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History Amnesia

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History is like the present, only it happened a while ago. However, when history gets written, and rewritten (historians are doomed to repeat other historians) a lot gets left out, and forgotten, particularly if it doesn't fit the narrative of whatever tale is being told.

There is a book that I'm trudging through about discriminatory housing in Chicago. I got through a section that could have been called "Martin Luther King Failed in Chicago" detailing the civil rights leaders efforts to combat poor housing conditions, the Daley political machine, and other black ministers who worked against him. In the great narrative, this period of his life is either glossed over or forgotten, along with his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Immaculate CONCEPTION.jpgAfter Dr. King was assassinated, several cities erupted including DC. H Street NE, some parts of Downtown and Shaw, especially 7th and 14th St. But in this week I've posted on Twitter, other parts of Shaw (well the TC part) got some riot damage too. Pictured is 8th St NW. The business opposite Immaculate Conception, has written, and it is hard to see, 'Soul Brother' written on the door. Though it was 7th Street that experienced a lot of rioting fire and looting damage, it was 9th Street that bore the scars of the riot for 30+ years. With the exception of the area near Shiloh, 9th has been getting a lovely facelift, reflecting hip dining options, rather than post-riot neglect.

There is a narrative that goes with the riots, that fits in with a larger narrative about Black history and Shaw, which logically leaves out the Jewish and white story. Ray "of Sunshine" M likens the riot to kristallnacht, I don't share that level of interpretation, but there is evidence that the riots wiped out the Jewish merchants in Shaw, eliminating the Jewish presence. The merchant narrative, the Jewish narrative, tells of businesses barely surviving, where they experienced break ins and armed robberies before the riots. The riots were the nail in the coffin, and the graves were the storefronts that sat empty and the vacant lots that sat in their place. However that narrative doesn't sell. I doubt there will be a walking tour of burned out Jewish businesses. So thus it is forgotten.
UPDATE- I replaced the picture with another showing the same corner.

Over a decade ago when I was looking for a place to buy a home that was affordable and close to enough stuff to maintain my car-less lifestyle, I was doing some serious research on Shaw. In December of 2000 the Washington Post had a series called "Fatal Flaws: The District's Homicide Crisis" and along with it was a map showing a big gigantic splotch of unsolved murders along Rhode Island and Florida Avenues. And when I moved to the neighborhood, I would hear gunfire almost nightly. Sad, and eventually ugly, memorials of rain sodden stuffed animals and empty liquor bottles littering the sidewalk were a common sight. The crack years were winding down and people were still getting killed over turf battles.

So with all these people dying violent deaths in the streets and parks of Shaw & nearby Sursum Corda, the area should be littered with spirits of the dead if you go by ghost rules. The Help and I, enjoy a good ghost story of the mild horror genre. The usual story is such and such a place is haunted because X number of years ago so-in-so died a tragic and violent death. By this logic 7th and O should be paved with the poltergeists.  

We have friends who had to shoo people away from the Seminary up in Forest Glen when it was vacant and before it went condo. It was said to be haunted. People love haunted large buildings. People also like "interesting" haunting by interesting, middle class or wealthy persons or people associated with the wealthy. Haunted castles, yes. Haunted public housing, not so much.

I do relate to the supernatural, but in the regular practice of my religion. I am a skeptic regarding ghosts. That scratching in the walls? Rats. Maybe, squirrels. Lights flickering? Possibly crappy wiring by a crappy contractor or blame Pepco. Ghostly figures walking across the room? Obviously, your eyes are engaging in time travel.

I'm all about time travel.

Where is Shaw?

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Historically it is here:


or here


or here


I'll acknowledge times change. Truxton Circle is making it's own history and getting cut off from the rest of Shaw by the ward system, but wards came with Home Rule and Home Rule is a good thing.

When histories meet

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For well over a year the Help and I have been working on his church's archive. We've done most of the heavy work. Right now we're waiting for certain preservation supplies to get ordered. Anyway, in the meantime, we're getting known as the people doing the church archive.  This weekend before Sunday school, while we were waiting in the atrium for coffee and tea to appear, an older member handed us a 1929 church directory. I did the membership part of the archive, so I took quick a look at it just a scan of one of the pages.

Page from 1929 Church Dir

Upon the page I flipped to was a resident of Truxton Circle. You'll have to click on the image to get a close up, but my eye landed on Miss Nina Lapham of 21A Bates St NW. I got all excited, speaking with a high pitched voice, which bounced around the atrium and probably woke up the dogs in the neighborhood. It is not like I hadn't looked at the directories before for possible Truxton residents. The Help's church started in 1912 in NW Washington, DC, before heading out to PG County in the 50s-60s (I also did facilities but I couldn't give you dates of the different moves off the top of my head). In those early years, when the church was at Randolph St. and New Hampshire Ave NW, most members lived in the District. When flipping through those directories it seemed most members live in upper NW. On this page, not too far from the TC lived a Mr. & Mrs. Guy Hoyme at 42 Q St. NE.

Once we are done with the Help's chruch, I want to move on to mine. I know for a fact that my favorite Truxton resident of the past, George Glorius, worshipped at Immaculate Conception at 8th and N. I know he and other members of the family are in those church records somewhere.

This is historically significant?

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This is old news but this sign bugged me. These townhouses were once owned by Dr. E. L. Haynes, as part of her investment portflio.

1509-1511 4th St NW, Washington DC Sign

In 1946 she sold it to Baker's Dozen, Inc. And apparently it was some youth center. Was it a youth center worthy of a little plaque or any mention?

Slum Housing No Mo', maybe

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Loose roofing material
on red house

Just for fun in ProQuest I looked up three words for the Historical Washington Post, "Shaw" "Rat" and "Baby". I remembered there was an article about our historic neighborhood where a rat bit a baby's face. But that might have been pre-urban renewal and I should have used the terms "2d Precinct" or "second precinct" for the baby biting rat.
From "Shaw: The City's Worst Slum"* Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), March 24, 1968, p A25.:

Ceilings sag ominously. Loose wall plaster is held up only by brittle wallpaper. Where the wallpaper has given way, powdery plaster falls intermittently from holes in walls and ceilings.
Rats climb up through holes in the floors. Water drips from rusted pipes and leaks in the roofs. Some basements are filled with months-old stagnant water.

Later a woman says her daughter had been bitten by rats several times. The rest of the article is paints a dreary landscape of litter and dirt patched yards, poorly maintained buildings regardless if they are occupied or not. I found a toddler eating rat in "No. 2 Leads City in: Washington's Wickedest, The Second Precinct... Vice and Violence Outlined on an Aerial View of the Entire City," by S.L. Fishbein, Washington Post (1923-1954), March 14, 1954, p. M10:

The family tried to combat the rats by wedging pop bottles in the corner rat holes but the rats kept checking new holes around the bottles. Flat irons on the holes in the middle of the floor were more effective. One recent Saturday night, a rat bit one of the 19-month old children on both feet while she was asleep upstairs. Since then the landlord has had the rat holes covered with sheet metal.

These were the bad old days when Shaw was affordable. In "Slum Landlords Buy up Shaw Houses: Slum Landlords Quietly Buying Up Shaw Area Properties" by Leonard Downie, Jr. Washington Post, Times Herald, Mar 24, 1968 p. A1, the reporter noted that 3 of every 4 houses in Shaw were owned by absentee landlords. The article names names, one being a familiar last name of a family who in the present day has contributed to neighborhood. The problem with the landlords is that they didn't maintain their properties. Heat wouldn't work, buildings were bad at keeping out the elements and if the tenants threatened to call the city inspector, the landlord would tell them to move.

Now Shaw is less of a slum. There are still rats, as I saw one near the new Giant the other day, but they no longer bite children in their sleep. Most deteriorating housing has been bought by people who renovate the properties. There is less affordable housing, and there is less slum housing. But then again there are the odd holdouts who let parts of their roof flap in the breeze.

Happy Friday- I got nothin' but history, 2005-2008

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This my friends was taken way, way, way back in 2005. This is the corner of Q and 9th St NW. To the right and in the background is Shiloh Baptist Church. Currently there sits a modern building with big glass windows, like a fishbowl.

I am trying to search my memory for what exactly happened between this and the present. I do remember a huge hole that Ray M. constantly complained about for years.

Library Protest Banner

This photo was taken back in 2006 of the old Shaw library. The sign says "Free Our Library". The trees hide the little slits of windows. But I do see that the escalators for the Shaw metro has the glass covering.

Outside  the Big Bear Cafe

This is from 2007. Big Bear was on the verge of opening. There is no farmer's market, yet. There is no outdoor seating, yet.


 This is 2008. The place is formerly Dan's carryout. Walking home I'd smell greasy fried fish. Now I smell really good Thai food.

 I'm going to stop at 2008. If you just moved here you don't know, or probably don't know what this neighborhood has gone through to get to its current state of hipness. If you live here now, you know what these places look like. I hope you appreciate the efforts previous residents to make it an attractive and vibrant place.

Oh I found something else in the 2008 file.

Ray's Art

The other side of 9th and Q St NW.

Decade in Review: Ancestors of Truxton Circle

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618-MLK-1924 A few weeks ago I got an email from a TC decendent. Not of Cmdr. Truxtun but of someone with an ancestor who lived in Truxton Circle and who found his relative and this blog via the wonderful thing that is Google. The blog post was the "History of Sq 618- mainly the Unit block of New York Ave", one of my attempts to do one block's history. The subject in this case was Mr. John Sullivan or John J. Sullivan a saloon keeper with a very large family on the unit block of New York Avenue, whose saloon sat at 1130 1st Street NW.

It hasn't been the first time someone has stumbled on this blog hunting for their great, great-great or great-great-great grandfathers or mothers. Sometimes they provide me with more information about their ancestors and other times, I have helped with their own genealogical research. I get a thrill when I can connect with these *decedents to another aspect of their ancestor's life, as a resident in a city, with connections beyond just family. They were people who had neighbors, and maybe customers in the area. What I get, and why I LOVE are tidbits about other aspects of a former resident's life and things that the census may have left out.

*The rest of this paragraph and what followed was lost to time and the interwebs.

Decade in Review- Boundaries of Shaw

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Shawbound.jpgInspired by the Washington Post article, "National Building Museum helps teens explore Shaw, a neighborhood in transition," that includes a perfect map of Shaw, I'm going to report my June 2008 post, "Shaw no boundaries":

What is and where is Shaw? I am somewhat doubtful if you asked someone on the street in 1900 where was the Shaw neighborhood they would know how to direct you, as Shaw as a neighborhood, an area with borders was not there then. "Shaw" became "Shaw" in the late 60s. Looking at the Washington Post from that time first it was the Shaw school district and then it just became "Shaw".
See the map and see the 1973 borders of Shaw. Note that Mt. Vernon Square is not included in its entirety. The eastern border is 15th St. NW, the northern border is roughly Florida Ave (formerly Boundary), east is North Capitol and M & N make up the southern side. This is the definition of Shaw I have clung to and it is confirmed occasionally in over 30 years of the odd Washington Post article when referring to different parts of the area as Shaw.
The key word is occasionally, because there was that odd article that defined Shaw as its middle being 9th and 6th St. Then last week I found on my doorstep the Fagon Community Guide: MidCity DC 2006. I found the maps on pages 22 & 23 of Shaw and U Street to be a bit off. For one, the Shaw map has annexed parts of Dupont and LeDroit, as anything past 16th is Dupont and that bordering Howard Hospital is LeDriot. And maybe it ate bits of Adams Morgan too as the boundary goes past Florida Ave and has part of Meridian Park... or is that more Mt. Pleasant?
Anyway as the blog says, I'm in Shaw. But wait you say, "Aren't you in Truxton Circle?" Yes, why yes I am. "But how can you be 'In Shaw'?" Elementary. Think of those Russian nested dolls. Truxton is in Shaw. As is Logan Circle. As is U Street. As is Blagden Alley. Shaw is a big neighborhood encompassing several other neighborhoods. We are bound together by the history of riots and revitalization and schools and hope.
If you want your very own copy of the above map, it is somewhere in the MLK's Washingtonia Div's vertical file.

Since then I have loaded up a few other Shaw School Urban Renewal maps (not new to regular readers) here, here and here. Still haven't bothered the Wikipedia page.

A Program for Bates Street

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This is not another pre-WWII photo, this is from the 60s. 1960s.

Now I am sure I posted the publication by the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA) before, but just in case, I'll put it out there for y'all again. In the late 60s the RLA put out "A Program for Bates Street" (PDF), which is currently located in the archives of George Washington University.

My own curiosity with the Great Society and the flurry of social programs that came out of that period, is how well those goals were achieved. So let's take a look at the program.

The program had 3 main objectives:

1. Introduce a greater amount of housing types and sizes designed to relieve the overcrowding in exisitng housing.

2. Use housing programs for both rental and owned "that will be most responsive to the economic profile of the residents of the Area, given the current costrainst of those programs."

3. Provide needed amenities such as open space for active and passive recreation, off street parking and "separate pedestrian and vehicular circulation systems."

I have to hit #3 first. What the hell is a pedestrian and vehicular circulation system? Sidewalks and roads? If they are sidewalks and roads then they should say sidewalks and roads!

Bates Streets, the unit to the 200 blocks seem pretty unchanged footprint-wise from the days when they were built, as with the rest of the targeted squares. As hinted in the program, Sq. 551 did get new housing, slightly different than the Bates Street and similar Q Street housing, providing that variety of housing types.  As far as overcrowding goes, I think there might have been more than they eye could have seen. I'm noticing with this 1st photograph there is a vacant house all boarded up. With pre-war censuses I can say there might be overcrowding in one  or two houses and the neighboring house only has one or two people. I don't doubt that many houses were overcrowded, but I wonder to the various causes of why. Anyway, the 1st objective was achieved with the removal of the alley dwellings on 551 and the building of the NW Co-op.

Manon Bates St68

The second objective, I have no idea what exactly the goal was supposed to be there. It is too vague to me. Maybe the authors were dancing around something. So I'm going to give that objective a no.

Lastly on the brochure, since Sq. 551 was part of the mix, I'm going to guess the open space amenity is the Florida Avenue Park. I also notice that it is an open space and not a green space. Now this is the park of the past, the park where passive recreation included drunks being passed out on play equipment. I realy appreciate the work of John H. and the Friends of the Park to make the place a better amenity than what the planners of the 60s could do. The Bates Area does have off street parking, I did not realize this was a pressing issue back then.

 Lastly on the whole thing, notice no bars. No bars on the windows. No bars on the doors. I have my theories, but I wonder if it is something that comes later when crime gets worse in the area.