The John Mercer Langston School at 43 P Street NW has been sitting empty and vacant since 1997*. That’s 20 years of rotting away with nothing being done to bring it back to life.
When the problem of the school was mentioned at on Bates Area Civic Association to the representative from Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie‘s office didn’t seem to be familiar with the hulking corpse of a building and might have confused it with another building. There is so much development going on, some involving city owned land, I understand it can be confusing.
Part of the problem is whomever is the Ward Councilperson for Ward 5 is not particularly interested in being proactive regarding this property. They and or their staff seem to believe the “process” will take care of it. The process is broken.
As a school, charters have first dibs. Langston is a gut job, so no serious charter school is going through the long process getting the school to dump millions of dollars in the building’s renovation. There was a fight for the John F. Cook across the street that Mundo Verde eventually won and added to, but Cook was empty for less than 5 years and was still functional as a building.
Yes, there is an educational center next door in Slater that has always expressed interest in Langston. However the occupants of Slater are poor tenants. Poor as in too poor to do the work needed to have the Langston building gutted, brought up to code, while respecting the building’s Historic Landmark status. However, councilperson staff will almost always drag up that unrealistic possibility when asked about what’s is if anything going on with Langston. The occupants of Slater have been interested in Langston for at least 15 years. If given 15 more years they will express the same level of interest without much action to show for it.
What’s the solution? Well I have an answer no one will like and possibly won’t happen due to the shared lot with Slater, luxury condos. Turning schools into high priced condos or apartments add fuel to the fire of the gentrification unaffordable housing debate. But let me remind you of the problem… Historic Landmark; 21st century building codes; rotting corpse of a building. To work with and deal with those things require the kind of money DINK households making 100-200% of the AMI bring. This cannot be and should not be done on the cheap. And unless the city wants to throw the Slater occupants under the bus, so they can offer a well heeled charter both buildings to make it worth the while, no school with the ability to rehab both buildings (Slater is bad off too) is seriously going to touch it.
Today we have Airbnb, back in the day there was taking in lodgers. The day being 1940, 1930, 1920… you get the idea. There also use to be things called boarding houses, where you could rent a bed, in a room that you shared with other people. You can do that too on Airbnb, but I haven’t tried it and haven’t been desperate enough to take that option.
People were more communal back then.
Anyway, you’d be hard pressed to find a rooming house in DC or anywhere these days. But they were an affordable form of housing for singles, when all a person needed was a warm clean place to sleep. It was common enough in the past that such living arrangements would pop up in fiction and radio plays of the early 20th century.
I remember back when I was little, in Florida, hanging out with a kid from (elementary) school and her family lived in a boarding house. A family of 3-4 in one dark room in the back of a two story structure. I gather they could not afford to rent a house, and apartments were not a thing where I lived. That house was torn down some time ago.
I’m not calling for the return of the rooming house. As a resident, I’d resist one coming into my neighborhood. No, I am just reminding readers of a type of housing that existed and is no longer an option. I think as a society we are slowly removing affordable options, even as we complain about the lack of affordable housing.
So the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) voted to support Plan B, which was building a distinct 3rd floor and a new turret, that looks like a little hat (See The Turret is Plan B). It was what the ANC and the residents of the 1700 block of 4th and Richardson apparently agreed on.
The developers ‘threatened’ that they could by right raze the building. Maybe. I don’t know if it would have been worth it because if the building were razed there would be no need to stick to Plan A either and they would have had to be within 60-62% of lot coverage. The current structure is about 70 something of lot coverage.
Anyway, I am still sad that the plan does not incorporate the turret like 1721 4th St does.
It looks less like a pop up.
Here is a newer picture I took a few days ago of 1721-1717 4th St NW. The building on the left is 1721, and it includes a pop up. The blue building in the middle is an original Wardman, minus some roof vents that existed earlier. The building on the right is 21st century infill. The one with the popup has a mix of historic charm and more square footage, the middle, has the historic charm and details, and new one, plain and has that extra floor. The buildings on the left and right do rise above the one in the middle but the heigh difference isn’t too drastic or jarring.
What 1721 does is use that old mansard roof and expands on it. There are other additions in Truxton Circle that add a floor. There is a popup on the 1600 block of fourth street that blends in well. I can’t seem to get a good photo of it because there are two trees that block the view, and maybe the trees help obscure the popup.
I’m still trying to make up my mind regarding this pop up on 3rd and Q. It isn’t horribly ugly, it isn’t charming either. It might grow on me like the Darth Vader house at 1651 New Jersey Avenue NW.
I’m afraid that the 319 R St developers will go with ugly…. 1500 block of 3rd Street ugly. This particular ugly has been slapped by the market’s invisible hand for being so dang ugly.
There will be a BACA meeting Monday July 10th to discuss 319 R Street among other things. There was no meeting July 3rd because of the 4th.
So the ANC sent the developers (Fred Schnider Investment Group) proposal to her residents and looking at the plans, Plan A has a 3rd story, no turret. Plan B has the turret.
But it looks in Plan B like the turretted style is a tad ugly. There is some vacant space between the turret and the top floor windows. In Plan A (not shown here) there is a small row of windows, that fills the space between the turret and the larger 3rd floor windows. I wanted to like it but, it could look better. I’d approve of this less than flattering Plan B.
I was hoping for something like 1721 4th Street where the turret was incorporated into the 3rd floor. Also Plan B would have them destroying the old turret and us hoping that they bother to rebuild the odd little hat of a turret to go back on.
The other problem, I’m just now noticing is how it looks against the adjoining buildings. Currently three of the other houses along R Street NW are vacant investments gone bad. So there isn’t anyone in those buildings to cry foul. The transition from 319 to 317 is abrupt.
I might suggest a bit of a mansard like roof, with an opening for a deck, and the rooftop space on top. It would mean fewer windows on the top corner. But it could also make the transition from 319 to 317 less obvious and make the 3rd floor with the roof top entrance look less like a pop up.