Sunday, April 4th, 2010
“I was born in New Olreans, but my memory of that place is limited, as we moved to the Washington area when I was 4. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington and the long-standing attitude towards living in the city was, ‘Who would want to do that?’ I was around during the riots and very much aware of their impact on the city. I did eventually move into D.C. in 1974. This city was a ghost town after rush hour. At the time, I was on a limited budget and there were ten restaurants throughout the whole city where I could afford to eat. Now, there are 20 reasonably priced restaurants on every block. To me, it was a no-brainer that this city would come back, especially because of the stabilizing effect of government.
“At the time, all of these neighborhoods had such interesting architecture and there was very little being done to celebrate it. Now, you can appreciate how beautiful this place is, but back then, you saw everything through smokey glasses. There clearly were several neighborhoods that were interesting and well-kept. One of them was Adams Morgan, were I moved shortly after coming to the city. Back then, I worked at George Washington University in the Physical Plant. Through that, I learned about the demolition process. I remember my first lesson in the business of demolition. When they were tearing down my apartment building, I was determined to buy this beautiful brass doorknob in the house. My Dad used to have an old porcelain door knob as a paper weight. I can’t help but think that got me interested in door knobs. That also inspired the name for our store, theBrass Knob. I walked up to the demolition guy, Cool Breeze, and said, ‘How much for the door knob?’ He said, ‘$5.’ I said, ‘How much for the door?’ He said ’$5.” If I had asked just for the door, I would have gotten the door and the doorknob for the same price. So, I ended up deciding to buy the contents of the house for $90. That was a pretty good purchase and was my introduction into the salvage business.
“My business started because I had a truck and a place to store my stuff. My partner and I opened our first store in Adams Morgan, in the space next to the current Brass Knob store. We split into two different corporations a few years ago when I opened this warehouse, but we still work together closely. I find my stuff through a lot of different ways. The guys that are in the demolition business are my first leads. I met and befriended them and gained their trust a long time ago. You had to prove that you will not hurt yourself or steal anything on site. Those are the two big tests. I also have pickers who bring me stuff. With some of them, there is always a question of whether they are bringing me a legitimate take. I have to be very clever about finding out where the materials came from. On occasion, there have been issues when people bring me things that are not from a legitimate take and I am very quick to cooperate with the police.
“To me, this business started because I could not get over the idea that people were throwing all of this value away. I used to go the dumpsters with a friend and strip all of the hardware off of the doors. See, I always enjoyed the collecting part of this business. You go into these deep mysterious dark buildings, basements, attics, and cubby holes looking for treasure. There is so much history in the buildings here and it is nice to take parts of those buildings and bring them to a new life. It is always fun to tell people where things come from. We get stuff from Embassies and sell the bathtubs of the rich and famous. I bought the bathtubs of Pamela Harriman’s Georgetown building, she was a socialite and Winston Churchill’s mother, so I can conjecture that some famous people probably took a bath in one of my bathtubs. Even if it is an insignificant piece of history, it is nice to think that things will have an extended life.”
Ron is the owner of the Brass Knob Backdoors Warehouse on 57 N Street NW.