The houses along this block were among the first to be built in Bloomingdale, and defined First Street as the neighborhood’s premier architectural corridor. Deed covenants restricted the block to white residents, but in 1907 black civil engineer Francis deSales Smith bought 2206 First Street. A neighbor sued, alleging the sale would “do irreparable injury to the residents and depreciate the value of the adjacent properties,” reported the Washington Post.
The Washington Times declared that Harrison v. Smith would be “the first case brought before the local courts in which the citizenship of a whole community had banded together to prevent a colored person from occupying a residence among them.” The contributors to a fund supporting legal action against Smith included American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers, who lived down the street. Smith apparently succumbed to the pressure. By 1910, he and his family had moved out of the neighborhood to 1216 Girard Street NW and a white government clerk and his family had replaced them at this address.
In the 1920s, white residents of this block and throughout much of Bloomingdale circulated agreements obligating signers and future owners to sell or rent only to white people. This form of covenant covered properties that had not been restricted when first developed, or in some cases reinforced existing covenants, and became legally binding when filed with DC’s Recorder of Deeds. In 1924, white residents also launched the North Capitol Citizen, a newspaper “devoted to antinegro propaganda,” according to the Washington Post. In its first issue, the paper announced the availability of “For White Occupants” signs to residents selling houses.