Historic Structures

James Y. Davis Sons Co. Building, Washington DC

Date added: December 17, 2010 Categories: Commercial

This brick commercial building was designed by a local architect in the late nineteenth century. In spite of twentieth century alterations, the irregular shape, use of ornamental terra cotta, projecting bays, and side tower, make the building a distinctive example of Queen Anne commercial architecture in Washington.

The building was constructed for the James Y. Davis' Sons Co. (James S, Davis et al.), which was listed as a hat business in 1889 and as a men's furnishings store in 1914. The company continued to occupy 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue until the early 1920's, leasing it in 1901, in 1908, when Philip K. Reily et al. leased land and premises at 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue to James S. Davis et al. for 10 years starting April 1, 1907, and for the last time in 1921, when Lem Towers, Jr. leased 1201 "except that part now used as a shoe shine parlor" to James Y. Davis Sons, Inc. for 10 years starting April 1, 1920.

In 1912 Samuel T. Davis Jr. leased space at 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue for 8 years 5 month commencing January 1, 1912 to John W. Dunbar et al.. In the next instrument recorded, John W. Dunbar sublet the space to Lem Towers Jr. for the same term ending on March 31, 1921,, The 1914 City Directory lists Dunbar & Co., cigars; other 1914 occupants were J. Donald Britt, Edward H. Dick, hotel agent, and Wilbur E. Evans, dentist.

In a series of leases starting in 1908 and ending in 1926, Alexis Toggas sublet space at 408 (now possibly 406 1/2?) for what may have been a "shoe shine parlor." ( (1) lease 3159-33, recorded May 25, 1908; (2) lease 3973-475, recorded June 26, 1914; H. R. Howenstein to Alexis Toggas; and (3) lease 4415-26, recorded August 3, 1920, Lem Towers Jr. to Alexis Toggas for a term ending March 31, 1926).

Apparently, the James Y. Davis' Sons Co. did not complete their 1921 lease because in 1922 Lem Towers Jr. leased 1201 to the United Cigar Stores Co. for 8 years starting April 1, 1922 (lease 4735-97, recorded May 17, 1922). According to the City Directories the United Cigar Stores Co. then sublet the space to Hilton's Clothing in 1924 and to Ellis M. Herman, men's clothing in 1924 and 1928 and to Samuel Saidman, Men's Furnishings 1924-1928.

With the onset of the depression the property is listed as vacant from 1929-1931. Colonial Stages was a tenant in 1931 and 1932, but City Directories show the 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue property was again vacant in 1933, although Building Permit Records indicate a delicatessen was operating at 402 12th Street.

In 1933 William and Gertrude Gildenhorn who had been running the Capitol Men's Shop at 1203 Pennsylvania Avenue moved next door to 1201 1/2, while in 1934 the Raleigh Gift Shop moved into 1201. Both enterprises continued in business at the 1201 building until 1935.

A 1934 Repair Permit shows a Miss B. Walker at 404 12th Street. Since this is the address for the entrance to the 2nd floor of 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, Miss Walker may be the first of several tenants who used the 2nd floor for dance classes and a dance studio. In an interview Mr. Washabaugh, Manager of the Washington Garage Co., which has leased 1201 for a number of years, and Mr. Sherwood, who has been with Washington Wine and Liquor for 45 years, both at 1211 Pennsylvania Avenue and in the 1201 building, recalled the use of the 2nd floor as a dance studio. There is evidence that a practice bar was installed in one wall. Mr. Sherwood believed that an Arthur Murray branch occupied the space in the 1930's and 1940's, that a local country and western personality, Mr. Connie B. Gay, used the space next and that the Lynn Welters dance studio occupied the 2nd floor for around 10 years until ca. 1975. Some confirmation for such occupancy is furnished by trust chattels given by Daniel Albert to Smith and Ross, Tr. for 404 12th Street. ("Upstairs Dance Studio)" with leasehold interest.

In 1935 (lease 6917-407, recorded August 22, 1935) Amelia L. Heurich leases 1201 and 1201 1/2 Pennsylvania Avenue to the United Cigar Stores Co., Inc. of Maryland from March 1, 1935 until February 29, 1940. United Cigar Stores and Whelan Drug Co. repaired and improved 1201 Pennsylvania in 1935 and operated a combined drug store, cigar store and probably a soda fountain. The United Cigar Store-Whelan tenacy continued until the late 1940's when the present occupant, Washington Wine and Liquors, moved into 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue from its old quarters at 1211 Pennsylvania Avenue. The other current occupant, Mike's NY Deli moved into 406 12th Street, NW in the early 1970's.

The structure measures approximately thirty-four feet in width and one hundred twenty feet in length. The height of the Pennsylvania Avenue facade, measured from the sidewalk to the top of the corner tower, is approximately forty-six feet. It is two stories.

The first floor of the main building is a single open space, with access provided at the southeast corner and at the northeast corner. The remainder of the first floor area of the main building and the subordinate buildings is given over to small commercial spaces. The second floor of the main building is also a single open space, but unlike the first floor space, It flows unimpeded by wall partitions into the second floor spaces of the subordinate buildings. These spaces appear to have been part of a single large office or studio.