McMorran’s “Digs” in Washington

Henry G. McMorran served as the US Congressional Representative for the 7th Congressional District of Michigan from 1903-1913 (United States, Congress, n.d.).  While in Washington, he and his family frequently took up residence at The Portland located in the Thomas Circle neighborhood. (The Port Huron Daily Times, 1909 & Detroit Free Press, 1912).

The Portland, circa 1924 (Source: DeFerrari, J., 2016, Streets of Washington Blog)

Built in 1879, it was designed by German architect, Adolf Cluss, and it was originally called The Portland Flats (Williams, P.K., 2001).  In later years, it was known as The Portland Hotel.  It was the first luxury apartment building in Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia, 2009).  It was built by Edward Weston, a retired banker and designed by Adolf Cluss.   Weston’s intent was to build an apartment building for the middle and upper class modeled after the popular “French Flats” in Paris.  This new architectural style was taking root in the United States after receiving noted attention and success in New York.  (National Republican, 1881).  Rutherford Stuyvesant was the man who brought this new housing design to New York.  It is said Stuyvesant visited Paris and admired the apartment buildings so much he decided to elicit the help of French designer Richard Morris Hunt to design the new building for him.  The Stuyvesant was finished in 1869, and the units were rented before it even opened its doors in 1870.  Up until Stuyvesant built The Stuyvesant in New York, some middle-class residents lived in row houses.  However, row houses were not a popular choice due to the stigmatism associated with working class tenement housing and poor design.  The new one-floor plan of the Stuyvesant eliminated the large number of stairs residents of row houses had to climb and created a comfortable space for them to live in. (Gray, Christopher, 2013).

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The Stuyvesant Apartment (Source: Library of Congress)

It was the mass appeal of “French Flat” living in New York that attracted Weston’s attention.  Weston and others interested in the real estate market in Washington D.C. believed this new form of housing could be the answer for those who temporarily took up winter residence in the area (National Republican, 1881).  They were right.  In 1912, twenty years after the Portland was built, Michigan Senators and US Representatives were taking up winter lodging there, including Senator Townsend of Jackson and Representative McMorran of Port Huron (Detroit Free Press, 1912)

A Sketch of The Portland and Thomas Circle, circa 1885 (Source: DeFerrari, J., 2016, Streets of Washington Blog)

The Portland was situated on the corner of 14th Street and Vermont on the southside of the Thomas Circle (Boese, K., 2009).  The neighborhood McMorran called home while in Washington was conceived as part of the L’Enfant Plan, an urban development plan, created in 1791 by Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant for President George Washington.  (Wikipedia, L’Enfant Plan, 2017).  It is marked by a circle in which stands an equestrian statute of Civil War General George Henry Thomas that was commissioned by John Quincy Adams Ward in 1879 (Wikipedia, Thomas Circle, 2017).  According to District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation, circles were used in the L’Enfant Plan to provide a strategic defensive boundary north of the White House (District of Columbia Department of Transportation, n.d.).

1905 Thomas Circle

View of Thomas Circle from The Portland 1905 (Source: Library of Congress)

According to the 1906 Digest of Appropriations for Support of the Government of the United States, there were appropriations specified to pay day watchmen throughout the city.  One of the areas where a watchman was designated was in Thomas Circle neighborhood (United States, 1906).  So, Henry McMorran would have come home after a long day’s work at the Capital in his private horse drawn carriage driven by a coachman over a pair of “Wilkes” steeds he owned and kept in the city for private use to the Portland Flats, a well watched area in town. (The Daily Herald, 1904).  He would have had the luxury of dining with his wife and family in one of the two communal dining halls located into the apartment building.  Or he could have taken the building elevator up to his private apartment suite that most likely included a parlor, dining room, three chambers, servant room, kitchen, pantry, and bathroom.  He would have appreciated a white-walled parlor, carved walnut dining room, and large, glass windows with inside shutters, a small elevator that could be used to send up any necessities he would require, an ash tub made with an iron door to send down his garbage to which a janitor was responsible for its disposal, electric bells throughout the apartment and a speaking tube to communicate his desires to the porter who was located in the basement (Our French Flat, National Republican, 1881).  His “digs” are not too shabby for a small-town boy from Port Huron, Michigan, who started from humble beginnings.

Sources:

Boese, K. (2009).  Then and Now the Portland Flats. Greater Greater Washington website.  Retrieved from:  https://ggwash.org/view/1732/then-and-now-the-portland-flats

DeFerrari, J. (2016).  History of the Portland Flats on Thomas Circle, Streets of Washington Blog.  [Photograph – The Portland, circa 1924 and Photograph – A Sketch of the Portland and Thomas Circle, circa 1885] Retrieved from:  https://networks.h-net.org/node/28441/discussions/107613/history-portland-flats-thomas-circle-1880-1962 and http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2016/01/the-portland-washingtons-first-luxury.htmlhttp://www.streetsofwashington.com/2016/01/the-portland-washingtons-first-luxury.html

Detroit Free Press.  “Michiganders in Washington.” (December 8, 1912).

District of Columbia (2009).  District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites.  Retrieved from:  https://planning.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/op/publication/attachments/Inventory%202009%200%20Alpha%20Version%2003%2011.pdf

Gray, Christopher.  “Apartment Buildings: The Lastest in French Ideas.” (July 11, 2013).  Retrieved from:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/realestate/apartment-buildings-the-latest-in-french-ideas.html?hp&_r=1&

National Republican.  Our Real Estate, The Condition of the Market:  An Interesting Interview with Several Prominent Dealers, New Features in Architecture, Washington as a Winter Residence,  An Active Spring Predicted (January 8, 1881).

National Republican.  Our French Flat (March 18, 1881).

The Daily Herald.  Brown City Banner Editor Accompanies the Michigan Newspapermen to Washington (Feburary 9, 1904).

Wikipedia (2017).  L’Enfant Plan.  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Enfant_Plan

Wikipedia (2017).  Thomas Circle.  Retrieved from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Circle

Williams, Paul, K. (2001).  The Neighborhoods of Logan, Scott, and Thomas Circles.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.

Library of Congress.  [Photograph – Thomas Circle from The Portland, 1905 and Sketch -The Stuyvesant Apartment].  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/item/2013646913/ and https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.ny0432.sheet/?q=stuyvesant+apartments+&sp=6

 

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