No need for developer hate- who built your house?

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.

Bates St Turn of the century 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.

Victims of the 1968 Riots- 1718 14th St NW- Chinese Laundry

So when I was doing the Truxton Circle neighborhood history and using the census to track every resident (see TruxtonCircle.org ) I noticed almost every Chinese person, usually guys, who identified as Chinese (so not that one Chinese guy who was white) were listed as being in the laundry business. Almost everyone. I am hoping Chinese residents in the 1950 census do something else besides cleaning clothes.

Anyway. So it was no big surprise to find a Chinese launderer who was a victim of the 1968 riots. Shaw Foo Chin was the owner of Bill’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning at 1718 14th Street NW in Logan Circle or U Street and experienced damage and theft on April 5th and 6th. It was a small business employing just himself and his wife. He owned the building as well.

He experienced extensive damage and theft. He lost a sign, had broken glasss and people stole his customers clothes. About half of his business came from the immediate neighborhood, so it may be a fair guess that rioters were not only taking from Mr. Chin, they were also taking from their neighbors.

Mr. Chin seems fairly resilient, like the past few businessmen I’ve reviewed here. His insurance didn’t change, his business was still open in June, and he wrote: It is not much damage to my property, so I plan to repair it as much as I can. He did however request financial assistance.

 

Probably nothing new at the corner of Florida & 3rd NW

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.

Victims of the 1968 riots-1618 7th Street NW- hopeful with can do spirit

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.

Victims of the 1968 riots: 703 R St NW or it wasn’t that bad

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’. Page 4 from post riot report

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.

Victims of the Riot: Jessie McCain 643 P St NW

It has been 50 years since the riots that destroyed several DC commercial corridors. And it has taken about 50 years for life and vibrancy to return to those corridors. However at the time, several of those places were already in a downward spiral. The heyday had passed. When the community is strong and disaster strikes, you rebuild. When it is weak, you leave.

Parking lotJessie McCain had a barbershop at 643 P St NW. During the riots it was completely destroyed. So what is there now? A parking lot. Next to it is a vacant lot, where Clark Construction has a couple of mobile office trailers that have been there for years. So in 50 years the only improvement has been clearing off the rubble.

Just after the riots officials sent out surveys to business owners to figure out the level of damage. The image above is from the survey Mr. McCain returned in September 1968. He was a 50 year old African American, and back in the 60s, 50 was old. Fifty year olds are a whole lot healthier and active these days, but back then they were well over the hill, probably not going to see 65. The destruction the riot brought Mr. McCain was the final straw. He wrote: “I am too old to be worryed [sic] any more. I just don’t want any more business.”

There were plenty more victims in Shaw for whom the riots were the final straw, and I’ll introduce you to them in the month of April.

Dangit old Engine 12- Spark Restaurant Review

Dammit. I really had hoped this would be better. Maybe they’ll change things up or find their audience or something, because I was mildly disappointed with the new Spark restaurant that took the place of the old Engine 12 Firehouse restaurant.

I had high, maybe too high, hopes for the new restaurant in the old space, when I saw bone marrow on the menu. The last time I had bone marrow was at Eat the Rich (RIP) paired with some jam. It was soooo good. I had those same expectations when coming to Spark.

Bone marrow at Spark 12

 

Okay, let me start off with what I liked. It was bone marrow. There was nice crusty bread. There was a little of a pickle side to cut the fat of the marrow. There was a nice funky tool which to use to scoop out the marrow. There was salt at the table so I could season bland tasting marrow. Yeah, that’s my one complaint, it was bland tasting. Maybe it was because the marrow was ‘smoked’ and not braised or whatever the heck Eat the Rich did. It lacked a richness, and just tasted like fat. I’m fine with paying $16 for a plate of bones and bread, if it is yummy bones and bread.

My main reason for getting a sitter and making Spark 12 our date night outing were the bones. Ignoring the bone marrow, everything else was meh, ‘alright’. The people at the next table were loud and even after they left, we still had to speak with a raised voice to hear each other. The service seemed a little slow, but since they’d only been open about a week, that was forgivable. The Old Fashioned I ordered was fair tastewise but packed one hell of a boozy punch. The Help ordered a chocolate atomic fireball non-alcoholic drink. It was like a chocolate manhattan with the cinnamon spice candy along the rim and at the bottom of the drink. I thought the chocolate tasted watery and the strong cinnamon was a little overwhelming. If I hadn’t had a big lunch I might have been hungry for more, and if I were, we would have left to check out Big Bear or ANXO.

The experience left us a little sad. We really want the space to succeed. The previous restaurant had mediocre food. This, although they just opened and there is a ton of room for improvement, is also mediocre. This would be a great restaurant if they could just get the food right and in this neighborhood we expect more out of a sit down restaurant. A friend pointed out that if they wanted Caribbean, (Spark has some island dishes) they would go to Jam Doung down the block. This neighborhood also hosts Red Hen, Bacio, and DCity Smokehouse, places known for their great tasting food.

Maybe the problem is that I just got a super mediocre meal. The Help, my date, seemed content with his beef patties, but he’s easy to please. I haven’t written Spark off, I’ll try them again and hope for better. But next time we’re bringing the kid and skipping the sitter.

That is one pretty salad

Fishscale Romaine SaladSo for lunch I ventured out and was hankering for a Halfsmoke dog but they were closed on Tuesday for lunch, so I walked back in the direction of Truxton Circle to fix myself lunch when I was drawn into Fishscale at 637 Florida Ave NW.

See that salad. That sure is one pretty salad. I did not order that salad. I ordered a fish burger with the sunflower slaw. It was good. Was it $15 worth of good (incl tax)? Unsure, but it was good. I liked it. I may come back to check out the salad to see if it tastes as good as it looks.

Good Liquor Stores/ Bad Liquor Stores

Let beer be for those who are perishing,
     wine for those who are in anguish!
 Let them drink and forget their poverty
     and remember their misery no more.--- Proverbs 31:6-7
 

So I was allowed to escape my darling baby son to run some errands and noticed a new liquor store where an old liquor store sat at S and 7th St NW. It is a different liquor store in that the corner doesn’t reek of fake pot and there isn’t a crowd of purposeless Black men hanging out in front. The inside probably is different too. I wouldn’t know as the old store “Log Cabin Liquors” was impossible to see into.  The new store. Looks very nice from the outside.

Unfortunately in the history of the neighborhood, liquor stores were bad news. For those who didn’t know, for about 2/3rds of the 20th Century chunks of Shaw was a slum or downtrodden neighborhood. In the map above liquor stores were in the brown and they dotted the neighborhood. You will find a lot of liquor stores in downtrodden neighborhoods, with unsavory characters hanging about. When I moved into my neck of Shaw, it was natural to fight the renewal license of liquor stores because they were problems. They didn’t reflect where some neighbors hoped to progress. Those places sold wino liquors (Mad Dog, 40 ozs, etc) and sometimes other things adding to the drug trade. They catered to the poor who were trying to drown their sorrows in cheap booze.

Alcoholism isn’t helpful, and doesn’t raise anyone up. I would go all Carrie Nation, if I didn’t enjoy the stuff, as I’ve experienced the destruction of alcoholism in my family. When residents and church representatives challenged the ABRA license, the destructive nature of alcoholism was brought forth because we saw the evidence of it littered in our treeboxes and passed out in our parks.
Angel Share Liquors
Yes, the new ‘good’ shiny liquor stores are a reflection of gentrification, but they aren’t making money off of panhandlers and seniors cashing in their social security checks to self-medicate themselves into a stupor. The bars and liquor stores are not like some college town places helping patrons to get drunk fast and cheap. Drinks are stupid expensive, and at some places carefully crafted so you don’t gulp them down, but rather savor the notes and whatever.  As a resident I like these bars and liquor stores that cater to a more responsible (and yes moneyed) crowd. Parks are more fun when there aren’t smashed liquor bottle glass sticking out every few feet.

Somewhere in this town is a drink that uses spruce, like in the tree, where can I find that?