By Aaron Schuetz
When our community began talking about renaming Clay Park, I was thrilled to learn that my house was just across the street from where the fantastic Zitkála-Šá had lived. I wondered, “Who else of note has lived in our community in the past hundred years. Specifically, what’s the deal with my house?” When Zitkála-Šá sat on her porch looking across the street, she saw only an empty lot. My house was built in 1940, two years after she died. The year 1940 was auspicious because the growing war effort restricted resources, and my house was notably built of used bricks and (until two years ago) a used slate roof. While sturdy, it was a basic house with metal framed windows and minimal interior detail. The early property records are incomplete, but the house had a half dozen owners before me, with the second owner the only one with a Wikipedia page (no, I don’t yet have one). Rear Admiral Henry Chester Bruton purchased the home in 1958 and lived there with his wife Frannie for about two years.
As best as I can understand, the Brutons did the first major renovation on the house, closing in the front porch with a large glass block wall and opening that space to the main house. The glass block met my sledgehammer in 2008.
Bruton grew up in Little Rock Arkansas, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1926, received a Masters in Electrical Engineering at UC Berkeley, and a law degree from George Washington University. In 1942 he commanded the Gato-class submarine USS Greenling (SS-213) through four wartime patrols, sinking 75,000 tons of enemy shipping and an attacking destroyer. He earned the Navy Cross three times for his heroism and distinguished service. In 1952, during the Korean War, he commanded the Battleship Wisconsin (BB- 64), which is now berthed at the Nauticus museum in Norfolk.
From 1958 to 1960, while Bruton lived on Barton, he was com- munications-electronics director of the Joint Staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the European Command. Upon retirement, he took a job at Collins Radio Company in Dallas Texas. This is where his story gets a little bit interesting.
One spring day, the Brutons invited their friends George and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt to their home. The couple asked if they could bring another couple with them. The second couple was Lee and Marina Oswald. What??? Yes, the former owner of my house shows up in an article about JFK’s assassination. It apparently wasn’t memorable to the Brutons. The Brutons were reportedly surprised to learn that the “odd ex-Marine” was the same man who assassinated Kennedy. Frannie was appalled that they entertained “that horrible individual,” while Henry’s re- sponse was more joking: “Well, we met Nixon and we also met Lee Harvey Oswald…” (This information comes from the writings of George de Mohrenschildt’s memoirs, IamaPatsy!).
It appears that the Brutons returned to the DC area in 1964, and Admiral Bruton died in a nursing home in Chevy Chase in 1992. He is buried here in Arlington Cemetery.
While we won’t be naming any local parks after Admiral Bruton, it is interesting to see how our neighborhood has been home to so many interesting and important people in the last century.
Who lived in your home? Maybe it’s been in your family for generations, maybe the house itself has an interesting story. Please consider writing an article for our newsletter, or work with me or someone else to pull information together to preserve and share our community’s many unique aspects. Where could you start looking? Find your property in the tax records and click on the archives link on the left side to find scans of the old property cards. https://propertysearch.arlingtonva.us/Home/Search Want to share a story about your house? Contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org