Thursday, June 21, 2012

Capitol Hill's Decline in the 1920s

I just loved reading Mary Z. Gray's 301 East Capitol, a memoir about life on Capitol Hill in the 1920s. Ms. Gray writes so engagingly about the place and the times. It reminded me of the hilarious and insightful memoirs by Betty McDonald about Pacific Northwest life around the same time. The book is also published by Ward 6's very own Overbeck History Press. Here is one particularly interesting passage about 1920s life on Capitol Hill:
It wasn't just that there were not other children around; all of Capitol Hill seemed to be becoming decrepit. If Mama weren't having Grandpap's elderly sisters to Sunday dinner, she was making 'courtesy calls' on maiden ladies in black dresses who cherished 'papa's' memory, and feared that their inheritance was not enough to see them through. Consequently, their inherited family houses badly needed upkeep and repairs, but the money wasn't there to do it. Many once-elegant houses were falling apart. Capitol Hill was beginning its downhill slide, which didn't begin to reverse upward for the next 30 or more years. (p. 89)
I have sent a message to Ms. Gray asking why this downhill slide happened in the 1920s, but I haven't yet heard back. The Great Depression didn't happen until 1929. Any ideas why this downhill slide occurred in the 1920s? 

P.S. She also talks about her parents going to a Mexican restaurant on, she thinks, Pennsylvania Ave. 


  1. Capitol Hill, like many central urban areas, experienced an economic decline in the 1920s due to the popularization of the car and suburban development.

  2. I just never think of suburbanization as so early, such as getting under way in the 1870s ( Somewhere around 1930, Mary Z. Gray's mother builds a brand-new house in NW near Rock Creek Park, so the suburbs might be quite close, at least to current-day observers.

  3. Ms. Gray talks about her relatives on 9th St SE, who had a three bedroom house with no running water (they have a well outside), which housed 12 children, the two parents, a grandparent, and a visiting Sioux Indian clergyperson/sculptor. With families that large, larger housing could be enticing.


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