As I cross the intersection of 7th Street and S Street NW in the Washington, DC Shaw neighborhood, it is easy get distracted by all of the commotion going on around me. With people constantly passing by, walking in and out of the buildings, it can be easy to not notice the large artifact standing right in front of the street. At first glance, many may pass by it, thinking nothing of the building but another work space. Yet this landmark has a century of history behind it. When looking at the building, the old red brick, white cross patterns, and broken down signs labeled “Wonder Bread” and “Hostess Cake”may bring about some questions. What are those signs? What is this building? Was something existing here prior to what exists now? All of these questions can be unveiled through research on what the building actually was, and why it is still standing today.
In 1915 and 1922, the east and west ends of the “White Cross Bakery” also known as The Wonder Bread Bakery were constructed and designed. The designs were done by an architectural firm of Simmons and Cooper (Scribd) and they designed the buildings to have distinct features: brick walls with brick plaster, limestone detailing, steel sash windows, and white tiles that created a white cross. A man by the name of Peter M. Dorsch opened the factory in 1913. At the time, the bakery was an architectural commodity. It was a “well established transportation corridor with a streetcar line, providing north-south access into and out of the city.” (Scribd) bringing it a fair share of customers.
The goal of the bakery and the primary reason the name White Cross and the designs were made was so that it enabled trust between the factory and its customers. At the time, Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle had just been published emphasizing the importance of food safety and cleanliness. The factory took it as
one of their main goals to ensure the public that they were providing safe, clean, healthy bread products. The Bakery’s slogan was “a good loaf of bread” (The Washington Post), and inside the factories only the latest, most efficient equipment was used. Around 1936, the Continental Baking Company, the main provider of Wonder Bread, acquired the White Cross Bakery from Peter Dorsch. The bakery continued expansion and became known as the city’s largest bread processing plant (Scribd) until 1988 when the Continental Baking Company moved to a larger facility in Philadelphia and the factory was left abandoned.
What happens next and how did the building become an office space today, many may wonder. Over the next nine years, Washington DC’s Shaw neighborhood found itself in the middle of chaos. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, violence, crime, and drugs broke out and S Street became the sole proprietor of crack cocaine dealers in the nation. The once beloved bakery became the crack house of the nation with
“six to 10 drug dealers, slingers, just loitering in front of the building”(NPR) having no concern for the people around them. But then, in 1997, a construction company called Douglas Development bought the abandoned Bakery and began coming up with ideas for what they were gonna do with the artifact. Initial plans for a hotel were later dismissed and the company agreed on creating the space as an office area that could be rented.
Today, the Bakery still stands as one “of the most architecturally notable industrial/commercial buildings in the city and one of only a few surviving bakery buildings”(Scribd) in the nation. As I entered the once abandoned, now newly renovated building, it’s practically impossible to ever imagine what it looked like during the crack epidemic. With major companies such as IStrategy Labs and WeWorks occupying the ancient bakery now, they have completely renovated the inside of it. IStrategy Labs is an innovative technology company that works to create and campaign new products. They occupy the left side of the building on the first floor. To the right of the building two companies known as YSL and WeWorks have rented out the building. When looking around the area inside, all of the walls are painted white, and the windows are very broad and open, allowing for natural lighting to brighten the area. According to the designers, when renovations first began, every aspect had to be redone. All of “the windows had to be custom-built on-site” (Spinelli) and they were built as “floor-to-ceiling windows” (Spinelli) that could be seen from the outside.
While indoor renovations altered the entire environment existing in the building, the exterior sections of the building remained remotely the same as they used to be. According to the architects, while it is much more expensive to work with the old sections of the building that exist rather than just tearing it all down, “it’s so far superior when you’re restoring what was originally there that it’s well worth it”(Wilson). It’s seemingly impossible to recognize a resemblance between the once torn down crack zone and the beautiful modern interior design that currently existed, however, “one thing that has remained constant are the 27 underground parking spaces” present in the lower area of the building. There was complete renovation that had to be done to the entire interior due to severe issues with the structure of the building. According to Schneck “because of the severe roof damage, over the years water got in and vegetation was literally growing on the wooden floors” (Spinelli) resulting in completely new alterations to the indoor area.
As the once beloved Wonder Bread Bakery transformed into an abandoned crack zone, and today a renovated modern office building, it is difficult to see where the transition occurred without looking deeper than what the eye can see. The outside construction of the building can deter many to look into information behind the building because of the ancient visuals that the building provides. However once delving deeper, it brings about a new appreciation for the artifact that still exists today.
“Addiction Battled Ambition For Reporter Caught In D.C.’s Crack Epidemic.” NPR. NPR, 3 July 2014. Web.
“Bread For The City: Shaw’s Historic Bakeries.” Streets of Washington. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
“Dorsch’s White Cross Bakery-Applcation for Listing/designation on the National Register of Historic Places.” Scribd. United Stated Department of the Interior, Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
DORSCH’S BREAD ON MARKET FOR THIRTY YEARS. The Washington Post (1923-1954); Jan 8, 1928; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. R5
Week’s News Quiz.” Slate Magazine. 04 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
IStrategyLabs. “Douglas Development.” Douglas Development. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Spinelli, Lisa. “Wonder Bread Factory Renovations Almost Complete.” Issue Media Group. 30 Apr. 2013. Web.
Wilson, Jonathan. “Developers Seek to Put the ‘Wonder’ Back in the Wonder Bread Factory.” WAMU 88.5. 20 July 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.