The Southwest Neighborhood Assembly recently submitted to the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board a nomination to give protection to the southeastern portion of the Randall Rec Center. Now used for recreation purposes, the red brick building on the corner of South Capitol and I St SW, which sits across the street from the Capitol Skyline Inn, used to be the city’s animal pound. If approved, landmark designation would protect the outside of the building and ensure that any modifications would preserve the general appearance of the structure and its yard. The ANC, interested community organizations and neighbors will all have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed designation.
The research on the building’s history was conducted by volunteer local historian Hayden Wetzel (who also researched the now-landmarked Dent House at 2nd and Q St SW), who has become so intrigued by the history of pound operations and animal control in DC that he has continued his work and plans to write a book on the subject. The building that we see today, still looking very much as it did when it was dedicated, was constructed for $10,000 in 1912 with the central connecting section added seven years later. The architect was the Municipal Architect at that time, Snowden Ashford, who also designed numerous schools and fire stations in the city, most notably the old Western High School (now Ellington School of the Arts), and the northern addition to Eastern Market.
The new building was “one of the best equipped institutions of its kind in the country.” It held twelve pens for impounded dogs (holding 12 animals each) plus four separate pens for mad dogs, “an up-to-date asphyxiating plant,” the Health Department stable (12 stalls), an office and an interior court, and sheds for wagons. It also incorporated “an experiment room for the bacteriological branch of the department.” By the time of the 1919 addition the Pound Service, like all DC agencies, was replacing its horses with motorized vehicles, and so the stable became a garage. There was no substantial modification to the building after that time, although the interior has, naturally, been gutted of the pens and the asphyxiating plant is gone.
Older neighbors still remember visiting the pound before it moved to its present location on New York Ave NE in 1966, where it is now operated for the city by the Washington Humane Society. No one today remembers the time when it held not only dogs, and briefly cats, but also horses and the occasional cow or hog. By 1912 these stray farm animals had pretty much disappeared from Washington streets, but the earlier pound facility, located at 23rd and C St NW from 1871 to 1912, just west of the Dept. of State building, took in nearly as many larger animals as it did dogs in its early days. Cats were never a major factor in pound operations, largely because they are so difficult to catch.
The old District Pound and Stable represents a significant, if quirky, souvenir of the city’s history and its efforts to bring order and sanitation to our public areas. We are fortunate to have it in such good condition and ready for a new, if probably less exotic, use.
By: Kael Anderson