RIP – Milk Bottle Change Jar

This morning I heard the distinct sound of glass breaking. Not wanting to wake the Babyman, I waited till coming downstairs to ask the Help (my spouse) what was it. Apparently he had grabbed a book that shared space with the change jar and the other books shifted, sending the antique milk bottle to its shattered end on the floor.

Milk bottleThis milk was special, Truxton Circle special. Once upon a time in the early and mid 20th century, there was a the Fairfax Farms Dairy at 1620 First Street NW, where the Northwest Co-Op currently sits. That was a light industrial block with warehouses and of course the “dairy”. There were no cows to my knowledge ever on the property. Eventually fresh milk delivered to your door in these lovely glass bottles was no longer a thing, and so businesses like the dairy went away.

It was a nice reminder of the changes the neighborhood went through, that once there was an industrial section in the neighborhood. Dismiss those fantasies that residential areas were always residential areas.

We probably won’t get another antique 1620 1st St NW bottle. The Babyman would probably destroy it as he gets more mobile. We’ll just replace it with a cheap mason jar.

So Asbury Dwellings used to be a school

Three white guys posing in front of Shaw Jr High. Circa 1967-68.

 

Okay, if you are familiar with the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 7th Street NW you are aware of Asbury Dwellings, senior citizens’ apartments.

Well before it was housing, it was a school. It was THE school the neighborhood was named after. Just like Adams Morgan was named after two schools there, with its own urban renewal project, Shaw was named after the Shaw Junior High School. Which was named after Col. Robert Gould Shaw. So the neighborhood being named after the Col. Shaw is sorta kinda true if you’re totally ignoring the urban renewal part of the neighborhood’s history.

So behind the three white guys with rolled up posters, is the school and you may be able to make out the word “High School”. It now reads “Asbury Dwellings”. If you don’t feel like bringing up a Google street view of the place here’s a link to a Library of Congress photo of the current building. When you really look at it, it is a beautiful building.

1960s MICCO Parade Pix

1967 parade in Shaw. MICCO float.

This was probably the 1967 parade featuring Dr. Martin Luther King.

I do not know who these ladies are, beyond that they are probably on the MICCO board. What is MICCO? It is the Model Inner City Community Organization an organization that was around during the period of Shaw’s urban renewal. It helped get federal funds to black middle class professionals such as architects and builders.

What I do know is that the float passed R Street NW. I suspect Rhode Island Ave is just a bit behind it. They might be heading north on 9th Street. I have the parade route somewhere, but I do not know where.

No need for developer hate- who built your house?

So I was reading, okay skimming, through a lot of web posts and articles about housing and there was a fair amount of hate on developers, real estate developers. Apparently all developers care about is money. Okay, but didn’t a developer build your house? Your apartment?

So the newly historic landmarked Wardman Flats were built by a real estate developer Harry Wardman, which is why it is landmarked… Okay it was landmarked because a present day developer threatened the turret at 319 R Street and landmarking is a hammer people can use. Wardman did not build the houses on Square 519 (btwn 3rd, 4th, Florida, and R Streets NW) for charity. He was a builder, that’s how he made money. He built a lot in DC, mainly, for the money.

Bates St Turn of the century A few years  before Wardman built in Truxton Circle and a few blocks over the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) built flats between North Cap, Q, P, and 3rd Streets NW.  Paul Williams has a wonderful blog post about WSIC, so there is no need for me to rehash that history. WSIC wasn’t completely all about the money, more about ‘business philanthropy’. I’m not completely sure, but my reading is that this type of project was to provide dividends to stockholders. So doing good and making money?

My own house is over 140 years old and as far as I can tell, was built by a guy who rented to poor black labors. Can’t find anything that shows he built my house for anything other than the money.

There is no public housing in Truxton Circle. There is HUD subsidized housing, but no public housing. But even city supported or federally subsidized housing involve developers as well. I don’t have any good history about that so, this is where I’ll end this post.

Character of a neighborhood: People not buildings

Recently a co-worker of mine retired. At his retirement party a few other retirees I knew showed up and I remembered what the place was like when they still worked there, and how the place will change when my co-worker becomes another retiree. The building where we work has, for the most part, despite several renovations since it was built in the early 20th Century, remained unchanged. But the workplace keeps changing, with each new person, with each retirement, departure, and in some cases, death.

The neighborhood is the same way. The spirit of my block changed with the crowd who showed up in the 00s and eventually departed in the early teens. The buildings has relatively remained unchanged. There has been some infill here, a pop up or pop back there, but for the most part the buildings have not changed much over the years. But the block has changed, and will continue to do so long after I’ve moved on*.

If there was to be another possible historic landmarking or whatever in Truxton Circle I would predict it would happen with the Bates Street houses. I’d hope not, but there is a history there, and with a few exceptions the overall style on the unit to the 200 blocks of Bates have been unchanged.Bates circa 1907

However the character of Bates Street has changed, and continues to change. It’s not the same street when the developer, the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company built them in the 1900s. It was purposefully segregated and all rentals. By the 1940s it there were a few Black households on Bates, and one of the few places with Whites in Truxton Circle. By the 1960s the blocks were oBates Street 1968-1972n the government’s radar for urban renewal because it was run down. Most of the families (according to a report about Bates of the time) could only afford public housing, if they were to be relocated. However the urban renewal and the large scale demolition of neighborhoods was challenged. Instead the some of the Bates St buildings were rehabilitated, but the neighborhood was still struggling. When I showed up in the early 21st Century there were many Section 8 houses, or houses that neighbors strongly suspected were Section 8, because the families’ crises kept playing out on the streets. A lot of those people are gone, but the buildings, for the most part, remain the same, all without the Historic Preservation Review Board.

Being a person who participates in communal worship, I have heard on more than one occasion, a church is the congregation/ people, not the building. Likewise, the character of the neighborhood is the people, not the buildings. Bates Street has been a White enclave, a poor Black street and now a mixed income, mixed race neighborhood.  In twenty years, it might be something else, and no building preservation will prevent it.

 

 

*There is no way I’m retiring here. The stairs in my house are murder on my knees.

Victims of the 1968 riots-1618 7th Street NW- hopeful with can do spirit

The building that is 1618 7th St NW is so nondescript it just blends into the non-cool side of the 1600 block of 7th. Now the cool end is where the Dacha beer garden sits. 1618 has a rolltop gate that I’ve never seen unrolled. It seems shuttered or not open to me.

Anyway, Carl R. Webb was the manager and owner of Personality Studio and Gift Shop at 1618 7th Street NW, near the corner of 7th and Rhode Island Avenue. Mr. Webb was a Black man over the age of 50 who owned the building and the business that had been there prior to the 1940s. He ran it with a family member, possibly his wife.

Despite experiencing extensive glass breakage and theft of merchandise over two days, Mr. Webb seems pretty positive about going forward. He didn’t seem to lose insurance, some like other owners. He did ponder changing the name and enlarging the store. He claimed he could enlarge it because he has “the know how.” I don’t know if he ever did, I’d have to look that up in the 1970 directory. Considering his age, I’m a tiny bit doubtful, but I do applaud his attitude regarding the whole thing.

Victims of the Riot: Jessie McCain 643 P St NW

It has been 50 years since the riots that destroyed several DC commercial corridors. And it has taken about 50 years for life and vibrancy to return to those corridors. However at the time, several of those places were already in a downward spiral. The heyday had passed. When the community is strong and disaster strikes, you rebuild. When it is weak, you leave.

Parking lotJessie McCain had a barbershop at 643 P St NW. During the riots it was completely destroyed. So what is there now? A parking lot. Next to it is a vacant lot, where Clark Construction has a couple of mobile office trailers that have been there for years. So in 50 years the only improvement has been clearing off the rubble.

Just after the riots officials sent out surveys to business owners to figure out the level of damage. The image above is from the survey Mr. McCain returned in September 1968. He was a 50 year old African American, and back in the 60s, 50 was old. Fifty year olds are a whole lot healthier and active these days, but back then they were well over the hill, probably not going to see 65. The destruction the riot brought Mr. McCain was the final straw. He wrote: “I am too old to be worryed [sic] any more. I just don’t want any more business.”

There were plenty more victims in Shaw for whom the riots were the final straw, and I’ll introduce you to them in the month of April.

Chocolate City- Book Review

Chocolates- GodivaSo my neighbor has a book group regarding DC history. Because I choose not to read as fast as I did in my grad school days, I participate when I’ve already read (or listened on audiobook) the book. Because this book, Chocolate City by Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove, was recommended by a co-worker who knew of my interest in DC history and more importantly, because it was in Kindle form I figured I’d read it.

Reading it, and having the text to voice function on the Kindle Fire, I thought I would never get out of the 19th Century. That period may or may not have been the longest (maybe tedious) part of the book but I felt like I was slogging through. The 20th Century zoomed by in comparison. Brett, the organizer of this book group, mentioned he found it too depressing and skipped chapters. I was very tempted to skip chapters.

I didn’t skip chapters and I actually got to the end notes and skimmed that. Why? Because I looked at the end notes constantly while reading the book because I questioned the conclusion or interpretation of an event or idea. Then I got annoyed when the citation (when I finally got past 1900) was the Washington Post, for things where a better primary exists. If historians are doomed to repeat other historians, this book is doomed to regurgitate the Post.

My other problem with the book is language. This book may not age well. The authors are fast and loose with the word ‘conservative’. It is used when ‘segregationist’ or ‘Republican’ would have been more precise. The definition of the word changes depending on the time period and place. There are other words that are trending right now, not used as much but I’m sure will date the book when new phrases or words are created and come into fashion.

So what did I like about the book? Well, it starts with Native Americans and actually goes into the the early settlement history. In the 20th Century, the area of the authors’ strengths, takes on a different narrative a bit. When writing about Marion Barry, he’s less of a personality, as he is in other histories. They don’t exactly ignore his womanizing and substance abuse, but it is not the focus and barely the reason for DC’s woes. The main narrative is racism and the struggle for Black autonomy. Barry’s famous line has less to do with being a horny crackhead and more to do with the Federal government going after Black mayors and elected officials.

I’ve got a lot of notes and highlights, and hopefully before the Wednesday, I can have it synthesized into something where I can add to the small group discussion.

Commerce was part of our history

In the past couple of weeks I have been in contact with people in the commercial sphere about history, and this had me thinking. If you were raised in a place, maybe a suburb, where commercial buildings and activities are segregated from residences, you might be under the impression that this is the way things are supposed to be. It might even cloud your view of history.

The wonderful things about cities, older East Coast cities, is that there was mixed use before things like zoning. People lived in close proximity to their jobs and the businesses they used. A building could house a family and a store, or a one time be a store and then maybe later a residence.

The map above is just of stores. It does not point out the warehouses around Hanover Street and the working dairy where Mt. Sinai and the Northwest Co-op sit, but you can see their outlines. The other thing to take into account is this is 2 years after the 1968 riots, many businesses did not rebuild or return, depressing the neighborhood even further.

When I moved into the neighborhood in the early aughts, there was annoyance at the types of businesses that were filling the commercial corridors of Florida Avenue and North Capitol and spaces in between. Those businesses were liquor stores (brown on the map) and beauty parlors (red on the map). Those were pretty much the only things taking up spaces left empty 30 years prior.

Reading post-riot reports where business owners had an opportunity to say something, the area had problems before the riots. The riots just made a bad situation worse, and businesses, along with residents began to leave. Now contrast that with today, where businesses want to come to Shaw. The number of  sponsors for the Shaw Main Street’s Art All Night was an embarrassment of riches, a testimony of how far the 7th, 9th and U Sts commercial corridors have come.

Shaw’s rising from the ashes of the riots was not just from people moving in and fixing up houses, it was also businesses coming in and taking a chance on the neighborhood.

A bit of DC 60s anti-Freeway expression

The thing I like about primary sources in history is that it occasionally reminds us of the things forgotten. We know of Emmet Till, the Birmingham Sunday school children, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X, however those other people require Googling. Yet, the people who this flyer/poster was aimed at knew who was Col. Lemuel Penn.

I don’t want to add too much to this, except to say that neighborhoods like Shaw were in real danger of being destroyed by freeways/ highways. Read the poster and tell me what you think in the comments.