From the 1880s into the 20th century, the department store Woodward & Lothrop drove retailing practices and tactics in DC and beyond. This service warehouse represented another strategic shift toward improving the store’s operations and maximizing its capacity.
Founded in Massachusetts in 1873 by Samuel Woodward and Alvin Lothrop, Woodward & Lothrop met with immediate success upon moving to DC in 1880. The marketing innovations that Woodward & Lothrop embraced, such as offering exchange privileges and cash refunds, earned favor and loyalty among customers. The store’s owners’ willingness to change established practices and do business differently than their peers frequently paid off. For instance, when Woodward & Lothrop moved from their storefront on Pennsylvania Avenue to a larger one on F Street, NW, outside of the established commercial district, the commercial district expanded anew to encompass their new location.
The trend of building off-site warehouses stemmed from multiple places: additional storage space, offloading of non-income production (such as repair services and other maintenance functions), and optimizing shipping needs. For Woodward & Lothrop, the new service warehouse allowed the flagship store to increase its in-store merchandise because other services and equipment had been re-located off-site. In turn, the shipping, delivery, and repairs departments had dedicated spaces to operate without getting in the way of the store’s main purpose: serving customers. Finally, the warehouse’s location along major transportation thoroughfares, specifically the railyards, made shipping more efficient for both the customer and the company.
Designed by Abbott, Merkt & Company, an architecture firm known for their warehouse work, the Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehouse is notable for the Streamline Moderne style it models. Derived from Art Deco, Streamline Moderne stripped away some of Art Deco’s more decorative elements, opting instead for sleekness and modernity inspired by aerodynamic design. The long vertical lines on the warehouse are typical of this style.
Shortly before designing the Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehouse, Abbott, Merkt & Company had designed the nearby Hecht Company Warehouse, another Streamline Moderne-style building. Although the warehouses are stylistically compatible, Woodward & Lothrop needed a building that looked distinct enough from their competitor’s that no one would view it as a copy. The rounded corners and horizontal design of the Hecht Company Warehouse contrast with the Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehouse’s square corners and vertical lines.
Built to be fireproof, the six-story building’s reinforced concrete structure is clad in two-toned beige brick with limestone accents. Several sections of circular columns contribute to the linear design of the building. Since Woodward & Lothrop’s liquidation in 1995, the warehouse’s interior has been converted to office space, but the distinctive, three-story neon sign bearing the company’s name remains a visible reminder of its original purpose.
The space, located in the NoMA neighborhood, has since been redeveloped into office space under a new name, One NoMA Station. The building underwent major interior renovations to transform into its current iteration, but still features its original exterior facade.
DC Inventory: January 27, 1993
National Register: February 15, 2005
This site is a stop on the “Finding Style in DC: Navigating DC’s Shopping Scene” tour.