|The Equitable Building in 2010. Photo by the author.|
Equitable was founded in 1879 by a group of leading citizens, including John Joy Edson, who would become its president in 1893. It was one of the first such associations to be founded in Washington. The intent of these small institutions was to encourage ordinary people to save money and also to make it easier for them to purchase homes by making loans on better terms than traditional banks offered. Members would "subscribe" to one or more shares of the association, pay modest monthly dues on those shares, and receive dividends in return as well as access to low-rate loans.
|John Joy Edson, circa 1903. Source; Library of Congress.|
Washington Loan & Trust was the first trust company in the city and for many years the largest. It built and occupied the huge Romanesque Revival structure on the southwest corner of 9th and F Street, NW, across the street from Equitable. In running the two institutions, Edson had both the power and prestige of the large savings and loan company as well as the good karma of the smaller cooperative association across the street.
|The Washington Loan & Trust Company building. Photo by the author.|
The Equitable building was designed by two distinguished Washington architects, Frederick B. Pyle (1867-1934) and Arthur B. Heaton (1875-1951). Pyle was an accomplished Washington architect who designed several landmark D.C. buildings, including the restrained, neoclassical "modern" half of the Woodward & Lothrop building, the 1903 Hecht Company building at 7th and F Streets NW, and the King's Palace store at 810 7th Street NW. He also served on Equitable's board, so his connections made him a logical choice for the new building. However, it was Heaton who probably did most of the actual design work. Heaton was an extraordinarily prolific and versatile architect who worked on many buildings in a wide range of styles, including the National Cathedral, the Highland Apartments at 1915 Connecticut Avenue NW, and a variety of banks, such as Chevy Chase National Bank at 5524 Connecticut Avenue NW. For the Equitable, he designed an elegant, neoclassical structure of buff-colored brick with columns and trimwork of white Dover marble. A pair of massive bronze doors marks the entrance. Despite the modest size of the building, the main banking room inside is a grand, soaring space with monumental Corinthian pilasters along the walls and a gently arched, coffered ceiling with a central skylight. The wood finishes are Mexican mahogany. The Washington Post found the new building beautiful and noteworthy, and the Evening Star called it an "ornament for F Street."
|The entrance. Photo courtesy of the D.C. Preservation League archives.|
One day in May 1928, 82-year-old Edson was on F Street outside the Equitable building, and he stepped into the street, presumably to cross over to his other bank on the opposite side. He was struck by a car that was backing into a parking space and suffered a fractured skull. Doctors at first thought it unlikely that he would recover, but he quickly did and in fact lived another 7 years.
After Edson's death, the Equitable Co-operative Building Association continued to prosper and grow for decades, changing its name to the Equitable Savings and Loan Association in 1955. The association had opened its first branch office in 1953 when it acquired a small Wheaton, Maryland, savings bank. It took over another small Maryland bank in 1962, and soon its directors decided that the institution's future was in the suburbs. Despite legal obstacles, it was able to transfer its headquarters to Wheaton in 1971 and still keep its downtown location. However, in 1985, Equitable finally decided to close its venerable downtown home and move its operations entirely to Maryland. Renamed again in the 1990s, the Equitable Federal Savings Bank continued to operate from its Wheaton, Maryland headquarters until it was acquired by BB&T Corporation in 2003.
|The building toward the end of its life as a bank. Photo courtesy of the D.C. Preservation League archives.|
|The building circa 1989. Photo courtesy of the D.C. Preservation League archives.|
|The main banking room is being used temporarily as an antiques showroom. Photo by the author.|
Sources for this article included Fred A. Emery, "Banks and Bankers in the District of Columbia" in Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 46-47 (1947); Merrill Edwards Gates, ed., Men of Mark in America (1905); Constance McLaughlin Green, Washington: A History of the Capital 1800-1950 (1962); John Clagett Proctor, ed., Washington Past and Present: A History (1930); the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the Equitable Co-operative Building Association (1994); the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board landmark decision (1994); and numerous newspaper articles.