Objects of the Month

August 2014: Smith’s Pharmacy, Before and After the 1968 Riots

  • Object No.: 2006.10
  • Donor: Lawrence Rosen
  • Description:

    Photographs of Smith's Pharmacy, 2518 14th Street, NW, before and after its destruction during the April 1968 civil disturbances.

Smith's Pharmacy, 1960s

Before: Exterior of Smith's Pharmacy, ca. 1960s

Smith's Pharmacy, 1960s

After: Exterior of Smith's Pharmacy, ca. April 8, 1968

Smith's Pharmacy, 1960s

Before: Luncheonette at Smith's Pharmacy, ca. 1960s
Patrons could enjoy a snack – maybe a Smithburger – while waiting for Doc Jones, Rosen's staff pharmacist, to fill their prescriptions

Smith's Pharmacy, 1960s

After: Destroyed luncheonette at Smith's Pharmacy, ca. April 8, 1968

Sorrow and anger following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, fueled three days of widespread civil disturbance throughout Washington, D.C. In his book Ten Blocks From the White House, Ben Gilbert cites sources from national and city government and press to place the number of rioters at "roughly 20,000." Whole blocks of the city’s commercial corridors were ransacked and torched. Shop owners and workers, as well as neighbors tried to protect some stores, but most of these efforts were in vain.

The worst-affected areas were along 7th and 14th Streets, NW, and H Street, NE, where many Jewish-owned businesses had been located for decades. Despite efforts by the Jewish Community Council and Jewish Social Service Agency to assist Jewish and non-Jewish business owners to rebuild, most relocated in the suburbs, or never recovered.

Smith’s Pharmacy, 1959-1968
In 1959, Larry Rosen (b. 1921), purchased Smith’s Pharmacy at 14th and Clifton Streets, NW. Residents of Columbia Heights could visit Smith’s to pick up household sundries, buy school supplies, get a prescription filled, and play a few games of pinball. Looted and gutted by fire, Smith’s was among the 900 businesses destroyed during the riots. Rosen recalled in a 2002 essay in Washingtonian Magazine

My last day at Smith's was April 4, 1968. That evening, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Three days of rioting in DC ensured, and my store was burned down.

An apartment complex now stands on Smith’s former location.

Other members of Rosen’s family lost businesses too. His brother Sam’s variety store at Georgia Avenue and Lamont Streets, NW, burned down. Their sister-in-law Lillian, widow of their brother Phil "Doc" Rosen, lost a building she owned at 7th and S Street, NW, which been home to their liquor store, DOX.

Mr. Rosen donated these and other photographs of Smith’s Pharmacy, as well as other materials that tell the story of the Rosen family in Washington.

Do you have photographs or other materials that tell an interesting "Jewish D.C." story? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900 about contributing to JHSGW’s archives.