The warehouse on Seventh Street NW was built in 1906 by the George M. Barker Company, a millwork and lumber firm established just after the Civil War. By the 1870s, Barker’s business had become relatively successful, and they had made enough of a profit to construct another warehouse and storefront in New York Avenue NW in 1872. The company continued to thrive and between 1870 and 1920, DC’s population had tripled, resulting in a significant increase in construction projects across the city. The Barker Company was in a good position for this as a mill and lumber firm, and their adoption of water and steam-powered woodworking machinery led to successful mass productions of millwork for the city’s new projects.
The company’s founder, George W. Barker, passed away in 1889, and management of the business passed to his wife, and then to his sons and his daughter, Flora Welch. After taking over the business, Welch commissioned the construction of this Seventh Street warehouse in March 1906. Arthur M. Poynton, a construction superintendent for the D.C. Inspector of Buildings, designed the warehouse and presumably oversaw the construction, which was officially completed in February 1907. The company’s new warehouse site proved to be very beneficial to their production and by 1912, Barker Company had taken advantage of technological advancements of transportation methods. By leaving behind horse-drawn methods of transportation and adopting the use of motor vehicles, such as trucks, the company outpaced its competition in the city and found itself increasingly successful.
In 1919, the Barker Company had announced that it had supplied the millwork for twelve hundred houses and over sixty apartment buildings in DC. They also boasted their work with Harry Wardman, a very successful and well known master builder in the city. Barker Company has supplied Wardman with 3, 600 interior doors, 2,300 windows, 1,000 pairs of blinds, and other millworks for the Wardman Park Hotel. After Welch’s death in the mid-1930s, the company continued to remain successful; however, as time went on it had begun to fade from its earlier prominence. During the 1950s, the Shaw neighborhood surrounding the warehouse had been experiencing significant economic deterioration. This was further complicated after the actions following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, when multiple buildings in the area had been destroyed due to arson. Barker Company’s Seventh Street warehouse became vacant during this time and would continue to be up until the mid-1990s, when it would be renovated and used by a local organization called Bread for the City.
In 1974, a volunteer-run medical clinic, named Zacchaeus Free Clinic, was started in the city. Around the same time in 1976, Bread for the City, a public outreach organization was created to help low-income residents in DC. These two groups worked independently from one another until 1994, when they merged together. The new partnership continued to use the name Bread for the City, and it was during this time that they made the Barker warehouse their headquarters. Since 1994, Bread for the City still remains at the old warehouse and has opened up multiple satellite sites in the city, including an office in Anacostia. This organization continues to be a significant support system for DC’s poorer residents by providing the community with food, free health care, clothing, as well as social and legal services.
Additional significance of the Barker Warehouse lies in its scarcity as a reminder of a largely vanished kind of building and economy. In a city that was never strongly industrial, working buildings were needed mainly for production and refinement of articles and foodstuffs for local consumption, as well as for the storage of goods made elsewhere. As a result, small workshops and storage yards were scattered along streets and alleys throughout the city where they would be proximate both to customers and housing for employees. The warehouse recalls the fine-grained mixture of uses once found in the city’s urban neighborhoods, especially in the days before zoning. The two-story brick building with heavy timber framing is an excellent and evocative example of its type. Its brick and terra cotta facade now dominates the block, but originally stood cheek by jowl with stores, row houses, and the (now demolished) Broadway Theatre.
DC designation: May 22, 2008
National Register listing: August 26, 2008