When Historic Districts Attack- The 4th Amendment

This is a reposting of an old post from 2007. For some odd reason I was thinking about when historic districting goes south and remembered this case.

Long story short, artist Laura Elkins and John Robbins were getting on the Historic Preservation Office’s (HPO) and DCRA’s bad side and it resulted in a search warrant of their home, where they were living. The incident got some press. It attracted my attention. And it worked its way through the courts. Leagle has a pretty good summary of the case.

See also- Memorandum Opinion- 2007
Memorandum Opinion- 2008
United States Court of Appeals 2012 Decision

File under WTF?

Thanks Ray for pointing out an article in the Washington Times [dead link] (as I hardly ever read that paper) of a couple who won a lawsuit against the DC government for a raid on their home, unlawful seizure of papers from said home, regarding perceived Historic Preservation violations.
A little Google search regarding the saga reveals differing opinions on if the couple actually did the HPRB dance correctly, which is not the matter that makes me fearful, it was the police raid of their home that concerns my little libertarian heart. The portion of the 4th amendment the violation in this is “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
According to the lawsuit [pdf] a March 26, 2003 warrant was issued to search the home of Ms. Elkins and Mr. Robbins, but the warrant didn’t say anything about seizing papers or the like. The next day DC’s finest and DCRA “officials went throughout the home (including the
bedrooms of sick children home from school), opening drawers, observing, and taking photos.”
Seriously, this is just supposed to be about exterior crap, not worthy of a f*ing raid. One of the few things I agree with the pro-Historic District people on is that HDs are about the outside aesthetics of house, and what can be observed from the street, etc, etc. However, this, is something else. Investigate the case for yourself, decide if DC went too far a violated a family’s privacy and order.
On the bright side, Ms. Elkins, an artist, has turned her experience into art.

no Twitter with current id

InShaw Blog Update-2003-2010 catalog added

I started this blog on Blogger and then due to some changes regarding URLs I moved to Moveable Type and then my host no longer supported that and so I’m using WordPress. I thought I added the Blogger posts but discovered the only posts that migrated over were from an announcement page I had. I have the main Blogger posts at dcinshaw.blogspot.com, but I have finally imported those posts, images and comments to this blog. Now there are over 2,500 posts here.

Sadly the Moveable Type (2010-2013) posts are still in limbo. Right now I can’t seem to locate those files. I’m sure they are on an external drive somewhere.

Cleaning up with Brother Brian and Father Watkins

Since this blog is going to end soon I decided to do something a little different. This is a much longer post than normal, regardless I hope you enjoy it.

Brian Bakke and Monsignor James Watkins have much in common. They both are men of faith, similar in ages, who moved to Shaw 12 years ago. Both have taken to cleaning up their part of Shaw and have observed the changes in the neighborhood while regularly picking up trash from the sidewalks and the streets.

The reasons why they began picking up trash differ.

When Father Watkins came to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Shaw from St. Matthew’s Cathedral in 2001 he noticed, “a tremendous amount of trash. All over the sidewalks and curbs and properties.” The building for Center City Charter School, adjacent to the church, used to house Immaculate’s Catholic school back then and the children had to walk through the trash to get to school. The trash the children and their parents had to step in and over were used needles and condoms and broken glass. Watkins said, “I just thought, for the safety of the children and their sense of pride in their church and school,” and thus he began removing trash from their path, for their safety. Using parish funds, he had eight trash canisters placed along the 1300 block of 8th St. and on N Street NW, near the church. These aid in his campaign against trash.

Brian began cleaning up his neighborhood streets long before coming to Washington. He and his wife moved to a street in Chicago that was the dividing line between two opposing street gangs. The gang members would throw bricks and bottles at cars to draw out rival members to try to kill them. Brian wanted to stop it, so he went hunting for the projectiles used to start fights: the rocks and the bottles, and found them on tires of parked cars, near trees on the sidewalk, and began picking and throwing them away. He recalled the gang members’ reaction, “I overheard them saying, ‘He’s picking up our stuff!'” It should be noted that Brian is 6’6″, over 200 lbs, a former college football player and he can only recall being challenged by women who question his efforts. With a broom and wearing dark clothing as he does, he is a fairly intimidating looking character.

Brian 1

In 2001 Brian and his wife moved to DC, as renters.  Compared to where they used to live in Chicago, Shaw, even with its problems “was nothing.” Arriving, he “asked God about this. How does a white man enter an all black neighborhood, or predominately black neighborhood?” His prayers were answered with a phrase, “Go get a broom, use it,” followed later by, “And be silent until someone speaks to you.” Quietly Brian began picking up trash and throwing it into black contractor bags on the 1600 block of 4th St. NW. Slowly he has expanded his area to include the 400 block of R St up to 5th St and around Florida Ave NW. Despite Shaw being less dangerous than Chicago, he still found weapons, “I’ve collected a number of knives, scary ones,” along with other objects.

Both men make prayer a part of their trash removal efforts. Fr. Watkins prays the rosary while sweeping and Brian prays for the drug dealers, the people in the houses and for himself. “I love to pray the rosary*,” Watkins admits with some enthusiasm. When he picks up and sweeps the sidewalks, which he does at least once a day, he can pray 3 rosaries at 15 minutes each, reflecting and praying for intercessions for the parish and himself. He said he’s not big on praying the rosary while sitting in a quiet space, but rather while he’s doing other things so that his prayers are infused with his work. For Brian, a Protestant, prayer pervades his cleaning activities, as well. “When I’m out sweeping, ” Brian said, “I’m usually talking with God or arguing with God, or shouting at God,” quietly, as to not to scare the pedestrians. “I try to be in prayer the whole time, and I’m not always successful. Actually a lot of time, I’m really struggling with my own dirtiness. My own brokenness. The Bible would call it sin. I’m a mess just like everyone else.” Intertwined in these prayers, conversations and internal struggles is that bit of neighborhood activism that sent Brian out to the streets in Chicago. Here, drug dealing is the problem, so here he sweeps up the dime bags. He takes up the humble position of servant and cleans under the drug dealer’s car and sweeps quietly around the dealer, as it is, “just a cheap excuse to just keep praying and praying and praying until he [the drug dealer] leaves. That’s been wonderful to see that happen. Of course, they keep coming back. So…. ” Then he reflects, “the Bible reminds me that I need to be relentless and paints the beautiful picture of the old woman who flies at the judge ’cause she’s been denied justice.** And that’s [how] God wants us to approach this.”

Being out on the streets, cleaning up as often as they do, they have found it to be a great way to meet and really get to know their neighbors. “I meet people,” Fr. Watkins put it, ” I could stay inside my house all day, or inside the church or I could go off in the car.. But to be on the streets, you bump into the parents dropping of the kids at the school.” He adds, “It gives me a chance to chat with people along the way. I get to know them by name, otherwise I would never know some of the neighbors around us. So it [the street cleaning] serves a lot of other purposes which benefit me personally, and the parish.”

The way of the broom was Brian’s method for first getting to know his then black neighbors. As the demographics in the neighborhood have changed he now sees his role changed from ‘new comer’ to ‘connector’, linking the now new people to the older neighbors or groups or whatever in the neighborhood that would help the newer, and typically younger residents find that desired connection where they live. Brian is typically out on Sunday mornings, so regularly that it has become like office hours. People have said to him, “I know that I could find you out here on Sunday. I just had to walk around until I saw you. So anyway, can I talk to you…” The conversations are not forced and they flow freely. From my own experience and talking with neighbors, there have been some deep thought provoking conversations out there on the sidewalks, the kind of talks that you used to have in college at 2AM. Brian has also been good company for sharing a joke or passing along general information.

Besides seeing demographic changes, they’ve seen changes in what gets dumped on the sidewalk and in the streets. Watkins notes that 2005 was the year the needles disappeared. When Brian started, there were more used diapers. He finds fewer hair extensions, which he considers a creepy kind of litter in the way it clings to the sidewalk like a starfish, and then hops on to his broom as if it had a life of its own. As the neighborhood changed, not just in who moved in and who moved out, but in how people used the spaces in the neighborhood, the men have made progress in the war on trash. With the construction of the City Market at O project, some groups no longer hang out or ‘party’ as frequently as they did before on 8th St., leaving empty Patron bottles or other evidence of the night’s activities, that become the morning’s trash.

Please clean up after your dog

Though changes in the neighborhood reduced most trash, it introduced another kind of refuse, poop. Canine fecal matter arrived about 6 years ago. Brian mentioned how the presence of dog walkers helps reduce crime, but yes, there are a lot more droppings. Fr. Watkins responded to the problem by placing reminders along 8th for dog walkers to pick up after their pets. He’s gotten positive feedback from owners as the signs communicate a tasteful and positive message.

At some level the men would like others to take ownership of their own patch of sidewalk or block.  Watkins wishes people would take responsibility for their property, take care about the way it is presented and develop a sense of community pride. “DC would be a different place if people took on a greater ownership of the spaces where they live, work and play,” says Brian. He later added, “There is an appalling lack of public ownership. Some theologians and philosophers call it the ‘public good,’ or the ‘greater good’.”

There is no guarantee that if you began cleaning up your street or block tomorrow that you will meet and really get to know your neighbors. Nor is it recommended that you go out and directly confront drug dealers with a broom and dustpan. But if everyone were to lay claim to their yard and the sidewalks in front, eliminating the signs of chaos, DC would definitely be a different place, a better place.

*A rosary is a form of devotion in which five, or fifteen, decades (set of ten) of Hail Marys are repeated, each decade preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Glory Be. Typically practiced by Roman Catholics.
**Luke 18:1-8. See the parable of the persistent widow.

BACA Clean Up Tomorrow and Something completely unrelated

First, BACA Saturday, 1st & P @ 10AM. See more here. I won’t be joining this cleanup as tomorrow is run around town looking for something and dropping stuff off day. My main goal is to get sample sizes of various Benjamin Moore paint colors (used to be able to get them at Monarch Paints but no more) and get rid of an old pre-HD TV.

Unrelated- history. Everyso often I think of papers I would write if I were really inspired to write and had the time to write. One topic I’d like to spend some more time on is the topic of urban renewal looking at some long term things. For one I’d look at the gensis of DC urban renewal by NCPC and DC government and any non-government players and get a sense of what their motivations were. Then try to figure out what happened to those individuals as they dropped out of the process when plans changed, and plans do change. Second, changing plans. The experts and planners start off with one set of plans and then due to budget, staff, political pressure, the odd riot, or whathaveyou the plans change. The big freeway that is currently I-395 does not continue up New Jersey Avenue and on to U Street. And the big thing is I’d want such a paper for people to look up the primary sources for themselves. I don’t want people to automatically take my word as gospel. I have biases, and some of them I will publicly admit to, others I won’t. Some will look at the same information and draw different conclusions, but the main thing is that they look and think.

Banished Productions Hits the Big Bear

This is so exciting. Well to me, and I’ve already asked the Help if his schedule permits if we can go. If he can’t go then I’ll just go by myself.

What I speak of is Banished Production’s “A Tactile Dinner”, which I attended back during the DC Fringe Festival. It was weird and good. They will be having “dinner” at the Big Bear for three days starting May 13th then mosey on over to Longview Gallery for 2 days. Big Bear for vegetarians, Longview for carnivores. Head over to their website for more info.

Farmer’s Markets in May

Truck Patch Stand On the one hand, ‘finally.’ On the other hand, there isn’t that much in season right now. In May strawberries come in season. I’ve been going to Penn Quarter, which is open on Thursdays and has vendors with products not too seasonally sensitive. The fruit vendors have apples and pears and other Fall things. But come May 1st, (or is it May 2nd per the website?) the 14th St & U Market will be up and running. Then several weeks later Sunday May 16th the Bloomingdale Farmers Market opens. And hopefully there will be something there for me to can. I look forward to seeing the old vendors such as Reid’s Farm, Copper Pot, and others. I also look forward to running into neighbors, and their dogs and children. Yes, farmer’s market food is more expensive than conventional food or Florida Ave Warehouse food. However, in some cases it is well worth it and as always you get what you pay for. In the case of strawberries, I can taste the difference. Also after listening (audio-books) to Michael Pollan’s books In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma I do want to continue to support local Mid-Atlantic agriculture, so there is a cost in supporting that as opposed to products shipped or flown in from South America.
Truck Patch Stand
On the one hand, ‘finally.’ On the other hand, there isn’t that much in season right now. In May strawberries come in season. I’ve been going to Penn Quarter, which is open on Thursdays and has vendors with products not too seasonally sensitive. The fruit vendors have apples and pears and other Fall things.
But come May 1st, (or is it May 2nd per the website?) the 14th St & U Market will be up and running. Then several weeks later Sunday May 16th the Bloomingdale Farmers Market opens. And hopefully there will be something there for me to can. I look forward to seeing the old vendors such as Reid’s Farm, Copper Pot, and others. I also look forward to running into neighbors, and their dogs and children.
Yes, farmer’s market food is more expensive than conventional food or Florida Ave Warehouse food. However, in some cases it is well worth it and as always you get what you pay for. In the case of strawberries, I can taste the difference. Also after listening (audio-books) to Michael Pollan’s books In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma I do want to continue to support local Mid-Atlantic agriculture, so there is a cost in supporting that as opposed to products shipped or flown in from South America.

Alley Goings On

The worst recently of alley going ons was the attempted armed robbery that happened last weekend. From what I’ve heard, a young guy with a gun tried to rob a Latino contruction dude. I sort of heard something around about the time of the robbery, but when I looked out all I saw was one middle aged Latino guy yelling to some unseen guys. I didn’t think too much about it at the time because there are a few construction projects going on. But when I chatted with a couple of neighbors they told me about the attempt. Not sure what foiled the robbery, I guess the alley is a little bit more active (in a good way) than the robber figured on.

The alley now has a few more eyes and a few more people are using the back deck or patio now that the weather is getting nicer. I regularly hear the family across the way entertaining on their deck. The cat ladies several doors down hang out on their deck and I am hearing and seeing them on occasion. There is a house closer to the end that has a roof deck and noticeable it has an excellent view of the corner where the friendly neighborhood dealers have taken a liking to hanging. Decks and gates that give greater visibility to the alley have placed more eyes in the back.

One neighbor (as we were recounting the robbery attempt to each other) told me how the changing dynamics of the suprised one old bum. It seems the old guy was looking for a place to hide or smoke crack and his old haunt was closed off to him. The neighbor said the guy had this look of annoyance and then surprise when the neighbor (on the other side of the alley with his garage gate up) gave him an “hello.”

During the day, when I was home sick with a cold, I noticed the traffic in my alley. Because of the construction, there are construction guys walking and driving up and down the alley. There is also an employee from the day care talking a smoke/cell phone break pacing up and down. And as usual, school boys, dog walkers, and cyclists cutting through.

About this Entry

Previously published in MT.

This page contains a single entry by Mari published on April 27, 2010 11:20 AM.


Because Blogger is no longer supporting FTP I moved over to Moveable Type. We’ll see how this works.
I’ve been thinking of how I want to blog now. When I started out in 2003ish with Inshaw it was mainly for the entertainment of my friends, then I got more readers. Then I got a lot of readers and the dang thing got a life of it’s own. I really want to get back to making Inshaw a little bit more personal. Like chatting over the fence. The topics of history, gentrification (demographic changes in the hood), and civic engagement still interest me, but I really want the blog to stay manageable. Meaning, if I get an invitation to post something I may or may not, depending on my mood and not feel too guilty about it. In other words I don’t want to make this thing a community bulletin board, it becomes less enjoyable the more that “obligation” creeps in.

As picked off the Logan Circle Listserv

As picked off the Logan Circle Listserv

RE: “New Kids On The Block – 14th Street (Travel+Leisure)

Travel + Leisure Magazine

September 2003

New Kids on the Block


Before the big developers move in and the name-brand coffee shops muscle onto every corner, T+L takes a tour through three emerging scenes in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit where art meets commerce.

By Lauren Paige Kennedy

[ Excerpt ]

Washington, D.C. | 14th Street

Always a magnet for the pinstripes-and-pearls set, the District is now attracting a fashion-forward faction rather than just the usual Capitol Hill conservatives. Instead of working for the government, they’re opening shops and galleries on the once-shunned stretch of 14th Street that connects U Street to the Logan Circle area. In just two years, 14th has evolved from a dreary no-man’s-land into a destination for independent spirits.


The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. ignited a three-day firestorm of destruction on and off U Street, an area once hailed as “Black Broadway” (it was a favorite haunt of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats in the 1910’s). U Street’s 14th Street offshoot is finally bouncing back, fueled by entrepreneurial pioneers undeterred by the occasional empty lot. The only protests they’re staging are aimed at keeping the enclave free of cookie-cutter chain stores.


Newly transplanted young families of every ethnicity, a gay community, and young business owners have taken over old storefronts. “Most of the owners live within blocks of their shops-one more reason we’re so committed to seeing this place thrive,” says Eric Kole, co-owner of Vastu (1829 14th St.; 202/234-8344), a shop specializing in custom furniture made of aluminum, cork, and microsuede.


Café Saint-Ex, where young artists with goatees, retro-chic swingers, and stylish gay men all belly up to the bar for late-night cocktails.



202/232-7010; brunch for two $30. The juiciest, messiest burgers and the greasiest chile-cheese fries in the District. Sunday brunch is a neighborhood tradition.


202/332-9334; lunch for two $15. The café looks like a postcard of a fifties diner (red pleather booths, checkerboard floors). On weekend nights, fledgling rock bands amp up and aspiring poets share their verse; canvases by local artists are always on display.


202/588-1795; dinner for two $30. The wall-sized mural of cavorting dolphins and goldfish is so kitschy it’s cool; the rest of the joint is Caribbean turquoise and ship-hull steel. Aromas of Bangkok waft in from the kitchen: coconut-milk curries, minty spring rolls, and spicy-sweet pad thai.



202/299-0850. Noi Chudnoff began selling her collection of Japanese ceramics at Eastern Market, an outdoor bazaar on Capitol Hill. Two years ago, she set up shop on 14th, filling her shelves with eclectic Asian objets d’art, furoshiki (crepe) wall hangings, and Indonesian furniture.


202/667-3440. “Modern Zen” is how owner Christopher Reiter describes his Asian-infused recycled-teak dining tables, solid mahogany benches, and trellis-like screens.


202/319-1100. Featuring custom textiles, unusual lighting fixtures, and hard-to-find carpets such as TriBeCa-based Carini Lang’s pieces and $20,000 antique Turkish Oushak rugs. The owners will happily assist the design-challenged with decorating tips.


202/462-7857. The serene space is stocked with one-of-a-kind, handcrafted greeting cards that speak to every race, size, shape, and inclination. There’s even a “card bar,” with dictionaries, writing tools, and swivel seats, inviting patrons to spend an afternoon inscribing messages or just hanging out.



202/265-7839; dinner for two $64. Owner Mike Benson’s casual American bistro serves simple steaks, risotto, and seared tuna with wasabi sauce, but its yellow walls and dark-wood bar are pure Parisian Latin Quarter. Named for the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Benson’s favorite writer), the restaurant also has a smoky downstairs den with DJ’s spinning Kool & the Gang, Edith Piaf, and Moby seven nights a week.



202/299-9220. Since opening in 2001, Fusebox has made itself D.C.’s top gallery for emerging artists. This fall, the space mounts “Sculpture Gardens,” by photographer Vesna Pavlovic (September 13-October 26).


1333 P St. (at 14th St.); 202/332-3300. Works by Neil LaBute, Tom Stoppard, and other contemporary playwrights are produced in this popular theater, which is currently undergoing an $11 million expansion. Two new stages, a lobby, and a marquee entrance on 14th Street will be added to the existing building, even as the regular season commences. Catch this month’s staging of Topdog/Underdog, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Suzan-Lori Parks (September 3-October 19).


They may live just blocks from the White House, yet 14th Street residents are anything but right-wing in style. Most common look on the block: downtown denim paired with a vintage item, and a dash of tongue-in-cheek raciness.