The history and boundaries of Foggy Bottom are as murky as its nickname, likely derived from the mists of the Potomac's swampy shore.
Blowing away the fog on the occasion of its 40th anniversary this week, the Foggy Bottom Association will offer tours, lectures, music, cruises and painting exhibitions about the Northwest Washington neighborhood roughly bordered by Rock Creek Park, Virginia Avenue and 23rd Street, the Potomac River and N Street. Ellie Becker, president of the association, says the boundaries are hard to define.
The invaluable book "The City of Washington" by the Junior League of Washington traces the neighborhood to 1786, when Jacob Funk, a German immigrant, bought land enough to divide into 287 lots. He named his town Hamburgh; some called it Funkstown.
In 1791, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson considered the area as a Capitol site, but decided on Jenkins Hill instead. In 1807, George and Andrew Way opened the Glass House on 22nd Street, making glass toys and singing bottles, Kathryn Smith notes in "Washington at Home." The area also housed a gasworks, and two gas storage tanks rose high between 24th and 27th streets, where the Watergate apartments were built in 1963-1967.
Foggy Bottom has always been a diverse community, including people of Irish, German and Italian descent and freed slaves. Washington's first African American Episcopal church, St. Mary's, was built on 23rd Street in 1886, designed by James Renwick, architect of the Smithsonian Castle. With hand-carved pews, red marble floors and Tiffany windows in the Victorian Gothic style, it is one of the city's most important architectural designs.
The Chronicler was fortunate to talk with two longtime inhabitants of the neighborhood who bask in living in Foggy Bottom. Both came to town in wartime and stayed to see the neighborhood thrive as university and government offices and family houses learned to live with each other. Both their families have held offices in the Foggy Bottom and the West End neighborhood associations.
Hazel Marie Hanback's parents, the Smallwoods, came to Washington from The Plains, Va., in 1918, so that their daughter could be born at Sibley Hospital, Mrs. Hanback said. The Smallwoods liked the town and bought a house on F Street, and then the one next door, both built in 1906. Hazel Smallwood's future husband, lawyer William Hanback, lived nearby.
Mrs. Hanback remembers Christian Heurich's brewery, which flourished on the Potomac, between 23rd and 26th, D and Water streets, from 1895 until Prohibition. "When I was growing up," she said, "we'd hear the 23rd Street fire engines racing down the street. 'Going for their beer,' we'd say."
In 1956, the brewery became Arena Stage's home, until its present building was completed in 1961. The theater's nickname then, Old Vat, came from the brewery's kettles.
Early in the century, Mrs. Hanback recalled, "the neighborhood was very international, diverse. . . . Some were children of diplomats. We talked and played together without the prejudice that came later. Most went to Central High School." Over the years, the Riverside and the Mayflower apartments were home to famous singers, radio personalities and commentators, Hanback said, including Arthur Godfrey, Bob Trout and Kate Smith.
The Foggy Bottom Metro stop was far in the future. "I looked the other day at a narrow street still with streetcar tracks," Mrs. Hanback said, "and wondered how a streetcar and automobile could possibly have made it through, especially with the wood platform that wasn't removed until 1932."
James and Lucille Molinelli met and married in Foggy Bottom during World War II. She was one of the new career girls in 1943 looking for wartime opportunities. She became a manager with a quantity food service serving government agencies. He was a pioneer in computer science (then, she said, called data processing) as early as the late 1920s.
In the Records of the Columbia Historical Society 1951-2, an earlier chronicler tells about George "Pete" Dailey--proprietor of Pete's Restaurant on the west end of Columbia Plaza. Foggy Bottom News columnist and historian John Graves confirmed the story that a goat lived on a vacant lot next door and came in regularly for beer.
Over the years, the residential nature of Foggy Bottom changed. The World Bank, the Federal Reserve and other government buildings went up after World War II. The State Department took over the former War Department building in 1947 and greatly expanded it. In March 1954, the District Zoning Commission sanctioned rezoning Foggy Bottom from residential to commercial.
But F.B.A. President Becker said George Washington University posed more of a threat to the residences than did the other large buildings that rose in the area. In 1912, the university began to buy up land in the area, E.J. Applewhite writes in "Washington Itself." At first it occupied a row house at 2023 G St. NW, according to "Buildings of the District of Columbia," by Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. This month, GWU bought the former Howard Johnson hotel across from the Watergate for a freshman dormitory.
"We can only try to be sure that what they do is legal," Becker said, "and that they don't harm the houses."
For information about the week's events, call Olga Corey at 202-337-3196.
CAPTION: Shedding light on Foggy Bottom: The painting "25th St.: Early Spring" by William D'Italia.