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.
100_0400.JPG
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/

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.