The Castle on the Hill

An undated photo of the Hyattsville Armory from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

It can be hard to tell when a photographer had a sense of humor and when they just got lucky. Here’s a fun picture of the Hyattsville Armory from the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. Built in 1918, the building nicknamed “the Castle on the Hill” is supposedly patterned after the style of Windsor Castle, and, on the day the photographer visited, was advertising a performance of one of the great castle-based plays of English literature, “Hamlet.”

Of course, Hamlet was Danish, not English, and his castle would have looked nothing like the Armory. (In reality, it was called Kronborg in the city of Helsingør, and was more of a glorified toll booth for ships heading into the Baltic.) Still, the interior of the Armory would have been a great setting to watch a group of players “speak the speech.”

All this begs the question of when the photograph was taken. The National Park Service helpfully tells us only that it was taken sometime “after 1933.” But the credit goes to noted photographer Jack E. Boucher, who became the chief photographer for the historic survey in 1963 and worked for decades.

A closer look at the large-format version reveals a couple of modern-looking vans and plastic chairs and a stylized “W” logo on the doors to the first floor. My best guess is that was the entrance to the Windsor, a French restaurant that occupied the building in the late 1980s. (After two years, it was renamed The Castle Restaurant and reopened with a focus on American cuisine in 1989 — “Hyattsville wasn’t ready for classic French cooking,” noted a Washington Times reviewer.)

Long story short: An American castle built on an English design with French food and an English play about a Danish prince, sometime in the 1980s. So, mystery solved, at least partially. But one question remains: What’s with that giant bird on the turret?

Update: Alert reader JC figured out where the captions were online. They say the photo was taken on April 18, 1990.

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3 Responses to The Castle on the Hill

  1. JC says:

    If you look at the website again, you’ll see a box that says “photos”, then beneath that there are two other boxes where you can find a history (data pages) and the index to photographs, which includes the photographer’s name, date (1990), and photo captions. The reason it says “after 1933” is that HABS was founded on that date.

  2. Nice work! That’s a pretty confusing page design, so I totally overlooked the captions.

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