Back in the Day: Flagler Pl NW & W St NW in Bloomingdale

The listing at 2205 Flagler Pl NW is already under contract, but we still wanted to share the rich history of part of this block.  Step back in time over a hundred years ago to read about a woman developer, a prolific pair of young architects, and the role that Bloomingdale played in landmark Fair Housing legislation.  Historian Brian Kraft provides the details below. 

A permit was issued to Lillie H. Mattern on February 7, 1906 to build the row of houses at 2203 to 2217 Flagler Place NW. A separate permit was issued at the same time for 127 W Street NW. The estimated cost to build all eight houses was $29,000, a typical sum for the time. The houses were completed in July 1906.

Developer Lillie H. Mattern dabbled in development in Washington between 1906 and 1910, almost exclusively in Bloomingdale and mostly on Flagler Place. In 1908 she built the row across the street,2208 to 2222 Flagler Place. Her husband, Harry J. Mattern, was in the real estate business. She used the architectural firm of Hunter and Bell for all of her projects.

Hunter & Bell are credited with the design of about 800 buildings from 1902 to 1918, including nearly 500 rowhouses. They designed 53 apartment houses ranging from luxury buildings to modest flats, most of which were commissioned by John L. Warren or his brother, Bates. Bates Warren was married in 1897 to the sister of George N. Bell, principal of Hunter & Bell.

Most of the prominent Hunter & Bell-designed apartment houses are in and around the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Those include 2038 18th Street NW(1905), 1852 Columbia Road NW(1909), 1789 Lanier Place NW(1910), 1736 Columbia Road NW(1914), 1760 Euclid Street NW(1915), 2029 Connecticut Avenue NW(1915), and 1868 Columbia Road NW(1916).

George N. Bell came to Washington from North Carolina as a boy. He got into real estate development in 1902, at the tender age of 23. This was about the time he first collaborated with Ernest C. Hunter, a native Washingtonian. Bell’s career as a developer ended in 1916, just before the demise of his architectural collaboration with Hunter.

Hunter & Bell are a strange case. Nothing is known about their training as architects. They came out of nowhere and as young men designed some magnificent and substantial buildings that will long grace our streetscapes. The Warrens were key clients, but they worked for others as well. So their success is not a simple case of nepotism. World War I naturally slowed and distracted them, but in the 1920s Washington was a boom town and these experienced architects were only in their forties. Amazingly, they were not players at all. The details of their lives and the secrets of their rapid rise and fall are unknown.

“They are not alone,” says Kim Williams, architectural historian at the DC Historic Preservation Office.  “I think the design world must have preferred the new and young architect types, abandoning the older ones overnight.”

Builder M.H. Herriman had a career in Washington that spanned the first three decades of the 20th century. He also developed his own properties during that time, including the row at 111 to 125 W Street NW in 1905. Hunter & Bell were his architects on that project.

In 1910,2205 Flagler Place was occupied by the Smith family, George, Ida, and their three children. George Smith worked at the Post Office Department. The Smiths were white. LeDroit Park had changed from a white to a black neighborhood between 1893 and 1920. Bloomingdale was a hotbed of legal cases regarding the race of its residents up until the US Supreme Court ruled on a Bryant Street case in 1948, deciding that local governments could not enforce racially restrictive covenants on properties.

In 1930, Number 2205 Flagler Place was occupied by Lawrence Prince, a Pullman porter, his wife Lulu, and their three young sons.