Posts about Anacostia
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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."
Around the city and region, a lot of sidewalks are clear, and a lot aren't. Where they aren't, in many cases the snow is now packed down into a sheet of ice, making walking very treacherous.
I asked readers to send in photos and reports of the problem areas along their commutes. Steve Mothershead, who walks along Martin Luther King Avenue, SE to the Anacostia Metro in the mornings, says most of the sidewalks are not clear:
Photos by Steve Mothershead.
Most of the sidewalks have not been touched, except for the one next to the school. Most of the churches have not touched the sidewalks in front of their properties, and of course the sidewalks in front of the abandoned buildings that the city seems to refuse to do anything with haven't been addressed. This is a highly traveled section of sidewalk and I saw many children on their way to school having trouble walking. Some people were even opting to walk on busy MLK.Jason Broehm and Robin Swirling both reported problems in Columbia Heights, with the large plaza at 14th and Park, and nearby at 14th and Newton:
Photos by Jason Broehm (top) and Robin Swirling (bottom).
Randall Myers reports Freedom Plaza a sheet of ice as of last night. That one is the Park Service's responsibility.
Photo by Randall Myers.
In Dupont Circle, the bridge for Q Street to the Metro (the DC government's responsibility) has a decent cleared path, but as you can see from the fact that more snow is packed down on either side, it's not wide enough for times of heavier foot traffic.
If you needed a reason to like Argentina more than Botswana, the Argentine embassy cleared their corner of Q and New Hampshire, while the Embassy of Botswana did not. (The Botswanans do have much more sidewalk on 3 sides, though.)
Also in Dupont, Joe Manfre writes,
I don't have a picture, but that Scientology building at the corner of 16th and P has been really bad about clearing the walk on the long, long side of their building along P Street (as opposed to the short frontage along 16th).There are plenty of homeowners who haven't cleared sidewalks either, but the biggest problem is large institutions. They have more sidewalk, and unlike with an individual homeowner who might be 75 with back problems, foreign governments, the District government, the National Park Service, and large corporate apartment buildings ought to be able to fulfill this civic duty.
After decades of decline, DC's population is growing again. But parts of the city like Anacostia are still losing people, showing that revitalization has yet to take hold everywhere.
The population of Anacostia between 1990 and 2012. All data from the Census Bureau, graphs by the author.
While many neighborhoods across the city have grown in population and prosperity, Anacostia has lost nearly five hundred people and more than 140 housing units since 1990, according to newly released Census data. Meanwhile, the median household income has declined by $3,000, from $35,545 in 1990 (in 2012 dollars) to $32,262 today. There are fewer homeowners as well. In 1990, 32.8% of Historic Anacostia's 986 housing units were owner-occupied, whereas today just 29.9% of the 854 units are.
These raw numbers reflect the abundance of abandominiums within the neighborhood, including both single-family homes and apartments. More than a hundred units have been vacant for more than two decades, while others have been razed.
The drastic contraction in the available housing stock over the last two decades has led to the subsequent flight of nearly 15% of the neighborhood. In 1990 Anacostia counted 3,018 people, 437 more than in 2012, when 2,545 lived in the Historic District.
Although social media campaigns and advocates of the creative class have increasingly touted the neighborhood over the past half-decade, economic opportunities remain a dream for many residents. Of 1,799 people over 16, just 54.9% are in the labor force, compared to 58.4% of 2,130 people in 1990.
With the growth of white-collar information services in DC, blue-collar independent tradesmen living in Anacostia say they are at a double disadvantage. They don't have the education the information economy demands, and they are often shut out from joining existing contracting teams on local multi-million dollar public works projects. The neighborhood has its own day-laborer class of junkmen and uncredentialed tradesmen who may not fit into the formal economy.
Even though the neighborhood economy has remained stagnant over the past 20 years, and private capital is hesitant to invest and develop, Anacostia's human capital has slowly increased. Today, 79.1% of Anacostians 25 years old and over have their high school diploma, a dramatic increase over 49.7% in 1990. More than two decades ago less than five percent of Anacostia residents 25 years and older had a college degree; today it is 8.2%.
These numbers do not paint a complete picture, but they show Historic Anacostia to be a neighborhood dominated by low-earning renters, the same as it was in 1990.
In commemorating the March on Washington last summer, President Obama invoked "the corners of Anacostia" as an example of persistent inequities. While the areas and environs of 14th Street NW, 7th Street NW, H Street NE, and 8th Street SE have exponentially grown over the past two decades, Anacostia remains largely stuck in time, slowly fading away before the eyes of anyone watching.
Ghosts of DC posted an 1892 Map of Rural Anacostia earlier this week. I've made it into a graphic illustrating some of the other physical changes to the neighborhood and its surroundings in the last 120 years.
What first struck me about the map when I saw it was how close the banks of the Anacostia River were to the neighborhood. My knowledge of DC history is minimal, so I did not know that between 1882 and 1927 the tidal marshes along the edge of the Anacostia were filled in, creating what would today appear on a map as Poplar Point.
Clusters of single family homes were developed and remain intact in places such as north of today's Good Hope Road (in the Fairlawn neighborhood) and around Morris Road. In the next ring of development, south and east of here, small apartment buildings become the predominant land use. And over time (as early as 1900 with the development of the Nichols School, which is now the Thurgood Marshall Academy), larger footprint buildings sprouted up on and around today's Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road.
Future development plans suggest that the next phase of growth will follow a similar trajectory, with moderate densification of the main commercial corridors and substantial expansion into previously undeveloped land, in this case Poplar Point.
A version of this post originally ran at R. U. Seriousing Me?
Since June 2007, a three-story Catholic school in Historic Anacostia has sat quietly, unused and largely unnoticed. Last week, staff from the Archdiocese of Washington took me on a tour of the abandoned building, last known as the Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, with a small group of architects and contractors.
The school opened on V Street SE in the first decade of the 20th century for children of the nearby parish of Saint Teresa of Avila. It's one block over from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and its cramped visitor's center. With capital, vision, and proper management, this vacant school house could complement the Douglass site as a true visitor's center, capable of capturing out-of-town dollars from the more than 50,000 annual visitors to the neighborhood destination.
The old Saint Teresa School at 1409 V Street SE in Historic Anacostia. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
The boarded-up school was last used during the 2006-2007 academic year and awaits a rebirth and reuse.
But until then, let's take a tour of the school as it is today. Perched on a knoll above V Street, the brick exterior of the school is painted white and green and is in good condition.
I enter the rear of the school with the group through the multi-purpose room. The basketball backboards remain, without the rims. On a door hangs an activity calendar from March 2006. According to neighborhood sources, the school also served as a community center in the evenings during the 1980s and 1990s.
The school still has electricity, but many of the lights are out as I walk into the hallway. To enter the school, a facilities manager had to disarm the alarm. A member of the group remarks, "Kind of eerie."
Other than peeled paint, cracked floor tiles, and bathrooms with destroyed sinks and toilets, the interior of the building is sound, but there is probably a lot of asbestos in the building. Any possible renovation would require removing asbestos or lead-based paint.
Inside one of the classrooms, it appears that neighborhood children at some time gained access to the school. Across a blackboard someone wrote "V-BLOCK" with "Choppa City," the name of a local street crew, written in cursive inside of the "O."
You can see how the classrooms once looked when school was in session. Above one blank chalkboard, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales, Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, and Yosemite Sam with two pistols drawn look out on the spirits of former pupils. Casper the Friendly Ghost adorns the walls of another room. Underneath one of the apparitions is a road sign that reads "Ghost Town." Being a former Catholic school, in this room and other parts of the building are signs and drawings of Jesus.
In the second-floor library, no books remain on the wood shelves that line the perimeter of the room. Three of the room's four windows are boarded up. A plaque on the wall states, "Library Established by Sr. Mary Dolorine 1955 Sponsored By The Mother's Club."
On a chalkboard in a 3rd floor classroom, "Taylor Tucker," remains alongside a note reading, "Schools [sic] out -> So Ugly." In the upper left-hand corner is the date of the last day of school, June 4, 2007. As I pick up a loose piece of chalk to write my name on the board, I hear someone call out, "The roof's open!"
I ascend the stairwell and walk on to the roof. Everyone in my cavalcade has their cell phone out, snapping unobscured panoramic photos of the city's skyline: the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome the most noticeable, the Washington Cathedral further off in the distance.
Someone points to the Douglass house. "What's that?" They ask.
I respond, "The home of Fred Douglass, resident of Anacostia from fall 1877 to his death in late February 1895." I snap a few photos of Douglass's mansion through the southside canopy.
"This would make a great rooftop restaurant, don't you think?" someone asks.
"Yeah, but they would have to go through zoning and [Historic Preservation Review Board] first," replies another visitor, a contractor. "But it sure would be one of the coolest restaurants in the city. You can look at the Douglass house or you can look at the Capitol."
After ten minutes of marveling at the views, we make our way back through the empty school. Two young architects ask the facilities manager if the school has a basement. It doesn't he replies, it has a boiler room which he shows the two visitors.
Once we are all back out on V Street, we thank the staff of the Archdiocese for the tour and promise to be in touch. In the meanwhile the old Saint Teresa School sits and awaits a rebirth and productive reuse. With recent news that the city wants to get tourists off the National Mall and brand its neighborhood attractions as "cool," the old Saint Teresa School might be the perfect place to launch the campaign.
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