OLD WASHINGTON (Treasury Neighborhood)
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 27, 1910 [pt. 3, p. 3]
The demolition of the marble-front building on 15th street between F and G streets northwest, erected about fifty years ago by the banking firm of H.D. Cooke & Co., and occupied by that firm and the First National Bank until 1873, will make a break in the solid front of that square, though but temporarily. It was not always a solid front, for there are many living who recall when there were but four houses there, with unimproved ground intervening. One of these, erected over a hundred years, is yet standing, and has been but little changed by its recent renovation. This is the building at the corner of 15th and F streets, and it has been intimately associated with the history of the city for a century.
Before much progress had been made in the erection of the public buildings, and when the primeval soil formed the street beds, the officers of the government had resumed work July 1, 1800. A tavern was in full blast on the corner of 15th and F streets. Lot 6, square 224, seventy-five feet front of 15th street and sixty feet front on F street, was bought in 1797 by Benton Fenwick, and was at once improved. Mr. Fenwick established a tavern, but died before 1802, when the property was assessed to Fenwick's heirs at $8,000. Then it became Rhodes' Hotel for a few years, and next was a popular boarding house, with Mrs. Sutler in charge. In 1811 John P. Van Ness, then regarded as the richest man in Washington, having married Marcia Burns, sole heiress to the many lots apportioned her father as an original proprietor, formed a partnership with Thomas Monroe in the banking business, and established on the corner. Col. Monroe was equally as well known as his partner. He had been the superintendent of the city and was then the city postmaster.
The firm Van Ness & Munroe formed the germ of the Bank of the Metropolis which was incorporated six years later. Gen. Van Ness was the first president of the bank, in which were associated Col. B. Ogle Taylor, Col. James Thompson, John Boyle, all well known department people; Charles Hill of Prince George county, Peter Lennox, a leading builder, and the Rev. O.B. Brown, pastor of the First Baptist Church, and principal clerk of the Post Office Department. Gen. Van Ness remained president till his death in 1846.
It is related that when the British were here, ninety-six years ago, and the Treasury building opposite was in flames, a detachment appeared in front of the building, the officers supposing it to be public property, and were about to apply a match. Capt. James Hogan, who lived a few doors east, made an appeal to the officers to spare the property, as the owner was a poor widow. The officer remarked, "She must be, to own such property," but withdrew his men. The offices of the Treasury were located there a few years after the destruction, but moved back to the Treasury building when it was restored.
The bank started in 1817 and remained there until 1820, when it occupied a brick building erected for banking purposes a few yards north, since replaced by a marble bank building. The old structure for many years was occupied by professional men, among them Clark & Quantrell, and the lower portion was used for banking purposes.
In 1839 W.W. Corcoran moved his banking business from the Avenue above 14th street, and occupied the lower floor. The following year, George W. Riggs becoming a partner, the firm of Corcoran & Riggs commenced, which for many years, from 1845, was located in the old United States Bank, on the site of the present American Security and Trust building. At the old stand, 15th and F streets, T.W. Pairo followed in the same business, at one time as Pairo & Nourse. In 1851 St. John Church bought the property, and Chubb & Schenck and Chubb Brothers continued the business, followed by others. The Press Club has its quarters there now.
On the lot north there was a fine three-story brick dwelling, erected and owned by Mrs. Fenwick, a hundred years ago. In the twenties and thirties it was the residence of Col. Truman Cross, then an assistant inspector general, and afterward the quartermaster general, of the United States army. He accompanied Gen. Taylorís army to Mexico, but before reaching Mexican soil, he was killed. He was a native of Prince George county, Md., son of a revolutionary officer and long a resident of this city, and was very popular as a citizen as well as officer. When, during the war, his remains were brought to this city every volunteer military body in the District united with a vast concourse of citizens in escorting it to the place of interment.
Before the Mexican war Gen. Winfield Scott had his headquarters there, and also resided there during the administration of President Pierce.
As before stated, the Bank of Metropolis erected in 1820 a substantial brick building northward, and under that name and that of the National Metropolitan Bank, it has had a career of ninety-three years. After Cook & Co. were established on the lot north, and the First National Bank was formed, a charter was given to a National Bank of the Metropolis, which, for several years carried on business on the old site at the corner of 15th and F streets. When the bank organized under the national banking laws it took the name of National Metropolitan Bank.
On the corner occupied by the Riggs House Col. Munroe erected early in the century a substantial brick building of two houses. Prior to 1820 the corner became known as Wolf's French Hotel, and some years afterward was Mark's Tavern. Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Brown, commanding the army, lived there a few years before his death, February 24, 1828. He, like Col. Cross was a popular officer and citizen. He stood high in Masonic circles, and his funeral was attended by a large military escort and the grand and subordinate lodges of Masons. The Masonic rites were performed at Congressional Cemetery. Later Commodore J.H. Aulick resided in the south house, and the corner building was used as a public house by Louis LaBille and Paul Kinchey, both of whom were prominent. In the forties and fifties Mrs. Ulrich kept a leading boarding house patronized largely by members of Congress, diplomats and officials of the government. At that period the representatives of Prussia, Baron Gerolt; Belgium, Mr. Surreys; of the Netherlands, the Chevalier Testa, and Argentina, Gen. De Olivier, were with her, and among the congressmen were Representatives H.J. Seaman and W.W. Campbell of New York, R. Broadhead of Pennsylvania, J.A. Rockwell of Connecticut and W. Wright of New Jersey.