National Press Club

National Press Club in history: Why 14th and F streets?

June 19, 2018 | By Gilbert Klein | gilbert.klein@me.com

This illustration from an 1873 Harper’s Magazine shows “the Row” along 14th Street with the Ebbitt House, at the corner with F Street, on the left side and the Western Union office, at the corner with E Street, on the right.

This illustration from an 1873 Harper’s Magazine shows “the Row” along 14th Street with the Ebbitt House, at the corner with F Street, on the left side and the Western Union office, at the corner with E Street, on the right.

Why are we here?

When someone starts an essay with “Why are we here?” usually it is followed by some existential angst. But in this case, the question is: Why is the National Press Club at the corner of 14th and F Streets? It all goes back to the Civil War, as do so many things in Washington.

Before the war, few newspapers sent reporters to Washington, and those who were here worked out of the congressional press galleries or hotel rooms while Congress was in session. They were “correspondents” in the literal meaning of the word. They wrote their impressions of what was happening and mailed them to their newspapers. With the war -- and the advent of the telegraph -- Washington became the focus of the nation.

Seeking out office space, out-of-town journalists eyed 14th and F Streets and the large number of ramshackle buildings that could be rented for minimum cost. On one side of 14th Street was the Willard Hotel. On the other side was the Ebbitt House –- both hangouts for politicians and military officers. The area soon became known as “Newspaper Row.”

“Correspondents gravitated to ‘the Row’ because the telegraph office stood at its corner, it was within walking distance of the executive departments and the horse-drawn F Street trolley connected it to Capitol Hill,” Donald A. Ritchie wrote in his book, “Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents.”

Correspondents spent their evenings on the Row, writing dispatches from nine to midnight, Ritchie wrote. Members of Congress would drop by to read the early reports and pass on tips. The typical bureau consisted of an anteroom, reading room, reporters room and chief correspondent’s room, the “sanctum sanctorum” guarded by a trusty janitor.

While they were highly competitive, the correspondents also considered themselves a fraternity and a “reportorial brotherhood,” standing shoulder to shoulder at the nearby bars.

By the time the National Press Club was founded in 1908, the Row was in decline. But newspaper correspondents didn’t go far as they sought better accommodations. And four daily newspapers were within walking distance. The first Club house was at 1205 F Street. Today, the National Press Building occupies the site of the Ebbitt House. It was constructed in 1927 on the concept that all of those news bureaus would congregate in the new building, and their rents would support the Club.

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 110-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.