By M. Marie Maxwell
Last time I wrote here on the Text Message blog, I had written about the Old Georgetown Act Numbered Case Files (ARC 559486), found in Record Group 66, Records of the Commission of Fine Arts, and highlighted some photographs from the 1950s. The Case Files, show what the area of Georgetown, a neighborhood in Washington, DC, looked like as applicants asked for permission to put up signage or make changes to their properties.
In file OG-94-88 of the Old Georgetown Act Numbered Case Files, the property was a large building on M Street, one of the large commercial corridors that runs through Georgetown. In 1994 when the file was submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts, it contained several photographs of the building. The building was marked with graffiti. Fast forward to the end of 2011, where after many years as a bookstore for a major chain, it closed its doors and in 2012 sits vacant. When the bookstore was open, several floors held books and people and a small coffee shop.
On a recent trip to Georgetown, I took a photo of the former bookstore to compare it to the 1994 photograph found in the file. There are various changes. The streetlights have changed, the newspaper boxes on the street and the big parking sign are gone, the entrance is on the M Street side, the windows do not open, and the paint has been removed. What has appeared are some decorative items on the top of the building, an addition that holds a chain clothing store, and traffic lights. Though, there may have been a traffic light there in 1994, and if there was a light, it was not captured in the photograph. What stays the same is the bus stop where one can take the 30 bus back to the National Archives to look at the file OG 94-88 to see more pictures of this building.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a name or address index at the National Archives, matching the OG file numbers to persons or places. The Commission of Fine Arts or a local historic preservation organization may have that information. A property owner whose property falls within the Georgetown Historic District may find the photographs, building plans, drawings and other file material of interest, particularly if they are planning to make alterations or researching the property.
Business historians may find interest in the series because changes of the commercial corridors can be observed by combing through the files for new or changing signage. I noticed that in the 1990s, the retail store called the Gap, underwent several changes to the font of its signage, changes that are captured in the files. So when a new venture adds a sign to the streetscape to advertise themselves, there is a chance there is an application for that sign in this series.