|Wm S & Portia M. Pittman House, Fairmount Heights, Maryland in better days|
PG-MNCPP Historic Survey Database
We have lost another historic structure to neglect and perhaps a vandal's fire (Gazette.,net story). On December 15, 2012 a fire destroyed a house designed by African-American professional luminary, William Sydney Pittman. And you say Pittman, Pittman who, because we do not teach the history that surrounds us nor do we make it easy to learn the stories of the extraordinary men and women who once walked and lived right here in Prince George's County. In fact there are a few who would have you believe that the county is an empty, blank slate just waiting to be paved over.
|William Sydney Pittman|
image form the Dallas Texas Observer
"Demolition by Neglect"
|Mrs. Portia Marshall Washington Pittman|
William Sydney Pittman, whose "trailblazing professional deeds" are a part of little-known black history moments and almost lost to history, was born in Alabama on April 21, 1875. He attended Tuskegee Institute. There he studied woodworking and architectural-mechanical drawing completing his studies in 1897. He then enrolled in the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and received a degree in Architectural and Mechanical drawing in 1900. From late 1900 to 1905, William S. Pittman was employed at Tuskegee Institute as department head of architectural drawing.
In 1905 Mr. Pittman came to Maryland and Fairmount Heights in Prince George's County. He went to work for John Anderson Lankford at the offices at 1448 Q Street, NW, in Washington. D.C., and within a short time opened his own practice. He designed the house, now lost to us by vandals, in to which his bride, the daughter of Booker T. Washington, Portia Marshall Washington moved after their marriage in 1907. There they entertained national dignitaries such as the editor of Boston's Alexander Magazine. A newspaper account in April of 1908 described the guest list which included an employee of the War Department, a judge and the Recorder of Deeds as well as other guests. The Pittman House was located at 505 Eastern Avenue, Fairmount Heights, Maryland (PG#72-9-18).
Mr. Pittman was very much involved in the growth of Fairmont Heights taking an active interest in the establishment of the town. He founded the Fairmont Heights Mutual Improvement Company, designed the town hall and the first elementary school. In his professional life he became the first African-American to win a federal commission for the Negro building at the national Tercentennial Exposition at Jamestown, Virginia. He also designed Garfield Elementary School (1909) and the 12th Street YMCA building (1912) the cornerstone of which was placed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
|12th Street YMCA, Washington DC|
image from Blackfives.com
The town of Fairmount Heights, finally incorporated in 1935, is one of the oldest African American municipalities in Maryland contending for the prize of "first" with North Brentwood also in Prince George's County [Meet the 27 Historic Municipalities of Prince George's County, Maryland - Ready for Adaptive Re-use]. The Pittmans would leave Fairmount Heights in 1913 and the house began its long slow descent into obscurity recognized by the community and a few preservationists but forgotten by the county generally. How easy it is to lose our history and our connection with those who cleared the way for us today.
For a detailed account of Mr. Pittman's life and achievements, see:
Susan G. Pearl, "WILLIAM SIDNEY PITTMAN (1875-1958)," in Drexel University Archives Digital Collections, Item #84, http://archives.library.drexel.edu/displays/exhibits/show/pittman/1897-1898/item/84 (accessed January 14, 2013). 4 (accessed January 14, 2013).
|Kentland volunteer fire Department Facebook page photo|
 Norma Adams-Wade, Pioneer black architect’s life to unfold at symposium. Dallas Morning News. March 15 2010. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/columnists/norma-adams-wade/20110315-pioneer-black-architects-life-to-unfold-at-symposium.ece
 Everett L. Fly, "PITTMAN, WILLIAM SIDNEY," Handbook of Texas Online(http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpi32), accessed January 14, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Washington Bee, published as The Washington Bee; Date: 04-18-1908; Volume: 27; Issue: 47; Page: ; Location: Washington (DC), District of Columbia
 Historic Site Summary Sheet. http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/se1/se5/018000/018800/018833/pdf/msa_se5_18833.pdf
 Dreck Spurlock Wilson. African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945. Taylor & Francis. 2004. 550 pp.