The Vault

A D.C. Watercolorist’s Beautiful Record of the Changing City in the ‘60s and ‘70s 

Lily Spandorf, an Austrian artist who emigrated to the United States in 1959, lived in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle and worked as a contributing artist for the Washington Star newspaper from 1960 to 1981. Some of Spandorf’s art, including the images below, is on view at the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, in a new exhibition that opened on Saturday.

Spandorf worked at a time when many older buildings and neighborhoods in American cities were being radically altered or destroyed, thanks to policies of urban renewal. She often sketched places in D.C. that were at risk of demolition and occasionally caught the bulldozers in the act, making destruction look oddly beautiful through her deployment of watercolor or gouache. 

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Preservation-minded cityscapes aside, much of the freelance artist’s bread and butter came from her renderings of less controversial subjects: portraits of dignitaries or the paintings of White House Christmas decorations that she sketched and sold every year. (A Spandorf drawing of the National Christmas Tree was made into a postage stamp in 1963.)

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Lily Spandorf, “Old Botanic Gardens Office.”

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

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Lily Spandorf, “Sheraton Hotel” (923  16th Street NW; now the St. Regis Washington, D.C.) 

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, “Collector’s Gallery” (Wisconsin Avenue and Q; still extant). 

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

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Lily Spandorf, “People’s Drug, 7 Dupont Circle, NW,” ca. 1970. Location appears to have been demolished. (Update, November 23: The right-hand side of this pair of buildings remains; it’s now a CVS.) 

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

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Lily Spandorf, “Municipal Fish Market.” The Market’s building, on Maine Avenue between 11th and 12th streets, was razed in the 1960s, and the vendors were relocated west. This image is undated, but it seems to depict an outdoor waterfront scene, post-demolition. 

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

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Lily Spandorf, “Western Market,” formerly at 21st and K streets, NW. 

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, “The City Smiles,” published on the cover of Potomac magazine, Washington Post, April 2, 1961. 

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

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