29 Aug 2022

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Ignatius Tamorria’s Stores

Legal guns are, by design, difficult to acquire in Washington D.C. This has been the case for quite some time, and in spite of some liberalization since the Heller decision, not that much seems to have changed. It was therefore somewhat surprising to discover that there used to be a gun store just two blocks from the Capitol. Of course, that was in the 1920s, so maybe not so surprising.

Ignazio Settimo Tamorria (that’s him at left) was born on April 3, 1884, in Italy. He married Francis Agate in 1906, and together, they moved first to New York City in 1909, just long enough to be listed in the 1910 census as working in marble mosaics, then on to Washington. Here, he began by working as a clerk, but by 1913, he was listing his occupation as gunsmith at 1431 Potomac Avenue. Along the way, he also changed the spelling of his first name to Ignatius.

By the time he had to register for the draft in 1918, he had moved again, this time listing his store as being at 209 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, while listing some two miles down the road at 2307 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. While he listed himself as a “gunsmith” the store was, in fact, a hardware store and sold a whole lot more than guns and ammunition.

It was at this location that he was first noticed by the newspapers of the time, and it was for the usual reason: a robbery. On February 7, 1920, having gained a duplicate key “several youths” entered his store and ransacked it, making off with some $200 worth of firearms. The event was worth two paragraphs on the fourth page of the Washington Post the following day.

Not long after that, a gun Tamorria had sold was used by one resident of St. Elizabeths Hospital on another. This event had the Washington Evening Star opining that more should be done to control the sales of firearms.

Image from December 1, 1921, edition of Arms and the Man showing rifle stocked by Tamorria (HathiTrust)

The following year, Tamorria had slightly better press, when the National Rifle Association’s newsletter Arms and the Man (yes, really) featured him in an article about unique guns, in particular how he had built a specialized stock for another gunsmith.

Ten years later, Tamorria was back in the news for another robbery. By this time, he had moved a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, to 617. The thieves “made off with enough arms and ammunition to stock a small arsenal,” according to the following day’s Star.

This robbery seems to have marked a change for Tamorria. Two years later, he was welcomed by the Barber and Ross Hardware store as their new “Firearm Expert and Consultant.” Thereafter, the Tamorria name was in the news only when his sons were either getting in trouble with the law ––Salvatore for counterfeiting, Albert for robbery–– or celebrating wartime exploits: Albert, having served his time, for bandaging a former Senator’s head, and William, for sending home Nazi memorabilia.

Sadly, Ignatius was not around for either of these last two events, having died in early 1943. He was buried in Washington National Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.


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