Tag Archives: B. F. Keith’s Theatre

Unlikely Farmers

Wade, Chlopicki on Berwyn Heights Farm

Donald Wade (L) and Joseph Chlopicki (R) examine egg.

In 1931, Joseph Chlopicki and Donald Wade together purchased lots 5, 6, 33, and 34 in block 8 to enlarge an existing chicken farm Chlopicki owned.1 Chlopicki and his wife Gladys had moved to Berwyn Heights in 19212, and bought the property with the chicken farm encompassing the eastern end of block 8, from Charles Donaldson in 1928.3 Photos and documents about their joint venture were shared with the Historical Committee by Debbie McGrath, who is the grand-daughter of Donald Wade. She contacted us to find out more about old tax records she found in a box of personal papers that had belonged to her grand-father.4

The photos show scenes from the farm: building of fences, clearing the land, and feeding of chickens. Several photos labeled ‘November 29, 1926’ show Donald Wade dressed in city clothes apparently looking the property over.

From left: D. Wade, D. Wade & J. Chlopicki erect fence, J. Chlopicki on the farm with residence and laying house in back.

During the 1920s, Chlopicki and Wade both worked at B.F. Keith’s Theatre at 15th and G Street, NW across from the Treasury Department, Chlopicki as a projectionist5 – Keith’s pioneered the Lumière Cinématograph for a moving picture show in their New York theater in 18966 – and Wade as a trombonist for the orchestra.7 The Keith was the premiere vaudeville entertainment venue in Washington as soon as it opened in 1912. President William Howard Taft was present on opening night, and his successor Woodrow Wilson attended nearly every Saturday evening performance. The centerpiece of the building was a huge six-story auditorium that could accommodate 1,838 patrons, in mahogany seats upholstered in red Spanish leather. The walls were covered with tapestry of red silk, and the stage curtain was ruby-red with gold fringes, while the lobby was finished in Sienna marble.8

Benjamin F. Keith and his manager Edward F. Albee ran about 30 vaudeville theaters in the eastern U.S., based on the principle of presenting wholesome family entertainment. Signs were posted backstage warning performers of dire consequences if they used even mild profanity or otherwise offended the audience’s decency.9 Keith and Albee also dominated the Vaudeville Managers’ Association (VMA), which controlled the theatrical bookings of the major vaudeville circuits. In 1928, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) bought the Keith-Albee-Orpheum, formed Radio-Keith Orpheum (RKO) Pictures, and turned the vaudeville circuit into a chain of movie theaters.10 In 1932, when sound was introduced with movies, live acts were eliminated as well. Chlopicki remained an operator of movies at RKO Keith’s, but Wade went to work for other theaters, including the Fox11 and the Loew’s Capitol.

Donald Wade (1888-1966) was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, but he grew up in the small town of Manchester near Boston, MA, where his family had settled.12 He showed an early interest in music and had an ambition to be a member of the home town band. He joined the band as a trombone player because it was an instrument that was available at that time. Through hard work and a teacher’s assistance in arranging lessons with renowned instructors, Wade became an accomplished trombonist, and started playing engagements with bands all over the Boston area. During World War I, he enlisted in the 20th band, C.A.C., and upon his discharge, he came to Washington to play at B.F. Keith’s.13 On March 1, 1930, he married Louise Moloney,14a widow with 2 sons, David and Joseph, from the prior marriage. In June 1930, he bought a house in Berwyn Heights at 5808 Keleher Avenue15 (now Ruatan Street), where they raised their sons and daughter Margaret, born in November 1931.

Joseph Chlopicki, also referred to as Joseph von Chlopicki, was born in August 1883 in Warsaw, Poland, then under Russia’s control. He came to the United States with his younger brother Julius on the Cedric sailing from Liverpool, England in November 1907.16 Initially, he worked with Julius in a rubber tire business in Washington, D.C.17 Trained as an electrical engineer, his interests soon turned elsewhere. In the 1914 D.C. Directory, he listed his occupation as ‘lantern slides’, the projection of still images onto a screen,18 anticipating his future career as a projectionist. Meanwhile, Julius had expanded into auto repair and would eventually run his own shop.19

Joseph married Wladyslawa (Gladys) von Lichodziejewska (1889-1983), born in Russia-ruled Poland,20 in November 1910, and Julius married Rose Stracilo ca. 1916,21 whose parents also hailed from Poland, had settled in Baltimore and later moved to Surrattsville, Prince George’s County.22 City directories and US Census data show Joseph and Julius living at the same addresses in the 1910s, first in D.C. and then in the Spauldings District, Prince George’s County. Their paths diverged when Joseph and his wife moved to Berwyn Heights and became members of Washington’s fashionable society.

Sources:

1 Prince George’s County Land Records, book 355, pp. 366, 268.

2 D.C. City Directory, 1921, p. 460.

3 Prince George’s County Land Records, book 313, p. 543.

4 Donald Wade papers, per Debbie McGrath.

5 D.C. City Directory, 1921, p. 460.

9 Vaudeville, John DeFerrari.

11 D.C. City Directory, 1932, p. 1602.

12 U.S. Military Draft Registration Card, 5 June 1917.

13 Jacob’s Band Monthly.

14 D.C. Marriage Records, 1910-1953.

15 Prince George’s County Land Records, book 354, p. 483.

18 D.C. Directory, 1914.

19 U.S. Census Records, 1920, 1930

19 D.C. Marriage Records, 1910-53.

20 U.S. Military Draft Registration, 5 Jun. 1917.

21 Rose Stracilo in U.S. Census Record, 1910.

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