Sand and sub­scribers: D.C. news­pa­pers once had their own beach re­sorts

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - John Kelly's Wash­ing­ton john.kelly@wash­ Twit­ter: @johnkelly What don’t you know that you’d like to know? Maybe An­swer Man knows. Send an email to an­swer­man@wash­ For pre­vi­ous col­umns, visit wash­ing­ton­

It would be of in­ter­est to many to read about the beach re­sorts founded by lo­cal news­pa­pers. If I re­mem­ber cor­rectly, The Wash­ing­ton Post had Wood­land Beach and the Times Her­ald had Her­ald Har­bor, both in Anne Arun­del County, Md. I spent my sum­mers at Wood­land Beach dur­ing the 1950s in a cot­tage my grand­mother bought when they were first placed on the mar­ket. — Bob O’Con­nor, Ocean City In 1931, The Wash­ing­ton Post cre­ated a beach re­sort on the South River near An­napo­lis as a way to get more sub­scribers. Ads for Wood­land Beach promised “woods and wa­ter, shade and sun” in a lo­ca­tion just 32 miles from Wash­ing­ton. You could buy a plot of land only if you got The Post, en­sur­ing that all of your neigh­bors at the sum­mer get­away would be fel­low Post read­ers.

Sounds like heaven to An­swer Man.

The crazy thing is, The Post wasn’t the first Wash­ing­ton news­pa­per to em­brace a cir­cu­la­tion-boost­ing scheme that to­day may strike us as odd. In 1924, the Wash­ing­ton Her­ald had done the same thing, carv­ing Her­ald Har­bor out of a for­mer peach or­chard on the other side of An­napo­lis, on the Sev­ern River.

An­swer Man likes to imag­ine res­i­dents of both com­mu­ni­ties sail­ing into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and wag­ing fierce naval bat­tles against one an­other. Talk about a news­pa­per war.

The 460 acres that be­came Her­ald Har­bor were pur­chased in May of 1924 by three ex­ec­u­tives from the pa­per. By the end of the month, front-page sto­ries in the Her­ald touted the com­mu­nity and in­vited sub­scribers to es­cape the hot and hazardous streets of the city. If you had $25, you could get a 25by-100-foot lot. Water­front lots sold for $200.

It seems in­con­ceiv­able to An­swer Man that the ex­ec­u­tives could have acted with­out the ap­proval of the pa­per’s owner, the for­mi­da­ble Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst, but ap­par­ently they did. In any case, Hearst was fu­ri­ous about the scheme. He or­dered that the pa­per sever ties to Her­ald Har­bor. Three weeks af­ter the re­sort was an­nounced, the Her­ald ran an ar­ti­cle head­lined, “Her­ald Har­bor Com­pany Is Not a Hearst News­pa­per Project.”

Still, it was cur­rent and for­mer Her­ald ex­ec­u­tives who con­tin­ued to over­see the project, which con­tin­ued to have a news­pa­per vibe. In 1925, read­ers of the Even­ing Star were in­vited to buy lots in an area of Her­ald Har­bor known as Star City.

One group was not in­vited: African Amer­i­cans. As the Her­ald wrote: “This par­tic­u­lar club and colony is for white peo­ple.”

Seven years later, The Post started its own beach colony. An ad pro­claimed: “Ev­ery­one de­sires to get away from the city to the shore dur­ing the hot months, and to own a piece of land at a de­sir­able shore re­sort where one can leave ev­ery-day cares for days of rest and re­lax­ation.”

A sin­gle 20-by-100-foot lot was $93. “And this amount need not be paid in full,” The Post wrote. “A down pay­ment of $9 per­mits se­lec­tion of your lot, and then you may pay $3.50 a month un­til the obli­ga­tion has been ful­filled. The only re­stric­tion on the pur­chase of a Wood­land Beach lot is that you must be a sub­scriber to The Wash­ing­ton post, ei­ther old or new.”

Were th­ese gim­micks suc­cess­ful from a cir­cu­la­tion point of view? At this re­move, it’s hard to say. But An­swer Man is doubt­ful. The lure of Wood­land Beach wasn’t enough to keep The Post from slid­ing into in­sol­vency. Two years af­ter the com­mu­nity was founded, the pa­per was bank­rupt, and Eu­gene Meyer bought it for $825,000. In 1954, the Her­ald — by then called the Times-Her­ald — was bought by The Post.

Both beach com­mu­ni­ties still ex­ist. They are no longer sum­mer refuges but year-round neigh­bor­hoods. Most of the prim­i­tive bun­ga­lows have been torn down and re­placed by more mod­ern dwellings.

Her­ald Har­bor is still called Her­ald Har­bor, but in the 1960s, Wood­land Beach dubbed it­self Lon­don Towne, the name of an ear­lier set­tle­ment on the penin­sula and of a Colo­nial-era almshouse there.

John Rhoads’s par­ents bought a water­front par­cel in Wood­land Beach in 1960 from the orig­i­nal own­ers, two brothers who ran a pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness on Ninth Street NW and had put up a pair of rus­tic beach houses. In 2006, John, a re­tired Prince Ge­orge’s po­lice chief, re­placed the unin­su­lated build­ings with a mod­ern house.

“I’m stand­ing out in the front yard,” John said over the phone. “There is a breeze blow­ing that takes away much of the hu­mid­ity.”

An­swer Man won­dered whether res­i­dents there felt any loy­alty to the great me­dia or­gan that started the colony 86 years ago. Does John read The Post?

“At 5:30 ev­ery morn­ing, there’s a pa­per in my drive­way,” he said.

Good man.

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