Greater Greater Washington

Posts by John Muller

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia

History


Before the Anacostia Metro, there were these houses

Across Howard Road SE from the Anacostia Metro station, the DC government wants to develop a vacant lot for affordable housing. The site was not always vacant; to build the Metro station three decades ago, 11 houses were razed. Here is their story.


DC plans to develop this vacant lot on Howard Road, SE. Photo by the author.

According to a detailed report from the Historic American Buildings Survey, Howard Road, SE was originally developed as part of the 375-acre Barry Farm, a model community for freed slaves initiated by General Oliver Otis Howard of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867.

By the turn of the 20th century, better transportation and citywide population growth had led many owners to subdivide the original one-acre lots. Housing from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was distinctly urban, following narrow, side-hall plans suitable for the narrow street frontages of the new lots. In the Howard Road District, housing from the 1880's to the 1940s demonstrated how the once pastoral landscape gradually urbanized.


1023 Howard Road SE, razed to make way for the Anacostia Metro Station. Photo from the Library of Congress.

At the time of the survey in the mid-1980s, the buildings in the 1000 and 1100 block of Howard Road ranged in condition "from extremely deteriorated to fairly well kept." Four buildings were vacant and "had suffered varying degrees of vandalism." Six of the seven occupied properties "appeared to be adequately maintained." Nearly all of the homes had porches with lots that included small sheds and garages.

Due to the physical deterioration of the homes and their association with a criminal element it was apparently justified to demolish and clear the properties.

1010 Howard Road


1010 Howard Road SE, circa 1985. Photo from the Library of Congress.

In April 1929, Maggie Sharp of 1010 Howard Road SE died at the age of 61. Nearly a decade later, in June 1938, her husband, Lloyd, died in the home. He was 76.

Police raided 1010 Howard Road in September 1953. They arrested Daniel Ferguson on charges of operating a lottery, and his wife, Lucille Ferguson, on charges of keeping and selling whiskey without a license. According to a story in the Post, "Police said Ferguson, who had three numbers books and a quantity of numbers slips in his possession, ran into an undercover man as he attempted to run out of the back door." In October 1954 Ferguson was indicted as part of a "$1500-a-day lottery ring."

Lucille, apparently living by herself, died on September 20, 1972, according to a death notice in the Evening Star. According to property records the home, which was built in the early 1880s, sat vacant for more than a dozen years before WMATA seized it.

1004 Howard Road SE


1004 Howard Road SE, circa 1985. Photo from the Library of Congress.

In early November 1981, two men entered the home of 86-year invalid Rosella Newman. The would-be-robbers found Newman, who had grown up in the home, in her bed and shot her dead. The home remained empty until WMATA seized and demolished it.

Howard Road Then & Now


1959 Baist Real Estate Map showing Howard Road SE where today is the Anacostia Metro station and bus terminus. Photo from the DC Public Library, Special Collections.

Before the the Anacostia Metro station opened in 1991, the houses faced another demolition threat from the then-new Bolling Air Field in 1943. A legal notice printed in newspapers said the government may take the homes "for the construction of a military access road from Bolling Field to the District of Columbia." But subsequent newspaper accounts and period real estate maps show that residents of Howard Road were momentarily spared.

As plans the current Metro system were developed during the 1960s and 1970s, residents in the greater Anacostia and Barry Farm communities did not apparently object to losing the homes on Howard Road. According to a 1979 article in the Post, "The new proposal [to build the Anacostia Metro station] would require a relocation of 12 residential units, most of them in tiny, decrepit apartment buildings on the south side of Howard Road; three business, one church and the J. Finley Wilson Memorial Lodge No. 1731."

At a meeting that attracted 50 area residents, "Nobody fought for the buildings, but some expressed concern about the impact of heavy Metro traffic on children attending nearby Nicholas [sic] Avenue Elementary School (today Thurgood Marshall Academy]."

Although a federal judge's 1983 ruling temporarily halted construction of the Green Line through Anacostia, the future of the homes on Howard Road SE was a foregone conclusion. Bernard Gray, an attorney and long-time community activist in Historic Anacostia, said people did not try to save the homes on Howard Road, because they had become a source of blight and concern.

According to the 1985 report, "Preliminary examination of city directories, census and tax records for two periods (1899/1900 and 1909/1910) indicates that the subdivision and redevelopment of lots in the Howard Road neighborhood was not the work of large disinterested outside developers, but to a significant degree that of local, small-scale entrepreneurs, both male and female, many of whom lived on, or near, their subdivided lots."

Nearly thirty years later, life and residential and commercial use may finally return to this small corner of Howard Road SE.

History


In 1979, was your neighborhood "sound" or "distressed"?

DC looked very different in 1979. A map of neighborhood housing conditions shows just how much. In many neighborhoods in Washington now in high demand, 35 years ago the housing stock was in danger.


Image from the DC Public Library, Special Collections. Click for larger version.

This map is from a report by the Department of Housing and Community Development in June 1979, during Marion Barry's first mayoral term, entitled "Housing Problems, Conditions & Trends in the District of Columbia."

The report sounded the alarm for "Petworth, Parkview, Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood and most of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River." Those areas already had, or were in danger of developing, "deteriorating building conditions because resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership."

Here is the explanatory text and key for the map:

This map clarifies neighborhoods according to the categories shown in the legend. They are based on the following factors which are illustrated in subsequent maps: ownership patterns, yearly income of residents, real estate sales and prices, welfare assistance and the condition of housing.

Sound [Yellow]: Residents in these neighborhoods have high enough incomes to maintain their properties without public assistance. Northwest areas west of Rock Creek Park are classified as sound neighborhoods together with Capitol Hill. The only sound neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are located south of Fort Dupont Park.

Distressed [Blue]: Residents require considerable assistance because of low incomes and poor housing conditions. Many of these areas also contain a concentration of public housing in need of significant improvement. Distressed neighborhoods west of the river include Ivy City and portions of the Southwest. East of the Anacostia River, the poorest housing conditions are found in Deanewood, Burrville, Northeast Boundary, Greenway, Anacostia, Congress Heights, Washington Highlands and Douglass.

Stable / Declining [Green]: Neighborhoods are in stable condition, with households of moderate income and high ownership, requiring little or no public assistance; or, are beginning to show deteriorating building conditions because resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership. West of the River, neighborhoods in this category are south Petworth, Parkview, Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood and most of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Transitional (early or advanced) [Red]: Neighborhoods in the early stages of transition are characterized by a surge in reinvestment and rehabilitation; whereas, neighborhoods in the most advanced stages are those experiencing extensive displacement of low and moderate income families by higher income households. Change began in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan and spread east into Shaw and north along 14th Street, as well as into LeDroit Park and Eckington. The change which began in Capitol Hill spread further east into Lincoln Park, south to the Southeast, and north to the Stanton Park. No radical changes are occurring east of the River, though real estate activity is becoming significant but at a lower level of intensity.

This map further serves to highlight the different characteristics between areas east and west of the Anacostia River. West of the River and west of Rock Creek Park, neighborhoods are in basically sound and stable condition. The most concentrated real estate activity is found in and around the central city. Displacement is, therefore, the major problem west of the River; whereas the main concern east of the Anacostia River is the declining condition of the housing stock. Also, the majority of distressed and declining neighborhoods are found east of the River.

It's also interesting to look at the neighborhood names. NoMA didn't exist; it was "NE 1," adjacent to "NW 1" across North Capitol Street. What we now call U Street is "Westminster." And "Stanton Park" extended all the way across H Street. East of the River, neighborhood names such as "Good Hope," "Buena Vista," and "Douglass" have fallen out of currency.

The Green and Yellow Metrorail lines had not yet opened, the Red Line didn't go beyond Dupont Circle, and the Blue Line stopped at Stadium-Armory.

What else do you notice? How was your neighborhood categorized in 1979? Would it be categorized differently today?

Preservation


A decaying Anacostia home gleams (and sells) once more

While many residential and commercial properties in old Anacostia suffer from decades of abandonment, one historic home, at 1354 Maple View Place SE, has been transformed and rejoined the city's tax rolls. If the restoration can continue throughout the neighborhood it may forecast a new day in old Anacostia.


1354 Maple View Place SE in February 2014.

In mid-January 1907, George W. King, Jr. applied for a building permit to construct an 18x42 foot, 1-story home at a cost of $3,200 atop a hill that offers an unbroken sight line of the United States Capitol. The home was subsequently widened, and a second story was added in 1916. It was rebuilt and enclosed, partly with masonry.

By the late fall of 1918, rooms for rent were advertised in the Evening Star. One ad read, "1354 MAPLE VIEW PLACE S.E. (Anacostia)large front room, four windows, southern and eastern exposure, hot water heat, bath and nicely furnished: rent, $30 per month."

According to a December 1944 Star profile of local "Bible Class Leaders," King had taught Sunday School since 1899 at the Anacostia Methodist Church (today St. Philip the Evangelist Episcopal Church) at the corner of 14th and U Street SE. A member of the Board of Trade and Masons, King lived with his wife and 3 daughters at 1354 Maple View Place SE. King passed away 10 years later while still living in the home.

Based on newspaper accounts, city records, and discussions with Anacostia residents, the property was last occupied in the late 1980s or early 1990s after which the home fell into a period of disrepair and neglect.

1354 Maple View Place SE in July 2010.

"The subject property has been vacant and a neighborhood eye sore for several years," wrote Tim Dennée of the Historic Preservation Office in a February 2011 staff report for proposed additions and alterations to 1354 Maple View Place SE:

Between fire damage and subsequent deterioration due to exposure, most of the house lacks a roof and most of the second-floor framing, and there are large gaps in the exterior walls, including the loss of the upper half of a two-story addition on the east side. ... This represents perhaps the final chance to save this historic house. And despite its present condition, there is a practical value to retaining the building in addition to the preservation interest.
Little work was done from the 2011 hearing until November 2012 when, according to city tax records, the property was purchased for $110,000. Last fall a fence was finally erected around the property and basic rehabilitation work began.


1354 Maple View Place SE in July 2013.

The 3-sided brick alcove has been removed. The house now has a flat front. In the process of removing the siding, the original gingerbread shingles were revealed on the attic level and have been incorporated into the finished rehabilitation. A room in the rear of the home that had collapsed has been repaired. A front porch has been added. A pile of mud in the front yard has been replaced by a green lawn.

According to city records the property's assessed value for 2015 is $160,840. That is less than half of what the home sold for in late April. Its sale point of nearly $350,000 reflects a healthy barometer for the neighborhood.


1354 Maple View Place SE in Historic Anacostia today.

Across the street at 1347 Maple View Place SE, a full renovation effort by The L'Enfant Trust and its many partners is nearing completion on a late 19th century home developed by local street car owner Henry A. Griswold. The trust expects to list 1347 Maple View Place SE, along with another home which the 35-year old organization has rehabbed at 2010 14th Street SE, likely around the low to mid $300,000s.

Canvassing old Anacostia over the past year, William Alston-El and I have met many earnest individuals and progressive investors painstakingly renovating properties throughout the city's first subdivision. Despite a spate of gun violence that has gripped the neighborhood in recent months, the new life of 1354 Maple View Place SE is undeniable evidence old Anacostia is slowly on the rise.

Transit


Fruit stands abound within Paris Métro

Throughout the Paris Métro are ubiquitous vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vending machines on station platforms sell candy and bottled beverages. The option to quickly grab a snack is readily available to Parisians and riders of New York's subway, but not our own. Should it be?


Fruit stand at BarbèsRochechouart station. Photos by the author.

Apples, clementines, bananas, mangoes and tomatoes are readily available at reasonable prices throughout the M´tro system, from the modern Bibliothèque François Mitterrand station on Line 14 to older stations like Barbès-Rochechouart on Lines 2 and 4.


Fruit stand at Place de Clichy station.

There are no restrictions on eating on the Paris Métro. While there is ample supply of discarded chicken bones, sunflower seeds and fast food on Washington's Metro despite a ban on food, the Paris Métro is comparatively clean, with no traces of food on the trains or station platforms.

Some of the stands are free-standing, requiring the proprietors to set them up and take them down every day. Others rent existing kiosk space. Each vendor stand has a digital scale uses to weigh your purchase. From one vendor a clementine cost 0.35 Euro, while at another stand, a clementine and green apple ran to 1.37 Euro.


Vendor at Bibliothéque François Mitterrand station.

Two years ago, a New York State Senator proposed a law that would ban eating on New York's MTA. The law was widely opposed, even by MTA's chief, and did not pass.

Even with a ban on eating, Metro still employs a rodent exterminator, who the Post recently profiled. Is Paris' Métro clean while Washington's Metro is dirtier, despite a ban on food here and not there, a result of varying cultures?

Is it time for the Washington Metro to change its orientation towards food, or is the ban appropriate? Would you patronize a fruit and vegetable stand at Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn?

Preservation


To preserve or redevelop? One man will soon decide for a key Anacostia site

DC's housing agency wants to develop a long-vacant site in Anacostia with affordable housing and retail, but residents and the city's preservation officials say it is incompatible with the neighborhood. The choice between the two hangs on one last appeal.


Photo by Old Anacostia on Flickr.

The city's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has owned the "Big K" site on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue since 2010. It includes the abandoned former "Big K" liquor store and two historic, yet blighted, houses next door.

DHCD has been working with the Chapman Development company to plan an affordable apartment building on the land. Chapman wants to demolish the liquor store, built in 1906 but just outside the Anacostia Historic District, and move the two houses to a nearby city lot where the former Unity Healthcare Clinic has sat vacant for nearly two years. Chapman would pay for the relocation, while DHCD would renovate the homes with a fund of $750,000.

Chapman also plans to acquire the adjacent Astro Motors to assemble the entire Big K site and build a building of 114 apartments over a retail ground floor. The apartments would be affordable housing for people making 60% of Area Median Income, or about $58,000 for a family of 3. The original proposal was 6 stories and 141 units, but Chapman shrank the project in response to community pushback.


Rendering of the original, larger proposal.

The revised version maxes out at 5 stories, but each of the upper two stories would be set back so they do not occupy the whole footprint of the parcel, forming an "E-shaped building" as seen from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. DHCD would transfer its ownership of the Big K lot to Chapman for $1, while low-income tax credits and government transfer rent payments would help finance the building.


Top: Elevation of the original proposal. Bottom: The new proposal. Renderings from a community presentation by the development team.

However, at community meetings about the project, residents have opposed the plan. They do not want to see so much new affordable housing, saying that Anacostia already has more than its fair share. Others said that the building's scale is incompatible with the historic district, which mostly comprises lower and smaller buildings.

Residents also opposed the name Cedar Hill Flats. Cedar Hill is the name for the home of legendary civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, and community members wanted to keep that name linked solely with Douglass. Chapman has agreed not to use the name.

The Historic Preservation Review Board "denied the concept for new construction as incompatible with the character of the historic district because it is too large in height and extent relative to the historic buildings in the commercial corridor and out of scale with the historic district" in October. Then, at the end of February, Chapman brought its revised, shorter version to HPRB, which again denied the application:

It is too tall relative to the district's historic buildings and too extensive, to occupy half the square and crowd the narrow sidewalk. It would also destroy the unusual topography of the site. ... The Board recommended that a permit not be issued to move 2234 and 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue because the move would diminish the buildings' integrity and harm the character of this corner of the historic district, and because the houses could be rehabilitated and reused in place.
The preservation staff and board were also skeptical that the $750,000 earmark would be enough to properly relocate the homes without damaging them.

Project goes to the Mayor's Agent

HPRB's charge is only to look at the historic preservation issues in an application. But when a property owner believes the "special merit" or public interest value of a project should outweigh historic concerns (or if there is a financial hardship involved), there is an appeals process to an officer known as the Mayor's Agent. Currently, that agent is J. Peter Byrne, a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Chapman has appealed to the Mayor's Agent. At a hearing yet to be scheduled, Byrne will review the application to move and rehabilitate the two houses and, will consider the purposes and benefits of the entire Big K project. DHCD and Chapman Development will likely argue the "special merit" of different components of the project, its amenities, and talk about how they help achieve objectives in DC's Comprehensive Plan.

At February's HPRB hearing, staff from DHCD, including Director Michael Kelly, Chapman Development and a consultant from Streetsense, argued that economic development was a key component of the project. Although members of HPRB contended that economic development was not under their purview, it is possible that argument will meet the special merit standard for the Mayor's Agent to rule in favor of the project.

After four long years of debate, the long path for Anacostia's most infamous vacant property may finally be coming to an endor if this proposal fails, could continue for years more to come.

Retail


Hungry for neighborhood eateries, Anacostia could get a Busboys & Poets

Neighborhood restaurants can be the foundation of a community. In Anacostia, plans to bring popular local chain Busboys & Poets to the area are moving forward, while residents remember one sub shop that was the "spot to come to" before closing a generation ago.


Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

In recent years, restauranteur and mayoral candidate Andy Shallal has hinted he intends to open a Busboys & Poets in Anacostia. In response, residents launched a marketing campaign to woo the restaurant.

At last night's Washington City Paper debate, Shallal publicly confirmed he is in negotiations for 2 possible locations in Anacostia: the former American Furniture store at 2004 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, and the city-owned Big K lot in the 2200 block of MLK. Community sources say Shallal is exploring "franchising" the Busboys & Poets brand to a black-owned management group that would run the restaurant in the former furniture store.

A block away, long-time resident Melvin Holloway stands on the corner of the lot at the junction of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Pleasant Street, and Maple View Place SE and points to a sign.


Miles Long in 1984. Photo from the Anacostia Community Museum Archives.

"See: March 27, 1961," he says, singling out a date on the side of the neon sign's illuminating shell. "That's about when the Miles Long opened. It closed, probably, in the late '70s. But their memory is still strong."

The reverence that still exists in the hearts and stomachs of Anacostians for the Miles Long, decades after its closing, is a testament to the yearning both long-time and newer arrivals have for landmark neighborhood eateries. When discussing Anacostia in recent years with my Uncle Gary, who worked for Goodyear on Railroad Avenue in the 1970s, he always mentions the Miles Long.


Melvin Holloway stands in front of the former Miles Long. Photo by author.

According to Holloway, Miles Long "was the spot to come to at night, the spot to come to when it opened up early in the morning, and anytime in between. You could smell the fried onions they'd put on the steak sandwiches blocks away."

The Miles Long building had a brief second life in 2012 when a couple from Bethesda opened Mama's Kitchen, a pizzeria that the Washington Post highlighted as one of the first sit-down restaurants to open in the area in years. Since then, Mama's Kitchen moved to 2028 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and became Mama's BBQ, Blues & Pizza.

A neighborhood dining scene is slowly returning. In recent years, Uniontown Bar & Grill opened at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and W Street. On Good Hope Road, Nurish Food & Drink recently opened in the Anacostia Arts Center, housed in the old Woolworth building and down the street from local mainstay Tony's Place.

Changes are coming for hungry Anacostians. Time will tell what neighborhood eatery future generations will get to remember.

Development


East of the River neighborhoods rebrand themselves as "CHASE"

Penn Quarter, NoMA, Atlas District, and Capital Riverfront are just a few of the newly-branded DC neighborhoods that have come into currency over the past decade. What about neighborhoods east of the river? Over the past 3 years, District officials have started referring to Congress Heights, Anacostia, and St. Elizabeths as "CHASE."


Today it's called Congress Heights, but one day we could be calling it CHASE. All photos by the author.

The name is the result of a Community Planning Challenge Grant grant the federal government gave to DC's Department of Housing and Community Development in 2010, which funds revitalization efforts in struggling neighborhoods.

According to Evelyn Kasongo, Ward 8 coordinator for the DC Office of Planning, the city selected Congress Heights, Anacostia and St. Elizabeths because of the ability to leverage other federal and local investments, and the potential to piggyback on the redevelopment of St. Elizabeths. Federal and local officials envision making the three areas combined a "Regional Innovation Cluster," which the National Capital Planning Commission defines as a concentration of "interconnected businesses, suppliers, intermediaries and associated institutions in a particular field or set of related industries."

DHCD created an "action agenda" for the 3 areas with 7 focus areas: housing, retail, redevelopment and historic preservation, arts and culture, small business development, transportation, and jobs and workforce development. The city convened two Ward 8 Community Summits in 2011 and 2012 to survey residents' concerns and ideas related to the each focus area.

In addition to drawing new investment to the area, the agency also seeks to connect residents to existing organizations and resources. Last September, the agency held a CHASE Open House and Resource Fair at Savoy Elementary School where residents could learn about local organizations such as the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation and Congress Heights Main Street, which promotes local businesses, and city agencies such as the Department of Small and Local Business Development.

After more than a dozen planning documents over the past decade, this isn't the first attempt to revitalize the CHASE area, though it's the first to use a new name. But 2014 may finally be the year of action for CHASE. "People don't want to see plans at this point, they want to see implementation," says Kasongo.

Increased focus on retail in Congress Heights

Congress Heights may see some movement soon. Last month, Bethesda-based retail consulting firm Streetsense held two events there as part of the DC Vibrant Retail Streets initiative, the city's effort to promote neighborhood shopping destinations. The first was Reimagine MLK, a mini-block party on the 3100 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue where planners solicited community feedback.

Later, Streetsense organized a visioning session at the Petey Greene Community Center where residents looked over a map of more than 60 small businesses in the area and talked about their vision for the commercial district.


Concrete-filled tires line the street on MLK Avenue.

Participants offered a variety of comments, and it was hard to find common themes, wrote Heather Arnold, Streetsense research director, in an email. "They are concerned about crime (both inside and outside their businesses), about loitering, about parking regulations, about the changing character of the neighborhood (group homes) etc."

Suggestions included streetscape improvements such as tree boxes to replace the used tires filled with concrete that often line the street. Residents also sought stricter enforcement of public drinking laws at Shepherd Park, a popular hangout spot for idle men and women at the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X avenues.

But not everyone feels the same way. "At the same time," Arnold added, "you can easily find other retailers on the street who do not see any of these issues as a problem."


There are still vacant buildings along MLK Avenue.

But for all of the positive efforts taking place in the CHASE area, revitalization may still be a long way off. One indicator will be when the chain-link fence comes down at 3010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, an abandoned two-story apartment building. Outside, a sun-faded sign promises it will become "The Future Site of the AMS McDowell Business Center...Coming Spring 2010."

Development


St. Elizabeths East could become a community hub, but it'll take time

In January 2003, then-Mayor Anthony Williams announced plans to reimagine St. Elizabeths East Campus as a new community hub. Over 10 years later, it's beginning to materialize, but the private investment and new opportunities neighbors were promised have yet to arrive.


The Pavilion at Saint Elizabeth's East awaits activation. All photos by the author.

Neighborhood residents, community leaders, and local business owners participated in the first planning process for the District-owned campus in Congress Heights. Now, Mayor Vincent Gray is doing it again. After decades of disinvestment in the area, his administration is building new schools, new recreation centers, and the St. Elizabeths Pavilion, a new community center that opened last year.

While a planned vendor market hasn't started yet, a series of temporary events have positioned the pavilion to become an established rental venue, says Catherine Buell, Executive Director of St. Elizabeths East. To attract activity to the site, the city opened a free ice slide, hosted a free performance by a Grammy-award winning R&B artist, held fitness classes and has drawn a line-up of popular food trucks.

"The Pavilion has been a success," says Buell, a resident of Historic Anacostia, noting that over 10,000 people from across the region have come to St. Elizabeths East, a former mental health institution that was previously closed to the public. "And they are comfortable here," she adds.

Confirming city officials' desire to make the Pavilion a family-friendly destination, on a recent weekend, its meeting space hosted a community organization, while in the next room a group of small children played games under adult supervision.


Rendering of what an active Pavilion might look like one day.

Officials admit there's still work to do. "There were areas we needed to do a better job of tending to," says Buell. "We knew starting up an enterprise was going to be hard, but we have developed and built up a dynamic brand."

Last month, Victor Hoskins, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, disclosed the city had prematurely terminated its relationship with a management company that the city had paid over $250,000 to assist with marketing, booking and event planning at the Pavilion. The next step will be soliciting "successful third-party rentals" that can begin making the Pavilion a place of commerce. "Vendors are interested," Buell affirms.

Elsewhere on the campus, redevelopment plans are slowly moving forward. St. Elizabeths East Chapel, where Mayor Williams first announced plans to redevelop the campus in 2003, could soon become the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center, a business incubator that "will bridge the gap between the innovation field and local community" until a more permanent space is built. The permanent space, the 500,000-square-foot St. Elizabeth's Innovation Hub, can't proceed until 2016, when important infrastructure improvements are built.

In a press release, District officials said they "expect to create" a Demonstration Center with a "Digital Inclusion Center" with a state-of-the-art computer lab where residents can receive computer training, classrooms for job training and placement services, community meeting space, and "entrepreneurship and career conference areas." It should open this summer.

But the key phrase is "we expect to create." In conversations with community members in and around Congress Heights, many expressed a fatigue over the past decade in attending meetings and reading stories that foretold a new day of private investment and opportunity was round the corner. That day has yet to come.

Preservation


Plans to redevelop Anacostia's Big K site hinge on two historic houses

For three years, DC has been trying to redevelop the prominent "Big K" lot in Anacostia, and plans are finally moving forward. This week, city officials expect to host a public meeting about the project, including what will happen to two historic homes on site today.


Big K lot on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia.

Last October, DC's Historic Preservation Review Board unanimously denied plans to develop a six-story residential and retail building on the Big K parcel on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. It would involve demolishing the former Big K Liquor store, the site's namesake, as well as relocating two boarded-up homes to a city-owned lot three blocks away on W Street, something which some neighbors have vocally opposed.

The plans were the culmination of the Department of Housing and Community Development's three-year effort to develop the Big K parcel. Now, DHCD is readying itself to go before HPRB again with a revised concept, which will have a public hearing soon.

At a recent oversight hearing of the DC Council's Committee on Economic Development, DHCD director Michael Kelly described the Big K project as a "transformative project in a very important part of town." Last week, Kelly met with members of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A to discuss Chapman Development's latest development proposal. DHCD will hold a public meeting to provide updates and discuss the proposed plans tomorrow, Wednesday, February 19, from 6:30-8:30 pm at the DHCD Housing Resource Center, located at 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.

Big K's recent history

DC acquired the four lots comprising the Big K site in the summer of 2010. Three of the four parcels, not including the liquor store, are located in the Anacostia Historic District. In 2012, the city demolished the 1880s-era home at 2228 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, leaving the two other historic homes intact. Officials weren't able to acquire Astro Motors, a car dealership at the corner of MLK and Maple View Place SE.

After releasing a Solicitation for Offers in June 2012, DHCD received a single qualified respondent, Reston-based Chapman Development. Chapman is known for developing the Grays, an apartment building with the Fairlawn Market on the ground floor.

If Chapman Development meets the conditions of the property disposition agreement, DHCD will sell them the Big K property for $1. According to DHCD's website, the developer's proposal will be successful if it "[results] in a vibrant, mixed use development that promotes walkability and provides neighborhood-serving retail."

Residents were hostile to Chapman's original Big K proposal at a community meeting last September. While some asked DHCD to seek another developer, the agency chose to remain with Chapman, which has tried to mend ties with the community. In recent weeks, the developer's principal donated $10,000 to the Child and Family Services Agency's Partners for Kids in Care Donation Center.

Relocation to 1328 W Street

The two homes on the Big K site today would move to 1328 W Street SE, most recently a Unity Healthcare Clinic. According to sources familiar with the ongoing process, the Department of General Services signed over ownership of the property to DHCD. Although the site has been deserted for more than a year, the temporary structure remains.


The former Unity Healthcare Clinic at 1328 W Street has been deserted for more than a year.

It's unclear if DHCD plans to relocate the historic homes to the W Street side or the V Street side of the lot, where they would rest between Engine Company 15 and Delaware Avenue Baptist Church. Moving them will require a level of technical execution DHCD has yet to demonstrate and coordination with neighborhood leaders who have been outspoken in their opposition to the relocation.

As the saga of the city-owned Big K lot continues into its 5th year, what happens next is anyone's guess.

Preservation


To save this old house, everything but the facade must go

An old house in Anacostia is beyond repair, but zoning law ensures that at least the front facade will remain to give a historic appearance to a new replacement home.


All that remains of an 1889 home in Anacostia. Photo by the author.

In June 1889, construction began on a two-story frame home at 1621 W Street SE, then Jefferson Street, in Anacostia, a block and a half from Frederick Douglass' estate. 125 years later, DC issued a permit for the home's demolition. It's located just outside the boundaries of the Anacostia Historic District. All that now remains of the home is the free-standing facade.

"You can't just go there and demolish everything," said the inspection agent of record. "You have to keep the front up by law and by zoning or you lose the right to develop." According to the agent, the home was in such a condition of neglect that "everything has to be replaced."

According to city tax records, the current owner purchased the property in early 2005 for less than $82,000. It's currently assessed at just over $150,000. The rebuilt home's potential sale will serve as an economic barometer of East of the River property values for real estate watchers. But preservationists are closely watching how the reconstruction will happen.


The facade of 1621 W Street SE. Photo by the author.

"The best outcome will be for the developer to preserve the facade of the house and rebuild it in a way that compliments the historic character of the surrounding neighborhood," wrote Charles Wilson, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association and member of the Historic Preservation Review Board, in an email.

Wilson argued that preserving structures like this is the key to revitalizing Historic Anacostia, as it lends the area a unique character that can't be found elsewhere. "When it comes to economic development in Anacostia we need to look at it from a short- and long-term perspective," he adds. "Short-term is what it going to get us there and long-term is what is going to keep us there. Historic preservation is the long-term answer for economic development in Anacostia."

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