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.

Well I’m glad the Shaw-Howard Station is where it is

Proposed subway line through 1968 Shaw

Sorry this is not a prettier map.

The Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) it appears suggested the path through Shaw the WMATA subway sorta- kinda takes. As we know the Shaw metro station isn’t at 7th and Florida, but rather a block down at 7th and S and 7th and R. The Mt. Vernon Square station, isn’t at 7th and O, but also a couple of blocks off at 7th and M. WMATA at that time, proposed the line (did it even have a color in 1968?) going up 13th Street, with a station just off Logan Circle, and the U St station sort of where the U Street station is now.

Anyway. I tried posting some Shaw history about building and growth in the post-riot, pre-non-stop gentrification period. This was based on countering a poor gentrification think piece that claimed that you could count the building projects in DC between 1968-1998 on one hand. Actually, you can count at least a dozen building projects in Shaw during that period, the Green/Yellow line, just one of many projects in Shaw. According to the wikis U Street, Shaw, and Mount Vernon Square all opened up in 1991, twenty three years after the riots. However, it wasn’t all that great in the 1990s because the Green line stopped at U Street. It would be almost 10 years before the line was as lovely and functional as it is today. I will spare you the stories of having to switch at Gallery Place & Ft. Totten to get to Greenbelt.

I’m sure the 14th Street crowd would have wished for the WMATA plan. However I’m very glad the decision to place the stations a little bit more to the east was chosen. Considering there was a significant amount of damage along 7th Street, I do wonder if the riots helped make 7th Street more attractive (cheaper land, fewer historical buildings to damage) to WMATA?

Character of a neighborhood: People not buildings

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.Bates circa 1907

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 oBates Street 1968-1972n 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.

Barbara Bush in Shaw

So when I heard that the former First Lady Barbara Bush had died a couple of days ago, I thought. I have some photos of her, in Shaw.

I have a big stack of photos my aunt took in either 1991 or 1992 (I’ve been too lazy to bother to get the dates) of a funeral. The deceased then was Rev. Henry C. Gregory III, who I gather was the pastor for Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P Streets in Shaw. Rev. Gregory was apparently important enough to get the then President, the Mayor, and some other important looking people I cannot identify to come to his funeral. It doesn’t help that the photographer didn’t care to go through the photos to identify people. So below are the pictures. If you can tell me who is in them, beyond the dead guy and the Bushes, that would be helpful.
BarbaraBush-1992-1

BarbaraBush-1992-2

BarbaraBush-1992-4
BarbaraBush-1992-3

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.

 

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.

Remembering the April 1968 Riots

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.

The Washington Post did a great feature this week on the 1968 riot. The graphics are excellent and the stories well written.

Langston: A failure of DC government

I’m cross posting this with DC Vacant Properties.
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There is no point to using an updated photograph of the Langston School. It was rotting away 10 years ago when the picture was taken in 2007, it is still rotting away now and the way things are going, it may be another 10 years before the city actually brings this property back to the land of the living and legit.

This property is a vacant school in the DC government inventory. It was a school from 1902 til the mid-1990s. In 1997 it was a homeless shelter. By the time I moved here in the 00s, it was a vacant husk and only a homeless shelter when the homeless and others broke in. In 2013 it got on the National Register for Historic Places, so there is that. Around 2012 Langston was offered to charters, who have 1st dibs, and nobody wanted it. No charter wants it because it is an unmaintained structure with a rotted roof that is in need of a serious rehab work. Even Mundo Verde Charter School, across the street, which took over the still functioning Cook School building and built an addition, hasn’t seriously pursued it. Langston is too far gone as a building to be of any use to a school.

Another complication is in the Slater School, another building that shares a playground with Langston. It is A.R.E. ARE is a social service organization and a daycare and it looks like they are also getting in on the Pre-K thing too. Slater is a poorly maintained building, but the tenant ARE holds on tight to its location. I strongly suspect ARE has powerful friends that are protecting ARE to the detriment of the Langston building. I suspect this because for at least a decade now, when residents bring up the nuisance property that is Langston to city councilmen or the council staff or city staff who show up to the local meetings, they seem to have no idea it exists and fail to get back to residents with a satisfactory answer.

The civic association for the area BACA, has recently formed a committee to try to figure out what could be done with Langston.

This is DC Government property. It is the Government of the District of Columbia’s responsibility. Any demolition by neglect would be purely the fault of the local government. The DC government has failed the residents of the unit blocks of P and Bates.  But then again, the DC government is a crappy property manager.

Previous blog post about Langston- http://dcvacantproperties.blogspot.com/2014/07/langston-school-vacant-forever.html

Langston School Registration form- https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/13000143.pdf

Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie- http://dccouncil.us/council/kenyan-mcduffie and http://www.kenyanmcduffie.com/