Recently in DC History Category

Affordable no mo

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I honestly cannot remember who I was talking to about affordable housing, but somewhere in the discussion I wondered aloud about the long term plan for such projects. What happens 30 years after the building or complex built to house the poor is completed and the people for whom the effort was made move in? In my work, I have come across building projects from the past (early 20th Century past) like Greenbelt, the socially conscious Washington Sanitary Improvement Company's 2 flat units along Bates, and St. Mary's Court in Foggy Bottom. The Greenbelt cooperative was never created to serve the poorest. The homes formerly part of the WSIC portfolio of rental housing mostly are now privately owned homes, many renovated into single unit townhomes, while very few are still 2 flats. St. Mary's Court, formerly public housing during the Roosevelt era, now is a different structure (same name and area) and is HUD-financed senior housing. Things happen, things change.

So I wonder what is the future for 1330 formerly the Immaculate Conception Apartments, and the Lincoln-Westmoreland buildings, now according to the banner, "Heritage at Shaw Station". The Kelsey Garden Apartments, owned by some church in SE DC, is long gone and by next year should be luxury-ish apartments. The many, many, many properties in Shaw owned or once owned by the United House of Prayer for All People (UHOP) are varied in the income levels of people they house, but in the past ten years has been going more market rate and above. As much as I dislike all the Suzane Reatig UHOP structures going up in Shaw, it is still better than the Shiloh Baptist properties left to rot. The few things that appear not to be going the way of market rates or senior housing are the two Northwest Co-operatives. Though they say with investments, past performance is no guarantee of future results, what can the past efforts of affordable housing tell us about the future and the present?

Gentrification, demographic change, does play a part in all this. If there wasn't economic and other changes and pressures there would be little need or political or economic will to change. As I go down Seventh Street NW, looking at all the construction, I am a little sad for what was lost, but more excited about what is to come.

History Showcase this Thursday at Dunbar H.S.

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This almost totally slipped my mind, but since we're on the topic of history. I'm going to copy and paste this one:

Dear Friends,
Please join us on Thursday, December 5th, from 6-9:30pm for the 7th Annual DC Community Heritage Project Showcase! This program celebrates the work of 18 grantee organizations who have created innovative and exciting new projects that interpret and preserve Washington, DC's historic landmarks, neighborhoods, and culture!

The program will be held at the brand new Dunbar High School (101 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001) Please note the venue change.

RSVP for the Showcase at:

You are guaranteed to learn something new about DC!

This year's projects include:
  • The Logan Circle Heritage Trail Curriculum
  • The Gold Coast Documentary
  • Crestwood History Project
  • Dunbar High School Alumni and Pioneers
  • Langston Terrace Dwellings Oral History
  • Mt. Zion Cemetery Website Development
  • DC Gardeners' Oral History Project
  • Master Builders of Deanwood
  • African American Pioneer Muslimahs Pt. 2
  • Remembering the Dream Makers 
  • Citizens We
  • We are Fairfax Village
  • Kendall Green and the National College for the Deaf
  • Military Road School Alumni Oral History Project
  • A Loud Silence: a Visual Code on the Underground Railroad
  • Documenting the History of Rehoboth Baptist Church

Tuesday Miscellany

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Historical Food Shacks- The House History Man has a picture that is of an African American man's stand at 1st and Florida NE. Close enough to the TC, well the northeastern part that I never write about.

2 Mil for a Corner Lot- The developers got approval for and then tore down the buildings at 1330 North Capitol NW, and then did nothing. Now this empty piece of dirth is for sale at deep pocketed developer prices.

Taxes- I'm annoyed with the Tax Office, last year I filed my DC taxes online for free. I paid either Turbotax or the H&R Block for the federal taxes and enjoyed just filling in the blanks with DC, on the site. It was simple and easy. Now I go to the site and it is a mess. The layout is unclear. They've added options for people whose adjusted gross income is less than $57,000 for federal and DC taxes. Great but I just wanna do DC. The page for the individual tax payer is cluttered. Did I use eTSC in 2012? Beats me, did y'all call it that last year? I might take my sweet time and file in April since I have to write them a check anyways. Refund? Ha, ha, yer funny.

1935 map of juvies

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I must credit Ghosts of DC for first putting this up yesterday. It is a 1935 map of Juvenile Delinquents. Of course I first pin pointed my attention to the Truxton Area, then the rest of Shaw, where the hotbed of bad kids live. Shaw and SW DC.

Anyway, the Ghosts of DC site has a lot of pretty pictures , but doesn't give you too much to go an explore on-line sources for yourself. So I used my super-librarian powers (I didn't even need to touch rings with the Help who also holds a MLS to activate) to find the jumbo sized map at the Harvard Map Collection Digital Map's site.

As for those great maps of DC with outlines of buildings, some of them are Sanborn maps on the Library of Congress' Maps and Geography website.

I have my own scan of a 1934 map of adult offenders by census tract.

Do Your Own Neighborhood History- Maps

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I would love it if other folks did a neighborhood history using evidence beyond oral histories*. However, I do know that the census portion is a PITA and a lot of work, so I would recommend just doing one block. What can be done for a larger area are maps. Where do you find the maps? All over. Let's start with the Washingtonia Room, on the 3rd floor, at the MLK Library downtown.

MLK Washingtonia Room

Here is a photo of the maps area. On those shelves are big volumes of DC city maps that go to the level of structures. Here I found the 1887 maps for Truxton Circle and later years up into the 1950s. First thing after grabbing the year of your choice is look at the map index in the front. Find your general area, and if it is in that volume. Old City (L'Enfant's drawn city) NW tends to be in Volume 1s. NE at times is in another volume. The index will tell you. If you are in 'suburban' DC, like Tenleytown or Brookland or such, I have no idea, but the index should point you in the right direction. If you want to take pictures take in account that the overhead lights and the shiny mylar are an annoying combination. Also be aware of copyright laws if you plan to put this up on-line, anything 1923 and before is fine.

Another good source is the Library of Congress and you don't have to leave home.

You can access some Sanborn maps from 1888 to 1916. For me I didn't find those Sanborns helpful because they didn't come over to eastern NW DC as far as I would have liked. There are more Sanborns that the Library of Congress has access to, and I used those to map out segregation patterns, but you have to go to the LC.

You can also access Baist maps from the LC's webpage but it requires a bit more digging. Also it would help if you had some software that can read (or won't freeze on you when using) JPEG2000 files, so you can download the files and crop them as needed.

If you just want to see what is out there or order some prints for yourself there are other options. Paul Williams of Kelsey & Associates sells full sized copies of 1887 Hopkins maps on-line on Ebay. If you want other years by Baist, I have used Historic Map Works. I have bought copies of various sizes from them for friends and my own research. Search under District of Columbia, under United States. Recently I have been told about a site like Historic Map Works called Ward Maps. Their Baist maps go up to 1939, and for several maps they claim to have authentic antique maps for sale.


*Oral histories are like witness testimony, worthwhile and informative. But the physical evidence is powerful too.

Just in case you were thinking of it, and interested in DC history, is there a conference for you.
From now till through the weekend is the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies Conference. I plan on being there (for one day at least) and being square.

Friday Misc

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Gardening- I picked this yesterday. It was the second fruit I picked from my melon vine. The first one wasn't ripe and so with the next large fruit I cradled it in a stocking on the vine and waited til it looked like it needed picking. It turned from green to yellow and I figure it was time to eat it. So I did. Above is a picture of it.

Homicide Watch is Back!- They've got interns, Sam, Jonah and Penny are the names I'm seeing. I am very happy that the site is back to doing what DC (and every other major city) needs. I'm happy our family chipped in to support the site. I hope in the meantime a partnership with something that can support Homicide Watch for the next year and the year after that can be found. This is too important and it is a shame the big for profit newspapers nor the J-schools at Maryland, American, or Howard with all their resources didn't think of something like this.

Cook School News- BACA blog reports that there is a charter school interested in the Cook school building. And there is going to be a meeting to find if the Booker T Washington Charter School's intentions are honorable.

DC Historical Studies Conference is next week and for some reason that I cannot say* I'd encourage folks to come and see Session #6, "D.C. Records at the National Archives - Friday 1:30-2:45". One guy is going to talk about divorce records, another guy maritime records, some gal about alley related records (with photographs) while presenting another guy's presentation about maps, and some guy talking about momuments and federal buildings. If you register by Oct. 16, the fee is only $20 for that and many other sessions.

Georgetown and the Census- Since I'm doing my census project and all this post from the Georgetown Metropolian caught my eye. Georgetown's black population dropped like crazy when the TC's African American population was rising.

*I'm blaming the Bureau of Fight Club's office of Don't Do Bad Stuff.

Whose history

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I got a call today about something not related to the Truxton Circle history project, but the topic wound up hitting it, because it is the all consuming thing in my life right now. Well that and canning. I mentioned that the project sort of started out of spite. Many years ago I went to a neighborhood meeting and an old oldtimer was going on about the neighborhood's history, her version of it, and it didn't sound right to me, so I went looking for proof.  At this point in my research, I'm saying Truxton Circle, and I am calling it that, has a multi-racial, multi-ethnic history. In some parts and at some times it was white, or black or Italian. And at times there was the odd Chinese household, Russian Jewish household, possibly bi-racial household, German Jewish household, Irish households and so on, and who are we to ignore their presence? To call this neighborhood and possibly the rest of Shaw a historically black neighborhood is just part of the story and a recent part of the story.
In the Washngton Post's Root, author Clinton Yates explores this theme of history and ownership in "'Nouveau-Columbusing' black Washington" where he writes:

the wildest is the claim I heard that the District's been Chocolate City "forever." Actually, Washington's demographic status as majority black, by strict percentage points, only goes back about 50 years.
That looks about right. For the U Street area that would be 70 years. Forgive me for not formatting and just thowing this old map of the African American distribution in the city here:
Distribution of Negro Population by Census, 1930
The purple means 75% or more, but it doesn't mean 100%, which means there are other people in the minority. Who are we to say that minority can't stay or to ignore their presence.
I've recently finished trudging through The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, where the author looks at those who left southern states for northern urban centers. One way to look at this map is seeing where possibly those migrants landed in the border feeder city of DC. It might take another study to see if the people who demographically made Shaw a black neighborhood in the beginning were those hard working migrants and the children they bore. In the end of Wilkerson's book, she attaches the urban problems of out of wedlock births, substance abuse and employment problems to the native born as the migrants where hard working, church goin', penny saving, sacrificing, married or family oriented folks. So I could look at it as the ones being displaced by the current demographic trends are the 2nd and 3rd and so on generations of DC natives who did not inherit their migratory forebears strengths and qualities. But that just sounds mean, especially as a person who migrated from the South (yes, Central Florida is the South... Go Gators).
But skimming my data, it looks like a lot of southern migrants made their way here to this part of Shaw, and some did well. You either do well here, find some other city to flourish or head back to your homestate. Black Picket Fences left me depressed about the generations that followed those who migrated north too. There might be something to it, but I don't want to think about it right now.

The Art of Time Travel

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Time travel is dangerous and should never be taken on lightly. This is what I've learned from hours of watching Dr. Who, Quantum Leap and other shows that keep fiddling with the space time thingamajib (I'm looking at you Star Trek). With banished?production's The Circle, participants, and with almost all b?p theater/art you don't observe, you participate, travel through space and time.

The space is Dupont Circle and Mount Vernon Square. Physically, you are in and around the square where the old Carnegie library sits, mentally you are in Dupont Circle. The time is the future and past Dupont and the present day, present time, intersections of 7th , New York and K Streets and the square and that little park across from the square.

The danger is that you can get lost in the future and past of another space that you may stop paying attention to the present day and very present traffic and sidewalk hazards. B?p fools around with your senses, and for me it was my 'aware of my surroundings' sense, the sense where I am aware of the cars and bikes on the street and the people on the sidewalk, and the people hanging out. For me, it was my surroundings that would fade in the background and then fight to come back to the front, like your awake self fights sleep.

B?p 2012 fringe

What my spatial awareness competed against my senses of memory and space. Mentally the audio tour and tour guide (you can do it without the guide, but you'd lose a lot in the experience) takes you to Dupont Circle. The very Dupont Circle that's about a mile or two north and west of where we were. The characters in the audio talk about places like the Childe Harold and R St that exist in recent memory and places that existed 20 or 30 years ago, when Dupont was a sketchy neighborhood. Since a lot of participants are sure to have more than a passing acquaintance with Dupont, they and I, fed upon what we know about Dupont and brought it to the experience. Our guide interacted with actors and subtle props positioned along the tour. This is why you need the guide, the actors aren't obvious. They are as much a part of the real world space as the homeless guys.

Look a book
The Help, wouldn't have liked this production as much as the previous productions. The Help likes focus, and is not a fan of multitasking. This production is not in the protective confines of an art gallery or studio space where one can concentrate on the actors or dancers. He also wouldn't have been a fan of the smoking and drug references, either, but that's minor. If you bring your own mp3 player you get to keep the experience. I may play this for him, where his mind can travel to the Dupont where he used to live and work, eyes closed, safely on the space that is our couch.

Of course Shaw was considered obsolete

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Shaw School Urban Renewal Plan
Credit:: National Capital Planning Commission
..and a slum, and the wickedest precinct and blighted. Not just in the 50s but in the 60s as well. The '68 riots did not help, unless you mean help as in burning down buildings and chasing out commercial interests.
Plans are always interesting. But my own experience with the records of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (NCPPC) is that some plans don't end up as they start for one reason or another. Georgetown Metropolitan notes that at the same time the NCPPC decided part of Georgetown was obsolete, Congress passed the Old Georgetown Act, which threw a wet blanket on any burning desires or plans to level large tracts in that neighborhood.
I really wished I had written down for reference or copied the bit of NCPC transcript about planners plans for the Southwest Urban Renewal project. The idea was it wasn't going to be just a place where people lived but a destination. Some of those ideas were a little out there on the very optimistic side and those plans of water taxi's and such never came to be. There were previous big plans for Marshall Heights around that time, as their problem was lack of indoor plumbing, but then again that area was a bit rural then, lacking city services like water.
Regarding Shaw there are reams of paper from the time it was part of the Northwest Urban Renewal project (that was scrapped) to the smaller Shaw School Urban Renewal Area, about how screwed up the housing was. There are block by block housing condition studies, a church census, commercial studies, more studies, a boat load of Washington Post articles and at least one graduate level dissertation.
Whatever zeitgeist that allowed for and funding the taking of a whole section of town by eminent domain, leveling it to the ground and rebuilding it in whatever utopian vision the planners had, was gone by the time the NCPC and other agencies were ready to take on other parts of the city. Mistakes had been made and lessons learned.
Lastly, I want to thank Ray 'o sunshine Milefsky for scanning the images that have prompted all this discussion on Greater Greater Washington and the Shaw Neighborhood Yahoo Group. And yes,  to quote you:
"The lessons of this story are many, but paramount is to never go along with the central planners who think they have your interests at heart.  They don't."