Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Brookland

Public Spaces


What will it cost to bury power lines?

Should more of the power lines in the region be underground? That's a question many are asking as many residents of DC, Maryland, and Virginia remain without power over 3 days after a storm and may not get it back for days more. Most, but not all, neighborhoods in DC with underground lines never lost power.


Photo by hellomarkers! on Flickr.

Mayor Gray thinks it's worth talking about. He said, "People are fed up with power outages. We need a game-changer," Mike DeBonis reports in the Post.

The problem is that burying lines is very expensive. But it's not clear how expensive, because most of the estimates come from the utilities, and Pepco, at least, doesn't have a lot of credibility on this.

When DDOT rebuilt the streetscape along Brookland's 12th Street in 2008-2009, residents asked to have the lines put underground, but Pepco cited a cost that seems wildly high. Without better and independent information, it's hard to have a conversation about burying lines.

Pepco gives very high cost estimates

Residents listed burying the lines as a top priority during early public meetings for the project. The lines are unsightly, and Pepco would often truncate the street's trees to keep them from disrupting lines. Plus, putting the lines underground would reduce the change of trees falling on the lines and knocking out power.

Pepco told DDOT that it would cost $60 million to bury the lines along 12th. Plus, DDOT then-spokesperson Karyn LeBlanc said in an August 2008 email, Pepco rents space on its poles to telecommunication utilities as well, and burying the lines would require moving those wires.

LeBlanc added,

Each property that currently receives service from an overhead connection would need to be "rewired" to accept service from the newly undergrounded connection. This is a cost that would not be burdened to the utility but rather to the property owner. The current cost estimate is $15,000 per property and again that is just for the electrical service. The other communication lines would also need to be "rewired." All these estimated costs would, of course, increase as costs for materials continue to increase.
Are these estimates reasonable?

At DDOT oversight hearings at the time, residents and council staff found comparable cost estimates from other jurisdictions that were putting lines underground. Scenic America said that burying the wires costs $500,000 to $3 million per mile. Since the project covered one mile of street, that means the estimate differ by a factor of 20 to 120.

Information from an undergrounding project in San Francisco put the cost to move a property's connection at $1,500 to $2,000 per property, not $15,000.

These costs are still not small, but they might have been achievable. DDOT had $5.5 million in the project budget left over for miscellaneous streetscape tasks, which could have gone toward wires, but it was too late to make it happen at that point.

More importantly, this reveals a credibility gap for Pepco. The utility wasn't really interested in putting lines underground, so it seems it threw out a very high estimate.

One streetscape won't solve storm reliability

Underground wires on 12th Street could have saved businesses there from losing power, but wouldn't have done much for a broader area. To really combat outages, Pepco would need to bury its main trunk lines.

According to DeBonis, Pepco does want to bury two lines, on Oregon Avenue NW along Rock Creek and on Michigan Avenue NE, near Brookland. It's offered to do this as part of a rate increase currently before the Public Service Commission (PSC); Mayor Gray and other officials today said that maybe the utility doesn't deserve to get its rate hike given what's happened this week.

One thing is clear; unless the PSC starts pushing Pepco hard, wires won't go underground. To the utility, there's no incentive to invest in the cost of expensive infrastructure that's more reliable, or just having more crews on hand to make repairs. As a for-profit company with fixed rates, their only incentive is to keep costs low, and that means skimping on reliability.

The PSC will have to push Pepco harderif the District can get members confirmed who want to do so. It would help get the discussion going if there were independent, more realiable estimates for costs. We just can't trust Pepco or industry groups whose incentives don't line up with the general public.

Development


Better access to RI Ave Metro would help communities

Despite being one of the original stations in the Metro system, the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood station hasn't reached the potential of so many others because of a lack of connections into the nearby communities. Simply improving pedestrian access to the station will invigorate otherwise disconnected neighborhoods.


Photo by robin.elaine on Flickr.

In 1976, designers created a park and ride station, with pedestrians and pedestrian connections to surrounding neighborhoods as an afterthought. Although it straddles 4 neighborhoods (Brentwood, Edgewood, Eckington, and Brookland), the station barely connects with 2, and it stands nearly 50 feet above Rhode Island Avenue.

The high elevation and a lack of neighborhood connections hinders the neighborhoods around the station from developing into the vibrant communities they could be.


Access points to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. Image modified from Google Maps.

Today, there are only 3 ways of accessing the station:

  • The bus bays next to the former parking lot (labeled 1 on the map)
  • A winding pedestrian bridge (labeled 2)
  • A (temporarily closed) four-story staircase from Rhode Island Avenue (labeled 3)
Plans are in the works for an additional pedestrian and bicycle bridge (labeled 4), which will connect the station with the Rhode Island Avenue Center mall and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Although this will improve station access, another connection is needed for the areas southwest of the station.

Riders from nearby Eckington must trek up Rhode Island Avenue, under an overpass on a narrow sidewalk where cars speed by, then go up the ramp or stairs to reach the station. Even for residents closest to the station, the circuitous walk can take up to 15 minutes and makes rail a less-appealing option for riders.

A ramp should be built from the station, across the CSX tracks and down W Street to better connect the station with Eckington (labeled 5 on the map). This will enable residents to access the station more readily and will lay the groundwork for future improvements along 5th Street NE.

In its vision for the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, the DC Office of Planning suggests turning the area around the rail overpass and 5th Street into a mixed-use district, containing shops, offices, and new residential structures. The report also calls for a new connection to the station, running along the 600 block of W Street NE (which is currently used as an alley for nearby warehouses) toward the station (labeled 6 5 on the map).

Making another pedestrian connection to the station would create a sense of neighborhood cohesiveness that does not currently exist, and help surrounding neighborhoods grow and prosper.

Government


Ward 5 needs more, smaller ANC's

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force recently began the process of deciding if and how to redraw the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The task force should create more ANC's with fewer Single Member Districts (SMDs) in each.

SMDs are the individual districts that make up each ANC. Each SMD serves around 2,000 constituents. Commissioners are unpaid, non partisan, and elected to 2-year terms.

Every ward has their ANCs arranged slightly differently. The most common set up is 4 or 5 commissions with fewer than 10 SMDs in each. For example, Ward 7 has 5 commissions, each consisting of 7 SMDs.

Currently, Ward 5 has only 3 ANCs, each with 12 SMDs. This is problematic because each covers a large geographic area, encompassing a wide range of neighborhoods with vastly different characteristics and needs.


Current ANC boundaries.

A more responsive system could be created by revising ANCs to be based on historic neighborhood boundaries, future economic development prospects, and common-sense issues of geography. This would improve local governance by ensuring that commissioners were voting on issues that they were engaged in and would impact their constituents. It would also make it easier for interested citizens to attend meetings and get involved in local government.

ANC's should comprise neighborhood clusters that are near each other and have similar densities and zoning characteristics.

For example, ANC 5C includes some of Ward 5's most densely populated neighborhoods along the North Capitol Street corridor, sparsely populated areas around the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and most of Catholic University. These neighborhoods have little in common and cover an area almost 3 miles from north to south.

This variation is problematic when the whole ANC votes on something that will in reality only impact a few SMDs. The controversy over Big Bear Cafe's attempts to secure a liquor license pitted commissioners from miles away against supportive commissioners from the neighborhood.

Issues can also arise when commissioners deal with changes or challenges from areas outside their borders that do not affect the larger ANC. For instance, the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods in ANC 5C are located very close to development in the newly branded NoMa neighborhood. They have to deal with related economic development and housing issues that will have little impact on 5C commissioners from farther north.

Many of the problems inherent in ANC5C's makeup could be solved by reducing its size and moving its northern most SMD's to another commission. A better, smaller ANC 5C could look like this:


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

Similarly, the neighborhoods of Trinidad and Carver-Langston in ANC 5B, located north of Florida Ave and Benning Road, NE are part of the rapid economic development based around the H Street corridor. But ANC 5B stretches for miles towards the Maryland border. It includes the National Arboretum, and has several SMDs clustered around Rhode Island Avenue, NE.

These areas have different economic centers and geographies. It makes little sense for them to be involved in each other's parochial decisions.

These issues can be solved by creating a smaller ANC representing Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Gallaudet University:


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

As currently constituted, several of Ward 5's economic corridors, historic neighborhoods and institutions are split between multiple ANCs. This makes it difficult to create coherent and effective policy.

Catholic University, the surrounding neighborhood of Brookland, and its main street of 12th Street are currently split between three ANCs. The nearby Rhode Island Avenue corridor also touches three separate commissions. Creating one ANC to encompass Catholic University, Brookland and neighborhoods to the north and south of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would allow local leaders to make smart decisions about the future of this area without undue outside influence.


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

These examples do not form a complete plan for redrawing Ward 5's ANCs. But they do show that the existing commissions can be broken down in a more logical and effective manner.

The three ANCs in Ward 5 are vast. The current setup does not make participation in local politics easy for anyone, but it is especially problematic for seniors, people with small children and those without cars or easy access to transit.

Ward 5 isn't the only ward considering more, smaller ANCs. In Ward 1, which is currently divided into 4 commisions, ANC 1A and 1B each have 11 commissioners. 1B would now grow to 13 commissioners if its borders don't change. Kent Boese has proposed adding a 5th ANC in Ward 1, giving each 6-9 SMDs.

Creating smaller ANCs will make it easier for regular citizens to get involved in local affairs. This line of thinking appeared at the first task force meeting when members suggested that citizens will be more likely to attend meetings if they know it will be a short trip from their house.

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force has a chance to improve governance and get more people involved when making their recommendations. They should move forward by creating more ANCs and decreasing the size of the existing commissions.

Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 24 at the 5th District Police Station, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Visit the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force's blog for more information.

Development


Will preservation be a tool of blatant anti-development?

Opponents of a redevelopment project at Colonel Brooks' Tavern next to the Brookland Metro are turning to historic preservation as their latest anti-building tactic.


Photo from Brookland Avenue.

Lydia DePillis reports that ANC 5A has nominated Colonel Brooks' Tavern and the adjacent houses to be designated as historic.

The timing of this is quite suspect, since a Planned Unit Development (PUD) has already been filed to replace these buildings with a 5-story mixed-use project. The ANC is already on record opposing the project, and for that matter virtually any development around the Brookland Metro.

Most preservationists vehemently dispute that their field is simply about blocking development. Many people who don't oppose all development nonetheless consider themselves preservationists or supporters of preservation. In the blog world, that includes people such as Richard Layman, Alex Baca, David Garber, and myself.

Unfortunately, at times preservation really has been a tool of opposition. Former Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) chair Tersh Boasberg readily admitted that his reason for getting involved in preservation was to stop development of the Cleveland Park "Park and Shop" strip mall into anything larger.

There is certainly a contingent of preservationists who are willing to accommodate change, as long as that change doesn't involve getting anything any taller or bigger than it is today. There are others who see preservation's proper role as focusing more narrowly on the most valuable elements of historic properties or districts.

That creates a dilemma for the Historic Preservation Review Board when they consider this landmark nomination, which does little to conceal its true motivation.

The criteria for designation are very broad. A property can be designated, for example, if it merely "embod[ies] the distinguishing characteristics of architectural styles; building types; construction types or methods; landscape architecture; urban design, or other architectural, aesthetic, or engineering expressions significant to the appearance and development of the national capital or nation."

Colonel Brooks' Tavern and the other buildings are indeed good examples of the kind of building that historically comprised Brookland. These are "typical owner-occupied storefronts of the first years of the twentieth century" which "were associated with an Irish American owner whose business catered to Catholic University staff and students throughout their history."

In other words, it's pretty typical. Does that make it historic?

The laws in DC are written to allow designating a wide range of buildings. In many cases, designation and the concomitant review for new development makes for better projects. They do, however, also impose stricter limits on changes and create more time-consuming process even for allowed changes.

HPRB could take one of several approaches:

  1. It could refuse to designate the property. HPRB previously refrained from designating the Giant in Cleveland Park, for instance, though that wasn't representative of old stores in the area as Colonel Brooks' is.
  2. It could designate the property, but then grant a raze permit anyway. This is what the HPRB did not do with the Third Church of Christ, Scientist downtown. This is difficult because they would essentially be saying the property is historically significant, but then declining to protect it at all.
  3. It could designate the property and then find some way to let almost all of the project go ahead, such as by preserving only the façade. It has not generally allowed this level of latitude with other properties in recent years.
  4. It could designate the property and reject the project or ask for very significant changes that force redesigning and substantially shrinking the project. Then, the owner could apply to the Mayor's Agent to grant the raze or the change anyway. Preservation groups are currently pressing a lawsuit to try to limit the Mayor's Agent's legal ability to allow this.
What will the Board do? Many eyes will be on them in this case, which could set the tone for public support or criticism of preservation for some time, especially as Mayor Gray chooses new nominees for the board.

A few years ago, preservation was under attack in DC, with some negative stories around Third Church and residential properties in Mount Pleasant and Capitol Hill fed by critical columns by Marc Fisher. Following that, the Board made some wiser choices in a few cases, Harriet Tregoning acting as the Mayor's Agent allowed projects at Third Church and the Heritage Foundation addition on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the real estate market slowed, reducing the number of controversial projects.

Now that the market is picking up again, preservation is set for some high-profile battles. HPRB and citywide preservationists would be best served not to make a stand on this particular battle with Colonel Brooks, where the justification for designation is relatively weak and the underlying, anti-development motivation very strong.

Public Spaces


Wall at Brookland Metro serves as a canvas for a memorial

While Washington is home to numerous stately memorials to national figures, murdered Redskins player Sean Taylor has his own unofficial memorial in the form of graffiti at the Brookland Metro station.


Photo by the author.

A few days after Taylor was killed in Miami, Florida, a spray-painted memorial mural appeared on the wall of the CSX rail line adjacent to the Brookland Metro station, where it remains today, untouched.

The mural, painted in the team's colors of burgundy, gold, and white, is seen by tens of thousands of Red Line riders going in and out of the city every day.

Taylor, 24, was in his fourth year with the Redskins. In the twelfth week of the 2007 season he had 5 interceptionsthird in the league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His reputation as one of the hardest hitting players in the league and his all-out style of play had endeared him to fans.

News of his death during a home invasion on November 27, 2007 quickly spread across the region, leaving his teammates and fans in a state of disbelief and grief. While the Redskins organization honored Taylor's memory on the field, an established DC graffiti artist took to the red line in a public display of deference.

"The Red Line has been a hot spot since the mid-80's, but became the spot in the early 90's," according to Roger Gastman, a Bethesda native and author of Free Agents: A History of DC Graffiti and the forthcoming The History of American Graffiti. "If you wanted to be someone in the DC graffiti scene, you had to hit the Red Line."

"The Brookland station, you can walk right up to it. It is a very good location, if you can pull it off," says Gastman.

"The best writers interact with their environment," asserts Gastman, citing graffiti as the fastest growing art movement of the past forty years.

CERT

Beginning his graffiti career with the tag of "CERT" in 1992 at the age of 14, the well-known writer of the Sean Taylor mural declined an interview request for this article.

"The Red Line was CERT's backyard. He basically lived there and owned it. CERT could disappear, but, to this day he holds enough respect that his spots will remain untouched for years to come," reads CERT's profile in Free Agents that describes his graffiti as "hardcore and illegal" and "always in highly visible spots."

"Graffiti to me is my childhood, my teen years. That's what I was about 100 percent. But I'm still representing. Don't count me out. Don't forget me. I can come back at any moment and in a month I'll take king of the Red Line again," contends CERT in the 2001 book.

"Whatever his reasons for slowing down, CERT is a true D.C. king. It's time for him to sit back and let the mark he left on the city soak in. And like he said, don't count him out. With a closet full of paint and heart that's true to the game, CERT will be back," Gastman foretold in the conclusion of CERT's profile.

The mural has remained untouched since its appearance more than 3 years ago. Gastman says there is a code among writers that is being followed.

"Brookland station can be considered a museum for DC graffiti, because of the pieces that have endured over the years," says Saaret Yoseph, a graduate student at Georgetown University. "Brookland is unique in that the art is eye level. The graffiti is looking right at you as you wait for your train."

Yoseph is directing, "The Red Line D.C Project," a documentary exploring the "communal experience" of graffiti on the Red Line as a public art space. It will be released later this year.

Rider Reactions

"What struck me about that one was here was a memorial to someone we actually knewor knew of. So much graffiti is inscrutable. Who are the people named there? What's the purpose of it? But this was one we could grasp immediately," said John Kelly, a writer for The Washington Post and Red Line rider since 1983. "And then a few years later, just across the platform was another one that fell into that category: some memorial paint for Michael Jackson."

On a recent morning at the Brookland Station, riders' reactions to the graffiti suggested a sense of pride in the station's distinction as the home of the Sean Taylor mural.

"If they cleaned it up we would be really hurt behind that one," said Milford Obendorf, a Brookland resident waiting with his wife on the northbound train to Silver Spring.

"It's been here since he passed away. People come here to look at it," said Marquette Obendorf.

"It's real creative," said LaWanda Swain, a custodian with Metro for 6 years. "He played here so they have respect for him."

"It spices things up. If they cleaned it up then you'd be staring at a wall for 15 minutes," said Mike Young, 20, a cell phone sales rep downtown. "People remember Sean Taylor because he shouldn't have died. He hit the hardest like when he cracked yungin' in the Pro Bowl."

Numerous videos on YouTube have compiled Taylor's highlights as a Redskin, including a tackle of punter Brian Moorman in the Pro Bowl that lifted Moorman off his feet to a point where he was parallel to the field.

However, some riders expressed frustration with the station's illegal art.

"It grows and grows until they clean it up," said Joe, an older man in a white dress shirt, a Brookland resident for more than two decades. "The kids that do it are talented, but they can put their talents to better use."

As a regular rider of the red line for more than a decade, I can remember the walls at Brookland being cleaned, "buffed" in the language of graffiti, about five years ago.

"The graffiti is on CSX property, not Metro property. Typically, when we become aware of graffiti, our goal is to remove it within 24 hours," said Angela Gates, a Media Relations officer with Metro.

CSX did not respond to email and phone call requests for comment.

"There have been no graffiti-related arrests or citations in the last year at Brookland-CUA," said Gates who emphasized that the property is outside of Metro's jurisdiction.

With no apparent plans to clean the walls and a lack of enforcement around graffiti, the Sean Taylor mural will continue to be a distinctive cultural landmark for the Brookland Metro station.

A print version of this article will appear in the forthcoming spring edition of The Brookland Heartbeat.

Development


Will Thomas push for local business and good urban design?

Harry Thomas, Jr. will lead the DC Council's Committee on Economic Development next year. In a press release, Thomas notes his plans to continue "building on what he has accomplished in this area for Ward 5." The trouble is, Thomas' development record in Ward 5 is spotty, at best.


Councilmember Thomas. Photo by mediaslave on Flickr.

Suburban-style, big box-anchored retail development is scattered throughout Ward 5, such as Rhode Island Place, Rhode Island Avenue Center, and Hechinger Mall.

With part of Thomas' new duties including oversight of the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), one might expect him to focus on revitalizing the city's struggling commercial corridors. Instead, we have a Councilmember who has often championed more of the status quo.

In his November 15 testimony before the DC Zoning Commission on proposed car and bike parking regulations in the zoning code, Thomas said,

"I have recently spoken with representatives of several retailers who are interested in developing large, multi-tenant shopping centers in the District.... There are ... a number of locations in Ward 5 and other outlying Wards with blocks of land large enough to accommodate these developments, but without convenient access to Metrorail. Placing a cap on parking citywide, in a one-size-fits-all approach, would limit the desirability of these locations and have an adverse economic impact on the District."
We now know that Thomas was alluding to Dakota Crossing, with a planned 3,000 surface parking spaces, as well as the still developing plans for four Walmarts.

At the same time, Thomas knows very well what progressive urban infill looks like, and has helped usher it in during his tenure in Ward 5. Rhode Island Station, The Flats at Atlas District, and developments near Catholic University build on a multi- and mixed-use platform with retail space for small, local businesses.

While we continue to hear Thomas' lip service about the jobs and tax revenues that will be brought by new big boxes, our main streets continue to flounder. The Rhode Island Avenue Great Streets Initiative, for example, seems to have fallen off of DMPED's radar.

Can Thomas, who will have oversight of DMPED as Chair of the Committee on Economic Development, push for movement on a plan that could link the District's side of this important gateway with the revitalization that is happening just across the border in Mt. Rainier and Hyattsville?

While Brookland's 12th Street NE commercial strip received streetscape improvements, it still struggles to attract new businesses. North Capitol Main Street, Inc. continues to make strides in promoting local businesses, but will it find itself competing against a suffocating surge in big box, large-scale infill?

Will economic development East of the River under Thomas be focused on a blend of large- and small-scale development, or will bigger continue to be touted as better?

Thomas has proven an ability to work with developers and corporations on large projects. He knows the language of urban design and of Main Street commercial revitalization.

Unfortunately, a disconnect appears to exist between Thomas' advocacy for the bigger players and the smaller operators necessary to foster vital, dense cores in our neighborhoods. As he leads the Committee on Economic Development for the next four years, his actions will speak louder than words, particularly as we work our way out of the current recession.

Without a balance of both local and national retail outlets, small- and large-scale development, we will continue to see big box nodes favored to the detriment of our underutilized retail corridors, and we simply cannot afford that.

History


Washington's Union Stockyards: Getting meat to the capital

Every few decades Americans get curious and then outraged about where their food comes from. In 1906, Upton Sinclair exposed the meatpacking industry's underbelly. Sixty years later, Cesar Chavez opened a window into the exploitation of migrant farm workers. And, at the turn of the 21st century author Michael Pollan and filmmaker Robert Kenner reminded us of the social and environmental consequences of agribusiness.


Cattle grazing at the Soldiers' Home. National Archives photo.

Despite the tremendous amount of information that we have about our food supply, how much do Washingtonians know about how meat ended up on our tables during the city's early history?

Earlier this year PBS aired Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City. As an architectural historian I have long admired Burnham's work. Union Station and the Mall are incredible amenities for folks like myself living in the Washington area. My interest in Burnham, however, goes beyond the architectural and city planning spheres. When he married Chicago Union Stockyards president John B. Sherman's daughter Margaret, Burnham became part of the extended Allerton family, livestock entrepreneurs who profited from the shipment of most of the meat animals shipped into New York City during much of the nineteenth century.

Although Burnham never went into business with his father-in-law beyond his firm's design of Sherman's home and the Chicago Union Stockyards landmark gate, he did benefit from Sherman's Chicago interests and he may have benefited from Sherman's longtime relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad. John B. Sherman (1825-1902) and Samuel W. Allerton Jr. (1828-1914) were cousins whose families had been in business together since the first decade of the nineteenth century. My 2002 article, Hudson River Cowboys: The Origins of Modern Livestock Shipping, looks at some of the Allerton family's business genealogy and my forthcoming article on the East Liberty Stockyards (Western Pennsylvania History, Winter 2010) expands on the Allerton and Sherman firms.


Chicago Union Stockyards entrance designed by Daniel H. Burnham, c. 1875. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

But back to Burnham and to Washington. Burnham in 1901 was hired by the McMillan Commission in its efforts to recreate the federal city envisioned by Peter L'Enfant and remove noisome nuisances like the Pennsylvania Railroad station from the Mall. Prior to the implementation of the McMillan Plan, the National Mall was bisected by railroad tracks and open sewers euphemistically called canals. To achieve the McMillan Plan's goals towards becoming the City Beautiful, the nuisances had to go. Nearly 40 years after Burnham brought the City Beautiful to Washington, his ideals were deployed by advocates seeking to rid the District of Columbia of the business dominated by Margaret Sherman Burnham's family.

Before the McMillan Plan and later efforts to sanitize Washington's gritty urban landscape by clearing out alley dwellings and the wholesale involuntary relocation of entire communities, Washington had a vibrant industrial landscape interspersed with its federal buildings and emerging residential neighborhoods. Lost among the many histories of Washington's urban fabric are the agricultural industries that thrived within the city.

Large working farms, like the Soldier's Home (later the Armed Forces Retirement Home), raised cattle and vegetables within the city limits. Cattle, hogs, and sheep were driven into the city on turnpikes and concentrated in drove yards like the Drover's Rest in Georgetown, on the Mall, and on Capitol Hill. The animals driven to Washington's drove yards were killed in nearby slaughterhouses and sold in the District's markets.


Beef Depot Monument, 1862. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Shows cattle grazing at the foot of the unfinished Washington Monument.

When railroads began carrying the bulk of the nation's meat animals starting in the 1850s, Washington's drove yards followed patterns laid down in other eastern cities and they relocated adjacent to the railroads leading to the city center. For the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, this meant opening drove yards on Capitol Hill along First Street N.E. between North E and F Streets. Unlike its trunkline competitors, the Pennsylvania, the New York Central, and the Erie railroads, the B&O was a latecomer to the livestock business.

Like the other railroads, the B&O outsourced (via valuable contracts) its livestock yarding to professional drovers and livestock entrepreneurs. In Washington, the B&O did business with William E. Clark (1835-1895). Clark was a Pennsylvania native who began managing the B&O drove yards in 1861. Located near the B&O station, the drove yards were little more than impermanent pens where animals were kept before being sold to local butchers; horses and mules that came in on the railroad went to different markets for work in Washington's streets.

The drove yards remained on Capitol Hill through 1877 when the land adjacent to the B&O's Capitol Hill tracks was sold and the operation moved up the line and onto the Metropolitan Branch to Queenstown in what is now the Brookland neighborhood. Throughout the 1870s, Clark and several partners tried to get a charter from Congress to incorporate the "National Drove-Yard Company of the District of Columbia." The company proposed to build a stockyard and market facility complete with pens and scales where all of the District's livestock business could be concentrated.

The 1876 bills to incorporate the business stalled in the Committee on the District of Columbia. For a little more than a decade, the former Queen Farm served as the B&O's livestock depot in the District of Columbia. Beyond livestock market reports, maps, and a former "Drove Yard lane" mentioned in a 1900 volume on Washington trolley trips, little appears to have survived in the historical record regarding the B&O's Queenstown Drove Yards.


Queenstown Drove Yards mapped shortly after they opened in 1878. Atlas of Fifteen Miles Around Washington Including the County of Prince George Maryland, Plate 83.

Since the arrival of the B&O into Washington, the District of Columbia had close ties to Baltimore's livestock and meat-producing industry. With two railroads in the city, the Pennsylvania and the B&O, Baltimore developed two railroad drove yards. The Pennsylvania's was adjacent to that road's Baltimore & Potomac Railroad at Calverton Station west of the city.

The Calverton Drove Yards were first managed by livestock entrepreneur Cary McClelland who had bought up much of the land near the station; later, the yards were run by the Calverton Stock Yards Company. The B&O's drove yards were located at the railroad's main yards at Mount Clare until 1880 and the incorporation of the Baltimore Stock Yard Company of Baltimore County when the yards were shifted west to Claremont. (In 1891, the two companies merged to form the Union Stock Yard Company of Baltimore County and Claremont became Baltimore's principal stockyards.)

By the early 1880s, Alvin N. Bastable (1837-1922), a Virgina native, had begun concentrating all of Baltimore's livestock business. In 1887, Bastable, along with Philadelphia stockyards owner and meatpacker Joseph Martin (Samuel Allerton's partner in the Philadelphia and Jersey City Stockyards and an owner of the Baltimore Union Stock Yards) and Clark, received a corporate charter from the State of New Jersey for the "Union Stock Yard Company" to build and run a fully integrated stockyards and slaughterhouse business in the District of Columbia.

One year later, the Union Stockyards opened next to the B&O and Pennsylvania Railroad tracks south of Benning Road on the east side of the Anacostia River. The new stockyards served both roads. Shortly before they opened, the Pennsylvania Railroad issued these instructions to its freight agents:

General Notice. Hereafter, all shipments of Live Stock For Washington D.C., will be handled at Union Stock Yards, located at Benning's Station, on Baltimore & Potomac Railroad. Agents will forward all shipments of Live Stock destined to Washington D. C. to "Union Stock Yards, Bennings Station, Md."
Four months later, the railroad updated the earlier notice:
Here's the notice that supercedes that notice! All Live Stock, in car loads, (except horses), destined to Wash D.C., will hereafter be receipted for & forwarded to Union Stock Yards. Shipments of horses, in car loads or less, & all other live stock, in less than car loads, will be receipted for & forwarded to Wash. D.C. , unless shippers request delivery at Union Stock Yards, in which case shipments should be sent to Union Stock Yards, Wash D.C. Philadelphia.

Washington Union Stock Yards, c. 1895. U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Over the next four decades the abattoir and stockyards at Benning Station were the District of Columbia's livestock depot and market as well as the District's principal slaughtering facility. Bastable, along with long-established Washington butchers, created several corporations under which several slaughterhouses operated next to the stockyards at the Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue intersection. By the 1920s, trucks began to supplement the rail deliveries of cattle. Farmers from Prince George's County and other parts of Maryland delivered their animals at the stockyards for sale and slaughter. Benning Station was Washington's versionon a much smaller scaleof Chicago's stockyards and Packingtown.


1907 Washington Post advertisement run in the wake of federal investigations done after the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

According to various sources, as much as 75 percent of the dressed meat produced in the District of Columbia originated in the Benning stockyards and slaughterhouses. Before closing, the Benning Station yards handled between 10 and 20 thousand cattle (excluding calves) annually. Hogs during the same period ranged from c. 50 thousand annually to 190 thousand (in 1924 and 1928). In addition to providing the District of Columbia with much of its meat supply, the stockyards and abattoir provided jobs to the men and women living in the adjacent working class neighborhoods of Northeast Washington.

A fire in 1934 swept through the slaughterhouse and subsequent efforts to rebuild it touched off a battle in Congress to outlaw all slaughterhouses, stockyards, and other nuisance industries in the District of Columbia.


T.T. Keane Co. meat delivery truck in Washington. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Officially known as "A Bill to prohibit the use of buildings or premises in the District of Columbia for the carrying on of certain undesirable industries" and dubbed the "Abattoir Bill," Congress held hearings in 1937. If enacted, the law would have banned the manufacture of chemicals (fireworks, gas, glue, and acids), rendering, refining, stockyards, slaughterhouses, and tanneries in the District. Parties as diverse as the American Planning and Civic Association, the American Institute of Architects, the Department of the Interior, and various District community organizations all offered testimony supporting the bill while the meat and livestock industry vigorously opposed the bill. The City Beautiful concept first introduced to Washington by Burnham was front and center in the Abattoir Bill hearings, as suggested by Sen. Patrick McCarren (D-Nev.), chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia:

Washington being the Capital City should be the city beautiful and therefore nothing of this nature, that is heavy industries, industries that have a certain unpleasantness with them, should be permitted to exist within the city.

The 1937 "Abattoir Bill."

While most of the testimony received in 1937 opposed the abattoir and supported the bill, a few local residents sided with representatives from the meatpacking and other industries targeted in the bill. Northeast Washington resident Charles F. Longus, who lived "within two squares of the abattoir," wrote a letter to the Washington Star and a typed copy was included in the evidence reviewed during the 1937 hearings. "I am at a loss to know why this has caused such a stir," he wrote.

As a life-long resident of this place, I think I voice the sentiment of its citizens in saying that during the life of the abattoir it has served the community well. For over 40 years ... the abattoir has been the main place of employment, and I believe the life of every resident of Benning has been touched in some way by the operation of the abattoir. It was formerly run by Kane [sic; it was Keane & Co.], Loeffler and Auth and has employed all along from 50 to 100 men regularly, to say nothing of the part-time employees... I think the residents of Benning should have a say in the matter and I think they will say if opening the abattoir means work, by all means open it.
The Benning Citizens Association also opposed the bill. Identifying themselves as "an organized group of tax payers" who "directly represent a very small majority who would be employed" in the abattoir, they asked the subcommittee members, "As to the nuisance of this abbatoir [sic.], we as residents for years in this area wonder where and when the odors were so great that they carried to the Capitol, as said odors did not orriginate [sic.] in Benning."

After the Abattoir Bill hearings, the District of Columbia revised its zoning law and the slaughterhouse was not rebuilt. Among the principal complaints filed by the federal government was the claim that the stockyards and slaughterhouse imperiled new investments in parkland along the Anacostia and planned public housing projects including Langston Terrace to the west.


Map prepared by the Public Housing Administration showing prevailing wind patterns, the stockyards and abattoir site, and proposed developments. National Archives.

The stockyards business was hemorrhaging money without a slaughterhouse and local market for meat animals. Its operation after the fire and subsequent legal challenges was limited to resting and watering livestock in long-haul trains. In 1940, the House of Representatives held hearings on a bill to acquire the stockyards and slaughterhouse properties. The bill died in committee and within a year the stockyards property was sold. In 1942 the Union Stock Yard Company was dissolved.


Washington Union Stockyards, c. 1937. National Archives photo.

The McMillan Plan changed Washington's landscape with the implementation of Burnham's City Beautiful ideal. Throughout the twentieth century, efforts like the 1937 Abattoir Bill sought to fully sanitize Washington's urban fabric. This cleansing, it appears, extends to the historical record. Recent histories of Northeast Washington's Brookland and Deanwood neighborhoods fail to mention the once lively, albeit malodorous, livestock and meat-producing industries that once thrived in those neighborhoods and along their margins. For Washington's historical record to be complete, historians must embrace the city's unpleasant offallike the city's nuisance industriesand incorporate it into the rich neighborhood histories being written for academic and popular audiences.


Former Washington Union Stockyards site, August 2010.

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