As an example of the purpose-built Conventional Low-Rise apartment building, Texas Gardens was constructed to meet the challenges of housing the Washington region’s rapidly expanding population during the interwar period. Built in the Randle Highlands subdivision, part of the working-class Anacostia community which developed primarily between 1920 and 1950, Texas Gardens provided housing for a range of both single and married workers, who were indicative of DC’s economic diversification during this period. The building also embodies the defining characteristics of the Art Deco style and serves as an excellent and noteworthy example of the early modernist aesthetic—part of a broader modernization impulse that was transforming American tastes, perceptions, and lifestyles during the mid-twentieth century.
The land on which the Texas Gardens apartment building is located was first subdivided in 1891. A group of investors consisting of sugar magnate John W. Havemeyer, Congressmen Thomas J. Clunie and Archibald M. Bliss, and New York businessman Erwin C. Carpenter purchased the land in 1889. Three years later they subdivided the tract, historically part of the Naylor Farm, to form the East Washington Heights subdivision. In 1903, Arthur Randle purchased a large portion of the stalled East Washington Heights subdivision, and renamed it Randle Highlands. To provide streetcar access to the subdivision, Randle, in 1898, received a Congressional charter to establish the East Washington Heights Traction Railroad. The line was operational by 1905, and ran across the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge, terminating at Minnesota Avenue SE.
Substantive residential and commercial development; however, did not occur in the neighborhood until the mid-twentieth century. By 1919, the path of Texas Avenue had been laid out, but the squares situated to the east of Twenty-Fifth Street and to the south of Pennsylvania Avenue remained undeveloped. While building permits reveal that some construction was taking place during the 1920s in the area east of Twenty-Fifth Street, map review suggests that extensive building did not occur in this area until the World War II years and afterward. This activity was in part stimulated by the construction of a new Pennsylvania Avenue bridge in 1939, and during the 1940s the intersection of Pennsylvania and Minnesota Avenues SE, known as L’Enfant Square, emerged as a flourishing commercial district. This shopping district was anchored by the distinctive Art Deco-style Dobkin’s clothing store at 2324 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Like Texas Gardens, the striking brick two-story commercial building incorporates Art Deco elements into its design such as geometric panels and streamlining. Programs initiated by the Federal Housing Administration during the 1930s, intended to promote consumer activity through retail façade modernization, employed a spirited public relations campaign which vocally advocated for modernism in residential and commercial architecture during the Depression, in particular endorsing the streamlined aesthetic that was transforming the design of everything from automobiles and ocean liners to the packaging and design of consumer products.
DC Inventory: September 20, 2017
National Register: June 1, 2018