It's not there no more, and that's okay

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This woman lived in an alley that no longer exists. Since the photograph was taken sometime between 1934-1941, there is a possiblity, that's she is long dead and isn't too concerned with housing.

The alley is Reeves Alley, sometimes Cookey Alley that was on square 551, where Mt. Sinai Baptist, the Northwest Cooperative and the Florida Avenue park sit. This is one of a couple of photos taken by the Alley Dwelling Authority to highlight the problems of alley residences and give the agency a good reason to tear down or convert alley homes. Looking at the aerial photo from the 1950s, it doesn't seem that these got the ax by the time the agency had changed its mission.

The block housing shared space with industrial/ commercial space. Either it came about pre-zoning or the city really wasn't interested in applying zoning rules here. There was the dairy and an auto repair shop, and several warehouse garage type buildings. I do not know off the top of my head when all this was swept away to make way for the Coop. But the Coop houses more people in better conditions than the alley did. Look back at the photograph of the woman at the door, it is possible that the housing was about 50 years old and it was getting into poor shape with the shutters . Of course there were worse looking alleys and the problem wasn't that they were in poor shape, the problem was they were hidden from street view. Today the problem would be getting 911 dispatchers to find it on their systems, getting fire/EMS into the alley, or calling a cab.

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Today we love alley dwellings, it where cool new eateries or shops open up. If by chance it is a residence, it is a singleton or a childless couple who have managed to 'do something' wonderful with the property, turning it into a hidden jewel. They are not occupied by families of poor Carolina laborers who rent from a landlord not particularly interested in keeping up his/her property. The situation with the poor family would have been around longer than the cool people. Long enough that the property would have gone down so poorly that it could have been unsavagable by the time the cool people showed up. In the meantime, Shaw residents needed better housing. Besides there were plenty of poorly maintained houses facing streets.

These are just the alley dwellings. The block, remember was more than that, garages and warehouses. They are not there no more. The dairy, with its milk trucks, which had a bad habit of hitting people, is gone. People changed how they got their milk and butter, the world changed. Cities change. Change is not all bad.

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Interesting post, and I dig the old photos. Though most people I know who live in/have lived in alleys have been single, I do know of at least one family (they would definitely qualify as middle class) that occupies an alley dwelling immediately north of H Street NE. They've done very cool things with it. Happy to introduce you if you are interested.

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