Pictured above is something we'll not see again -- a fragment of the west wall of the Parkside Hotel at 1336 I St. NW, on the south edge of Franklin Square. Since last week, that wall has fallen to make way for an office building. Another bit of Washington's past has vanished -- to the good, based on a narrow view of recent history, but not so good if one goes deeper into the past.
Recently, and until a year or so ago, the Parkside was what is often called a "welfare hotel," where the city authorities warehouse families evicted or otherwise driven from their homes. Even before the welfare folks took over, a Washington Post reporter accurately described the Parkside as a "flophouse."
Let's go back. The Parkside was built in 1919, after what was then called the Great War, when Washington was preening in its newfound role as a world capital. Visitors poured in who didn't want to pay the high prices of the Willard or the Raleigh. A lot of good medium-sized hotels sprang up in those days, catering to tourists and government- related travelers.
When the Parkside was built, I Street and Franklin Square were at the northern edge of downtown Washington, a boundary between commerce to the south and residences to the north.
Henry K. Willard III, a banker and member of the hotel family and on the original appointed D.C. City Council, has recalled growing up on the north rim of Franklin Square, opposite the Parkside, when K Street was a fashionable residential boulevard. Old Franklin School on 13th Street was the square's crown jewel -- a school considered so advanced in 1876 that a model of it was displayed at the world's fair in Philadelphia.
On my arrival to spend my first night in Washington in January 1950, embarking upon a year as a congressional staff aide in a brief, yet instructive sidetrack from my journalistic career, a cabdriver delivered me to the Parkside. My recollection is fuzzy, other than that the hotel was clean, secure and costlier than I had anticipated -- isn't everything in Washington? -- and that I was able to buy in the lobby what has become my favorite newspaper.
In the years that followed, the square became a hangout for derelicts and hookers. It's on the way back up -- but at the price of becoming sterile.