology, “By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of the Nation’s Capital,” to find precedence. From slavery, race riots, and suffrage to the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination, local poets have brought lyricism, passion, and clarity to the topics of the day.
Roberts has done a masterful job of bringing to life more than 130 poets who were born before 1800 through 1900 and who lived and worked in Washington. In her thoughtfully crafted introduction, she sets the stage, describing how DC institutions and historical events affected society and the arts in the nation’s capital. Then, chronologically and by theme, she presents concise but lively biographies for each poet—sometimes including contemporaneous descriptions from newspaper obituaries—and samples of their work.
The poets represent the diverse voices of federal workers and journalists, women and those born enslaved, reformers and radicals, the famous and the obscure, which together “present an authentic, polymorphic view of the capital city.” They also provide a window on DC’s history, as well as “the identity of the country as a whole.”
Readers will find something of interest on every page. Who could resist the “gossipy” delights of “Mrs. Adams’s Ball” by John Agg; fail to be moved by Walt Whitman’s “The Wound Dresser,” about his work as a nurse in the Civil War, or Anne Kelledy Gilbert’s “Grief,” inspired by the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery; or not be stirred by T. Thomas Fortune’s “Nat Turner” (“He stood erect, a man as proud / As ever to a tyrant bowed”)?
An eminently browsable book, with more than 300 pages of poems and life stories, “By Broad Potomac’s Shore” is a worthy addition to the history of the DC literary scene. And here’s a holiday shoppers’ alert: The University of Virginia Press is giving 30% off on Roberts’s book and other select new titles through the end of December. Use the code https://www.upress.virginia.edu/title/5493
Kim Roberts is an award-winning poet, literary historian, and editor who is the author of five books of poems, including, most recently, “The Scientific Method.” She is also co-editor of the web exhibit “DC Writers’ Homes” and author of “A Literary Guide to Washington, DC.” www.kimroberts.org