I watched the most recent Jane Jacobs documentary ‘Citizen Jane’, which then led to listening to podcasts about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. If you are not familiar with the story, Robert Moses was a very powerful man in the early 20th century who was very good at tearing down structures (slum clearance it was called) to build parks and parkways. However, another word for parkway could be highway. Jane Jacobs was the journalist/ author/ activist who stopped him from building a road or highway through her Greenwich Village neighborhood in the 1960s.
Highways, were the big thing after World War II. Prior to the war cities were big on slum clearance. Slums, according to one definition, were places where there wasn’t a lot of indoor plumbing. But most seem to define it as where poor people live in poor conditions. You mix the slum clearance with the highway funds and you have lots of plans to destroy neighborhoods.
There was a plan to extend I-395 past New York Avenue NW, where it currently terminates. The above map from 1957 shows this. There are a few landmarks to help you figure out where Truxton Circle is in all this, such as the Capitol, Union Station, Logan Circle and Mt. Vernon Square. Where you see the #10 is a white mass of something, that is a proposed expressway that was to connect I-395 to an inner loop. To create this roadway tons of housing in what is now Truxton Circle would have to be destroyed. Actually, if this were to have gone through there would not have been a Truxton Circle neighborhood.
So what happened to keep this from happening? The sixties. There was a change in the 1960s where people pushed back against the government, and this was a government plan. The culture of the Civil Rights movement played a major part in this, and that is another post for another time.
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.
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.
This 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.
So I was bopping around the Library of Congress site, looking to tell one story. Well, because I’m too lazy to figure out how to search properly (I’m very disappointed in myself as a librarian) I came across a few photos of life in 1942 around the area of 7th and Florida Avenue NW. As you know Florida Avenue tends to make up the northern border of Shaw, or what was to become Shaw. This prior to the urban renews plans and prior to Shaw being named Shaw as a neighborhood.
These photos were taken by the noted African American photographer Gordon Parks. He like other notable photographers like Dorothea Lange, worked for the Farm Security Administration. As you can see and as you know, this area is not a farm, little matter…. old timey pictures, yay!
If you look in the reflection of the window with the hats, I believe you can see the building that houses Halfsmoke, maybe. I know there was a football stadium over there where Howard University Hospital sits, and those are the stadium lights you can see in the reflection as well. However the turret is not exactly the same so, I’m not sure.
From these photographs I can see hanging out on the 1900 block of 7th Street is a historic activity. However the panhandlers of the 1940s were a heck of a lot better dressed than the hangers out and the odd panhandler found between Florida Avenue and S Street these days. They wore hats in the 40s. And they sold hats on 7th Street. At this moment I don’t think you can get a decent hat on 7th, unless you have one delivered to the Amazon pickup locker at the 7-11 on 7th and Rhode Island.
At some point I’ll actually get around to posting the things I meant to post. Until then, enjoy.
Due to my research on my house I was under the impression that it, and all the other ones in the row, was built around 1874-75 ish.
The Historical Society sent out an announcement about their facilities on Mt. Vernon Square and getting ready for the Apple store (yay, I need a new mini). The library is closing up Friday, June 7th, but there are the online resources. So I went to the Ready Reference PDF. And that took me to DC.gov’s HistoryQuest DC. So I looked at the map, tapped on my block and discovered the houses on my row were built in 1872, not 1874/1875 as I thought. I’m in the right decade at least.
So why did I think what I thought? Well I was going by tax records. Prior to the 1874/1875 tax year there was nothing there, according to the tax assessor. Unfortunately, the oh so helpful Sanborn and other fire maps don’t even bother with the Truxton Circle area until the 1880s at the earliest. HistoryQuest DC used the Washington Evening Star newspaper report on building permits as its source. That source said the owner, Jacob Been had permits dated July 5, 1872.
Well, I guess Mr. Been could have waited 2 years to build.
So this comes up way too often. So that’s why I decided with this re-boot (messy as it is) that I would call the In Shaw blog Truxton is in Shaw, because it is.
Here is the quick and dirty and maybe in later posts I’ll go deeper.
Bloomingdale is on the other side of Florida Ave, which used to be Boundary Street in the 18th century. Why Boundary Street? Because it was the boundary between the city of Washington and the county of Washington, in the District of Columbia. Bloomingdale, lovely as it is, was/is a suburban neighborhood, in the then county.
Shaw. I have yet, to find ANYTHING, anything calling the area we know as Shaw as “Shaw” prior to the late 1950s, and even then it was called the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. See the map there? That is of the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. Everything in it, is Shaw. The area known as U Street, you will see it, in Shaw. The portion known as Logan Circle, you can find it in the map, in Shaw.
Truxton Circle, look at the map, it is IN SHAW.
If it is in this map, it is in Shaw, which kinda stopped being a thing sometime after Home Rule and wards were a thing.
This is just a placecard until I figure out how to deal with the change from MT to WP for the blog.
As you can tell I’ve moved from Inshaw with more gentrification to Truxton is In Shaw, to mainly say… Shaw is a huge neighborhood and Truxton is/was part of it.