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A new bookshelf in West End Library will feature the history of local neighborhoods

Ann Duan | Photographer
Readers lounge at tables in the West End Library.

The storied rowhouses and alleyways of Foggy Bottom and West End will soon be featured in a library shelf about local history next month.

The Foggy Bottom Association History Project and the West End Library began collaborating in November to develop a new local history bookshelf for the library. The shelf, which will be located toward the back of the library when it launches next month, will include titles on the District’s history, along with biographies of famous neighborhood residents like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Duke Ellington.

Robert Schneider, the manager and supervising librarian at West End Library, said many of the titles that will move to the shelf were already in the D.C. Library’s collection, which houses books about locals in sporadic libraries around the District, normally at the locations the most recent borrowers returned them. He said the shelf is part of the library’s broader efforts to connect with the Foggy Bottom community.

“What we wanted to do was anchor some of those items in our collection so they’re readily available for folk coming from the community who want to know more about who we are as a neighborhood,” Schneider said.

Schneider said the display of books is a “retail-type” concept to draw attention to titles library visitors might otherwise overlook, like their current temporary display promoting houseplant-themed books. He said the shelf imitates the local interest section often found in libraries and bookstores in other cities and is intended to reach both residents and visitors to the neighborhood.

“You present it and you make it visible,” Schneider said. “The idea of putting together a special collection is so we can present it in much the way we do other materials that we want to showcase.”

The shelf will feature more than a dozen titles, including both broader D.C. history and books that take a deep dive into Foggy Bottom and West End figures.

One book in the collection, “The Foggy Bottom Gang,” discusses organized crime in the neighborhood from the Prohibition era. Written by retired Department of Treasury official Leo Warring about his father and uncle, the book discusses the Warring brothers’ bootlegging and underground lottery business. 

The collection also includes “The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address.” The book provides anecdotes of the iconic building’s residents, like late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who lived in the Watergate for 40 years. After the presidential sex scandal made national headlines, Monica Lewinsky lived with her mother, who owned an apartment in the Watergate. Her neighbor was Bob Dole, the Republican presidential nominee then-President Bill Clinton had defeated to take office.

“The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address” also provides information on the building’s unique architecture: The Watergate architect hoped the building would resurrect the Baroque movement and assigned particular significance to the building, located at the origin of city designer Pierre L’Enfant’s early grid system.

Four titles on musical legend Duke Ellington also find a home on the shelf near Ellington’s one-time residence — he was born in West End and lived in the neighborhood before moving to Harlem in 1923.

Ginsburg and Ellington are no strangers to their home library — they are also displayed in a mural on the upper wall. Titled “Paragons of West End,” the mural depicts, in large, abstract letters, the names of luminaries who hailed from or lived in the neighborhood.

“It really is sort of a great signature piece for our neighborhood,” Schneider said.

Schneider said the library is reviewing ways to find resources that may be out of print, but budget constraints may limit the expansion of the local history section in the short term.

“At this end, our goal is to try to keep after this for years to come and to grow the collection and give it a little more prominence and a little more depth and breadth,” Schneider said. “That’s not going to happen right away, but as long as people are writing new books, the collection will continue to grow.”

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About the Contributor
Erika Filter, News Editor
Erika Filter is a senior majoring in international affairs from Carson City, Nevada. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editors and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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