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The Washington Star Building
Image by dbking
The Washington Star, previously known as the Washington Star-News and the Washington Evening Star, was a daily afternoon newspaper published in Washington, D.C. between 1852 and 1981. For most of that time, it was the city’s newspaper of record, and the longtime home to columnist Mary McGrory and cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman.
On August 7, 1981, after 130 years, the Washington Star ceased publication and filed for bankruptcy. In the bankruptcy sale, the Washington Post purchased the land and buildings owned by the Star, including its printing presses.
Evening Star Building at 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C. The building is a contributing property to the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District.The Washington Star was founded on December 16, 1852 by Captain Joseph Borrows Tate. Originally headquartered in Washington’s "Newspaper Row" on Pennsylvania Avenue, Tate initially gave the paper the name The Daily Evening Star and it would be renamed several times before becoming Washington Star by the late 1970s. In 1853, Texas surveyor and newspaper entrepreneur William Douglas Wallach purchased the paper. As the sole owner of the paper for the next fourteen years, Wallach built the up the paper by capitalizing on reporting of the American Civil War, among other things. In 1867, the group of invenstors Crosby Stuart Noyes, Samuel H. Kauffmann, and George Adams acquired the paper by each of the investors putting up US,333.33. The paper would remain family-owned and operated for the next four generations.
In 1907, subsequent Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman joined the Star. Five years prior, he had created the teddy bear. Berryman’s career continued at the Star until his death in 1949.
The next major change to the newspaper came in 1938 when the three owning families diversified their interests. On May 1, 1938, Noyes, Kauffmann, and Adams purchased the M. A. Leese Radio Corporation, and acquired Washington’s oldest radio station, WMAL, in the process. Renamed the Evening Star Broadcasting Company, the 1938 acquisition would figure later in the 1981 demise of the newspaper.
The Star’s influence and circulation peaked in the 1950’s; it constructed a new printing plant in Southeast Washington capable of printing millions of copies, but found itself unable to cope with changing times. The management was closed to new ideas: nearly all top editorial and business staff jobs were held by members of the owning families, including a Kauffmann general manager who had gained a reputation for anti-Semitism, driving away advertisers. Suburbanization and television were accelerating the decline of evening newspapers in favor of morning dailies. The Post meanwhile acquired its morning rival, the Times-Herald, in 1954 and steadily drew readers and advertisers away from the falling Star. By the 1960s, the Post was Washington’s leading newspaper.
In 1972, the Star purchased and absorbed one of DC’s few remaining competing newspapers, The Washington Daily News. For a short period of time after the merger, both "The Evening Star" and "The Washington Daily News" mastheads appeared on the front page. The paper soon was retitled "Washington Star News" and, finally, "The Washington Star" by the late 1970s.
In 1973, the Star was targeted for clandestine purchase by interests close to the South African Apartheid government in its propaganda war. The Star, whose editorial policy had always been conservative, was seen as favorable to South Africa at the time.
In early 1975, the owning families sold their interests in the paper to Joseph L. Allbritton, a Texas multimillionaire who was known as a corporate turnaround artist. Allbritton, who also owned Riggs Bank, then the most prestigious bank in the capital, planned to use profits from WMAL-AM-FM-TV to shore up the newspaper’s finances. The Federal Communications Commission stymied him with rules on media cross-ownership, however; WMAL-AM-FM was sold off in 1977, and the TV station was renamed WJLA-TV.
On October 1, 1975, press operators at the Post went on strike, severely damaging all printing presses before leaving the building. Allbritton would not assist Katharine Graham, the owner of the Post, in any way, refusing to print his rival’s papers on the Star’s presses since that likely would have caused the Star to be struck by the press operators as well. Allbritton also had major disagreements with editor Jim Bellows over editorial policy; Bellows left the Star for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Unable to make the Star profitable, Allbritton explored other options, including a joint operating agreement with the Post.
On February 2, 1978, Time Inc. purchased the Star for US million. Their flagship magazine, Time, was archrival to Newsweek, which was published by the Washington Post Company, and the purchase seemed natural. Management issues continued to plague the publication, however. Editor-in-Chief Murray Gart, former chief of correspondents at Time, had no experience managing a newspaper and little experience even writing for one. An effort to draw readers with localized special "zonal" metro news sections did little to help circulation. The Star lacked the resources to produce the sort of ultra-local coverage zonal editions demanded and ended up running many of the same regional stories in all of its local sections. An economic downturn resulted in monthly losses of over US million dollars. On August 7, 1981, after 130 years, the Washington Star ceased publication. In the bankruptcy sale, the Post purchased the land and buildings owned by the Star, including its printing presses.
Many of the people who worked for the Star went to work for the newly formed Washington Times which began operations shortly after the Star went out of business.
Writers who worked at the Star in its last days included Nick Adde (Army Times), Michael Isikoff (Newsweek), Howard Kurtz (Washington Post), Fred Hiatt (Washington Post) Sheilah Kast (ABC News), Jane Mayer (The New Yorker), Chris Hanson (Columbia Journalism Review), Jeremiah O’Leary (Washington Times), Chuck Conconni (Washingtonian), Crispin Sartwell (Creators Syndicate), Maureen Dowd (New York Times), Michael DeMond Davis, Jules Witcover (Baltimore Sun), Jack Germond (Baltimore Sun), Judy Bachrach