I should sneak a Shaw church in this run of random churches. Vermont Avenue Baptist is at 1630 Vermont Avenue NW.
In 1957 Vt Av was a HUGE church claiming 3,600 members. They had 3 Sunday services with over two thousand congregants showing up on any given Sunday. It was a predominately white collar Black church with 41% living in the urban renewal area. About half the membership lived in the rest of DC. So about 1000 people coming in on Sunday, where did they park?
So I’m bopping to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl in my head as I type this. The Springfield Baptist Church has nothing to do with the 80s crooner.
Springfield Baptist at the corner of P and 6th Street NW, was a steeple church of unknown vintage in 1957, according to its survey entry. I’m not exactly sure what would qualify as a mega-church circa 1957, but Springfield had a large congregation of around 1700 members, 900 of whom showed up on the average Sunday.
So let’s get into the demographic nitty gritty. It is and was a predominately African American church. The occupation spectrum seemed fairly even, a small percentage of professionals, a nice chunk of white-collar workers, some skilled manual and some entrepreneurs. The largest group were unskilled laborers at 45%, not half but a large percentage.
You might be wondering, was this a commuter church? Yes, no, maybe. Twenty percent lived in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area, which was later shrunk to the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. There is a mention that about 15% of the membership moved out of the renewal area in the last two years. Seventy percent lived in other parts of the District, in NE and far parts of NW. The far part may have been closer to their former education center at Kansas Avenue and 8th St NW in Petworth. The E.L. Haynes Charter School sits around there now.
So unlike the survey pages I really like, this one is fairly sparse. Anyway, today’s feature is Salem Baptist Church at 917 N Street NW in Shaw. It’s a church building on lot 0809, and a residential structure. Looking at PropertyQuest, there’s another lot the church owns on the other side of the main building. The survey does not tell the racial make up. I’m not 100% sure about the major racial make upof it now, but I’ll guess, African American.
This is going to be a quick one, and I don’t have a picture.
First Rising Mt. Zion, just looking at the 1957 survey answers appears to have been a more working-class Black church, where many of the members lived in the urban renewal area. With the previous surveys for other Black churches in Shaw, I was seeing a more middle-class group and began forming a theory behind it, and then this shows up in the rotation and blows that theory to heck.
Well, this survey and the church’s own history. The 1957 survey has Rev. Ernest Gibson as the head pastor, and when we drop down to his tenure as the shepherd of the flock their history has this to say.
Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, Sr. was called as the second pastor of First Rising on January 14, 1952 and began his tenure of service on February 3, 1952. He came to First Rising with his wife, Mrs. Etta C. Gibson, and three children, Ernest, Jr., Delores and Mark. During Rev. Gibson’s tenure, payments on the property at 1215 8th Street, NW were completed in 1952. In December 1954, the red brick church on the corner of 6th and N Streets, NW was purchased; the second trust of the church was paid off on October 22, 1966, and the mortgage burning ceremony was held on Sunday, May 21, 1967.
So in 1957, they were kinda new to the block. Their previous location of 1215 8th Street NW is currently somewhere inside the Convention Center. They moved around a little bit since their founding in 1939.
Okay, back to the demographics of the church. It was an African American church with a large unskilled manual labor workforce membership (62%). The professionals (5%) and white collar (15%) parishioners were a smaller percentage. Considering the economics of the neighborhood in 1957, it would make sense that the church would draw its working class membership from the surrounding area.
So there was that story about the Go-Go music being blasted at 7th and Florida. And more stories about Go-Go and the changing neighborhood, as if neighborhoods don’t change. Neighborhoods, cities, cultures change. There used to be jazz in Shaw. Good jazz, as in the kind you can dance to. But that kind of jazz is not something you’ll find listed at the Howard Theater, the only reason to go to the Dunbar Theater is to bank with Wells Fargo, and Bohemian Caverns is dark.
The jazz I like is gone and it probably won’t come back to Shaw.
I can’t blame gentrification. I can’t even blame the riots. What is to blame is what comes to all forms of popular and even niche genres, tastes and audiences change. What has befallen the jazz I like (I’m ignoring that other stuff that calls itself jazz) could easily fall upon Go-Go. The audience that grew up with it gets older, younger audiences are more into something else. The artists change, they may want to pursue or try new things. The market changes, as people stop buying CDs and CD players and Spotify/Pandora-rify their music. Also, I’ve been told Go-Go is best experienced live. For me, the artists changed and started creating undancable, unsingable jazz that decoupled itself from popular music, and younger audiences were getting into Rock-n-Roll.
So, for now, there is a phone store that sells Go-Go CDs on the side and blasts Go-Go music outside. Considering record stores do more closing than opening, I’m going to guess the money is in being a phone store. It’s unreasonable to expect the neighborhood to support one genre of music. If the neighborhood’s history of musical support is anything to go by, the best one can hope for is having a few buildings, maybe a street named after artists, and half-aszed attempts by city bureaucrats at music appreciation. Businesses are going to do what they need to do to stay in business. Customers are going to buy what they want to buy, in the format they want to purchase. And all of that will bring the end of Go-Go, not a neighbor who wants the music turned down.
Okay, I need to regularly post this topic. Because DC is a city that attracts people from elsewhere, the nuances of the city’s history get lost over time with each new fresh face.
There is a piece in the Washington Post, a “Where we live” real estate article about Truxton Circle. There is a line that refers to other neighborhoods, Bloomingdale and Shaw. I’m only going to nit pix here and state, once again, Truxton Circle is in Shaw. I thought I mentioned it to the writer to reached out to me for contacts, when I warned her about the group of residents who hate the name ‘Truxton Circle’.
Look at this map above. Let’s point out a few of the neighbhorhoods covered by this circa 1968 map of the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. U Street
Let’s start in the north with the top of the map where we have the area currently known as U Street. Formally this was the city’s Black Broadway. What are the boundaries? Beats me. Let’s say U St and Florida Ave NW.
Truxton Circle (most)
Coming over the east in a clockwise direction, we have the NW section of Truxton Circle. There is a NE section that I ignore most of the time. That north east section is not part of the original Shaw neighborhood.
Mt. Vernon Square (part)
Funny thing, there are parts of Mt. Vernon Square, or at least the Mt. Vernon Square Historic District (map, PDF) in Truxton Circle. And there are parts of Mt. Vernon Sq. outside of Shaw. This is in the southeastern part of Shaw and bordering Shaw. There is an overlapping. Don’t freak out, it’s okay.
Now this is the section that these days gets touted as the current boundaries of Shaw, although I don’t know who redrew them. Mid-city contains within it, the small historic districts of Blagden Alley and Naylor Court. It also has the most awesome restaurants.
Finishing our loop around Shaw is Logan Circle to the west. According to the Logan Circle Community Association the boundaries are: “S Street to the north, K Street to the south, 9th Street to the east, and 16th Street to the west.”
Back in the aughts, I was looking for an Episcopal Church (St. A &A) but I had the address all wrong. I knew it was somewhere near or along Massachusetts Avenue but I was lost. I was running out of time, and so I saw Luther Place and thought ‘Episcopal/ Lutheran…. close enough’, and joined them for service.
Looking at the 1957 Church Survey for Luther Place, the congregational makeup is fairly similar to the small crowd of people I encountered when I wandered in sometime between 2000-08, mostly white. It was a very small group and it was so long ago. The 1957 crowd mostly (67%) lived in other parts of the city and good quarter living in the ‘burbs. I’m sensing a trend of 1957 Shaw churches being commuter churches.
I went to St. Luke’s once or twice when I was church shopping. Although it doesn’t say so on the 1957 Church Survey for the Northwest Urban Renewal area, the ethnic makeup was primarily African American. Maybe it was a little more mixed in 1957, but circa 2001-2002, for the visit(s) I made, it was an African American congregation.
Regarding the number of parishioners who lived in the urban renewal area, the survey says that a number used to live in the area but in a period of 10-15 years many began moving out. Actually, they don’t give any numbers. How many people lived in the urban renewal area….. “a few.” How many in the rest of DC? A “large majority.” How many out in the burbs? Well, there we get something numerical, “few (8 families).” They had parking for 44 cars, so let’s call it a commuter church.
Let’s also call it a retiree church. Though professionals (17%) and white collar workers (29%) had significant numbers, I couldn’t help but notice the 22% of the congregants being retirees. So far it doesn’t look like the other churches I’ve featured had so many retirees.
Okay, let’s do a Shaw Church for this series of churches in the 1957 Church Survey. A survey that has never been done since, because a later “survey” done in the 1970s or 80s was very uninformative compared to this one. My last church was Metropolitan AME, and before that Eckington Presbyterian, so I figured I bring the posts back to the part of the Northwest Urban Renewal Area that later became Shaw.
Mt. Gilead still stands at 1625 13th St NW. According to their history website, their church building was bought at auction from Trinity Baptist Church in 1932. The church (people) itself was a mission group of about 75 people who started this church. As far as I can tell from their site, it is still an African American church.
So I’m going to go into the well that is the October 1957 Northwest Urban Renewal Area Church Survey to look at churches that may or may not still exist in Shaw.
Lincoln Memorial Congregational is one of those churches that fit into the may and may not exist limbo because the church is no longer functioning and held its last service in 2018. In the September 30, 2018 Washington Post article regarding the church’s shuttering, about a dozen parishioners would show up on any given Sunday. The stated reason for the reduced numbers was the demographic changes in the neighborhood and problems with parking. When you look at what was going on with the church in 1957, neighborhood demographics didn’t matter as much as the parking.
The Northwest Urban Renewal Area was bigger than the boundaries of Shaw, and encompassed most of Shaw, and only a quarter of the 725 members lived in the urban renewal area. According to the 1957 survey, a majority lived in other parts of DC. A notation says those congregants outside of the urban renewal area lived in upper Northwest, Kenilworth and Brookland. Half of the working parishioners were white collar workers, I’ll guess members of the Black middle class who probably had cars and drove/ car-pooled to church. Those other parts of DC are too far to walk to church in one’s Sunday best.