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.

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.
17174thStNW2009-2016
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.

Twenty Years of Vacancy- The Langston School

100_0402.JPGThe John Mercer Langston School at 43 P Street NW has been sitting empty and vacant since 1997*. That’s 20 years of rotting away with nothing being done to bring it back to life.

When the problem of the school was mentioned at on Bates Area Civic Association to the representative from Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie‘s office didn’t seem to be familiar with the hulking corpse of a building and might have confused it with another building. There is so much development going on, some involving city owned land, I understand it can be confusing.

Part of the problem is whomever is the Ward Councilperson for Ward 5 is not particularly interested in being proactive regarding this property. They and or their staff seem to believe the “process” will take care of it. The process is broken.

As a school, charters have first dibs. Langston is a gut job, so no serious charter school is going through the long process getting the school to dump millions of dollars in the building’s renovation. There was a fight for the John F. Cook across the street that Mundo Verde eventually won and added to, but Cook was empty for less than 5 years and was still functional as a building.

Yes, there is an educational center next door in Slater that has always expressed interest in Langston. However the occupants of Slater are poor tenants. Poor as in too poor to do the work needed to have the Langston building gutted, brought up to code, while respecting the building’s Historic Landmark status. However, councilperson staff will almost always drag up that unrealistic possibility when asked about what’s is if anything going on with Langston. The occupants of Slater have been interested in Langston for at least 15 years. If given 15 more years they will express the same level of interest without much action to show for it.

What’s the solution? Well I have an answer no one will like and possibly won’t happen due to the shared lot with Slater, luxury condos. Turning schools into high priced condos or apartments add fuel to the fire of the gentrification unaffordable housing debate. But let me remind you of the problem… Historic Landmark; 21st century building codes; rotting corpse of a building. To work with and deal with those things require the kind of money DINK households making 100-200% of the AMI bring. This cannot be and should not be done on the cheap. And unless the city wants to throw the Slater occupants under the bus, so they can offer a well heeled charter both buildings to make it worth the while, no school with the ability to rehab both buildings (Slater is bad off too) is seriously going to touch it.

*According to the Wikipedia page about the school.

Don’t get cray cray with your nostalgia

150X3rdSt.jpgThis is an old photo, probably from 2003, but I’m not sure, of 1508-1514 3rd Street NW. Those houses all boarded up in the photo now have real windows and doors and people. As you can probably see and guess, no one was displaced in the revitalization of those vacant houses. Guess what Shaw had a lot of back in the late 1990s and early 2000s…. boarded up nasty vacant houses.

This photo is from the “good old days” or the end of the “good old days” in Shaw. These are the “good old days” I guess some people are getting nostalgic about. It seems to be the same nostalgia that people in New York have about the old Times Square, back when it was filled with hookers, muggers and peep shows. I would like to remind you that the good old days, no one would deliver food to the house, you almost had to trick cabbies to drive you home and the local businesses were greasy carry outs, hair salons, dirty liquor stores, and unlicensed independent corner pharmaceutical distributors. Back in 2003 we would have killed to have a $30+ entree sit down restaurant to bitch about.

But it is 2017 and we have the luxury of complaining because we are hot stuff, for now. Who knows if there will be another middle class flight from the cities? It has happened before, it could happen again. Mansions have been split up to become rooming houses, and later rehabbed to become condos. History has taught me the good times do not last forever, neither do the bad.

Yes, those vacants in the photo above ‘might’ have been affordable to buy. Might, depending on the level of work needed to make them safe and livable. Might, depending on the dependability and skill of the contractor and the workmen. Might, provided it wasn’t a lead encrusted, termite riddled, pile of crumbly bricks with jerry rigged wiring and asbestos lined pipes. ‘Cause fixing that stuff costs money.

I will blog about the good/bad old days to remind you how far this neighborhood has come. I will blog to remind you not to get too crazy with your nostalgia.

Holy Moly My House is Older Than I Thought

Snip from HistoryQuest DC
A view from HistoryQuest DC

Due to my research on my house I was under the impression that it, and all the other ones in the row, was built around 1874-75 ish.

Wrong.

The Historical Society sent out an announcement about their facilities on Mt. Vernon Square and getting ready for the Apple store (yay, I need a new mini). The library is closing up Friday, June 7th, but there are the online resources. So I went to the Ready Reference PDF. And that took me to DC.gov’s HistoryQuest DC. So I looked at the map, tapped on my block and discovered the houses on my row were built in 1872, not 1874/1875 as I thought. I’m in the right decade at least.

So why did I think what I thought? Well I was going by tax records.  Prior to the 1874/1875 tax year there was nothing there, according to the tax assessor. Unfortunately, the oh so helpful Sanborn and other fire maps don’t even bother with the Truxton Circle area until the 1880s at the earliest. HistoryQuest DC used the Washington Evening Star newspaper report on building permits as its source. That source said the owner, Jacob Been had permits dated July 5, 1872.

Well, I guess Mr. Been could have waited 2 years to build.