Did you know October is Archives Month? In honor of the event our own archivist, Elizabeth Borja, shares a recent discovery in the collection:
Growing up in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, DC, one of the greatest weekend activities for me (aside from visiting Smithsonian museums or the Zoo) was to window shop at the big downtown department stores Woodward and Lothrop, the Hecht Company (affectionately known as Woodies and Hecht's), and Garfinckel's. My mother had a Washington Shopping Plate—a credit card that could be used at local stores—and I loved watching the clerks use the imprinter to copy her card using carbon slips.
As I was flipping through a set of historical National Air and Space Museum photographs in the Archives a few months ago, one caught my eye—was that a Hecht’s window display? Upon closer examination, it was! But the display from the 1950s wasn’t highlighting the usual dresses, jackets, or shoes. Instead, it featured models from the National Air Museum in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Anacostia Naval Air Station (NAS) in Washington, DC.
The Anacostia Naval Air Station was commissioned on January 1, 1919. Its location on the river made it a good site to test seaplanes. The Pigeon School, which trained 19 specialists who handled and cared for more than 500 birds, also moved into the Station. Over the next 30 years, flight testing continued as well as radio and electronics testing. The Spirit of St. Louis returned from its triumph in Paris on the USS Memphis and docked at Anacostia. The first glider released from a dirigible landed at Anacostia. Eleanor Roosevelt christened the first Pan Am American Clippers at Anacostia. In 1961, the air station closed, its functions moved to Andrews Air Force Base.
At the time of the NAS Anacostia 30th Anniversary in 1950, the National Air Museum had only been legislatively created four years before. But there was no authorization for the construction of a building. According to the NASM autobiography, any aircraft that had been stored at a Douglas plant in Park Ridge, Illinois (now the site of O’Hare Airport), were going to be evicted with the onset of conflict in Korea. Head curator of the museum at the time, Paul Garber, found land in Suitland, Maryland, for collections storage which later was named the Paul E. Garber Facility. Collection artifacts were also displayed in the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and, apparently, the Hecht Company as well.
Now Hecht’s, Woodies, and Garfinckel’s are gone. Every now and then, you’ll find a remnant of the old DC department stores still around. Just last year, I bought a Garfinckel’s brand dress from a vintage stand with the original tags still on it! The buildings themselves remain landmarks in downtown DC, reminders of its history. Check out what other Smithsonian Archives are up to!