Bethesda Historical Society

January 23, 2024 - Bethesda's 153rd birthday!

C&P Telephone Building at 6925 Wisconsin Avenue

Source: Google Maps

Telephone service came to Bethesda in 1893 principally to serve the Chevy Chase Land Company and its affiliates. As befits a suburb of Washington, DC, the area was served first from the City’s Central Exchange, and then from the Cleveland Exchange when that opened in 1908 (there is a Verizon central office on the site today).[1]
By 1910 development in Bethesda and Chevy Chase had reached the point where it wasn’t practical to serve the area from the Cleveland Exchange, so work began on a Bethesda Central. It opened in 1911 in the living room of Mrs. Ada Cunningham at 106 Melrose Avenue (now Cordell Avenue) in the Woodmont triangle.
The march of technology and the post-World War I growth of Bethesda and Chevy Chase triggered rapid growth in area telephony. By 1920 Mrs. Cunningham’s living room was serving 1000 stations, and it was clear that a dedicated building was required.[2]
Faced with the Stoneyhurst mica schist soon to adorn much of downtown Bethesda, it opened in 1928 at 6925 Wisconsin Avenue –– by which time almost 3000 stations were in service. The building was substantially enlarged in 1940, when the number of stations in the area had jumped to almost 12,000 (by the mid-1950’s it exceeded 45,000).
Interestingly, according to Bethesda historian Bill Offutt, dial service didn’t reach Bethesda until late 1940, when a county commissioner placed the first dial call to Mrs. Gilbert Grosvenor, daughter of Alexander Graham Bell.
The 1994 Bethesda Central Business District Master Plan had this to say about the Bethesda Exchange:
“This large stone building was built in 1928, with a major two-story addition in 1940. It is now four stories, including a mansard roof. Built of local stone from Stoneyhurst Quarries, it reflects the early 20th century interest in revival styles of architecture; though altered, it is similar to other stone commercial structures in Bethesda from the same period. There are some fine stone carvings on the entrance facing Stanford Street.”
Although the planning commission had recommended that the building be designated for Historic Preservation, this recommendation was rejected “because of substantial alterations to the structure specifically the 1940, four-story addition which fronts on Wisconsin Avenue and obscures the original 1928 building.” As can be seen below, the 1928 building, though encased in the 1940 expansion, remains visible today.
[1] The Cleveland exchange was named for President Grover Cleveland who, during his presidency lived nearby at Oak View, while commuting to work at the White House.
[2] The new Bethesda Central building was part of a wave of construction by C&P Telephone that included expansion of the Cleveland Central Office and new central offices in Silver Spring and off Georgia Avenue near what is now the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
William Offutt, Bethesda: A Social History (2005) 
Doree Holman, Old Bethesda(1956)
Kimberley Williams, DC Historic Preservation Office Telecommunications Resources of Washington, D.C., 1877-1954 (2006)