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 There is a badly outdated website I created called TruxtonCircle.org .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.

Probably Extinct DC Housing- The Rooming House

Today we have Airbnb, back in the day there was taking in lodgers. The day being 1940, 1930, 1920… you get the idea. There also use to be things called boarding houses, where you could rent a bed, in a room that you shared with other people. You can do that too on Airbnb, but I haven’t tried it and haven’t been desperate enough to take that option.

People were more communal back then.

Men and women in boarding house room
1943 DC Boarding House

Anyway, you’d be hard pressed to find a rooming house in DC or anywhere these days. But they were an affordable form of housing for singles, when all a person needed was a warm clean place to sleep. It was common enough in the past that such living arrangements would pop up in fiction and radio plays of the early 20th century.

I remember back when I was little, in Florida, hanging out with a kid from (elementary) school and her family lived in a boarding house. A family of 3-4 in one dark room in the back of a two story structure. I gather they could not afford to rent a house, and apartments were not a thing where I lived. That house was torn down some time ago.

I’m not calling for the return of the rooming house. As a resident, I’d resist one coming into my neighborhood. No, I am just reminding readers of a type of housing that existed and is no longer an option. I think as a society we are slowly removing affordable options, even as we complain about the lack of affordable housing.

 

Gentrification seems to bring less High Fructose Corn Syrup

So I spent last week in Baltimore in a neighborhood that isn’t one of the super cool neighborhoods. Washington Village/Pigtown might be gentrifying, and if it is, it is going at a snails pace. So there are corner markets (7-11, Family Dollar, the odd convenience store) and most of them stocked with various drinks, most containing high fructose corn syrup.

Yeah, I read labels. I’m at the age where I’m reading them over my glasses (I need bifocals) and I’m avoiding HFCS and sometimes sugar (cane sugar/ cane juice). Here in Shaw, there is a whole section of fruit and veggie juices at the Giant. I can get some grapefruit juice concoction at Glen’s Market. And then there is is the Whole Foods.

Sometimes, I just need cold, fresh juice.

So in Baltimore, I had a hankering for juice, that wasn’t orange. I went to the Royal Farms, where you can get a box of fried chicken, but no non-orange juice. Monster drinks and Red Bull a plenty, but no Naked. Family Dollar, no dice. Lots of colorful drinks in glass or plastic that mention a fruit that juice may come forth from but alas it is HFCS water with a smattering of juice. 7-11 did come through, but I’m so accustomed to a lot of healthy choices from living in Shaw.

My Dream of Shaw- Looking back at 2003

Yes, for the few of you still following, I changed the look of the blog.

Back on the old blog, which is still sitting at inshaw.com/blog and duplicated somewhere here there is a post I wrote 14 years ago. Fourteen years, that’s a teenager. That’s half the lifetime of some of the newer resident’s walking around! Fourteen years ago, Shaw was a different place. So I’m going to repost that dream.

Note: I don’t feel the same way now as I did then, and I probably wouldn’t put it the same way as I did back then. But for the sake of honesty and truth, I’m not editing it, not even for the spelling errors.

From In Shaw An Historically Gentrified Blog

My Dream of Shaw
Taking an idea from my church’s reading group that we are constantly changing the world into what it aught (ms) to be, I began thinking about what I would like Shaw to be in the near future.
I want a diverse neighborhood. Diversity meaning a strange balance between rich and poor; black, white, hispanic and asian; poor, lower income, middle class, upper-middle class, and rich; old and young; gay and straight, all these in numbers where one does not stick out like a sore thumb or overwhelm and dictate the nature of Shaw.
Jesus said the poor shall always be with us. As long as there is public housing in Shaw and Section 8, we will have our poor. Yet, I have been reading that poor can be a temporary situtation. I grew up poor, in a lower class neighborhood. Some of my friends grew up the same, working class, or homeless, but have transcended poverty and wander somewhere in the middle class zone. I hope the same for my neice and nephew who are currently on public assistance, that they too may transcend their current economic standing. In order to transend poverty or at least not have it as a permanent designation for a family, there must be opportunities in the form of education, training and jobs; things lacking in areas of concentrated poverty. In order to de-concentrate you have to bring in the other classes. Bringing in the other classes will result in the displacement of the poor but not all the poor.
To balance the economic groupings of Shaw, the area needs a healthy middle class population to deconcentrate poverty. This middle class should range from contractors, plumbers, teachers, police, civil servants, IT, and retirees who invested well. They should provide the tax base to help fund social services and give to socially minded charities. But realistically, their numbers will displace some, raise prices (rent, real estate taxes), and they will make demands that old timers will find annoying.
In an 2001 Washington City Paper article an author, writing about his U Street neighborhood, mentioned that as soon as the area blacks begin moving into the middle class they move out of DC and into PG County, just over the border. He noted how the houses in his immdediate area were being bought by whites. My point, you can’t force black folks to stay, especially when they aren’t convinced that the crap they put up with (drug dealing, crime, trash, etc) isn’t going to go away soon enough. Why wait 5 years for the area to get better if you can buy in a quieter lower crime area today? If blacks aren’t moving in great numbers to replace the ones moving out, and there are whites/hispanics/asians willing to pay top dollar, then logically the racial demographics of the area will change. There are middle class black buying and staying in Shaw, but not in the numbers to maintain an overwelming majority. We come as singles, working married/gay couples, not so much as families with children. We are putting up with the crime, the trash, and all the other reasons of why those who have moved out, moved out, hoping that in a few years it will improve. I hope more black middle class households move to Shaw to make it the gleaming neighborhood it once was before the riots and to maintain the history of the area. But realistically, non-blacks are attracted to the area, and hopefully their numbers ( I’m specifically thinking of the clutch you purse ever time they see a black person population) will not overwhelm making it uncomfortable for blacks.
As far as businesses go, I dream of fewer liquor stores. A few places where I can walk to in 15-20 minutes from the house and grab a pastry, or sit down and eat, or buy a book. U Street has a lot of that with Cake Love (great cakes!!!) the kazillion Ethopian restaurants, the Islander Restaurant, and the other stores along U and 14th Streets. I would live to see some of that along 7th Street and North Capitol. I dream of places where I want to spend my money because they have something I want.
Shaw should be diverse. It should have services and businesses for everyone. It should be low in crime and as clean as a city can be. It should feel like home.

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.

Problems with Derek Hyra Book: Part III What Does It All Mean

The last section of Derek Hyra’s book Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City are just two chapters, seven and eight.  There isn’t much to add than what I’ve already wrote on the previous two sections, except for some minor disagreements with the author. My major problems were in Part II.

The minor disagreements are in regards to what is and who is missing. For Truxton Circle at least there was a spike in the growth of “Other,” people who were not exclusively Black or exclusively White, these people are missing. So are middle class African Americans. Gen X and Baby Boomers aren’t players in this book either, though both made the neighborhood more palatable for the Millennials (born between 1980-2000 according to Hyra) who are all over the damned place now.

I understand an author, especially when you’re not writing a huge tome, has to be exclusive in choosing what and what not to write about. It just appears to me that some things were left out because they didn’t fit or did not support the author’s thesis. Yes, the new residents fought for dog parks, but they also fought to improve people parks too, something that isn’t explored.

O St Market ConstructionLastly. Hyra in his last chapter mentions , “Neutral ‘third spaces’ may facilitate the development of bridging social capital.” Yes,  agreed, however we get back to what is not mentioned. Places like Ben’s Chili Bowl and Busboy’s & Poet’s are mentioned but I think the author is blinded by appearances. There are places in Shaw that have something for everyone, one place being the O Street Giant, ’cause everyone has to get groceries. I have never eaten at Busboys & Poets and have been to Ben’s less than a handful of times in my 17 years of living here, but I’ve been to the Giant hundreds of times. The story of the O Street Giant transforming from the Ghetto Giant to the Gentrified Giant is an interesting one, not explored in this book. I have seen my neighbors there, I’ve seen my fellow parishioners there. It serves the people buying grass fed beef with a black card and those buying family pack chicken with an EBT.  The Giant is truly an inclusive third space. Instead he, and various other writers like to write up how horrible or exclusionary coffee shops, $12 cocktail and $30+ entree restaurants, restaurants & coffee shops that did not exist 15 years ago, some not even 5-10 years ago, are.

Problems with the Derek Hyra Book: Part II WTF is Going On?

So continuing from yesterdays Part I, Part II contains chapters 4-6 in Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City and the part that contained a factual error that made me question the whole book.

The error? Someone who is Hispanic and has now been here long enough not to be a new comer, is described once as White and a new comer. To be fair the person described himself as a new comer at the time Hyra was researching the book. Time has passed, but books do take a good while to get published. However the racial thing, that a bigger error, especially when you have the issues of race and the book is pushing a particular narrative. In the case of the racially misidentified person, it appears the story is of a “White” newbie replacing a longtime Black leader.  But the case was the Black person being replaced moved, or was moving, to be with his wife ( a total surprise to me, didn’t know Jim got married), so the new comer filled in. Yes, it may seem a little more sinister if the new comer is White, which he wasn’t. If you had seen him, you would not confuse him with a White guy.

neighborhooddrugdealersI should mention Part II is where he brings out his “Living the Wire” idea. The evidence is a little flimsy appearing to be based on one civic association social where White residents regaled in stories of crime. We all have our coping mechanisms. I do remember those who would do the same, and notably those White residents who did, immediately moved when they became parents. Parents do not want to ‘Live the Wire.’ Those who did want to live dangerously, eventually moved.  Besides anyone who wants to live The  Wire, needs only to move 40 miles north, where housing is way cheaper in Baltimore.

Problems with the Derek Hyra Book- Part 1 the Poor Setting

Hyra book coverSo it has been well over a month or two since I sent questions to Dr. Derek S. Hyra’s publicist and no one has gotten back to me. Fine. I’m not sure who is reading this blog anymore anyway. And since I’m guessing hardly anyone is reading this, I’m just going to say it,  Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City wasn’t a great book.

It has some things going for it. For one, it is about Shaw (more the U Street area) that’s a reason to check it out of the library. Secondly, it is an easy read. I was able to finish it in two work days, so the writing style is very approachable. And if you ignore the notes, references, and index, it is less than 200 pages.  That’s the good.

The not good comes from inaccuracies, undefined/poorly defined/ vague terms, and cherry picking. I came to the book with an open mind. I was aware that Hyra sympathized with OneDC, an organization that protests and complains about gentrification. I can enjoy an anti-gentrification book, unfortunately, a glaring factual error in Part II made it difficult for me to trust the author. Talking with other people there are other minor factual errors in the book, that doesn’t help.

In the first part of the book, Hyra describes how he did his research, where the neighborhood is, and his theories. The first two chapters are okay, the third sent me on a margin writing fit. Chapter 3 “From Company Town to Postindustrial Powerhouse” contained a poor definition of Washington, DC. or DC. Hyra frequently uses “DC” when it appears that he means “DC Area”. Here’s the difference, one of these things has representation in Congress, one does not. It is a common sin of suburbanites and people who live outside of the District of Columbia, and yes, this got under my skin like a mite. He described the defense industry as having “a major DC presence.” The word “area” after “DC” would have been more accurate. On page 51, Table 1, he lists the top 5 defense contract firms, none in the District of Columbia. I understand the need to talk about the area economy but it confuses matters the way it is written.

Next I’ll write about Part II: WTF is Going On?

319 R St NW- Not hoping for the best, but the less ugly with a turret

319 R St NW So the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) voted to support Plan B, which was building a distinct 3rd floor and a new turret, that looks like a little hat (See The Turret is Plan B). It was what the ANC and the residents of the 1700 block of 4th and Richardson apparently agreed on.

The developers ‘threatened’ that they could by right raze the building. Maybe. I don’t know if it would have been worth it because if the building were razed there would be no need to stick to Plan A either and they would have had to be within 60-62% of lot coverage. The current structure is about 70 something of lot coverage.

Anyway, I am still sad that the plan does not incorporate the turret like 1721 4th St does.
Rooftops
It looks less like a pop up.

Here is a newer picture I took a few days ago of 1721-1717 4th St NW. The building on the left is 1721, and it includes a pop up. The blue building in the middle is an original Wardman, minus some roof vents that existed earlier. The building on the right is 21st century infill. The one with the popup has a mix of historic charm and more square footage, the middle, has the historic charm and details, and new one, plain and has that extra floor. The buildings on the left and right do rise above the one in the middle but the heigh difference isn’t too drastic or jarring.

What 1721 does is use that old mansard roof and expands on it. There are other additions in Truxton Circle that add a floor. There is a popup on the 1600 block of fourth street that blends in well. I can’t seem to get a good photo of it because there are two trees that block the view, and maybe the trees help obscure the popup.

Q and 3rd I’m still trying to make up my mind regarding this pop up on 3rd and Q. It isn’t horribly ugly, it isn’t charming either. It might grow on me like the Darth Vader house at 1651 New Jersey Avenue NW.Vader House at 1651

I’m afraid that the 319 R St developers will go with ugly…. 1500 block of 3rd Street ugly. This particular ugly has been slapped by the market’s invisible hand for being so dang ugly.
Ugly Popup 2