Posts about Georgetown
Ghosts of DC found a great map from the Library of Congress archives. It shows the property values of each block in DC in 1879.
Matt Yglesias noticed and pointed out that it shows a time when Logan and Shaw were more expensive than Georgetown.
Actually, the blocks around Logan and the Shaw blocks to the east don't appear to have that much more of an concentration of darker blocks than Georgetown. But it is true that this map likely captures the moment when Georgetown slowly started to slip behind the rest of the city in terms of economic status.
This is a fact that many are familiar with. Starting in the late 19th century Georgetown became somewhat of an Irish and African-American slum (although sometimes this is a bit overstated). It's reputation grew as a rougher part of town through the early 20th century. In the 1930s, Georgetown became one of the first "gentrified" neighborhoods in DC when New Dealers swooped in and bought up the old houses. The rest is history.
While the early 20th century brought poverty to Georgetown, in 1879 it wasn't necessarily clear that that was the future. Georgetown had only just been an independent city eight years prior (actually it was briefly known as "West Washington" at this point). And the governor of DC (during its brief territorial status) Henry Cooke thought it wise to construct his grand Cooke's Row of Second Empire mansions in 1868.
Perhaps it was the Panic of 1879 (which hit Cooke personally due to his widespread real estate speculation) that started Georgetown's decline, but it is more likely the rise of the railroad and the related decline of the canal.
But looking at the map you can see that the biggest concentration of expensive real estate at this point was what is now considered downtown (and probably remains the most expensive land in DC). Soon after this map was created, the Kalorama neighborhood was created and attracted the wealthy. By the 1890s, Georgetowners worried about getting cut off from the happening parts of DC and lobbied to have the Dumbarton Bridge built.
If you were to draft this map again in the 1920s, the differences would be starker. With robber barons building gilded age palaces on Massachusetts Ave. Georgetown found itself on the wrong side of the creek.
One final note: As I said, the slum status of Georgetown in the 20th century is sometimes overstated. There were pockets of deep poverty, including the "Holy Hill" Irish neighborhood in west Georgetown, the "Herring Hill" African American neighborhood on the east side, and scattered decrepit alley dwellings in lower Georgetown.
But the grand estates of Georgetown were still around. Tudor Place, Evermay, Dumbarton Oaks, and Halcyon (not to mention scores of lesser grand homes) all coexisted with the slummier sections of Georgetown.
Of course even today, we have people living in structures built for animals right next to luxurious houses. But they paid millions of dollars for the privilege.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
Last month, a consortium of investors, including the Levy Group and Four Seasons, won the auction to purchase the historic West Heating Plant on 29th Street in Georgetown. The future of the building is now in doubt, but is it worth saving as is?
No formal plans have been presented by the winning group, but you can read between the lines of their few public statements. Most tellingly, a letter from the Zoning Administrator to the group's lawyer discussed the general proposal to tear down most of the building. The request asked what the zoning implications would be to keep the 29th Street façade but tear down most of the rest of the building.
Some, like myself, think the entire building is worth saving. It's a striking example of a austere Art Deco style in a city mostly untouched by that style. The front façade, (which the group seems likely to keep anyway) is a muscular and monolithic edifice, that is detailed with a precise yet delicate brickwork borders:
The rest of the building carries on that muscular hulk:
But the problem is, there is simply no way to get natural light into the building as it is currently structured.
Yes, there are eight long windows on the north and south sides, but behind each window is a giant steel frame blocking the light. The frames are structural, so they cannot be easily removed.
I have seen some plans (not from the winning group) calling for a giant atrium to bring light in, but that would limit the roof usage and remove a good deal of square footage within the building.
Some simply think people like me are nuts and that the building is an eyesore. The very traits I find appealing can be just as easily seen as looming and oppressive.
What do you think? Should the new owners be forced to save all four façades? Or should they be allowed to tear down most of the building and simply keep the 29th Street side?
Click here for more pictures of the building.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
Should the streetcar run on K Street through downtown in both directions? Just one and on I Street the other? Along the waterfront or on M Street in Georgetown? Or should it be a bus instead?
At an open house-format public meeting last night, DDOT officials and consultants were available to answer questions about 3 alternatives they have devised for "premium transit" from Union Station to Georgetown: a streetcar in the median of K Street, a bus in the median, or a streetcar in the median eastbound but on I Street westbound.
Each alternative assumes that DC builds the "K Street transitway," a project to move the medians inward so there is a dedicated transit lane in each direction in the center of the road, plus 3 general lanes (2 plus parking off-peak) on each side.
On the middle part of K Street, Alternative 1, the streetcar in the median, seems the clear winner. Rapid buses are indeed a mode DC needs more of, but here, there will already be a streetcar from H Street ending at Union Station. Extending the streetcar is obvious.
The team is likely only looking at rapid bus because of Federal Transit Administration requirements that a study consider multiple modes, even when looking at extending an existing transit line. (The Federal Highway Administration does not require every highway study to include an option for something other than roadway lanes.)
I jokingly asked one of the designers where the elevated gondola or helicopter-shuttle alternatives were; he replied in complete seriousness that at many of these, people ask why they didn't consider monorail.
As for the one-way pair, this also makes little sense here. In general, splitting transit on adjacent one-way streets is not ideal; as Jarrett Walker explains, it reduces the number of people within a set walking distance of each direction. Here, in particular, there will be a 2-way median transitway on K Street.
One big question is how the transitway will also work with buses. The plans for the transitway call for moving the Circulator and many local buses into the transitway, but they stop more often. Will that back up the streetcar? It won't be able to go around a bus that stops every block, unless DDOT switches back to the other, 3-lane transitway option.
WMATA is studying dedicated bus lanes on H and I Streets; it might be most appropriate to keep moving forward on those, with an eye toward many buses going there. On the other hand, if DC is building a whole transitway, it also makes sense to maximize its use.
There's more to discuss about the ends of the lines. One streetcar option just has the line staying on H Street until New Jersey Avenue, when it would move up to K; the other option would use North Capitol to jog southward to Massachusetts Avenue. This gets a streetcar station a little closer to the Metro and nearer Union Station's front door. Most likely, this is not worthwhile, since it will take extra time; also, one day Union Station will hopefully have an attractive entrance on H Street.
In the west, there are options to cross under Washington Circle and then travel onto Water Street, under the Whitehurst, or to go up Pennsylvania to M Street in Georgetown. The study doesn't explicitly consider how or whether to connect the streetcar to Georgetown University, Wisconsin Avenue, Rosslyn, or other places from there.
All of the boards from the meeting are online, including a lot more information about the lane configurations at stations, other alignments DDOT considered, and more.
This is a good time also to take a look back at this video from 3 years ago envisioning the K Street streetcar. ZGF Architects made it for the Downtown BID and DDOT, and ZGF is part of the team for this study.
What option do you think is best?
Upset Georgetown residents are challenging a 2012 traffic calming project in Glover Park. They say it has lengthened their car commutes through that adjacent neighborhood. Monday, these residents will air their frustrations at an extraordinary Georgetown ANC meeting with Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh and DDOT Director Terry Bellamy.
The idea for traffic calming project began years ago. The Glover Park ANC, after hearing constituents bemoan the state of retail in Glover Park, complained to the city about their commercial district's struggles.
The Office of Planning studied the area in 2006. That report found that cars speed through Glover Park, particularly going downhill on Wisconsin, which makes it dangerous to the pedestrians who patronize Glover Park businesses.
2-3 pedestrians are struck each year on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. In fact, after a driver hit a Georgetown woman and her dog in Glover Park, commissioner Ed Solomon of the Georgetown ANC said, "I would hope that this accident would result in a comprehensive review on the safety concerns that this community has about this section of Wisconsin Avenue."
It's precisely this hostile pedestrian environment, concluded the Office of Planning, that reduces pedestrian traffic to retailers in Glover Park.
DDOT concludes median could reduce congestion and boost pedestrian safety
The Glover Park ANC then asked DDOT in 2009 for a follow-up study about making Glover Park more welcoming for pedestrians. DDOT collected tons of data on traffic at all times of day and days of the week, and reached some interesting conclusions.
The data showed that Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park actually suffers from both congestion and speeding, due to the many left turns. When drivers are turning left they block the lanes and cause congestion; when they don't, people speed and pedestrians are at risk.
DDOT's engineering models showed that adding a middle left-turn lane would both reduce congestion and also speeding. It would calm traffic (with a single through lane) and eliminate left-turn lane blocking (with the turn lane). The models estimated that the project would not change the time to drive though Glover Park.
Officals presented these results at numerous public meetings. Anyone who was remotely involved in civic affairs by reading public meeting notices, attending ANC meetings, or talking to their ANC commissioners knew about it.
Changes aren't complete
DDOT then began the construction, and some residents in Glover Park and Georgetown complained about traffic spilling over into adjacent neighborhood streets. That was a legitimate complaint, and there is a poorly-designed intersection at 37th & Tunlaw that invites drivers to cut through adjacent neighborhood streets.
Fortunately, DDOT's study had a recommendation for that. It suggested reconfiguring 37th and Tunlaw to calm traffic and reduce cut-through traffic. That project is not done yet; it's scheduled to be completed in March.
The construction on Wisconsin, however, largely finished early this year, but the center median containing the left-turn lanes is only painted for now. That's because DDOT is spending a year measuring the results and tweaking different things like light timing, enforcement, and so on.
Changes already help some pedestrians, frustrate some drivers
Pedestrians are already feeling the benefits. It's far less stressful crossing and walking along Wisconsin Avenue. Families with children in particular report less anxiety about walking around Glover Park to popular destinations like the Guy Mason playground and area restaurants.
When the year of tweaks and study ends, DDOT will replace the painted medians between the left-turn areas with raised medians. This will be even better for pedestrian activity, because crossing Wisconsin Avenue will be safer and less threatening with a central raised median.
However, a vocal minority of drivers who prioritize a few seconds of driving time over pedestrian safety have won their first battle to reverse this project. They have secured an audience with two Councilmembers and the DDOT Director at Monday's Georgetown ANC meeting.
DDOT Program Manager Paul Hoffman says that "early returns" of data collection indicate that through time is the same for drivers headed north through Glover Park, but 30 seconds longer on average going south.
If the opponents are successful in repaving Wisconsin Avenue to add the lost through lanes, DC will not only have to pay for the repaving. We will have to pay the federal government back for the money it contributed to the project.
Use the form below and attend Monday's meeting to ask the councilmembers and Georgetown ANC commissioners to give the Glover Park traffic calming project time to succeed. The ANC meeting takes place on Monday, March 4, 6:30 pm at Georgetown Visitation School on 35th Street and Volta Place. The meeting is on the 2nd floor of the main building, in the Heritage Room.
Speak up for safety
Whether you care about parking, bicycling, walking, or all three, in DC, Maryland, or Virginia, there are some important events coming up, from a parking meeting tonight in Georgetown to a forum on upcounty Montgomery pedestrian safety to a bike rally in Richmond.
Talk parking in Georgetown: Tonight (Wednesday, January 16) is a Georgetown community meeting about parking. Topher Mathews reports Georgetown is likely to get some form of performance parking, but before it does, leaders want to hear from residents about their parking needs and desires. The meeting starts at 6:30 at Hardy Middle School.
Make walkable neighborhoods for everyone: Many DC neighborhoods like H Street are becoming desirable, walkable places, but also increasingly unaffordable for many. How can we ensure these places serve everyone, including long-time residents, rather than one small segment of the population?
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the most influential smart growth group in the Washington region, organized a panel with Chris Leinberger of Brookings, David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute's Ed Lazere. It's Tuesday, January 22, 6:30-8:30 (with some refreshments beginning at 6) at NCPC, 401 9th St NW, suite 500 North. RSVP here.
Talk pedestrians in upcounty: After a spate of pedestrian injuries and deaths in upcounty Montgomery, the Action Committee for Transit put together a forum on pedestrian safety at the Germantown Public Library, 2-4 pm on Saturday, January 26. Barbara McCann from the National Complete Streets Coalition will talk about the area's pedestrian safety problems and possible solutions.
Support biking in DC, Maryland: WABA is inviting folks to its offices on Wednesday, January 23 to talk about bicycle planning in DC and Maryland. The MoveDC initiative and a transportation planning process in Maryland will be collecting a lot of public input.
Stop by WABA's offices in Adams Morgan, 2599 Ontario Road NW, between 5:30 and 9:30 to talk with WABA staff and fellow cycling advocates about how to best weigh in during these processes and what to say when you do.
Support biking in Virginia: In the Commonwealth, the biggest bicycling issues are in the state legislature, where advocates are pushing for 6 specific bills that will make roads safer for cyclists. They are organizing a Bicycling Action Day in Richmond on Tuesday, January 29, starting at 10:30 at the "compass" plaza at Virginia Commonwealth University, followed by a bicycle ride to the state capitol for a rally.
Zoning update! And don't forget the Ward 4 zoning update information session, 6:30 tonight (again, Wednesday
On Thursday, residents from all across the city asked the National Park Service to do better for DC, and praised the progress NPS has made this year, at a town hall meeting from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
If you didn't get to attend, you'll have another chance to talk to park superintendents about DC parks at another event NPS is organizing on November 13.
At the town hall, Norton noted that the Park Service has very little money and the climate in Congress isn't likely to fund them any better anytime soon; if anything, there might be more cuts. That will exacerbate the huge maintenance backlog at the National Mall and many problems at smaller parks, like at Fort Dupont, where a reasident of Ward 7 said NPS hasn't fixed a deteriorating roadway for years.
But many other people brought up issues that won't require more federal money.
Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids said that 6 months after NPS officials promised to help give the District jurisdiction over a small parcel so it could build a playground, and after Tommy Wells put money into the budget for such a playground, nothing has happened on the Park Service side.
The organizer of a youth sports league said that playing fields in Anacostia Park are in terrible shape. They'd be happy to fix the field themselves if they can become a partner for that park. Joe Sternlieb, the new head of the Georgetown BID, said they'd be happy to do more to remove graffiti at the C&O Canal but need NPS permission.
Rick Reinhard, Deputy Executive Director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, had a very cogent statement about the need for funding, its progress and challenges on partnerships, and its frustrations with rules that make it very difficult to program downtown parks.
In 1997, our buildings, our streets and sidewalks and our parks all were unexceptional-- a 3 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Today, our buildings are an 8 or 9, our streets and sidewalks are a 6 or 7. Our parks are still a 3. Why? Mainly lack of investment. The NPS budget does not allow the [34 National Park Service parks and reservations in the one-square-mile Downtown BID] to be designed, built, maintained or programmed any of us would choose.You can read the complete statement.
NPS is handcuffed to run its urban parks using the same rules they use to run Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Everglades. The same regulations that work so well to protect moose, redwoods and crocodiles work much less effectively to promote playgrounds, concerts and family picnics.
Permits are required for small, what should be spontaneous events. Sponsorship banners are so limited as to be practically prohibited. Food service is limited to the National Mall concessionaire, who finds it not profitable enough to operate a small food cart in, say, McPherson Square, when it is selling thousands of hot dogs on the Mall.
When the Downtown BID worked with the Willard Intercontinental Hotel to promote a simple art fair in Pershing Park, NPS red tape strangled it. One example: artists could sell only art that was materially connected to the theme of the park, like portraits of General Pershing.
Sidewalk cafes are next to impossible to site legally on NPS-controlled Pennsylvania Avenue. So while the number of sidewalk cafes within the BID area has grown over the past 15 years from zero to 147
— with 4,400 seats — the number of sidewalk cafes on Pennsylvania Avenue — which should be one of America's greatest, liveliest streets — is only four.
Local NPS officials understand these problems and do not want to manage this way, but rules are rules.
If NPS is not appropriated enough money, and if NPS has inflexible rules, then the only way our parks ever will be what we deserve is through forging serious, meaningful partnerships.
We offer sincere compliments to Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Mall Superintendent Bob Vogel, Deputy Superintendents Steve Lorenzetti and Karen Cucurullo and their staffs. We have moved ahead on these important issues more in the past couple of years than we have in the decade before, because these men and women understand that these parks not only must respect history and serve our nation but also must be enjoyed day-to-day and serve our residents, workers and visitors.
The Downtown BID wholeheartedly endorses Secretary Salazar's call for a new way of managing NPS' urban space inventory, which includes all of Downtown DC's green spaces. Our hope is that our most recent experiences constitute a new way for DC to work with NPS going forward, and are not exceptions to the rule.
At the meeting, NPS regional head Steve Whitesell announced that the agency was planning its own town hall as well to hear from even more residents. That event will be Tuesday, November 13, 6:30-8:30 pm at the African-American Civil War Museum, 1925 Vermont Avenue NW, right by the east entrance to the U Street Metro.
5 area park superintendents will be there to talk with residents: Bob Vogel of National Mall and Memorial Parks (the Mall plus most nearby small parks), Alex Romero of National Capital Parks-East (generally everything east of the Capitol and also east of the Anacostia), Tara Morrison from Rock Creek (which includes small parks outside the L'Enfant city in Northwest), the C&O Canal's Kevin Brandt, and Ann Bowman Smith who works with the White House to manage "President's Park," the White House itself and surrounding grounds.
This is an important opportunity to bring important issues directly to the people in charge. NPS isn't going to make parks safer to walk and bike, or enjoyable for sitting and eating, or more active for daytime and evening activities, unless people personally ask them to. The more residents ask for these things, the more we will get them. Mark your calendars!
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