TALE OF TAKOMA: Portrait of Fourth Street NW

1920s - marchers on Cedar, NW, west of the underpass.

PHOTO: The Independence Day Parade, 1920s, passes businesses west of the train (now also Metro) underpass along Cedar Avenue (now Carroll Avenue) NW at the intersection of Fourth Street, NW. Photo: Historic Takoma Inc.

TALE OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN

Fourth Street, NW, the setting for Saturday’s block party, has a long history of retail in Takoma Park.

In the early 1900s, this small block was in the center of Takoma Park’s commercial activity. The corner of Fourth and Blair and Cedar was at the intersection of rail and trolley connections. The turreted train station stood steps away between Blair Road and the railroad tracks, offering 20 trips a day to DC.

A train pulls into Takoma Station

Takoma train station. Photo: Historic Takoma Inc.

Beginning in April 1893, this block of Fourth Street was the terminus of the Brightwood Electric Railway service to downtown DC. An additional spur trolley line soon ferried passengers up Carroll Avenue toward Sligo Creek.

The mix of train and trolley passengers prompted developer Heber L. Thornton to build the storefronts that stand today along the western side of 4th Street.  Combined with the stores along Cedar Street, this area was the commercial hub decades before any retail buildings existed on the Laurel and Carroll side of town.

The year 1912 marked a radical change at the train crossing.  An elaborate underpass was dug and cars that once crossed the tracks at grade level could now travel safely underneath the tracks.  Some of the new establishments along Fourth and Blair took on a more industrial tone, like Dome Oil, which delivered home heating oil door-to-door.  (S&S Liquor stands on the site of the oil storage tanks).

photo-takomatheatre
Takoma Theatre in recent times.

Then in 1923, the opening of Takoma Theatre at Fourth and Butternut gave local residents access to one of the first neighborhood movie theaters in the region.

Thornton was the major force behind the development of the block. His grandfather was Gottlieb Grammer, a German immigrant who did well for himself as a merchant, and whose landholdings included much of what became Takoma Park. Thornton descendants still own the original block of storefronts.

In addition to Fourth Street, Thornton’s interests included brokering the sale of land to the Seventh-day Adventist Church for their move to Takoma Park in 1903 and building a second set of storefronts along Carroll and Laurel Avenues. That was in the mid-twenties.

Meanwhile, on Fourth Street, train travel waned and buses replaced trolleys. Safeway and People’s Drugs added their logos to Fourth Street. Then came the tumult of the North Central Freeway fight beginning in 1964. By the time the dust had settled, the Metro station had radically altered the local landscape. Federal money helped revamp the Fourth and Blair intersection in the 1980s, an effort that continues to be revisited.

In 1984, Billy Boyd opened Takoma Station, a “venue that incorporated the spirit of family, community and unwavering support of local musical talent,” especially jazz which continues to be the anchor of the block. The quote is from the plaque placed on the Station’s storefront.

The 4th Street Block Party features music, food trucks and kids activities on Saturday, Sept 19 from 4:00 – 7:00 PM.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.