Forget Go-Go Bring Back the Jazz to Shaw

Duke Ellington and unknown woman @ Howard Theater(?)

So there was that story about the Go-Go music being blasted at 7th and Florida. And more stories about Go-Go and the changing neighborhood, as if neighborhoods don’t change. Neighborhoods, cities, cultures change. There used to be jazz in Shaw. Good jazz, as in the kind you can dance to. But that kind of jazz is not something you’ll find listed at the Howard Theater, the only reason to go to the Dunbar Theater is to bank with Wells Fargo, and Bohemian Caverns is dark.

The jazz I like is gone and it probably won’t come back to Shaw.

I can’t blame gentrification. I can’t even blame the riots. What is to blame is what comes to all forms of popular and even niche genres, tastes and audiences change. What has befallen the jazz I like (I’m ignoring that other stuff that calls itself jazz) could easily fall upon Go-Go. The audience that grew up with it gets older, younger audiences are more into something else. The artists change, they may want to pursue or try new things. The market changes, as people stop buying CDs and CD players and Spotify/Pandora-rify their music. Also, I’ve been told Go-Go is best experienced live. For me, the artists changed and started creating undancable, unsingable jazz that decoupled itself from popular music, and younger audiences were getting into Rock-n-Roll.

So, for now, there is a phone store that sells Go-Go CDs on the side and blasts Go-Go music outside. Considering record stores do more closing than opening, I’m going to guess the money is in being a phone store. It’s unreasonable to expect the neighborhood to support one genre of music. If the neighborhood’s history of musical support is anything to go by, the best one can hope for is having a few buildings, maybe a street named after artists, and half-aszed attempts by city bureaucrats at music appreciation. Businesses are going to do what they need to do to stay in business. Customers are going to buy what they want to buy, in the format they want to purchase. And all of that will bring the end of Go-Go, not a neighbor who wants the music turned down.

Change of heart due to change of neighborhood

I have had a change of heart about Sunset Liquors. The Help still holds feelings of hostility. These feelings are based on my view of this liquor store from the early days of the neighborhood when the last thing we needed were liquor stores.

So jump into my little time machine, and head back to oh, 2005-ish. The perceived to be patrons of the local liquor stores were alcoholics who would then drink around the neighborhood, hang out in parks, relieving themselves in people’s basement wells and alleys. We’d find empty cheap vodka bottles and 40oz cans litteBodegónring tree boxes. It was such a problem there used to be a blog called TreeboxVodka around here.  People still litter Shaw treeboxes, but not as often with Velicoff as they did in the bad old days. BACA would try to close the handful of liquor stores in Truxton Circle, on 4th St, on 1st Street and the two on North Capitol. Those efforts failed.

DC has more liquor stores than all of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In the ‘aughts, that was too many, considering the state of the neighborhood.

So what changed? Several things, not just one thing. The major thing was the demographic change. The population of Truxton Circle was trending down before the gentrification got going. What gentrification brought was an influx of young professionals who did not publicly self-destruct with alcohol. These young professionals would buy 6 packs or cases of beer to take home, or to someone else’s home to enjoy. They were not known to buy 40oz cans of Steel Reserve. Related to this change was a change in what some local liquor stores stocked, less MD 20/20 more merlot. My favorite change was the disappearance of Plexiglas. For my own self-esteem, I avoided shopping in stores where there was bulletproof glass between me and the cashier. I found it insulting, but I understood the reason why. Some stores, not necessarily liquor stores, removed the glass, and then later the store became a victim of armed robbery. The neighborhood wasn’t ‘there’ yet and people were hurt. There are some Shaw and Truxton stores with the glass, but plenty of places where isn’t used. For myself, it is now a tolerable level. In the case of Sunset Liquors, across the street, the Florida Avenue Park was renovated. Prior to the major renovation, the junkies and the alcoholics would hang out in the park, wander over to Sunset, then wander back to the park. Sometimes they would pass out on the play equipment. It was not a park kids could use because of the needles, the glass, and the human waste. Sunset was part of the problem. Then the gates came up and you can only exit on the 1st Street side. Add this with the demographic changes, parents, grandparents, and kids own most of the park, not junkies and bums. Another change, also Sunset specific, was a change in relationship with the neighborhood. Before you walk into Sunset, you are greeted by a blackboard with an affirmation. You can also see inside the store from the outside. In the old days we complained that the windows were covered with beer and cigarette ads. There is still some clutter, but you can see inside. The store is a UPS drop off, and that was the reason I walked in. I found a super helpful employee, my package, and a red zinfandel.

I have yet to make it to the new wine shop at Florida and North Capitol. I blame the weather and my own laziness. I hope it is as nice as the Grand Cata wine shop on 7th Street.

The neighborhood has changed. It is now strong enough to have a few decent liquor stores and maintain its upward trajectory. Of course if you want to go old school, there is always Big Ben.

Why you can’t compare a pre-gentrification house to today

Vacant house on P
214 P St NW with broken windows in 2008.

When I read studies about housing, housing stock and affordable housing, as it applies to areas like Shaw, I can’t help feeling there is a very wrong assumption flowing through them all. I encountered, that feeling when talking to a renter on my street who would love to buy, but was unaware of what some of us did to make affordable homes livable, and once they became livable, unaffordable to people like him. A house that was affordable in Shaw in the 80s or 90s is probably not the same house that stands today.

In the 1940s-50s Shaw was described as a slum. A slum was defined in some writings as an area where a significant number of houses lacked indoor plumbing or interior toilets, thus slummy Shaw. I want you, dear reader, to think about that. Living somewhere, when you have to go, you’ve got to go….. outside. But now there are laws and regulations so when you rent a place, you get that fancy pants indoor bathroom with hot water.

But there are other housing deficiencies that houses in the 90s and early 00s suffered from because of the history of disinvestment in the neighborhood. Disinvestment meaning, landlords and homeowners had no incentive to maintain properties, beyond necessity, with little to no equity gained. Not updating kitchens, or electrical wiring, or plumbing, resulting in cramped little kitchens, wiring that would fry your electronics, and leaky pipes.

Renovation_0045
House under renovation.

Then came the renovations and the gentrification. Some were crappy and cosmetic, like my house when I bought it, and some actually fixed long neglected problems or updated systems. Even crappy renovations cost money and those costs are pushed onto the end user, the home buyer or the renter. Yes, there are places where there has been no, to little reinvestment, and the prices act as if there were.

So next time you read a report that assumes the equity gained due to gentrification is unearned, question if the house that was affordable in year X is of the same quality, with the same features, when it is unaffordable in year Y.

An Appreciation of the Now: Fewer gunshots, fewer killings

If this was a decade ago in Shaw you’d be asking yourself. Fireworks? or Gunfire? It could have been either, or both. One of the nice things about gentrification, fewer gun shots ringing through the night. Sometimes through someone’s window.

R St blockedI’ve been thinking about a website that is still up but no longer updated, DC Homicide Watch (2010?-2014) run by a husband and wife team Chris and Laura Amico. Their documentation of every death, not just the gun victims, but also the stabbing and domestic/ child abuse victims, made them special. As far as I was concerned they were doing the Lord’s work. They not only acknowledged the life that was lost, but provided a place for that person’s friends, associates and loved ones express their grief and loss. There were several Truxton Circle victims, I don’t miss the makeshift street memorials that were a common site around the neighborhood.

There is a site that has picked up the torch of documenting every death in the District of Columbia, DC Witness. I have trouble with the layout and it doesn’t seem to want to work properly on old testy computers. I have to go back to the Google search page to find a version of the site that doesn’t seem to crash my browser. There is a beauty in simplicity.

Do You Miss DC in the 90s?

Gentrify & DestroyJokingly in my head I’m writing a book called “Gentrification: A Love Story”. Because as someone who bought a home right after the 90s in the Williams Administration, gentrification has been very, very, good for me. The equity in my home has allowed me to make investments and assist family members to improve their situation. The neighborhood that was so rough, my then best friend wondered if I was too desperate for home ownership, ten plus years later became my husband who actually wanted to live in the now hip happening neighborhood.

My spouse and I arrived in the DC area in the 90s in our 20s. DC kinda sucked in the 1990s. The Help (my spouse) has memories of walking from his roach infested Dupont apartment down to the Mall on weekend mornings and getting propositioned constantly by hookers. I lived in NoVa because I put a high premium on my safety and comfort, and all the DC roommate situations I looked at were blazing red flags. Tip- If you go to look at an apartment with a guy and there is a half dressed woman passed out in the living room, pass. Consider backing away and running for your life.

We do wonder if the younger residents have an appreciation of how far DC has come.

Yes, gentrification hurts. It’s a sort of change that separates out the weak. There are long time families in my neighborhood that aren’t going anywhere. These people are resilient. Grandma owns the home free and clear or the head was a government worker and has managed to keep the house in the family. They already know about the senior citizen property tax program and how to get an assigned handicapped parking spot in front of their house. They managed to survive the crack dealers and killings in the 80s and the 90s. They’ve proven thus far to survive the gentrification of the 00s and 10s. They are stronger than the newer residents think.

Can DC be sued for gentrification?

So the District of Columbia is getting sued for gentrification.

Because of Kelo v City of New London, this probably won’t go very far.

For those who don’t remember or know, Kelo v New London was an eminent domain case where the City of New London, CT took the private property, the homes, of residents of an area of town

This is an image from Little Pink House, a movie.

so a developer could build a headquarters for the Pfizer Corporation. Ms. Susette Kelo and others sued the city, sued to protect the homes they owned, from the city taking them away and displacing them. Long story short, Ms. Kelo lost and her home was torn down. There is a movie about it out now and it will be at the E Street Theater June 1-7, and tickets go on sale on May 30.

So just as a man can legally divorce his wife and remarry a younger model, a city can take away your home and give/sell the land to a richer, more economically attractive entity. If that is so, then the District of Columbia can take properties it owns or has an interest in, or doesn’t own at all through eminent domain and give/sell them to more economically attractive entities. Unless there is something on DC’s books actually saying it can’t, but the city can undo its own rules. So I don’t think this lawsuit has a chance.

I’ve noticed there is this mindset that the city has an obligation to care for its poor over that of other interests. In my book club, our next book How to Kill a City, has this same mindset. The author seems annoyed that Detroit or any other city would choose economic development over its poorest citizens.

City governments, like DC, have their own interests. Cities, do not like being broke.  They don’t like even looking broke. They like being gleaming shining examples of whatever is in fashion with local governments these days. However classics like low crime, lots of ‘good’ jobs, and great schools never go out of style and governments will aim for those goals over others.

Well I’m glad the Shaw-Howard Station is where it is

Proposed subway line through 1968 Shaw

Sorry this is not a prettier map.

The Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) it appears suggested the path through Shaw the WMATA subway sorta- kinda takes. As we know the Shaw metro station isn’t at 7th and Florida, but rather a block down at 7th and S and 7th and R. The Mt. Vernon Square station, isn’t at 7th and O, but also a couple of blocks off at 7th and M. WMATA at that time, proposed the line (did it even have a color in 1968?) going up 13th Street, with a station just off Logan Circle, and the U St station sort of where the U Street station is now.

Anyway. I tried posting some Shaw history about building and growth in the post-riot, pre-non-stop gentrification period. This was based on countering a poor gentrification think piece that claimed that you could count the building projects in DC between 1968-1998 on one hand. Actually, you can count at least a dozen building projects in Shaw during that period, the Green/Yellow line, just one of many projects in Shaw. According to the wikis U Street, Shaw, and Mount Vernon Square all opened up in 1991, twenty three years after the riots. However, it wasn’t all that great in the 1990s because the Green line stopped at U Street. It would be almost 10 years before the line was as lovely and functional as it is today. I will spare you the stories of having to switch at Gallery Place & Ft. Totten to get to Greenbelt.

I’m sure the 14th Street crowd would have wished for the WMATA plan. However I’m very glad the decision to place the stations a little bit more to the east was chosen. Considering there was a significant amount of damage along 7th Street, I do wonder if the riots helped make 7th Street more attractive (cheaper land, fewer historical buildings to damage) to WMATA?

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.

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.