319 R Street NW- a sign

319 R St NW, 20001So what’s new? A sign.

I attended the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) meeting on Monday and a neighbor from that block said she spoke with the owner/developer. That person informed her that they would be keeping the place a single family home. Even though they purchased the property back in June 2015 for $750K, they could break even, or profit, by giving it a super interior renovation and exterior restoration.

For those of you just joining us in this story, here’s the quick summary. Back in the 00s a Korean church bought the property to do inner city mission work. Then they sold it to a developer, who then proposed to knock off the turret and build a 3rd story in order to make a 2 unit condo. They hinted that if they were not allowed to do so they would demolish the whole building, as a matter of right. They played chicken, and lost. A hundred years prior, developer Harry Wardman built almost all the buildings on the block 319 R sat on, and this was the reasoning that was used to make the whole square a National Historic Landmark. The landmark status prevented the developers from making any exterior changes. This probably could have been prevented if the turret was respected or if the architects who drew the second proposed drawing incorporated the turret, instead of plopping on a dunce hat on the proposed 3rd floor. It had been done before around the corner on 4th St where a 3rd floor was added and the problem didn’t go past BZA.

Considering Harry Wardman built all those townhouses as 2 story flats, I don’t see why it cannot become a 2 unit building. The building has a tad over 2,000 square feet, so dividing it into half wouldn’t create two too tiny units. But there are costs to dividing up a single unit structure (character preservation vs affordable housing, ‘nother topic for another day) and it appears a nicely (not impressive but nice) renovated corner house like 319 R St NW would sell for 1.something million dollars. One point four if I were a betting woman. The house across the street for $1.25 mil is under contract, and 319 conceivably has 1 parking pad and those are worth gold!

So we’ll see what happens and keep an eye on it.

Incompetents with guns

This is not about the second amendment.

This is not about gun control laws.

This is about drug dealers on the corner.

The problem, and it comes with every wave of new neighbors, particularly white neighbors, is the idea that the guys on the corner are harmless and have some imagined right to hang about. They are not harmless.

Where there is the business of drug dealing, there is a gun somewhere nearby. A loaded gun, ready to shoot. More than likely an illegal gun where those in possession never bothered to go through the gun safety training class or registration.

Incompetents with guns have have bad aim hitting cars, houses, bystanders, and sometimes their intended target. I remember a daytime shooting many years ago on my street, in front of my house, so this is not theoretical. The shooters shot at a bunch of guys hanging out on the corner (suspected drug dealers) in a drive by from an SUV- Suburban Ussault Vehicle. The shooters managed to hit one guy in the butt and as they traveled down my street they felt the need to shoot several rounds of bullets towards the ground. They managed to damage some cars. I didn’t have a car so, I didn’t care that much. But I do care about an errant bullet wandering into the insides of one of my neighbors or myself (and now as a mom, my family members).

The bad old days of the drug dealers are slowly creeping back into Shaw. The only difference is there are fewer baby mommas’, girlfriends’ and grandmas’ houses to hang out in front of, the plus side of gentrification. So yes, some of the guys may have lived in the neighborhood at one time (as a kid, as a boyfriend, etc) but they don’t live here now. They do not respect the neighborhood, and never did. Don’t feel obligated to make excuses for them.

Chocolate City- Book Review

Chocolates- GodivaSo my neighbor has a book group regarding DC history. Because I choose not to read as fast as I did in my grad school days, I participate when I’ve already read (or listened on audiobook) the book. Because this book, Chocolate City by Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove, was recommended by a co-worker who knew of my interest in DC history and more importantly, because it was in Kindle form I figured I’d read it.

Reading it, and having the text to voice function on the Kindle Fire, I thought I would never get out of the 19th Century. That period may or may not have been the longest (maybe tedious) part of the book but I felt like I was slogging through. The 20th Century zoomed by in comparison. Brett, the organizer of this book group, mentioned he found it too depressing and skipped chapters. I was very tempted to skip chapters.

I didn’t skip chapters and I actually got to the end notes and skimmed that. Why? Because I looked at the end notes constantly while reading the book because I questioned the conclusion or interpretation of an event or idea. Then I got annoyed when the citation (when I finally got past 1900) was the Washington Post, for things where a better primary exists. If historians are doomed to repeat other historians, this book is doomed to regurgitate the Post.

My other problem with the book is language. This book may not age well. The authors are fast and loose with the word ‘conservative’. It is used when ‘segregationist’ or ‘Republican’ would have been more precise. The definition of the word changes depending on the time period and place. There are other words that are trending right now, not used as much but I’m sure will date the book when new phrases or words are created and come into fashion.

So what did I like about the book? Well, it starts with Native Americans and actually goes into the the early settlement history. In the 20th Century, the area of the authors’ strengths, takes on a different narrative a bit. When writing about Marion Barry, he’s less of a personality, as he is in other histories. They don’t exactly ignore his womanizing and substance abuse, but it is not the focus and barely the reason for DC’s woes. The main narrative is racism and the struggle for Black autonomy. Barry’s famous line has less to do with being a horny crackhead and more to do with the Federal government going after Black mayors and elected officials.

I’ve got a lot of notes and highlights, and hopefully before the Wednesday, I can have it synthesized into something where I can add to the small group discussion.

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?

Not just a matter of keeping a black middle class, it’s attracting them

I’ve been giving a lot of thought since my last post about the Black middle class in the District. I mentioned one of the great things the not so great former Marion “Mayor For Life” Berry did was help create a

Page from 1930 Census

sizable black middle class by getting African Americans in the city hired in city government and city contracts. BUT… that sizable Black middle class moved to Ward 9, aka Prince George’s County, Maryland. There is a large black middle class in the DC Metro Area, but the concentration is over in Maryland, not in the District.

The Georgetown report, the US Census, various authors and commentators have noticed that DC will no longer be majority minority (Chocolate) city if current trends continue. The Georgetown report suggests halting the trend by trying to keep DC’s predominately native Black population with various programs targeted at low income households. And maybe that won’t help at all because maybe DC never produced enough natives to make a difference and the key is attracting African Americans to the city.

DC’s Afro-American population had two big growth spurts I can think of, the Civil War and the Great Migration. There was slavery in DC but not a lot compared to the surrounding areas of MD and VA. During and after the war, a number of black people flooded into the city and Union held areas for safety and opportunity. These Freedmen, were not DC natives, and their country rural ways were not necessarily welcomed by black DC natives. The Great Migration, where Southern African Americans moved North, and DC is a North/South hybrid brought more rural Blacks into the city.

Looking at my own research for Truxton Circle, specifically the data for the 1930 census, when the neighborhood became overwhelmingly African American, a majority were not DC natives. There were 4866 people living in the neighborhood, a little under half of those (all races) were DC natives. With 3798, the TC was majority black, yet only 1443 were DC natives. Of black household heads and wives (1,476), to exclude children most likely born in DC, 349 were born in DC.

To me it looks like the problem of loss of DC’s Black population and particularly the near disappearance of the Black middle class is not attracting enough Black people into the city to live. DC has not grown it’s large Black population booms through childbirth. DC has become very attractive to young white people, the city has just got to figure out how to make it attractive to young hip up and coming black people.

Commerce was part of our history

In the past couple of weeks I have been in contact with people in the commercial sphere about history, and this had me thinking. If you were raised in a place, maybe a suburb, where commercial buildings and activities are segregated from residences, you might be under the impression that this is the way things are supposed to be. It might even cloud your view of history.

The wonderful things about cities, older East Coast cities, is that there was mixed use before things like zoning. People lived in close proximity to their jobs and the businesses they used. A building could house a family and a store, or a one time be a store and then maybe later a residence.

The map above is just of stores. It does not point out the warehouses around Hanover Street and the working dairy where Mt. Sinai and the Northwest Co-op sit, but you can see their outlines. The other thing to take into account is this is 2 years after the 1968 riots, many businesses did not rebuild or return, depressing the neighborhood even further.

When I moved into the neighborhood in the early aughts, there was annoyance at the types of businesses that were filling the commercial corridors of Florida Avenue and North Capitol and spaces in between. Those businesses were liquor stores (brown on the map) and beauty parlors (red on the map). Those were pretty much the only things taking up spaces left empty 30 years prior.

Reading post-riot reports where business owners had an opportunity to say something, the area had problems before the riots. The riots just made a bad situation worse, and businesses, along with residents began to leave. Now contrast that with today, where businesses want to come to Shaw. The number of  sponsors for the Shaw Main Street’s Art All Night was an embarrassment of riches, a testimony of how far the 7th, 9th and U Sts commercial corridors have come.

Shaw’s rising from the ashes of the riots was not just from people moving in and fixing up houses, it was also businesses coming in and taking a chance on the neighborhood.

A bit of DC 60s anti-Freeway expression

The thing I like about primary sources in history is that it occasionally reminds us of the things forgotten. We know of Emmet Till, the Birmingham Sunday school children, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X, however those other people require Googling. Yet, the people who this flyer/poster was aimed at knew who was Col. Lemuel Penn.

I don’t want to add too much to this, except to say that neighborhoods like Shaw were in real danger of being destroyed by freeways/ highways. Read the poster and tell me what you think in the comments.

Oh what could have been- a plan to destroy the TC

I watched the most recent Jane Jacobs documentary ‘Citizen Jane’, which then led to listening to podcasts about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. If you are not familiar with the story, Robert Moses was a very powerful man in the early 20th century who was very good at tearing down structures (slum clearance it was called) to build parks and parkways. However, another word for parkway could be highway. Jane Jacobs was the journalist/ author/ activist who stopped him from building a road or highway through her Greenwich Village neighborhood in the 1960s.

Highways, were the big thing after World War II. Prior to the war cities were big on slum clearance. Slums, according to one definition, were places where there wasn’t a lot of indoor plumbing. But most seem to define it as where poor people live in poor conditions. You mix the slum clearance with the highway funds and you have lots of plans to destroy neighborhoods.

Proposed Highway Plan

There was a plan to extend I-395 past New York Avenue NW, where it currently terminates. The above map from 1957 shows this. There are a few landmarks to help you figure out where Truxton Circle is in all this, such as the Capitol, Union Station, Logan Circle and Mt. Vernon Square. Where you see the #10 is a white mass of something, that is a proposed expressway that was to connect I-395 to an inner loop. To create this roadway tons of housing in what is now Truxton Circle would have to be destroyed. Actually, if this were to have gone through there would not have been a Truxton Circle neighborhood.

So what happened to keep this from happening? The sixties. There was a change in the 1960s where people pushed back against the government, and this was a government plan. The culture of the Civil Rights movement played a major part in this, and that is another post for another time.

1717 Should Be Exempt from the Historic Landmark Application

From what I can see for 4th St NW it includes 1709-1721 4th St NW. Thing is 1717 4th Street was infill, built sometime after 2009.
As you can see from the screen capture of Google’s Streetview time machine, there was an empty lot in 2009, surrounded by a wood fence. Up in the left hand corner is an image from 2016. showing the building that currently sits there. Whatever Wardman that used to be there is long gone

I provided the gun but I didn’t shoot him: Historic Landmarking of Sq. 519

319 R St NWSo I got a comment accusing me of wanting historic designations for other’s properties but not my own.

Yay a comment that isn’t spam. I’d prefer a critical comment over 10 comments selling snake oil and condos in Mumbai.

What is it all about? Well there is an application with the Historic Preservation Office for the whole (with a few exceptions) block of Square 519, which is bounded by Florida Ave, 4th, R, & 3rd Streets. It is Case 17-18 Wardman Flats.  The DC Preservation League, not I, nominated the block for Historic Landmark status. What does this mean? It means that the developer for 319 R Street can’t go forward yet and the turret on the corner is protected from demo by DC historic preservation law.

I’ve been busy with a property in Baltimore, MD the past month, so I haven’t had much involvement with 319 R Street NW beyond a few blog posts, tweets and showing up at BACA meetings. I’ve been consumed by that (because of a bad contractor experience) and have neglected a lot of things here in DC. So what has happened with 319 R St NW and the rest of the block, was not of my doing.

I will admit, proudly, that I did provide the tools for the application. There is a badly outdated website I created called TruxtonCircle.org . There you can find the census information for every man, woman and child who lived in the area known as Truxton Circle from 1880 to 1940. It has been up since 2012. A paper I wrote sometime ago, “Ethnic Divides in an 1880 DC Neighborhood” was referenced in the application. I’ve been researching the history of the neighborhood for well over a decade and sharing it, so if someone wanted to use it for other purposes, they can.  But if someone tries to make Truxton Circle a historic district, I will fight them.

I can totally understand if the residents of Square 519 are mad. They’ve been swept up in something stirred up by the developers of 319 R St NW. If they hadn’t threatened to raze the building, or if they had their architects create a second drawing incorporating the existing turret (as opposed to throwing a new one on top like an ill fitting dunce hat), it probably would not have come to this. The owner of 1721 4th St NW added a 3rd floor without getting the National Register of Historic Places involved and triggering something like this.

But why drag everyone else on the block into this? Whelp… it appears to be a stronger case when taking the block as a whole because, with a few exceptions, it is a Harry Wardman block. So everyone else on the block has this hanging over them because the developers of 319 R Street NW threatened the corner turret.

In this I’m like the person who provided the gun, but I didn’t shoot the guy. And if you’re wondering if I’ve left any other historic weaponry around for anyone to gather and use in an landmarking application, then yes, there is more. People of Bates Street, be aware.