Why does the old warehouse next to the Red Line tracks near the New York Avenue Station still have a lighted neon sign that says, "Woodward & Lothrop"? Mind you, I am not objecting, as it is a little taste of nostalgia.
George Teitelbaum, Silver Spring
Ah, nostalgia, that ambrosia-flavored concoction that does so much to soothe tired taste buds.
The department store chain Woodward & Lothrop -- much beloved by Washingtonians -- vanished in 1995 after being purchased by Federated Department Stores Inc., the owner of Macy's.
The old Woodies warehouse, at 131 M St. NE, has been officially designated a District of Columbia historic landmark. The 1939 building features "highly refined architectural expression unusual for [a] utilitarian structure," according to the description from the District's Historic Preservation Office.
"And that sign is part of the landmark designation," said Andrew Pellman of the Bristol Group, the San Francisco-based developer that owns the building and is converting it into office space. (It will be occupied sometime early next year, partly by General Services Administration tenants.)
All of this talk of the Woodward & Lothrop warehouse got Answer Man thinking about another local department store chain that soon will vanish: Hecht's. The May Department Stores Co., owner of Hecht's, merged with Federated over the summer. Hecht's stores will be converted to Macy's or sold to other, non-Federated retailers.
But what will become of the Hecht's warehouse on New York Avenue NE?
The cornerstone for the brick and glass-block art deco gem was laid in 1936. Even if you've never driven that stretch of New York Avenue, you've heard about the building, since radio and television traffic reporters often make reference to it, as in: "Ho-boy! Things are backed up all the way to the Hecht's warehouse."
In 1992, Hecht's spent $10 million to restore the building. It is also a historic landmark, so any plans to change the exterior -- including the sign -- would have to go through the District's preservation office.
"That will be interesting to see," said WTOP traffic guru Lisa Baden, who is among those for whom the warehouse is a landmark.
Names of the District's faded mercantile past live on in many ways. Hechinger hardware stores are gone, but the Hechinger Mall remains, and Lisa uses it as a reference point when talking about traffic along Benning Road NE.
On the other hand, she said, "on Wisconsin Avenue heading into Tenleytown, they had a Hechinger, and we no longer reference that because the store did change and the signage did change. So when [Hecht's] changes over to Macy's, or whatever they decide, we'll probably reference what used to be and what now is, until everyone gets used to what's happening right now."
And will it change? Federated spokeswoman Elina Kazan sent an e-mail that read, "There has been no decision or announcement made on the status of the warehouse."
Nostalgia is all nice and good, but Lisa Baden said precision is more important: "We're so transient here that to use landmarks or references for things that are very old does not work."
Which brings us to something called the "Lee Tire Curve," which is a sharp bend in the Schuylkill Expressway outside Philadelphia. The curve is across the river from an old tire plant in Conshohocken, Pa. The factory closed in 1980, but the sign remained. When a developer bought the property and converted it into an office park, he named it "Lee Park," hoping to capitalize on the free publicity it had gained from innumerable traffic reports.
It was only six months ago that the sign came down and a new name was revealed: Spring Mill Corporate Center.
"Still, the old guard calls it the Lee Tire Curve," said Mike Balitsaris, president of Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc., the site's owner. The company is hoping to find a tenant who will pony up to have its name replace "Lee Tire Curve" in traffic reports. They would pay a local radio station to make such announcements as, "Traffic starts to slow at the Acme Widgets Curve."
No other building in the area would have that advantage, said Mike. To have your name on news radio 20 or more times an hour "is pretty good advertising," he said.
But couldn't that juxtaposition bring with it some unpleasant connotations?
"We had two thoughts," said Mike. "One is: Even bad press is good press." The other, he said, is: "If you worked in Conshohocken, you'd be home now. I think there's just as much positive."
Anyone want to buy naming rights for the Mixing Bowl?
Today we enter Week 3 of our campaign to raise $600,000 for Children's Hospital. Marlene, a reader from Haymarket, included this note with her check: "I have two healthy children for which I will always be grateful. Bless you for helping these kids."
No, bless you, and all of our donors.
There are three easy ways you may contribute:
Make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.
Go online to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital and click on "Make a Donation."
To contribute by Visa or MasterCard by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on the recorded message.
Julia Feldmeier helped research this column. Questions? Write email@example.com.