Thursday, January 7, 2016

Record player and record inventor, father of the helicopter's factory on Girard Street to become luxury condos

If you've ever listened to vinyl or flown in a helicopter, you at least partially owe it to Girard Street. A factory on Girard Street was the source of the phonograph record player, the phonograph record, and where practical helicopters engines were first developed.

And now developers are converting that old factory building at 770-774 Girard Street NW into condo units, as well as adding townhouses in an empty space on the lot.

The factory building, which is fairly nondescript, was used by inventor Emile Berliner to make the Victor phonograph, the first phonograph records and early helicopter engines. Berliner invented all of that, though later lost control of his records due to legal battles and theft by competitors.

The building was the headquarters of Berliner's Gyro Motor Company and the work he did at the factory led to rotary wings (i.e. helicopter blades) being used in aviation. Here's what Wikipedia has to say:
In fact between 1907 and 1926, Berliner dedicated himself to improving the technologies of vertical flight through the development of a light-weight rotary engine, which he improved upon throughout the 1910s and 1920s... 
His realizations allowed him to move away from the heavy in-line engines to lighter rotary models, which led to the invention of a 6-hp rotary engine for the improvement of vertical flight. It was these experiments that led to the formal creation of the Gyro Motor Company in 1909. And it was the creation the 6-hp rotary engine that initiated the use of rotary engines in aviation. The Gyro Motor Company manufactured these and other improved versions of the Gyro Engine between 1909 and roughly 1926. The building used for these operations exists at 774 Girard Street, NW, Washington DC, where its principal facade is in the Fairmont-Girard alleyway.
He also made the Victor record players and records in an adjoining building. He died in 1929 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.

The condo development is going to be called the Helicopter Factory (though I've also seen it as Gyro Factory) and will incorporate the existing buildings on the site, dating from the 1910s up to 1945 plus 13 units in newly built townhouses on the property's old parking area. Washington Business Journal has the whole story.

Pretty interesting that this local history was right here all along! I hope they put up a plaque or other commemorative things.

Here's the building today, and some photos from WBJ of what the warehouse units will look like from their slideshow.

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