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DonRocks

The Knickerbocker Storm of 1922 - the Most Catastrophic Snowstorm in Washington, DC History

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Nature has the power to humble us all, in 1922, in 2010, or potentially, this coming weekend.

The Knickerbocker Storm got its name because the weight of the snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater, killing 98 people, and injuring 133.

Accumulations varied depending on the area measured, but were about 28 inches; Snowmageddon in 2010 (see 100% Chance of Snow Blowing) surely must have been comparable in terms of accumulation - I saw it with my own eyes, and there must have been close to 30 inches on the ground - but fortunately, relative advancements in communications and construction prevented any catastrophes from occurring (see also February 5-6, 2010 North American Blizzard on wikipedia.com).

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I would simply urge any of you who can get to Adams Morgan to look for the most important--and most hidden--of the Heritage Trail posters on the corner of Columbia Road and Adams Mill (very near Southern Hospitality). This one concerns the Knickerbocker Theater disaster and also points out that the Christian Science Church (which has a historic designation and is being renovated as a hotel) was used as the local morgue during the disaster.

Interestingly, in modern terms, all of the lives lost were Caucasians--because the Knickerbocker was segregated and, so, no black people were allowed to attend the movies there. Karma continues to be quite the bitch!

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I just wanted to add that although the owner and the architect both eventually committed suicide, the catastrophe was entirely the builder's fault, through deliberately cutting corners, as it were, when installing the roof. Also, the Knickerbocker was fairly quickly rebuilt and rechristened the Ambassador. In the 1960s, it was briefly repurposed as a sort of Filmore Southeast. The Jimi Hendrix Experience played there several nights running in August of 1967. It was not popular with the neighbors, however, as you may imagine. The Ambassador was torn down in 1969, and replaced with what is now the execrable SunTrust Bank and concrete wasteland that disfigures the southwest corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road. I guess it must have been an NS&T bank when first built.

I'd also add that not only was the Knickerbocker Storm the most catastrophic snowstorm in Washington history, the Knickerbocker Theater collapse was the worst disaster, in terms of killed and injured, in Washington history. Realize that in addition to the dead, many of the 133 injured were horribly, appallingly injured. I guess the second-worst disaster was the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 on January 13th, 1982, which some of us will remember vividly, with 78 dead and 9 injured. The 9/11 Pentagon attack took more lives than the Knickerbocker disaster, but was not in Washington.

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Interestingly, in modern terms, all of the lives lost were Caucasians--because the Knickerbocker was segregated and, so, no black people were allowed to attend the movies there. Karma continues to be quite the bitch!

Do you have a citation for this? You could very well be right, but I would have thought that there would have been black patrons in the balcony, with none allowed on the orchestra level beneath. That was certainly a common arrangement in movie theaters in the south during the segregation era, often with a separate entrance at street level for the balcony.

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