Click the thumbnail above for a large format view of Victorian of the Week#13

Click the thumbnail above for an interior view of a pharmacy circa 1900. The Cashier's Cage is over the boy's right shoulder.

For some excellent photos of Sanitary Groceries and early DC Safeways, click


Up through the Cleveland Administration Florida Avenue was Boundary Road, the nominal division between city and countryside. In northeast, it was far more country than city, with perhaps 20 houses for dairymen and farmers between North Capitol Street and “Bennings Road”, a full 15 blocks northeast. In the 1870s a real estate promoter drew “the Montello Subdivision” as a honeycomb of building lots and web of streets radiating from a "Montello Avenue", which ultimately connected Boundary and Mount Olivet Roads NE.

Sometime in the 1880s, 1200 Florida was built at the complicated intersection where Montello Avenue and Boundary Road met 12th and K Streets NE. Although records are sparse, it probably began life as a house, perhaps with a window in place of the current door and a setback on the Florida Avenue side which is now filled by a flat-roofed addition with display window. In 1900 it was home to the large Nealon extended family, whose three sons included a plumber, a butcher, and a “tinner”.

Although some streets in Montello were not fully developed until the 1920s, Florida Avenue was lined with rowhouses by the turn of the century. As development spread further out Benning Road and up the side streets, the corner of Montello and Florida became a local crossroads. By the early 1900s, 1200 Florida became the drug store of Michael Ladden.

Unlike the pharmacy mini-marts of today, the Victorian drugstore was an affair of goods in glass cases, dark wooden shelves lined with Latin-labelled jars, a marble-topped soda fountain, and a cashier’s “cage” in filagreed wrought iron. The druggist, who might go by “doctor”, was the local dispenser of rat poison, opium, and all manner of nostrums, as well as the neighborhood scientist who perhaps dabbled in photographic chemistry. So when Michael Ladden moved on after a few years, it is surprising only that he was succeeded by a female pharmacist.

Isadora Geoghagen, whose name was apparently often misprinted as “Isidore”, ran a busy pharmacy which had two telephone lines. She was in business at 1200 Florida for about for about 10 years, living in the attached row house at 1101 Montello with her family. Then, in 1920, 1200 Florida became part of the Sanitary Grocery Store chain.

The Sanitary Grocery was locked in combat with the Morris Binder Grocery and on the opposite corner and the A&P a few doors west well into the depression. Then the Sanitary chain was merged into what would become Safeway, and 1200 Florida briefly became vacant. During World War II it began its next and longest reincarnation as an Aristo Dry Cleaner location, which ended a few years ago. Although the newspapers in the display windows are yellowed, this attractive little building looks ready for whatever role fate next brings it.