Shaw: Gentrifying since 1986

It’s amazing what you find in the ProQuest files when you loose a citation.
Here’s the story. So I’m still cleaning up my paper for this weekend’s conference when I realize that I don’t have a citation for a Washington Post article. This would not be a problem except I didn’t have the article title, date or author by-line written anywhere and gave my printout of said article to Scott, thinking I could get another copy. So I go on ProQuest to find stupid article again. I did find the article, but not before I had to wade through a sea of other Shaw revilitization articles. What I found was um, interesting and it took me on a trail of other searches to see a story of Shaw where you read one thing and know that it never works out the way everyone hopes.
The borders of Shaw are a 60s invention of the National Capitol Planning Commission, covering the service area of the Shaw Junior High School. Plug in a search for Shaw prior to 1960 and you aren’t going to find the neighborhood. So in the searches I found from 1965-1989 there is this neighborhood that is constantly under development. But you’re wondering about the “gentrifying since 1986” thing aren’t you? That’s from “Housing Signals a Shaw Comeback” by Linda Wheeler (Feb 22 1986 B1). Where she writes:

The neighborhood shows a few outward signs of activity, but real estate agents said that gentrification is reviving and that increasing sales will result in more renovations in the near future.

Dude this was about 20 years ago.
I also saw the comparisions to G’town. From “Logan Circle: The Next Georgetown” (May 21 1973 A1):

Georgetown, a busy sea trading town before the capitol city that consumed it was conceived, was ruined by the advent of steamships and ralroads. It remained undesirable habitat, populated by poor blacks until the 1930s when its 18th and 19th century houses and shops caught the fancy of whites who moved in and began restoring them…..
The Shaw area “certainly will not become an exclusively white upper-income kind of neighborhood like Georgetown, at least not as large a scale,” said Ronald Russo, RLA’s director of rehabilitation, because the urban renewal plan for Shaw, which includes the Logan Cirlce historic district, will be a “conglomerate” of low-, moderate and upper-income housing.

and from “Slum Landlords Buy Up Shaw Houses” (Mar 24 1968 A1)

Shaw is a unique Washington slum. It has not tall tenements as does New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, nor huge rambling frames houses as does Cleveland’s Hough. Instead its residents are crowded into the tiny rooms of two and three story row houses, such as those that have been restored to expensive quaintness in Georgetown and on Capitol Hill or have fallen under the wrecker’s boom and bulldozer in Southwest.

Over 30 years ago.
But the thing that got me were the stories of Bates Street from the 60s to the mid 80s. “The District of Columbia Revelopment Land Agency voted yesterday to sell 89 properties in the Bates Street NW area, for years one of the city’s worst slums for $422,100.” (Feb 1 1978 C2) Oh there is corruption, poor repairs, hopes dashed, proposals to raze the block, city mismanagement and Marion Barry. This is best captured in “U.S. Blamed by Barry for Bates St. Inaction.” (May 3 1984 B1) There are quotes from city managers who say work will begin on Bates that summer, but later you read that it doesn’t get done. You read that Bates is on a downward spiral and the houses turn out to be money pits for the individuals who buy them.
Semi-update= Later I found a September 3rd 1980 piece by William Raspberry “Coming and going in the District” talks about gentrification in the Shaw and Logan Cirlce (same thing) area.
Shaw- Gentrifying (at least) Since 1980!

3 thoughts on “Shaw: Gentrifying since 1986”

  1. I believe, that some gentrification started to happen here around that time (1986) and then never really took off. It started because the U Street, Shaw and Mt. Vernon Square metro stations were announced or broke ground. They didn’t open until around 1991. When I was looking at houses in the late 90’s, I saw a historical report of housing sales for a block near U Street that I was looking at. It showed the houses jumped way up in price around the late 80’s/1990, then they went way back down and didn’t start to break even again until the around 98/99. I felt sorry for the people who bought high in the late eighties, because they were so happy just to break even, and if some of them only held out a few more years, they would have made a profit after all those years. I’m still not clear why housing values went back down so quickly in the period around 1990.

  2. The housing market all over the NE US saw a big runup in the late eighties similar to what we have seen recently, followed by general stagnation and drops in values in some cases. Of course, in the mid-90’s the domestic stock market grew immensely, went down, and came back up, but has been stagnant for the last 5 years. The stagnation for housing coincided with a general economic recession in the US from 90-91. But it did not rebound the way stocks did, at least not until almost ten years later. I think the general principle learned from history is that markets cannot tolerate “irrational exuberance” as Greenspan says and will correct themselves when they are overheated to places they would have been if there was just simply slow, steady growth. The correction obviously is devaluation in homes or stocks and/or stagnation for a time until a market initiator starts them up again. Unless some new technology comes along, like the PC and software in the 80’s or the internet in the 90’s, the stock market will stay where it is. With homes, you could argue that low interest rates ignited the housing boom, but that seems to be going away slowly. If the housing market stagnates, history tells us that another initiator will have to come along to start it again but it could be a decade. I think market forces work faster than that now but it would be ignorant to think that stagnation or drops cannot happen given what history has taught us.

    You are really going full speed ahead on your research Marie!


  3. Yes, very interesting material! Seems like “gentrification” is overhyped by both its supporters and detractors. In reality, I don’t see that more than 10% of the homes have changed hands in the last 5 years (which is probably about the same level of stability as the neighborhood ever had). And… one big run-up in crime, a new drug on the streets like crack, or a housing bust and the neighborhood could easily revert to 1989.

    – JM

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