1909 book on alleys and crappy DC housing

Weller, Charles Frederick. Neglected neighbors :stories of life in the alleys, tenements and shanties of the national capital. Philadelphia : J.C. Winston, 1909. Is available online at http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/3370011. It does the whole city. However the author appears to be concerned solely with white occupants of slum housing.

Not a charity but capitalist enterprise

When last I left I was writing about the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) which built the houses along Bates Street NW, and some other streets in the TC that are somewhat Bates adjacent, around the turn of the century. You know they are built by the same company because their 2nd story bay window thing.
Anyway, the WSIC’s goal was to replace the slum dwellings in the various alleys, but as a profitable company and not a charity. From The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, D.C. page 61, Article III, section 4:

The company, although organized from philanthropic motives, is not a charity organization, and the executive committee shall take all legal measures to collect rents and to evict tenants who fail to pay their rent, or who neglect to keep the tenements occupied by them in a cleanly and sanitary condition, or who lead a dissolute or criminal life.

Another thing, as part of the pitch to draw interest in the company the author and secretary of the company George M. Kobr writes:

The attention of capitalists should be drawn to the fact that no class of realty pays as well as alley property in this city, and that there is a splendid field for investment in the erection of sanitary and comfortable alley houses on a business and humanitarian basis.
–page 23

Don't blame me for a fuzzy photo

Bates circa 1907
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

This was taken with an iphone in a lowly lit room at the Library of Congress from a book, while I held the pages down with one hand and took the pictures with the other. Now why are you looking at a fuzzy photo of a bunch of houses? This is the unit block of Bates Street, when the houses were somewhat new in 1907.
The photo, as well as some others I took are from The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, D.C. published by the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, which built the houses. The book starts off talking about unsanitary crappy housing in DC and how the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) was building alternatives to slummy housing, specifically crappy alley housing. Towards the middle of the book they start talking a bit more about the company as an investment. The directors consisted of the following:
David J. Brewer
Charles C. Cole
John W. Foster
Charles J. Bell
George Truesdell
Gardiner G. Hubbard
Anthony Pollok
Walter Wyman
Henry F. Blount
Mrs. George Westinghouse
Crosby S. Noyes
George H. Harries
William J. Boardman
William C. Woodward
Augustus S. Worthington
Henry Y. Satterlee
George L. Andrews
Bernard T. Janney
Mrs. Clara G. Addison
Willliam C. Whittemore
G. Lloyd Magruder
Joseph C. Breckinridge
Marcus Baker
Katherine Hosmer
Charles E. Foster
Simon Wolf
George M. Sternberg
S. Walter Woodward
George M. Kober
John Joy Edson
Maybe more later. Or not.

In praise of volunteers

When I was working at the Holocaust museum I decided that when I grew old I’d become a volunteer like the many volunteers who worked side by side with paid staff. These people would come in regularly, and be they survivors, liberators, or what have you and do the mundane and the special jobs. Working in cultural institutions I can say that volunteers bring very valuable skills (language translation being one), professional experience and enthusiasm to the job.
There are other volunteers and times when we become volunteers in formal and informal ways. Formal as in so many non-profit, faithed-based, and community organizations just in Shaw that I don’t know where to start. Informal, as in Bry and his next door neighbor J. who occasionally clean the sidewalk and the sidewalks of other blocks. There is Alley Cleaning Man, who sweeps up the alley and leaves terse notes. There are the loose band of neighbors who decide to care for a colony of feral cats by working with organizations and feeding and providing water and shelter. There are the people who recently not only cleaned their own sidewalks of snow and ice, but their neighbors’ sidewalks.
If you look for it, you can find a lot of good in this city. And if you look for it, you can find many opportunities to do good.

PSA- Shovel & de-ice your sidewalk

snowscene2It’s an ice rink out there. Anyway, the city, is not responsible for clearing, cleaning, or salting the sidewalks. Property owners are. The sidewalk and your front step belongs to the city when it suits it, however, when conditions demand upkeep, it’s your problem.
It is very slippery out there. So regardless of if you are an owner or a renter, make your steps and sidewalk less dangerous by clearing a small path. I can be done gently with a shovel and any kind of salt (table salt, kosher salt, ice melty stuff) If not for yourself, for the mailman or maillady.

Speed of plans

I grow weary of plans. Particularly the ones that never get off the ground. I find it hard to get excited (unless you provide food AND booze) over some developer’s or city department’s plan for something, if it is the second time in years I have heard of the plans or it takes forever for anything, any thing to happen.
I have heard of plans for the Howard Theater, or Theatre, plans for the O Street Market (they provided food and booze, so they still hold my interest), plans for the lot on the S Street side of the metro, and plans for the old fire house on North Capitol. If you haven’t heard that fell through and the place is up for sale. Citizens get worried when a project goes to a dead stop in the middle of work with good reason. There are several examples around the area of grand plans on hold.

Fun with ProQuest:1825 T Street NW

Yes, this is a couple of blocks west of 16th Street, so definately not in Shaw. But I came across a Washington Post article* when looking for Northwest slum housing with no electricity. 1825 T Street was built as negro housing, replacing 5 frame houses that once sat on that spot. It was part of a plan to clear (tear down) slum housing from 16th to Conneticut Avenue. Currently they are condos, and appear to have been condos since the 80s. I thought it was interesting, so thus, I post.

*”Apartments To Replace Slum Area.” by Robert P. Jordan. The Washington Post (1877-1954) [Washington, D.C.] 9 Jul 1950,R1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Washington Post (1877 – 1992). ProQuest.

Slum dwellers and eco-lifestyle types

As I write this I’ll admit I’m have a little trouble putting the idea in my head in any sort of format that makes sense in written form. So bear with me or skip it entirely.
Both have things in common. As I look over the early and mid twentieth century Washington Post articles descriptions of life in slums there are some small similarities with the eco-friendly low energy use folks I admire.
The modern American uses a lot of clean water. If you leave the tap going while you brush your teeth, that’s probably a gallon going down the drain there. Flushing the toilet, that uses a couple or 3 gallons, more if not everything goes down. And we can do this because of indoor plumbing, wonderful, wonderful indoor plumbing. Tucked away in some eco-media zines and sites are compostable toilets and other contraptions to help reduce water usage. If you don’t have indoor plumbing it is a pretty good guess that’s you’re not going to be using a lot of water if you have to trudge out to a common source to grab it.
Mother gave me a decent description of a rural outhouse’s workings. However, I’m still baffled by an urban outhouse, such as the ones in historical Shaw. Is it hooked up to the sewer system? Is it a regular toilet in essentially a tool shed?
Another aspect of slum life was lack of electricity in some homes and the strong use of kerosene. In an article*, a slum dwelling wood and ice man was lamenting in 1954 how he was going to be put out of a job because people were going to refrigerators. Before you had the ice box, where you would have a huge block of ice, in a box, to keep food cold. Think of it as a cooler with a door. So not every place was hooked up with enough electricity to support a fridge and I noticed a lot of kerosene usage. Kerosene to light lamps. Kerosene to heat the homes. Kerosene to use for cooking heat. Kerosene is one energy alternative, but seems like a sure way to burn your house down. Wood was still in use as a cooking and heating fuel, as well. Kerosene isn’t eco-friendly, like water, if you have to haul it home, and you’re probably more conscious of its use.
Wen asking mom about heat she said the house was heated with the stove and at night the stove was off or out, so they bundled up at night. You had several layers and a blanket and a sibling sharing the bed to keep warm.
Why am I trying to tie slum dwellers and eco-living together? Well it was some small similarities such as the low energy and water usage that I kept noticing. However the big difference in that area is that one uses less because of economics and the other uses less because of choice, which then impacts other areas of ones’ quality of life. And with the passage of time and enforcement of building codes, indoor plumbing and electricity help, however the other scourges of slum life, crime, poor education, overcrowding, unemployment, remain.

*No. 2 Leads City in :WASHINGTON’S WICKEDEST, THE SECOND PRECINCT by S.L. Fishbein Post Reporter March 14 1954. The Washington Post.

Help Bloomingdale’s Fire Vicitims

The following was from Stu Davenport on the Eckington Listserv Wednesday:


This morning there were 2 large fires in our neighborhood where the families lost almost everything.

I just spoke with Kim Stancil from 11 Randolph NW, and she and her 5 children (three of whom are students at Emery Elementary) were left with nothing but the clothing on their backs.

Most immediately Ms. Stancil and her family need clothes and funds to provide for essential needs.? They have housing for the next 3 days through the Red Cross, and she is working with Ted McGinn and Stacy Jackson from Emery to get local and government help. She is also reaching out to local churches and the Ecumenacle Council.

I am writing to ask for immediate help from the community.

1. Priority is Clothing
Boy 17 – Size 32W/30L pants, Med Shirt
Girl 15 – Size 16 Pants, 2XL Shirt
Girl 11 – Size 8 Pants, L Shirt
Boy 5 – Size 7 pants, Men’s Med Shirt
Boy 4 – Size 6 pants, 6 shirt

2. Financial Assistance
Checks can be made payable to: Ms. Kim Stancil

All items can be left at the main office of Emery Elementary at 1720 1st Street, NE? (202)576-6034 or the Big Bear Cafe at 1700 1st Street, NW

Thank you all for your generosity and concern.


Stuart Davenport
ANC 5C-03