Next we travel to leafy Swann Street to admire the block’s architecture while walking beneath a canopy of gingko trees. Take a moment to pause at 1752 Swann Street - today you see a home once featured on the DCCA house tour but if you lean in a little closer perhaps you will hear the ghosts of jazz notes waft through the air.
It has been recorded that the property was once owned by the son of legendary DC brewer Robert Portner, the same family that owned the The Portner Flats apartment building at 15th And U Street, which was the largest apartment building in DC in 1902. A look at the interior today shows a first floor that is endowed with graceful Victorian fretwork around the fireplaces and staircase. The ceiling reach 12 feet and are trimmed with plaster crown molding; the floors are original oak.
But it’s in the 1930’s-1960s that this home was alive with music and soul. During this period Mr. Charles Lindsay called 1752 home while also operating a popular after-hours underground club for Washington’s black elite inside its doors, in the years when segregation barred blacks from theaters, restaurants and nightclubs that served whites. Lindsay’s own living quarters were on the expansive first floor, and the home’s second and third floors was reserved for the artists who used the house as a hotel, since segregation prevented black Americans from staying in downtown hotels.
It was in the basement that the house came alive. Popular entertainers performed at Howard Theater to sold out crowds and then hurried over to this well-known unlicensed club to perform again into the wee hours of the night. The list of stars who passed through Mr. Lindsay’s doors reads like a who’s who of the entertainment world: Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Della Reese, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, the Inkspots, Peg Leg Bates (a wildly popular one-legged dancer), Butterbean and Susie (a comedic act), Count Basie, Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. And that includes the top professional athletes that visited Lindsay’s Swann Street club: Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Armstrong, Willy Mays, Satchell Paige, Josh Gibbons, and Luke Easter.
Neither prohibition nor wartime blackout restrictions – not even the lack of a license – kept Lindsay’s from being a popular and profitable establishment. In fact, Lindsay said that occasional police raids were said to only add to its exciting reputation. Nevertheless, “all the top people (in the police department),” Lindsay said, “came, and in those days, there were all white.” Set near DC’s Striver section, the area's longstanding association with leading individuals and institutions in Washington's African American community. The recognition of this home is an important reminder of present and past African American leaders who helped form the character and beauty of our neighborhood.
The nightclub may be closed but the home’s current Swann Street owners say that they have found a way to marry its history into their lives – each year they celebrate their wedding anniversary alongside the home’s legacy with a jazz party, filling the walls with the sounds of DC soul.