Swanson took this picture for DOCUMERICA, a photography program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From 1972 to 1977, it hired over 100 photographers to “document subjects of environmental concern.” They created an archive of about 80,000 images. In addition to recording damage to the nation’s landscapes, the project captured “the era’s trends, fashions, problems, and achievements,” according to the Archives, which held an exhibit of the photos, “Searching for the Seventies,” in 2013.
“Morning mail, Omaha, Nebraska,” November 1938, by John Vachon.
“On the porch of a general store in Hinesville, Georgia,” April 1941, by Jack Delano.
The photos show cast iron stoops and steps, which were typical in many D.C. neighborhoods after the city’s building boom of the 1870s.
“Iron was strong, inexpensive to produce, manufactured quickly, and easily assembled with little on-site labor,” according to an interesting pamphlet by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society on the history and care of old cast iron and wrought iron.
“Washington had five foundries in 1870 and fifteen most years from 1895 to 1905,” according to the pamphlet. Because of the industry’s dependence on water (or rail) connections to obtain raw materials, they “were usually in Georgetown, near the canal terminus, or along Maine Avenue on the Potomac River Waterfront.”
At first, I thought that both of the photographs above were of the same two houses. Then I realized that the screen doors are different and that the brickwork over the windows is painted white in only one of the pictures.
The narrow open passageway between both sets of houses is interesting.
You can see what the corner of N and Union (now 6th) Streets, S.W., looks like today here.
In the windows of the houses with the children on the steps, you can just see the families’ Blue Star service flags (put your cursor on the slideshow to pause it). They reveal that the family on the left had one son in the war and the family on the right had two. (A gold star on a window flag would indicate that a son had been killed.)
The neighborhood is not given, although it looks like Capitol Hill to me.
In his book, The American Porch, Michael Dolan attempts to trace the European, African, and Asian origins of our many kinds of porches. The front stoop — several steps and a small landing — came from the Dutch.
Down the coast [from New England], in Nieuw Amsterdam, a different entry was proliferating. Made of stone or brick, the stoep — Dutch for “step” — was a roofless link between doorway and street. Though municipal tradition required a building’s occupants to maintain the stoep, the Dutch deemed it public territory. However, in Nieuw Amsterdam, the stoop acquired a private connotation: “. . . before each door there was an elevation, to which you could ascend by some steps from the street,” an observer wrote. “It resembled a small balcony, and had some benches on both sides on which the people sat in the evening, in order to enjoy the fresh air, and have the pleasure of viewing those who passed it.”
The stoops above lack benches, but the owner of the first one has brought down a chair, and two doors down there is a park bench in the tiny garden. You can see a similar arrangement here.
I’m taking a break from blogging for a couple more weeks (except for “The Sunday porch”), but I’ll be back for GB Bloom Day in October.