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.
I thought I had a photo of this church, but I don’t and I don’t feel like snatching one off of Google Street view, but plug in 501 P St NW and you can see the building that is there. Or you can go to the church’s Facebook page and see photos of the church there.
So I’m trying something new here. Putting the PDFs on Scribd, so I can share this. So let’s go over the church’s info shall we?
It reported having 175 members with 85 showing up for regular worship service. For those of you unfamiliar with church attendance, not everyone shows up every week. You’ve got once a week, once a month, and once everyso often members. Depending on the church, some people can remain on membership rolls long after they’ve moved to another church or stopped attending all together. Also some people attend and don’t become members. So there is that.
There is another section about membership, that’s the juicy part, if the info is there. It is a black church. That’s sort of in the name, AME, African Methodist Episcopal church, but they identify as “negro” church. Unfortunately, they don’t describe the geographic disbursement of the membership, so I don’t know if this is a neighborhood or commuter church. However, later in the report, at the end, they mention the location is central to it’s membership, which hints that it may be more of a local commuter church. I add ‘local’ as in not in the neighborhood, but having people commute by foot or bus from nearby neighborhoods. This is the 50s, people would send their kids to walk to school miles away, in the snow, uphill, both ways. The occupational distribution is also interesting, as the church reports membership being 50% white collar and 40% unskilled labor.
Looking at the 1957 Northwest Church Survey, Scripture Cathedral did not exist. It would have been at 9th and O Streets Northwest. But the only thing on that block was a storefront church called Christ’s United Baptist Church at 1329 9th St NW, now an outreach center. So historically, in my opinion, this means it can’t claim a rich history with the neighborhood. And I don’t feel like researching it to see if this was a post riot church. Looking at the website for Scripture Cathedral, currently in PG County, they don’t provide a useful history, or details.
The usual narrative would be Black church replaced by rich (let’s just assume) white condo owners, and then we are supposed to feel bad about losing people who park poorly in the neighborhood. Instead let’s go with ‘yay, new neighbors who may be overpaying for their home.’ Seriously, people still get shot a block or so away on 7th Street, and they can come home from the Mt. Vernon metro assaulted by the smell of K2 in the air.
Looking at the whole volume of the October 1957 Northwest Church Survey, there are plenty of churches that no longer exist. Churches that may have left because they ended their normal church lifecycle. Churches that picked up and moved before and after the riots, and before and after ‘gentrification.’ Neighborhoods change.
A copy of the National Capital Planning Commission’s October 1957 Church Survey that I copied part of is sitting on DDot’s website. But it is a partial copy of the whole report. One of my bad habits, not citing where I got the document, has bitten me in the butt, and I never got around to copying the whole thing. Until now.
Thanks to interlibrary loans, I have been able to get my hands on a copy from a college library several states away. I don’t know why I couldn’t find a copy of this book locally.
The Church Survey has data on 108 63 churches that were in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area. The powers that be decided to shrink the urban renewal area down, and out of it, we get the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area, that became known simply as Shaw.
The survey looked at all kinds of religious houses, from steeple churches, storefront churches to house churches. There are several churches mentioned in the 1957 survey that no longer exist. I notice this as I copy each page. A lot can happen in 62 years. There are others where the church changed hands or names. The quality of the surveys vary from church to church. Some entries give great demographic information about the church, parishioners, staff, and programing. Most entries give the address of the pastor, size of membership, a short list of types of programs, and publicly available information. The sparse entries are just publicly available land information and maybe whatever could be observed from the outside.
So far my plan is to copy the whole book, splice in what I previously copied and, since it was a government document, put it on-line.
My usual path no longer takes me along 9th Street anymore. Trips to Giant stops right at 8th Street. I might wander over to 9th to see if Buttercream has any ho-hos. And so the search for specialty cake products brought me over to the 1500 block of 9th Street NW and I was surprised to see what looked to be work on Shiloh Baptist Church’s long vacant properties.
This might be old news to some, as I did notice another Shiloh property on the opposite side of the street appeared no longer vacant. And the poster celebrating Victory Village looks, old. When doing a Google search for Victory Village and Shiloh, I came across a 2010 CityPaper article about the project. That doesn’t provide a lot of confidence. What does provide confidence is the scaffolding up along the sidewalk. And the fact that the block is a little less vacant than 10 years ago.
I pray that in 5 years the 1500 block of 9th Street NW is as healthy as the 1500 block of 7th St NW. I hope that Shiloh will no longer be known as the church with all those run down vacant properties. I don’t expect Shiloh to gain the real estate mojo of UHOP, that would be akin to expecting Keneau Reeves to out act Christian Bale.
There are dozens of churches that existed in general Shaw area in the 1950s that are no longer around. Some church congregations moved, some churches are closed by their denomination, there are a variety of reasons. The Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple at 11th and R St NW, 2-3 blocks from the Shaw metro R Street exit had its last service this weekend.
The Washington Post made mention of gentrification in its article about the church’s last days. There isn’t a direct blaming of gentrification, but there is a lot of hinting. The church attempted to reach out to neighbors, added some programing but couldn’t get the membership numbers up after the Rev. Benjamin E. Lewis retired. Yes, parking pressures didn’t help. But looking back at the 1957 Church Survey (PDF), Lincoln UCC church members mostly lived outside of the Shaw neighborhood.
The Church Survey from October 1957 looked at steeple, storefront and residential houses of worship from a block over from U St, Florida Ave, 14th St NW, Mass Ave and 2nd St NE. Lincoln UCC was one and in 1957, 74% of parishioners lived outside of the map in Brookland and Kenilworth. Those 25% who did live in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area were reported to be elderly members, who should be more than dead right now. Don’t blame the demographic changes on the church’s decline.
When doing neighborhood history, I encounter many quaint fictions. Most of them are harmless. There is the belief that residents are home owners. And there’s the idea that church congregants lived in walking distance. Some do, many don’t. Bible Way Church, which stopped the I-395 from destroying Shaw and going all the way through, only had 30% of its members in the Urban Renewal area. Mt. Sinai who will host tonight’s BACA meeting, had 96% of its members scattered elsewhere in the city. The upper and middle class Blacks who supported and were a part of these churches did not all live in the slum that was Shaw.
So three Truxton Circle houses of worship, Masjid Muhammad, Mt. Sinai, and the hosts Fourth Street Friendship 7th Day Adventist are all getting together to promote health with topics covering teen depression and suicide, diabetes, and screenings. This will happen on this coming Sunday at 1611 4th St NW.
One of those things will be a nice little review (well a review for me since I’ve taken CPR classes) of CPR. This will take place in the Above Dining Hall at 1:30 and 3:30. Part one will be calling 911 with Shuron Abdullah M.Ed, MS, HCM, RRT. Part 2 in two parts with CPR Instructors “Push hard and fast” with Romone Watkins, and “Stayin’ Alive” with Danny Rosette. Get your hands on a dummy and possibly come to the rescue of a relative, friend or co-worker.
Walking to mass Saturday I noticed that a building was missing from the corner of 9th and O Street NW. The Scripture Cathedral that shared a parking lot with Immaculate Conception Catholic Church is now gone. It emptied some time ago, but now it is no more. Probably, luxury condos will go there.
I figure Roadside Development will get around to putting a building on the parking lot space whenever the other developer finishes putting a building on the Scripture Cathedral space.