Posts in category History
Arlington Memorial Bridge opened in 1932, amidst the very depths of the Great Depression. It was a major event in Washington, which drew President Herbert Hoover, the first lady, and the vice president.
This vintage newsreel illustrates the excitement. The newsman is particularly enthusiastic that the bridge is wide enough for "4 cars to pass abreast."
By the way, did you know the bridge doesn't actually go to Arlington? Both sides are totally within the District of Columbia.
It's a common misconception that the boundary between DC and Virginia is the middle of the Potomac. But in fact, the entire river is part of the District. If you are standing on the Virginia shore and step one foot into the river, you have technically crossed into DC.
The Memorial Bridge technically connects mainland DC and Columbia Island. The island is best known for the traffic circle on the far side of the bridge, often-confusing ramps on and off the George Washington Parkway, unsafe pedestrian/bicycle crossings, and Park Police who yell at drivers when they stop for pedestrians.
Since Columbia Island is fully within DC, so is the Memorial Bridge. The actual Virginia boundary is along the much-shorter Esplanade Bridge, between Columbia Island and the Virginia mainland. This also means the GW Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail are partially within DC, since they run through Columbia Island.
Periodic protest organizer Adam Kokesh might benefit from consulting this map. He's trying to lead a July 4th march with guns on DC, but since DC prohibits carrying guns around, including loaded ones, he's now planning to march on the Memorial Bridge up to the District line and meet police there. He might have a hard time, since the District line doesn't cross the Memorial Bridge.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
DC's 1941 master plan is available through the Library of Congress. Published just months before Pearl Harbor, the plan is a fascinating look at the future pre-war planners envisioned.
The National Mall extends eastward to the bank of the Anacostia and dominates the plan. "Semi-public buildings," parking garages, and much more highway-like Constitution and Independence Avenues line the new Mall. On the other hand, Southwest retains its historic street grid, and isn't cut off by I-395.
What else jumps out?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
A proposed skyscraper in Tysons Corner will be 435 feet tall, making it the tallest in the DC region, and first to breach the 400 foot threshold. The building is proposed as part of the SAIC redevelopment, adjacent to the Silver Line's Greensboro Metro station.
Traditionally, the tallest skyscrapers in the region have been in Rosslyn. But Rosslyn is in the flight path to National Airport, so buildings there can't rise higher than 400 feet. A bevy of development projects in Rosslyn, Alexandria, Tysons, and North Bethesda are in the 300-400 foot range, but this is the first serious proposal to crack 400 feet.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Prince George's County and Maryland have decided to throw their weight behind putting the FBI at the Greenbelt Metro station, but developer Walton North America hasn't given up lobbying for it to go at the 479-acre, non-transit-oriented Westphalia development out past Joint Base Andrews.
We received an email from the PR firm Edelman about a new website they are launching on behalf of Walton. The site, called "A Welcome Home for the FBI," argues that "Westphalia Town Center would provide a secure, state-of-the-art campus for the FBI within a vibrant community where FBI employees and their families can live, work and play," and that "Westphalia Town Center would be a win-win-win for FBI employees and their families, as well as Prince George's County residents and businesses."
There's even a map, captioned, "Westphalia Town Center provides many convenient transportation options." Does it, now?
While Westphalia is located next to the Capital Beltway and Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent to Joint Base Andrews, it's not on or near a Metro line, MARC train, or the planned Purple Line. I've placed a star around potential spots for the FBI that are on Metro: Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield (Fairfax's proposal), and two suggestions from Greater Greater Washington contributors, Morgan Boulevard and Suitland.
(This map actually shows Metro in entirely the wrong place. Notice how the Orange and Blue Lines appear under the Potomac around where Smithsonian station would be. The Red Line crosses into Maryland east of DC's the northern point, not west. This map doesn't show the Blue Line out to the Beltway at all, and the southern Green Line actually runs along Suitland Parkway.
It clearly looks as though this map originally had no Metro at all, and the designers hastily slapped the Metro lines on without sizing and positioning them right. Perhaps this illustrates how much Westphalia really thinks about transit.)
Walton is so eager for the FBI that they recently offered to fund a bus line to Branch Avenue Metro. Unfortunately, a bus is unlikely to draw nearly the percentage of FBI workers that a Metro site would. The county has explored ways to extend the Green Line to Westphalia, but no serious planning has been done for it and nobody, including Walton, has any idea of how to pay for it.
As a greenfield, largely undeveloped site, Westphalia will require lots of new, expensive infrastructure whose long-term costs will get pushed onto the public. That spending will ultimately weaken pressure to build in existing communities where there's already underused transportation infrastructure, at the Metro stations. Those communities, however, don't have PR firms to push the government to put jobs there.
Putting the FBI in Prince George's County is the right move. The east side of the region has not gotten its share of federal or private jobs, forcing people to travel long distances from east to west. The FBI wants a large security fortress, which is incompatible with potential locations in central DC.
An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station. This would maximize the value we get from our existing regional transportation network. With so many available Metro-accessible sites in Prince George's, Westphalia is not a good spot for the FBI.
Ghosts of DC found a great map from the Library of Congress archives. It shows the property values of each block in DC in 1879.
Matt Yglesias noticed and pointed out that it shows a time when Logan and Shaw were more expensive than Georgetown.
Actually, the blocks around Logan and the Shaw blocks to the east don't appear to have that much more of an concentration of darker blocks than Georgetown. But it is true that this map likely captures the moment when Georgetown slowly started to slip behind the rest of the city in terms of economic status.
This is a fact that many are familiar with. Starting in the late 19th century Georgetown became somewhat of an Irish and African-American slum (although sometimes this is a bit overstated). It's reputation grew as a rougher part of town through the early 20th century. In the 1930s, Georgetown became one of the first "gentrified" neighborhoods in DC when New Dealers swooped in and bought up the old houses. The rest is history.
While the early 20th century brought poverty to Georgetown, in 1879 it wasn't necessarily clear that that was the future. Georgetown had only just been an independent city eight years prior (actually it was briefly known as "West Washington" at this point). And the governor of DC (during its brief territorial status) Henry Cooke thought it wise to construct his grand Cooke's Row of Second Empire mansions in 1868.
Perhaps it was the Panic of 1879 (which hit Cooke personally due to his widespread real estate speculation) that started Georgetown's decline, but it is more likely the rise of the railroad and the related decline of the canal.
But looking at the map you can see that the biggest concentration of expensive real estate at this point was what is now considered downtown (and probably remains the most expensive land in DC). Soon after this map was created, the Kalorama neighborhood was created and attracted the wealthy. By the 1890s, Georgetowners worried about getting cut off from the happening parts of DC and lobbied to have the Dumbarton Bridge built.
If you were to draft this map again in the 1920s, the differences would be starker. With robber barons building gilded age palaces on Massachusetts Ave. Georgetown found itself on the wrong side of the creek.
One final note: As I said, the slum status of Georgetown in the 20th century is sometimes overstated. There were pockets of deep poverty, including the "Holy Hill" Irish neighborhood in west Georgetown, the "Herring Hill" African American neighborhood on the east side, and scattered decrepit alley dwellings in lower Georgetown.
But the grand estates of Georgetown were still around. Tudor Place, Evermay, Dumbarton Oaks, and Halcyon (not to mention scores of lesser grand homes) all coexisted with the slummier sections of Georgetown.
Of course even today, we have people living in structures built for animals right next to luxurious houses. But they paid millions of dollars for the privilege.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
"Please empty your pockets and put all of your electronic devices on the bin," DC Library Police officers used to tell every patron entering the revolving doors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The days of passing through a metal detector at the city's central library are long gone.
Under the tenure of Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, the library has modernized the 1st floor's Great Hall (originally Peterson Hall) and is creating a "Digital Commons Technology Space."
The library police also have a new perch that resembles a judge's bench. The desk follows the same 1970's style as the original circulation desk, just around the corner.
"Welcome to MLK Library. May I help you?" is now the refrain greeting patrons at the library.
Last month, a consortium of investors, including the Levy Group and Four Seasons, won the auction to purchase the historic West Heating Plant on 29th Street in Georgetown. The future of the building is now in doubt, but is it worth saving as is?
No formal plans have been presented by the winning group, but you can read between the lines of their few public statements. Most tellingly, a letter from the Zoning Administrator to the group's lawyer discussed the general proposal to tear down most of the building. The request asked what the zoning implications would be to keep the 29th Street façade but tear down most of the rest of the building.
Some, like myself, think the entire building is worth saving. It's a striking example of a austere Art Deco style in a city mostly untouched by that style. The front façade, (which the group seems likely to keep anyway) is a muscular and monolithic edifice, that is detailed with a precise yet delicate brickwork borders:
The rest of the building carries on that muscular hulk:
But the problem is, there is simply no way to get natural light into the building as it is currently structured.
Yes, there are eight long windows on the north and south sides, but behind each window is a giant steel frame blocking the light. The frames are structural, so they cannot be easily removed.
I have seen some plans (not from the winning group) calling for a giant atrium to bring light in, but that would limit the roof usage and remove a good deal of square footage within the building.
Some simply think people like me are nuts and that the building is an eyesore. The very traits I find appealing can be just as easily seen as looming and oppressive.
What do you think? Should the new owners be forced to save all four façades? Or should they be allowed to tear down most of the building and simply keep the 29th Street side?
Click here for more pictures of the building.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
Blue stone curbing, laid primarily in the late 19th and early 20th century, can still be found in parts of Capitol Hill, Le Droit Park, Mount Pleasant, and Georgetown. On U Street SE, in Historic Anacostia, blue stone curbing also endures, holding possibly the last remaining horse tie in the city.
Is this horse tie on the 1300 block of U Street SE the last one left? Do you know of any others?
Anacostia was established in 1854 as the city's first subdivision. A few relics of the past, such as the horse tie, remain in plain sight. Horse ties, usually accompanied by a copper or iron ring, have all but vanished from American cities, with the notable exception of preservation-minded Portland. The tie on U Street SE appears to have survived for more than 100 years.
In Anacostia, where residents such as Frederick Douglass agitated the city for years to make repairs to his street (Jefferson Street, now W Street SE), petitioning Congress for infrastructure improvements was a generational exercise, passed down from father to son, mother to daughter.
The Washington Post reported on May 22, 1909 that the District Commissioners budgeted for street improvements across the city. Its article laid out the details of the long-awaited public works project: "That U street southeast between Nicholas avenue [now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE] and Fourteenth street be improved by setting blue stone curb on both sides, relaying cobble gutters and regulating surface of roadways with gravel, at an estimated cost of $1,100 chargeable to appropriation for 'streets in Anacostia.'"
Along with the blue stone, after all these years the horse tie in Historic Anacostia abides.
Tim Craig, Mike DeBonis, and Emma Brown asked the at-large candidates about a number of different issues that matter to DC residents, from testing in schools to police to bike lanes.
A question on bike lanes revealed some interesting differences of opinion. Patrick Mara (and Anita Bonds and Perry Redd) seem to prioritize not removing any parking over bike lanes, while Elissa Silverman was the strongest supporter:
"Would you support a new bicycle lane on Connecticut Avenue NW, even if it resulted in fewer on-street parking spots or altered traffic patterns?"
Matt Frumin and Paul Zukerberg would need more information about the lane's design before giving an opinion. Bonds, Redd and Mara are inclined to oppose it, worried about a loss of on-street parking. Silverman is inclined to support it. "If we are to promote cycling, we need to promote cycling on our major thoroughfares," she said.
Accommodating bicycling on Connecticut Avenue is a good idea, though I'm not aware of concrete plans to put a bike lane there right now or whether it would cost parking. Some bicycle infrastructure does supplant a small amount of parking, like on L and M Streets downtown, so the general thrust of the question is helpful.
On the Post interview, all candidates agreed on relaxing the height limit in a few places outside the core. Everyone but Zukerberg thinks there should be more restaurants east of the Anacostia. Mara and Bonds appear the least supportive of legalizing marijuana.
On a possible NFL stadium on the RFK site, the Post asked if candidates would support a stadium if Dan Snyder would pay for it but wouldn't change his team's name. All but Mara opposed the idea:
Redd, Zukerberg, Bonds and Frumin all said no. Silverman would oppose it, saying the focus should be on redeveloping the area around RFK Stadium with new housing and retail. Mara hopes the Redskins change their name, but the matter would not dissuade him from supporting a new team-funded stadium.On top of that, a stadium proposal very likely would not actually mean Snyder paid all of the cost; at the very least, DC would have to fund considerable infrastructure and site work. It'd be helpful to know if Mara (or any of them) would spend city dollars for a stadium, and how much.
These are just a few of the issues that matter to residents. Read the whole article.
- Latest Metro map drafts add Anacostia parks and other tweaks
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Short-term Washingtonians deserve a voice, too
- DC Council makes major policy changes overnight
- Public land deals have both benefits and pitfalls
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Parklets give every block a little park