The Castle at 211 East Raymond

The Land Becomes Available
With vacant land prices affordable it was not surprising that some firms purchased or rented a lot or two along or near the W&OD rail lines that ran through Del Ray. These were simply set up as delivery sites for materials and, with the exception of the local coal company, had no permanent facilities. One such was a lot had been purchased by the Armstrong Lumber Company in 1926, probably the height of the building boom that created demand for their products. When the depression hit construction fell off and the company decided to sell off its lot.

Meanwhile.....
Meanwhile, across the river DC grocery store owner Pietro Luciano and his wife Fioridea, were having trouble. They had emigrated from Italy in 1912, when both were around 30, and were doing well. That is until American-born daughter Edith found herself pregnant and at age 15 gave birth to daughter Margaret.

Now we get into murky territory. In April 1933, three years later, Edith marries Dominick DiGuiseppantonio, himself an Italian immigrant, at which point she had reached 18 and him 42. Several explanations for the wide age disparity are possible, but the most likely is simply that Dom was a poor shlub recruited by the conservative, old-world family to provide a respectable cover for their daughter. Dom himself appears to have been a man of few skills and little ambition. He started as a general "helper" in Potomac Yard and worked himself up to "bunk house attendant" by 1940, a title he held with some variations for the rest of his working life.

Nevertheless, in May 1933 Dominick and Edith bought the Armstrong Lumber plot in the Emma Hume subdivision of the Del Ray neighborhood. That same year they took out a building permit for a new house, listing Vito Innamorato, a DC brick mason, as the builder, although presumably he hired local help in the form of Italian brick masons and other skilled trades then living in Del Ray.

It seems almost certain that Edith's father Pietro actually funded the purchase of the lot and construction of the house. Dom himself could not have done it; by 1939 his income had risen to only $1,100 for the year, while the house was assessed at $9,000 and probably worth more. On the other hand, Pietro had been far-sighted, the house was built as a two-family structure, providing a steady, if small, income that would have been much needed for his daughter and son-in-law.

The Strange House
There is a strong possibility that the front portion of the house is slightly a later add-on. It shows up in the 1941 Sanborn map, so would date from the mid- to late-1930s, only shortly after the house was built. The original impetus for this belief, posited in the 1990 historic survey, is that the front portion lacks the crenulated battlements along the roof line that characterize the main part of the house.

View on the second floor looking from the living room into the front, or "sun" room.  Note the step up and the window between the two rooms.

Certainly the construction is unusual. On the first floor the floor and ceiling are seamless with those of the rest of the apartment. On the second floor, however, there is a step up from the main living room to the front room, indicating that the ceiling/floor in the front section is about ten inches thicker than in the main house. Also supporting this theory is the confusing entryways. The door on the right side of the house (as seen from the street), which is in the main portion, opens up to the stairway upstairs, but also has a doorway on the left that opened into the first-floor unit. The current entrance into the first-floor unit is through between the right-hand entrance and the front portion.

In addition, the brickwork on the front portion is different from that on the main section. Not only are the battlements missing, but there is a projecting course of bricks between the first and second floors that is not replicated on the main portion.

The layout the second-floor apartment with notes was done by tenant Tim Lovelace and is here. The first-floor unit is similar except that the bedroom/art studio is instead the lobby for the stairs to the second floor and a door into the first floor unit; there are no closets in the bedroom, instead a wide opening into the living room; and the doorway into the “sunroom” was in the center of the wall.

The House as a Home
In any event, Dom, Edith and Margaret had moved in by 1934, along with tenant Helen Giddens, who had left DC and was working as a clerk while she divorced her husband Sylvester. Helen stayed through the war, but left around 1946. She was followed by a succession of tenants, usually married couples, usually only there for a year or two. The most interesting of these, from our perspective, was Samuel G Luciano, Edith's brother, and his wife Eleanor. Sam had joined the National Guard in 1940 and was inducted into the active Army in 1941. After the war he married Eleanor and took a job with Pepco, the Virginia power company. They moved into the house on Raymond around 1951, but had moved out within about two years. They lived most of their long lives thereafter in Takoma Park.

Dom was not so fortunate. His health seems never to have been great, By age 60 he was suffering from spinal degeneration and osteoarthritis, which must have significantly impacted his ability to work. His general health continued to decline and he passed away at Circle Terrace Hospital on the last day of 1955 at age 64. An autopsy found massive carcinoma of all the major organs, so severe it was impossible to tell where it began, although they speculated it was probably the pancreas.

Edith, of course, was about 24 years younger and apparently active and in good health. She continued to live in the house, until she finally sold it in March 1960. The sale covered both the main lot on which the house sat and a small triangular lot in between the main lot and the house that they had purchased in 1938.

She moved out to California, finally passing away in Huntington Beach in 1984. By that time she was known as Edith Antonio, that version of the surname having been used from about 1945.

The Postscript
The lots were purchased by Murray and Beatrice Goldberg and Max and Jacqueline Ratner. From then on it was simply a rental unit, being resold to Lou Herring in August 1961, then to the Caldwells in 1963, who actually held onto it for a while, then to Howard Wheaton and David Lackey in 1976. Lackey bought out his partner a year later and then sold it himself a few months later.

There then followed a further succession of landlords, but the history of the house had already been written, by Edith and Dominick Antonio, almost certainly doing the best they could under difficult circumstances.