Takoma Hall in Takoma Park

Today's postcard view of Takoma Hall in the early 1900s looks like it could have been taken somewhere west of the Mississippi. The little town of Takoma Park, straddling the border between the District and Maryland was indeed a frontier outpost in those days, one of the first commuter suburbs meant to be accessed via the Baltimore & Ohio railroad line that ran through it. The town was founded in 1883 by Benjamin Franklin Gilbert (1841-1907) as a restful and healthful retreat from grimy downtown Washington.

Takoma Hall circa 1910 (author's collection).

In addition to beautiful and spacious Queen Anne houses that sprang up on the development’s new lots, a small commercial strip developed along the railroad tracks that had the look and feel of a frontier town. At its heart was an elegant little train station, designed by railroad architect Ephraim Francis Baldwin (1837-1916) and completed in 1886. Just to the east of the railroad station stood Watkins Hotel, a three-story frame structure that burned in 1893, the year after it was built. In its place rose Takoma Hall, constructed by the Masons as a meeting place for clubs and fraternal societies that also saw many other uses, including as a school, church, and bowling alley. In March 1895, the Washington Post noted approvingly that a comic opera entitled "Our American Minister" was playing at Takoma Hall, offering “plenty of good singing, bright costumes, and catchy music.”

More raucous than the comic opera was the exhibition of the Capital Poultry and Pigeon Association in January 1913. Every variety of chicken, from “ponderous Cochins, Brahmas, and Orpingtons” to little “red-game bantams” was on display at Takoma Hall, 1,000 birds altogether. The fighting gamecocks—such as a white Plymouth Rock capon, worth $1,700, that was displayed in the “freak” section of the show—were big draws. On the last day, two prize-winning black Cochin bantams, upon being taken out of their cages to be photographed, plunged into a frantic fight and had to be separated before either was seriously hurt. Meanwhile, an estimated $500 worth of eggs, laid throughout the show, were dropped and broken on the floor before it was all over. Despite these chaotic moments, the show’s organizers pronounced the whole affair a tremendous success and promised to bring even more birds the following year.

Another view of Takoma Hall, from the Library of Congress.
Takoma Hall was located at 317 Cedar Street NW just east of the railroad tracks. In later years it became the first home for the Bliss Electrical School and after that housed a variety of commercial enterprises. The building survived into the 1970s and was finally torn down to make way for Metro construction. The site is now open, partly paved space that is part of the Metrobus access area next to the Takoma Metrorail Station, which opened in 1978.

Diana Kohn and others at Historic Takoma, Inc., have researched and written extensively about the rich and fascinating history of Takoma Park, including Takoma Park: Portrait of a Victorian Suburb (1984) and the recent Images of America: Takoma Park (2011), available at Historic Takoma's website. The organization recently moved into new headquarters at 7328 Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland, and plans to hold a grand opening this fall.


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