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Scenes from the Past...

A Potpourri of Shaw Neighborhood Scenes by Addison Scurlock

Photographer Addison Scurlock and his two sons Robert and George spent much of the 20th century in Washington, DC photographing African-American leaders, luminaries, and portraits of brides and businessmen. Beginning in his parents’ house in 1904, then his own house at 1202 T Street, and later a converted row house at 900 U Street, the business was expanded by his sons into the Custom Craft Studio and the Capitol School of Photography. While his portraits of prominent people are well known, Scurlock also photographed new African-American businesses and important social events in the Washington black community, several of which are seen here.

Addison Scurlock had been born on July 19, 1883 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of George Clay Scurlock, Sr., one-time Fayetteville Postmaster who, having failed in his bid for a seat in the North Carolina State Senate on the Republican ticket, moved his family to Washington in 1900. His father passed the bar, and established a law practice in the thriving U Street corridor, home to many well established black family businesses. Addison apprenticed with photographer Moses P. Rice and Sons at 1225 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Beginning in 1904, Scurlock photographed people in a studio he set up in his parents home at 447 S Street NW. In 1907, having married Mamie Estelle Fearing, he opened his first photographic studio in their new home at 1202 T Street, NW, where his business continued to grow. In 1911, he opened his permanent studio at 900 U Street, NW, where he would remain until his death in 1964.

From 1907 through the early 1990s, Scurlock Studios photographed every President, Vice-President, Dean, Trustee, and most faculty members at Howard University.

Their son Robert graduated from Howard University in 1937 with a degree in Economics and son George graduated from Howard in 1940 with a degree in Business Administration.

Before World War II, Robert Scurlock expanded the studio’s involvement in photojournalism and stock photography, contributing press photos to much of the African-American press, including the Washington Afro-American, Washington Tribune, Norfolk Journal and Guide, Pittsburgh Courier, Cleveland Call and Post, and the (New York) Amsterdam News, as well as magazines like Flash and Our World. After the war, the two brothers opened the Capitol School of Photography.

In 1963, Addison retired from the business and sold Scurlock Studios to his sons, who re-incorporated under the name Custom Craft Studios; Addison died in 1964.

George Scurlock worked out of the original studio at 900 U Street, and Robert worked out of the Custom Craft Studios at 1813 18th Street NW. By 1976, the studio portion of the business on 900 U Street was forced to move by the construction of the Metro subway Green Line under U Street. In 1977, after 66 years of business, the building was razed — even though the Green line would not begin service to the U Street corridor until 18 years later. It remained a vacant lot until a restaurant was built on the site in 1999.