Okay, if you are familiar with the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 7th Street NW you are aware of Asbury Dwellings, senior citizens’ apartments.
Well before it was housing, it was a school. It was THE school the neighborhood was named after. Just like Adams Morgan was named after two schools there, with its own urban renewal project, Shaw was named after the Shaw Junior High School. Which was named after Col. Robert Gould Shaw. So the neighborhood being named after the Col. Shaw is sorta kinda true if you’re totally ignoring the urban renewal part of the neighborhood’s history.
So behind the three white guys with rolled up posters, is the school and you may be able to make out the word “High School”. It now reads “Asbury Dwellings”. If you don’t feel like bringing up a Google street view of the place here’s a link to a Library of Congress photo of the current building. When you really look at it, it is a beautiful building.
The Langston School on the unit block of P St NW has been vacant, and crumbling for years, possibly decades. The building is in such bad condition, charters who get 1st dibs on DC school buildings have given it a hard pass.
So my neighbor, the former architect current artist, IT invited me to join him for an open house in the Truxton Circle neighborhood, 210 P St NW. These are the Clover Court Condos, and the start near a million dollars. There were 2 of the 4 units staged, with one being open and un-staged.
Let me start with the bad and get that out of the way. The price is in the square footage, though some of that seems wasted in some ways. IT was not in agreement with some of the layout decisions. I found a few things not up to par for the price tag. And we both spotted things that didn’t make sense for the way people might occupy the space. One of the toilets in unit #4 is is a very tight alcove where it is very likely someone is going to constantly hit the towel rack. And the alcove is super tight, no linebackers in the can here. The basement wells for unit #1 do let in lots of light but the view and space is lacking. I suggested a mural or plants. The problem with plants in that and the balcony and the roof deck is where is a water source?
Units 3 and 4 have roof deck access. IT has told me on previous occasions that roof decks need things or else they will mainly go unused. You need water and electrical outlets and it helps to have some shelter. There is a tiny room at the top of the stairs, pictured right. It needs an electrical outlet for a fridge. We did not notice any water spigots on the roof. At the price point, one might expect these things on the rooftop space.
Okay the good stuff.
It’s got a turret. You do not need to get rid of the turret (hear that 319 R St NW?!). Just clad that puppy with some metal and build a roof deck around it. We wandered into unit #3 and noticed that there is nothing on the inside to point to the turret up above. IT had looked for some glass to see if it was being used as a light source. Nope.
Oh, you probably want to know what is the good stuff for a buyer. Well as I said there is lots of space inside. Unit #1 has 1,921 square feet, unit #3 2,245 square feet, and unit #4 a whopping 2,331 square feet. There was so much space I got disoriented and lost in the units. The price is in the wealth of space. You want fancy stuff like an outdoor kitchen, or water spigots, you’re gonna have to put that in yourself.
For unit #4, there is definitely a million dollar plus view. The top of the Washington Monument is visible and unobstructed. IT said you could have a 4th of July fireworks viewing party and charge admission. Seriously, any of you folks with private decks with a view of the monument in the TC or Mid-City Shaw wanna charge me to see the fireworks email me. Just tell me if I need to bring my own water.
We had it for almost 10 years when it died. The image to the right are the tubes our system, the Spacepak system, used to deliver cool air to the house. Prior to that I used big honking window units. The joy of central air is not having to lug heavy as sin units up the freaking stairs AND down the frigging stairs once a year.
But then we noticed the system wasn’t working that well. Called a well known plumbing/HVAC company to come out and they said the system was leaking coolant and whatever it was the whole system needed replacing because the kind of coolant the system used is being phased out. They brought out a second person to look at the system and got the sales pitch to replace the system, at $12K. To be fair about $3k of that was to hire a crane to replace the unit on the roof.
With that quote, and knowing that most AC systems have a life span of 10 years, that’s $1,200 a year (not including power, filters, and maintenance) for the privilege of central air. For that price I could get someone from Taskrabbit or something like it to come to my house and bring the various ac window units up and down for way less. Hell for that price, I could buy new ac units every friggin year and pay someone to lug them up and down. Also our house is small, and the bedrooms, kitchen and living/dining space is less than 800 sq feet (not counting baths and hall). We don’t need a super system. So not going to replace the system this year, not at that price. Besides, we replaced the roof last month, so that was our big capital project of 2018.
The Spacepak system, when it was running, I really loved it. There were no bulky vent structures and the vents in the ceiling kinda blended in. When the system was on, everywhere, except our bedroom was fairly quiet. Above our bedroom there was a lot of the mechanicals. We never never had the system below 75F, I hate the cold. I continued to love the system until it died.
It did have it’s faults. The kitchen vent was above a cabinet and I don’t think any air really got in there. As a consequence, I avoided using the oven in the summer. I have my doubts we could have gotten the house ice cold with the system. It, like our heating system, took its sweet time getting to the temperature we set.
I don’t believe the people who quoted us were familiar with small duct high velocity systems, and the price tag was probably for a whole new bulky duct system. We did contact another company that did have some familiarity and after the technician came by they never got back in touch with us, and I didn’t follow up. So alas we are doing window units.
I am playing with the idea of scrapping the system for mini-splits. I have a tiny house (not on wheels, just a tiny townhome) that I put mini-splits in, one unit for each floor. It does heating and cooling. Since the house was ridiculously tiny, I used images of Honk Kong apartments as inspiration and noticed these mini-split systems all over the place. The major downside is appearance, but I’d want one in the kitchen just to deal with the fact that it is the hottest room in the house in summer.
So I was reading, okay skimming, through a lot of web posts and articles about housing and there was a fair amount of hate on developers, real estate developers. Apparently all developers care about is money. Okay, but didn’t a developer build your house? Your apartment?
So the newly historic landmarked Wardman Flats were built by a real estate developer Harry Wardman, which is why it is landmarked… Okay it was landmarked because a present day developer threatened the turret at 319 R Street and landmarking is a hammer people can use. Wardman did not build the houses on Square 519 (btwn 3rd, 4th, Florida, and R Streets NW) for charity. He was a builder, that’s how he made money. He built a lot in DC, mainly, for the money.
A few years before Wardman built in Truxton Circle and a few blocks over the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) built flats between North Cap, Q, P, and 3rd Streets NW. Paul Williams has a wonderful blog post about WSIC, so there is no need for me to rehash that history. WSIC wasn’t completely all about the money, more about ‘business philanthropy’. I’m not completely sure, but my reading is that this type of project was to provide dividends to stockholders. So doing good and making money?
My own house is over 140 years old and as far as I can tell, was built by a guy who rented to poor black labors. Can’t find anything that shows he built my house for anything other than the money.
There is no public housing in Truxton Circle. There is HUD subsidized housing, but no public housing. But even city supported or federally subsidized housing involve developers as well. I don’t have any good history about that so, this is where I’ll end this post.
Recently a co-worker of mine retired. At his retirement party a few other retirees I knew showed up and I remembered what the place was like when they still worked there, and how the place will change when my co-worker becomes another retiree. The building where we work has, for the most part, despite several renovations since it was built in the early 20th Century, remained unchanged. But the workplace keeps changing, with each new person, with each retirement, departure, and in some cases, death.
The neighborhood is the same way. The spirit of my block changed with the crowd who showed up in the 00s and eventually departed in the early teens. The buildings has relatively remained unchanged. There has been some infill here, a pop up or pop back there, but for the most part the buildings have not changed much over the years. But the block has changed, and will continue to do so long after I’ve moved on*.
If there was to be another possible historic landmarking or whatever in Truxton Circle I would predict it would happen with the Bates Street houses. I’d hope not, but there is a history there, and with a few exceptions the overall style on the unit to the 200 blocks of Bates have been unchanged.
However the character of Bates Street has changed, and continues to change. It’s not the same street when the developer, the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company built them in the 1900s. It was purposefully segregated and all rentals. By the 1940s it there were a few Black households on Bates, and one of the few places with Whites in Truxton Circle. By the 1960s the blocks were on the government’s radar for urban renewal because it was run down. Most of the families (according to a report about Bates of the time) could only afford public housing, if they were to be relocated. However the urban renewal and the large scale demolition of neighborhoods was challenged. Instead the some of the Bates St buildings were rehabilitated, but the neighborhood was still struggling. When I showed up in the early 21st Century there were many Section 8 houses, or houses that neighbors strongly suspected were Section 8, because the families’ crises kept playing out on the streets. A lot of those people are gone, but the buildings, for the most part, remain the same, all without the Historic Preservation Review Board.
Being a person who participates in communal worship, I have heard on more than one occasion, a church is the congregation/ people, not the building. Likewise, the character of the neighborhood is the people, not the buildings. Bates Street has been a White enclave, a poor Black street and now a mixed income, mixed race neighborhood. In twenty years, it might be something else, and no building preservation will prevent it.
*There is no way I’m retiring here. The stairs in my house are murder on my knees.
So mommy (me) decided she wanted some vermouth and pintxos and so we (me and the baby) sat out on the patio of ANXO. While I was there I noticed the owner of the commercial property across the street and another man talking in front. The other man had a clipboard. It’s probably nothing.
I did see a mention a while back on PoPville about this, but we’ve been on this ride before and it goes nowhere. Many, many years back, way before ANXO, two ladies wanted to turn the building into a wine bar. However, according to them, the landlord was difficult. It has been vacant for years, but well kept.
I also noticed a kitty in the upstairs window. Kitty in the window means the upstairs is occupied. At least occupied by a black and white kitty cat, so I need to take it off my vacant list on my other blog.
Really, probably nothing will change. If it does, I’ll be pleasantly (hopefully) surprised.
The building that is 1618 7th St NW is so nondescript it just blends into the non-cool side of the 1600 block of 7th. Now the cool end is where the Dacha beer garden sits. 1618 has a rolltop gate that I’ve never seen unrolled. It seems shuttered or not open to me.
Anyway, Carl R. Webb was the manager and owner of Personality Studio and Gift Shop at 1618 7th Street NW, near the corner of 7th and Rhode Island Avenue. Mr. Webb was a Black man over the age of 50 who owned the building and the business that had been there prior to the 1940s. He ran it with a family member, possibly his wife.
Despite experiencing extensive glass breakage and theft of merchandise over two days, Mr. Webb seems pretty positive about going forward. He didn’t seem to lose insurance, some like other owners. He did ponder changing the name and enlarging the store. He claimed he could enlarge it because he has “the know how.” I don’t know if he ever did, I’d have to look that up in the 1970 directory. Considering his age, I’m a tiny bit doubtful, but I do applaud his attitude regarding the whole thing.
So there isn’t anything at 703 R St NW now. You plug it into Google maps and you get the intersection of R and 7th Streets NW. I’m guessing that 703 is over where the CaBi bikeshare sits. Before that it was a parking lot.
Apparently, Ellis Transfer, a moving company owned by Henry Ellis was the business at 703 R St NW prior to the riots. Mr. Ellis was a local African American man who lived around the corner on the 1600 block of 6th St NW. His post-riot conclusion could be summed up as ‘not that bad’.
Well what he actually wrote was: “Business as I have done pretty good here, but business is slow now and I have had to go to work elsewhere, my wife is keeping things going here.” Including himself and his wife he went from 8 employees to six due to business slowing down. The damage he experienced was extensive glass breakage and some minor fire damage on the roof. Unlike say a retail store, a moving business isn’t that dependent on foot traffic, so I won’t say the riot had a major impact on his business. But the building isn’t there, so something happened between 1968 and whenever the Shaw metro station got put in.
Mr. Ellis had no plans of shutting down his business or relocating. Was he a victim of the riots? Yes, as broken glass and a slightly damaged roof is unpleasant. But he was resilient and his business was the kind that could weather that kind of storm.
Though I moved to Shaw in 2000, I have some memories of the neighborhood prior to that because my aunts attend Shiloh Baptist at 9th and P. As a teen and a twenty-something visiting from Florida, I would get dragged to the neighborhood.
The scars from the ’68 riots were unavoidable and looming 20 and 30 years after the fires. The boarded up vacant buildings that outnumbered the occupied spaces was the character of 7th and 9th Street. Depressing, sketchy and dirty were other characteristics of the area before it shifted into full gentrification mode. It has taken 50 years to heal, mostly. There are still vacant buildings and nothingness at the corner of 7th & Q, the Shiloh side of 9th St, and other spots, so not completely.
Ray Milefsky (RIP) before he passed was working on tracing what was damaged on the block where he lived during the riots. I found this and shared it with him.
From what I can tell 0 meant no damage and 3 meant severe damage. Anyway, Ray had a theory that the riots were like a kristallnacht, since a number of white businesses damaged were Jewish owned. So the Jews in Shaw were removed.
Recent events with the Ward 8 councilman making an off hand remark about Jews controlling the weather, is a fair reminder that the African-American/Jewish relationship hasn’t been perfect. There were complaints about these white owned businesses and post riot reports of damaged properties revealed that the business owners weren’t too keen on the neighborhood either. For many the riot was the last straw and for others not being able to get or renew their insurance prevented them from coming back.
The riot transformed the neighborhood. Spots that once held stores or commercial properties later became apartments. There were other transformations, but I’m unsure to whom or what to give credit. The city and urban planners scaled back their grand plans to bulldoze the neighborhood, but earlier efforts by local leaders probably should receive credit for that, but the riot added something to that dynamic. It also weakened the neighborhood leaving it ripe for the redevelopment/ gentrification that came 30 years later after the neighborhood failed to rebuild and recover.