For the ones who were here before

One of the comments on one of the gentrification posts mentioned that the neighborhood, after revitalization should go back to the “original residents”. My first thought was George Glorius? The whole block between FL, 4th, R and 3rd should go back to the heirs of florist George Glorius a German immigrant in 1880? Maybe the Native Americans who owned all of this before any of our ancestors got dumped here by ship or plane. Yes, I know that wasn’t what he meant. Maybe only the last 50 years count.
It got me thinking about place and space and ownership. Can any one group really own a geographical location forever? I’m not talking Middle Eastern levels of claims of ownership of place, but neighborhoods. How long will the once real Chinatown, now fake Chinatown, be fake Chinatown, before it is just Gallery Place? What claims do the Chinese-American Community have on that commercial section of town? And for how long?
There are plenty of houses in this town that date back to the mid-to-late 19th century. In the one and a half centuries that those houses have been standing just imagine the various families that have floated through. Your house may be haunted. Not by dead spirits but the lives lived in that place. And from my still incomplete research of Truxton, these lives were the lives of Irish laborers, Virginian clerks, African American laundresses, and German shopkeepers. They looked out the window you look out of and climbed the stairs you climb. Their weight pressed against the same floorboards and beams that carry you. Well, provided you or someone before you didn’t gut the whole place.
Yesterday was All Saints Day, the day for those who came before. Observing the day with a more secular outlook we can think of the Mt. Vernon Sq, Logan Circle, U Street, Blagden Alley, and Truxton Circle residents who lived here in 1880, 1930, 1950 and so on. And also know that we too will pass through, leaving our spirit and energy in the houses we work hard to maintain for the people who will come after.

17 thoughts on “For the ones who were here before”

  1. Good points, all of them. And yes, it is ridiculous that one group can have some warped claim on an area. The only claim people should have to an area is the name written on the deed to the house or the lease. Nothing more.

    If you’re forced out, you just have to deal. There’re plenty of affordable areas just a couple of miles away anyway. What’s the problem with that?

  2. hey Mari ,

    so I agree with your comments about varying ownership of an area and especially about leaving it in good shape for those who follow. I just think that this includes building a neighborhood that is friendly and respectful of the people that are already here and the people who are moving in ie. lets make this an area that accepts all people rich/poor or black/white/green/whatever.

    This area has been black owned for the past few decades and the people who grew up here feel a strong bond with the area….this is OK and and the people who are moving in should respect this…it is part of the reason Shaw is special. Rich white people are moving in and gentrifying the place…this is also good for the area.

    I guess my point is that I’d never want to see Shaw as a homogenous souless rich whitey area (like Georgetown)…I enjoy that all sorts of people live here…it feels like a community in a way that I haven’t experienced in other parts of DC. Thus I’d like to see it stay mixed how it is…I don’t feel that it is as easy as ‘you were forced out so deal’…these are people who spend part of their lives here, albiet for a limited period, and we should support their living here….whoever they are.

    we should, of course, continue to advocate for a drug/crime free community as everybody wants this.

    hmmn that’s my little rant


  3. Now I wouldn’t say Georgetown is souless. I did think that at first. But after attending services and other functions there, which puts me in a position to walk from fav Dupont sushi place to G’town I’ve walked around the residential portions and found a certain neighborhood vibe. One Wednesday, after some good sushi I passed by a couple of tables which was a farmers market and picked up some apples. Saw a fellow I’d seen in church but he and the vendor were busy talking and I was late. Continuing on to church I passed by several people chatting with their neighbors. One couple I remember were two ladies and their big dogs. They apparently had been talking so long that one of the dogs had lain on his side and taken a nap smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk. There was one time after Evening song a group of up walked over to the house of a G’town parishioner passing through an alley where three girls between 6-10 years old were playing. They darted back and forth from their yards to the alley. That’s sort of what I want here. NOT the exclusivity. NOT the overpriced houses. But rather the environment that encourages folks to stop each other in the middle of the street and carry on a long conversation about nothing. I would want children to feel safe enough to play in spaces beyond their gated yards. I want an environment that encourages people to make human connections with the folks who live and work in Shaw. But crime needs to go down, the drugs and the prostitution has to go, and people need to stop speeding.

  4. mari–

    this is one of my favorite posts on your blog. very thoughtful.

    one issue that this begs is if you get “ownership” of an area for settling in it or building it, what happens if you (as a community) abandon or tear it down later? i’m curious about people that talk about ownership over neighborhoods that harken back to those areas’ prime and then claim responsibility as a group for that… but not the present state of the area.

    oh, also, georgetown isn’t souless– it’s just the people. just kidding. it’s really the people in clarendon that are souless.


  5. Again, things are always changing in a city. As a side point, I wonder if DC currtly has fewer “ethinic” enclaves than you see in other cities? I know that the “Chinatown” in Boston is sizable (but I also beleive that it is largely Vietnamese). As for Georgetown, it isn’t particularly my style. It isn’t that I think it’s souless, but rather that I sense an overiding sense of entitlement amongst most people I’ve encountered there. It just feels like a different world (and not one where I feel particularly welcome).

  6. alright, so maybe there are some OK people in’s just that everytime I go there I see boring people posing to each other as they buy overpriced crap thet they don’t need.


  7. Mari,

    Thanks for what continues to be a thought-provoking blog.

    Ah, Georgetown, the neighborhood that some folks love to hate. Fortunately, the near-soulless retail strips don’t represent the entire community.

    “If you’re forced out, you just have to deal. There’re plenty of affordable areas just a couple of miles away anyway. What’s the problem with that?”

    There are lots of problems with that. First, affordable areas aren’t always “just a couple of miles away”. The individual or family that’s forced out may end up a good distance from their original home. Second, residents who are forced out aren’t just leaving their home. They’re leaving everything that makes up the fabric of that community: from the friends and neighbors they socialized with to the schools, classmates, and teachers their children cared about. Finally, the community loses whatever the residents contributed. Things that newer residents may or may not provide.

    Yes, neighborhoods change. It’s part of the cycle that cities go through. City dwellers have to accept that part of urban living. These changes usually bring both good and bad. When the people who kept the community going during less prosperous times are priced out, that’s definitely bad.

  8. i found this comment by Jolyon rather disturbing

    I guess my point is that I’d never want to see Shaw as a homogenous souless rich whitey area (like Georgetown)

    you can’t be welcoming of a diverse neighborhood, and make racist comments at the same time. It really shows a prejudicial disdain.

  9. In defence of Jolyon, some of his dearest friends (and relatives) are white. Believe me many ethnic groups have issues with their own members from time to time.
    But the whole diverse neighborhood thing, I don’t know how you’d maintain such a creature in a free society where you can’t write up a covenant to keep out whites or latinos. Thank goodness it is unlawful for Realtors to stear buyers to certian neighborhoods based on the buyer’s race. We are Americans and we can live where ever we darned well please, provided we can afford it.
    If some parts of Logan are any gage, you’ll have your government or non-profit sponsored islands of affordablilty in a sea of middle and upper class-dom. Look on the lowe right hand corner of this blog and there are maps of part of Truxton. Notice all the little houses. Not a lot of apartment buildings, where tenants can work together to buy out their building or where the DC goverment can (semi)efficently involve itself. Nope. A lot of little individually owned houses. How do you legally keep them from going from rental house to house for sale? There are some tax breaks for the elderly and certain income groups. But there is a problem when you fall just a little outside the District’s income table’s for help. And if past history is a gage the citizens of DC would rather forego a tax break to help all homeowners if by chance those perceived to be well to do are assisted by that same break.

  10. I have a question: How come when poorer black residents have to leave a neighborhood it’s called “being pushed out” while when richer white residents have to leave a neighborhood it’s called “white flight”?

    Certainly the riots of the late 60s and resulting poverty pushed out richer, white residents. It wasn’t fair; they were forced out. Surely they had to leave their communities behind, and all that unfortunate stuff. But “white flight” is always used in a pejorative sense. And what about the richer blacks that left with the whites in the late 60s? No doubt, it happened, but it’s somehow absent from the modern discourse on the subject.

    Now, poorer black residents are fleeing higher property taxes and rents. It could be properly called “black flight”, right?

    Just goes to show that many terms are loaded or euphemized to a degree to render them useless.

    Just a thought.



  11. Because a- for the poor alternatives tend to be few and crappy & b- deciding when you are going to move and picking a place is far different than having an eviction crew put your stuff out.

    Yes, there isn’t much in the way of black flight because how do you measure it and separate it from normal movement? I guess one could track all the black doctors and lawyers who used to live in Shaw and figure out where they may have relocated. But who is to say they didn’t move out cause the mizzuz wanted a driveway for her car?

  12. When I bought my house in Shaw several years ago, I bought it from black folks who did not want to live there anymore. They were just glad to see the property values back up to where they were when they bought many years before that, and they were happy to do a little better than break even and move out to another state. When I moved in my nieghbors on both sides were black folks. One guy had moved in from another state a few years before me (gentrifier?). The other folks were renting from a black landlord who lived in the MD suburbs. One day I saw he had kicked out his renters and was cleaning the place up to sell it. He told me he had lived there many years ago, but left when “the war” started. I believe he was referring to the drug war, but I am not sure. He said he was glad to make a little money and not have to care for the house anymore. Hadn’t sold earlier because he would have lost money. He never wanted to move back here. The couple he sold to were a young professional (yuppie) black couple (more gentrifiers?). They lived there exactly 2 years, (just long enough to avoind paying capital gains) and then moved to a big house way out in the suburbs. They weren’t happy with the crime and quality of life in this neighborhood. The person who they sold to was a white guy. It sound like people believe him to be the problem in this scenario. But all the black owners(3)I have had as neighbors and I bought from who have since moved out have not been forced out, but moved out because they didn’t want to live in the neighborhood (I guess one could say maybe it wasn’t good enough for some of them). Meanwhile I have been living here, volunteering and working to give back to the neighborhood I am proud to live in. But some people say that because of the color of my skin, I shouldn’t live here. I think some people are uncomfortable with change. This neighborhood, like so many places, is always changing. Before forced segregation (and before U St. was black broadway) this was an integrated neighborhood. I bet people were complaining when that changed too. Unfortunately, at this point in time, people seem to against the integration that is taking place, and blame it solely on white people moving in, and not black folks who have chosen to move out. I think this is racist, rediculous, and definitely not in the spirit of civil rights. If it were not for the passage of some civil right acts, black folks would be allowed to ensure white people could not but property here. I wonder if that would make some people here happier? I choose to believe these folks are just a vocal minority led by other folks like Leroy Thorpe Jr. I also wonder if I am supposed to move out based on my skin color, if newer residents in places like PG are also supposed to move out under that line of logic, or if it only works one way.

  13. In defence of Jolyon, some of his dearest friends (and relatives) are white.

    That’s a joke, right? Please say it was a joke.

  14. I would like to also mention that I have noticed a lot of long time residents here seem to want to have it both ways. I recall going to a neighborhood meeting were the lack of neighborhood serving retail was being dicussed, and long time residents, in reference to the O St. Market, made pointed comments like, “When are we going to get a nice grocery store like the folks in Georgetown have!?” And then moths later when new developers were making plans to improve the O Street market, long time residents were making pointed comments like “this Mayor is just trying to gentrify us!” I don’t believe you can ask for less crime, more neighborhood serving retail, etc., and then expect that the achievement of those things would cause prices to do anything other then go up and spur new housing development, especially in a neighborhood so close to downtown. And if those things DIDN’T happen, I think the same folks would complain for different reasons. I just wish more folks would focus on keeping their kids in school and getting them through college so that their kids can afford to live here in the future. Maybe they could ask for more truant officers and higher pay for teachers instead of putting a pool in Shaw Jr. High. That was my response to a push for a swimming pool and I got yelled at – “Why don’t you want our kids to have a swimming pool!!!!!”. Obviously the think was because I was white. My skin color seems gets in the way so much.

  15. Historically in DC, the original white flight was associated with the desegration of schools. The 1954 desegration of DC’s schools far pre-dated the riots. The whites who fled DC to avoid sending their children to intergrated schools were not forced out. They chose to go.


  16. good point DC t-shirt lady.
    but also to consider is a national trend of the growth of suburbs and a natioanl middle class exodus from urban life, beggining after wwII.
    DC reached its (thus far) peak polulation in the early 50’s, just before desegregation. While the fear of whites sending their kids to school with black kids must have had a big influence on many, it is only a piece of the story. overcrowding, lure of the newness of the suburbs, land, shopping, quiet played a large role too.

    i think the real thing to think about is that places are never stagnant. change is inevitable, and constant.

  17. I’m closing this string because a- someone DID NOT INITIAL THEIR POST! My regulars know that anonymous post with no ID or initials (they don’t have to be yours just any initials) annoy the crap out of me.
    oh and b- I’m having to hit F11 to get to the bottom of the comments. It’s getting too long.

    Also yes, I was joking playing on the over used phrase “some of my closest friends are black”. I apologize to our friend from down under for making a funny at his expense.

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