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Le Droit Park

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1873–1883, James H. McGill. 2nd and 7th sts., Florida Ave. and W. St. NW.
  • Le Droit Park

In 1873 Amzi L. Barber, acting president of Howard University, and his brother-in-law, Andrew Langdon, purchased from the university a 55-acre triangular site on the north side of Florida Avenue (then the District of Columbia boundary) between 2nd and 7th streets NW and began developing Le Droit Park. Within four years forty-one substantial detached and semidetached villas were built in the exclusive suburban community, following designs by local architect James H. McGill. During the next decade he designed an additional twenty-three brick and wood houses. Approximately two-thirds of the McGill-designed houses survive. All were set in a picturesque parklike setting with continuous lawns within a fenced enclave with its own street pattern that deliberately did not coincide with the city's. The predominant styles were Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire, with a plethora of cross-axial plans, multiple porches with jigsawn wooden filigree ornament (much of it lost), octagonal single- and double-story bay windows, mansard roofs, multicolored slate roofs, and decorative iron cresting rails atop towers (much of which remains).

McGill's basic source book seems to have been Calvert Vaux's Villas and Cottages of 1864, although he freely altered many of the prototypes. Villas and Cottages was one of the numerous up-to-date pattern books influenced by the publications of Vaux's partner, Andrew Jackson Downing, during the 1840s, when he provided Americans with a wide range of style, plan, and economic choices for newly created suburban homes. From the mid-1880s onward, however, most of the residences erected were undistinguished two-story row houses; McGill was not their architect. In 1901 the streets in Le Droit Park were formally given to the city, and the community's population changed. It became a pleasant upper-middle-class haven for the city's black social, educational, and cultural leaders, convenient to Howard University, the Howard Theatre, and downtown.

Le Droit Park remains a significant de­­velopment in Washington because it is an early example of a planned, architecturally unified subdivision. It also represents an early unsuccessful attempt at integration—the development was originally segregated by a fence that surrounded Le Droit Park to keep African Americans out. It was torn down in 1888 and quickly rebuilt; black residents began moving into the division in 1893 and white residents left soon thereafter. By World War I, Le Droit Park was an entirely African American neighborhood and home to scores of Washingtonians, including African American judges, musicians, poets, and members of important organizations. Today, it retains the small scale and character of most of the architecture in the area at the turn of the twentieth century.

References

Ganschinietz, Suzanne, “Le Droit Park Historic District,” District of Columbia. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
Updated By: 
Vyta Baselice (2020)
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Data

Timeline

  • 1873

    Built

What's Nearby

Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Le Droit Park", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-NE13.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 294-294.

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