Posts about Ward 8
Among all of the new DC public libraries, the Bellevue and Francis Gregory branches east of the river have the strongest design. Without sacrificing functionality and accessibility, they put sophisticated works of architecture in historically underserved neighborhoods. But photos don't tell the whole story. You have to go see them yourself.
Designed by British architect David Adjaye, who's also designing the Museum of African-American History and Culture, the libraries are a reminder that it's possible for a work of world-class architecture to also be a comfortable third place.
When the first renderings of the new libraries were published, I was unimpressed by them. But after a day-long excursion to see all of the libraries built under the tenure of library director Ginnie Cooper, I have to admit that I was surprised at how brilliant Bellevue and Francis Gregory are.
Unlike the new libraries at Benning, Anacostia, Tenleytown, and Shaw, which were designed by Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond, Adjaye's libraries don't have an immediately recognizable, iconic look.
They're both fairly straightforward. Bellevue Library is a box pierced with skylight shafts and a few large "pods" in front. Francis Gregory library is a diamond-patterned box, filled with blocks to divide the space. What distinguishes them is how Adjaye and associate architect, Wiencek+Associates, divide the spaces with layers of books, glass, and glossy surfaces that produce a warm, flexible environment.
Both libraries use glass to interact with the street
Glass is an important part of Adjaye's recent projects, like the Moscow's Skolkovo School of Management, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, or the Whitechapel Idea Store in London, which like Bellevue and Gregory is a library in an inner-city neighborhood.
Adjaye doesn't use glass to erase a building's form like so many modern office buildings. Although the architects typically want the building to be transparent, minimizing the difference between outside and inside, this effect only works under the right light. Otherwise it's a mirror or it's so dark you can't see the building. This is why we see so many depictions at the twilight "rendering hour." Dusk is the only time when, because the interior of a building is as bright as the exterior, the glass disappears.
Instead, Adjaye uses what are usually undesirable reflections to multiply the sensation of the building's surroundings. Viewing the Gregory Library from dead on, the alternating diamonds of gray mirror and clear glass playfully juxtapose reflections of the neighborhood with views of the interior.
Moving to the side, the reflectivity of the clear glass increases, and the diamonds, the walls, and the building disappear more and more into its wooded site, leaving a steel canopy soaring above a symmetrical forest. In the back, the building disappears. In the front, inside and outside are superimposed on each other, reminding viewers that both are public spaces.
The Bellevue Library has a stronger street presence, but it still plays with openness and transparency. Its glass facade creates a relationship between the interior and the street. Adjaye placed windows to provide clear views out to the sidewalk. Outside, glulam beams, a kind of timber, help screen the interior and heighten the transparency by cutting glare on the windows.
Like a sidewalk cafe, Bellevue's front room "pods" become wonderful places to observe city life while feeling comfortably separate from it.
Inside, reflective surfaces create a sense of place
Inside the Bellevue Library, the wide-open spaces are divided by different-colored sheets of glass that reflect and distort views. Black glass hides the bathrooms on the first floor, while upstairs, dark yellow glazing hides the glare from a skylight. Through the glass partitions you can see to the other end of the library, through several sheets of glass. However, because each pane is also reflecting its surroundings, you see transparent images of the space you're in, with other reflections giving readers the feeling of being in an intimate, private room.
Dark, reflective walls also add to both libraries' sense of place. They use the well-worn trick of implying space behind the wall's surface, "opening it up," while avoiding the hokiness of an optical mirror. They bring light in from outside, and mix it with the colors of the room they contain.
Both the dark walls and the translucent glass let readers sense their surroundings, but loosen the figure of reflected individuals. A viewer can perceive a presence without having to worry about staring or even looking up. To have that kind of casual awareness while focusing on a book felt very relaxing.
However, the most astonishing use of reflective surfaces is in the story room at the Gregory Library. Physically, it's just an oval room bounded by walls of vertical lumber. Every other piece is removed at a child's eye level and the resulting slots are painted gloss black. Within the wall reflect in the trees, books, and structure through drawing in street scenes. As you move around, the angles change and the reflections move and blur, like you're animating them.
See buildings in real-life, not renderings
Neither the Bellevue or Gregory libraries have a "wow" moment. They are very much about the experience of individuals in the spaces the building creates. Because the architecture relies on a person's physical presence, it's hard to understand through a photograph. In fact, the images I've seen are less beautiful than the ambiance of the building.
In 2013, architecture is seen mostly through carefully curated images. An architect's largest audience is often on the web, who will consume and discard architecture through images. Renderings, because they look almost real, can be the most misleading. This emphasis on the photograph feeds back on itself to aggravate a fixation on "iconic" buildings, whose memorable images can be telegraphed around the world and recognized instantly.
But the people who are most affected by a work of architecture, whether positively or negatively, are the ones who live with the building. Dramatic architectural gestures are only so relevant to the creation of great urban spaces. Often, they're detrimental to to the sense of place.
More than anything, Adjaye's buildings remind me that to understand a work of architecture, you have to visit it. The basic architectural elements of space, program, and material are so interrelated that the quality of the buildings is impossible to capture. Don't trust me, and don't try to form an opinion during your lunch break. Go east of the river and see for yourself.
Cross-posted on цarьchitect.
A recent blitzkrieg of laudatory media reports have focused on Anacostia's residential market and arts scene. But new home signs dot vacant lots and hang from empty buildings. And store after store continues to close.
Along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Historic Anacostia are green signs announcing a "PUBLIC NOTICE OF A ZONING PROPOSAL" that has been 5 years in the making. Is it a new day in Anacostia? To find out, community activist William Alston-El and I took to the streets to visit our old haunts and investigate new leads.
"The neighborhood is changing, yeah, I can say that," Alston-El, a 45-year resident of Anacostia, says without any hint of derision. "But people aren't telling the real truth of what's going on. The real story isn't being told."
Fendall Heights Abandominiums
For 3 years, a banner has hung from the side of the Fendall Heights Condominiums on V Street SE, a short walk from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, announcing "1 & 2 BEDROOMS" with granite counter tops and hardwood floors starting at $125,000. Back in the summer of 2010, the project's 29 units were heralded as Ward 8's first "green" condos.
With financial support from the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities, Department of Housing and Community Development, and US Department of Energy, ARCH Development Corporation, along with a community partner, used construction trainees from the "Arch Training Center" to rehabilitate the building. (Although "Arch Training Center" is acknowledged on the banner, the organization "was dissolved 2 years ago," according to Nikki Peele, Director of Business Marketing for the ARCH Development Corporation.)
Real estate agents from as far away as Frederick and Leesburg listed units for prices as high as $225,000 and $240,000. Consequently, nobody bought in to the four-story Art Deco building, built during the 2nd World War.
According to tax records, the property was sold last month for an undisclosed sum to SCATTERED SITE II LLC. In March, the City Council advanced a $4,780,000 loan at terms of 2% over 40 years from the Housing Production Trust Fund to "Scattered Site LLC" to pay off construction loans and renovate 2 apartment buildings located at 523-525 Mellon Street, SE and 216 New York Avenue-1151 New Jersey Avenue, NW.
According to the contract, the renovated apartment buildings will contain a total of 68 units "affordable to and rented exclusively to extremely low income households with incomes not to exceed 30% of the area median income." It's fair to conclude that the Fendall Heights Abandominiums, which did not draw market rate investment 3 years ago, will now become affordable housing units.
Over the past year, Alston-El and I have stopped by the property multiple times. A couple weeks ago we found the front door open. The leasing office had a desk, computer, phone, and filing cabinet, although there was no evidence anyone had signed a lease yet. Doors to units on the ground floor were wide open, and we found them to be as advertised on the banner. Water even ran from the faucet.
The property's 2014 proposed tax value of $3,799,620, up from $3,681,940 in 2013, is surely justified. Now, if it could only find tenants.
"Something is seriously awry when ARCH lets something go," says Rev. Oliver "OJ" Johnson, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former board member for the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation. Johnson has been critical of the "ARCH" brand since the 1980's, when Pepco formed the ARCH Training Center in response to complaints that they weren't hiring local residents.
"This is an investigative matter," Johnson says. "This type of practice has gone on for years and years. The city has a major role in convoluting these types of projects. It becomes a maze to find how the city deploys money and through what sources it deploys money. If you follow the money, you'll find the truth."
Alston-El says the main reason for Fendall Heights' failure is more mundane than financial mismanagement. "They have to change Fendall Street," he says. "It's a one-way and you can't make it out of Dodge without going down V Street towards 16th Street then out to Good Hope. They have to go past the drugs to get outta here. Yep, folk aren't going for that."
The bricked and boarded-up buildings around the corner at 1644-1648 V Street SE didn't help, either. There's no banner here, just graffiti in green spray paint letting everyone know that "MONEY GANG J.R. $" was here.
According to city tax records, "ARCH TRAINING INC" acquired the property in June 1999 and have owned it since. Though DC is supposed to tax the vacant and blighted buildings at the Class 4 "Blighted real property" rate of $10 per $100 of assessed value, intended to discourage owners from letting their properties go, the buildings are instead taxed at the lower "001 - Residential," rate of $0.85 per $100 of assessed value. In 2013, the city assessed the eyesore at $489,000 in 2013 with a proposed new 2014 value of $499,200.
Property Record for the blighted buildings at 1644 - 1648 V Street SE, owned by "ARCH TRAINING CENTER," taxed incorrectly at the Class 1 Residential Rate.
13th & W Street SE
Across the street from 19th century Italianate rowhouses is a vacant lot at the northwest corner of 13th & W Street SE, just steps from an abandoned Quonset hut that once housed a "filthy" community health clinic.
Until this spring, a "COMING SOON!" sign advertising "LUXURIOUS TOWNS & CONDOMINIUMS From the 200's" was the only thing standing on the lot. Now it's gone, priority registration closed for the moment.
The "COMING SOON!" sign at 13th & W Street SE advertising "LUXURIOUS TOWNS & CONDOMINIUMS From the 200's" is now gone.
It's easy to see, and media reports have confirmed, that many of the neighborhood's historic single-family homes have been bought and slowly rehabbed over the past two years. However, the future of this corner, a rock's throw from the Frederick Douglass home, is the bellwether of Anacostia's revitalization.
After years of starts and stops, with each turn generating interest and enthusiasm from within and outside Anacostia, the project will have to start all over again as the development's zoning approval has expired.
Retail awaits while social services entrench
In Anacostia, the 1st of the month presents heavy foot traffic for check cashing outfits and a ripe opportunity for the criminal-minded. According to a neighborhood source, the Gold Spot on 2216 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, a couple doors from the former Uniontown Bar & Grill, was stuck up for $20,000 on March 1st.
After the robbery, Metropolitan Police Department Commander Robin Hoey gave a report on the 7th District listserv. "Earlier this week a lone gunman entered the Goldspot as an employee was opening the business and robbed the establishment of an undisclosed amount of money," he wrote. "There were no injuries. The event was caught on video tape and the 7th district detectives are currently investigating. its [sic] looks very promising and I will advise further as the case proceeds."
Within a matter of weeks, Gold Spot, which recently got a new awning financed by Western Union, left the neighborhood after nearly 20 years. In response to an inquiry Monday on the current status of the investigation, Commander Hoey wrote, "We served some search warrants and have identified strong persons of interest."
There was no mention of the unsolved robbery on a 2-minute segment Fox 5 ran last week promoting Anacostia's residential stock and retail. "There are a number of factors attracting folks to Southeast," the feature boasted. "Improved roadways leading to this part of the city, grocery stores, restaurants and even government buildings."
Uniontown Bar & Grill has been closed for nearly a year, though the new owners are applying for a liquor license. The Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket on Good Hope Road has been closed for months. Renae's Flower Shop at 1924 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE closed, and the city-owned Big K Site won't be sold off until late next year. The newest shop to open in Anacostia is a thrift store.
And a social service provider will open in an old furniture store that many hoped would become the neighborhood's incarnation of Busboys & Poets. On December 27, 2012, the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC) purchased the store at 2006 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE for $2.195 million.
In 2011, the "oversaturation" of social services was a rallying cry for Anacostians. A women's shelter quietly opened on Good Hope Road SE after neighbors aggressively protested it. With this in mind, the FSFSC has moved cautiously, some believe secretly.
"Our goal is for this building to be a benefit to the Ward 8 community," Dionne T. Reeder, Community Engagement Director for FSFSC, wrote in an email to a small group of neighborhood leaders on January 31st. "We are hosting several discussions with our neighbors. We are inviting many residents from your neighborhood and are planning small meetings so please do not forward this email to other community residents. We have consulted with your ANC Commissions and community leaders who have provided us with a list of residents to begin our discussion."
Former space of Fireside Restaurant, 2028 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, has been vacant for more than a year.
Despite favorable press coverage for the area's nascent arts scene, notably the opening of the long-delayed Anacostia Playhouse this summer, the market forces of Anacostia's retail have driven the economy to reliance on government transfer payments.
However, according to a report by the Post's Mike DeBonis, as a result of Chartered Health Plan's "dissolution," small health care providers that serve over 100,000 low-income city residents are facing paralyzing payment deficits. Up and down and around Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road SE are public health clinics that treat drug addiction, HIV-AIDS patients, pain rehabilitation, and diabetes. These facilities face fiscal challenges that could force their closure.
Construction on 1239 Good Hope Road SE was recently reviewed by the Historic Preservation Review Board.
In the meantime, attention in Anacostia continues to focus "on the newest and shiniest toy they say they can give us," says Alston-El, referring to an upcoming meeting on the latest plans for the 11th Street Bridge Park Project.
"It's quiet now; nobody's speaking the truth because there are too many distractions going on," he says as we ride down V Street SE to Morris Road SE to meet a friend. "Every week it's something new: one week the streetcar, another week the bridge park, Barry Farm redevelopment, Sheridan Station, the Heritage Trail, you name it. They're keeping us guessing and confused while you got working-class people in this neighborhood, like me, [who] can't find a place to live but you got the Fendall Heights Abandominiums just sitting there."
"No, John, I'm not mad," he adds. "You didn't know? It's a new day in Anacostia. Haven't you been paying attention?"
Perched atop a hill overlooking historic Anacostia, tucked behind a new condominium development is an abandominium from an era the city has left behind and this neighborhood is trying to forget.
From the 1960s until the last decade the Parkway Guest House was a gathering spot for drugs, prostitution and all forms of illegality. During the 1990s it essentially became "a cheap crack hotel," according to activist William Alston-El. "This was the place you could go to die if you wanted to. They had so much drugs up in here it was crazy."
According to tax records, Stanton View Development LLC purchased this abandominium (SSL 5807 0008) and the empty land around it in January 2012 for an even $1,000,000. A placard on the ground announces the coming of 46 new condos at River East at Anacostia Park and encourages folks to reserve their units. The website, however, advertises a less ambitious development that has yet to break ground. For now, this cracked-out abandominium abides, stuck between time awaiting its next guest or demolition.
A look inside the Parkway Guest House
On a recent visit Alston-El and I found the building wide open. As we entered through the front door we found two handwritten notes to the left of the pay window.
One, bearing the date "5-8-97," reads, "Excessive smoke will set off smoke alarms. Anyone caught tampering with these devices will be banned from these premises. Fire dept. Detective The Manager!!" Beneath reads, "NO DRUGS POSSESSION OF DRUGS OR USE OF DRUGS ON OR IN THESE PREMISES IS PROHIBITED NO WARNING MGR." A concentrated layer of dust covers the yellow phone books on the counter. Alston-El picks up a "NO VACANCY" sign.
We move through the house makings odds on which we expect to find more of, drug paraphernalia or antiques. In a back room former guests have left their mark on the wood paneling.
"'Pootah Boo' from that South Side MOB MUGGIN HARD DRIKIN HENNESEY BUSTIN Off the Roof At My enemies Watch em bleed Till Im 6 feet DEEP" was here. So were "Frank & Rita '92" who proclaimed their love by drawing an arrow through a heart and two smiley faces.
Alston-El points to the floor at an empty green drug baggie. "Yep, that's crack. Yeah, this is still the place you can come and do your thing only now it's better, no room fare for an abondominium," he says with a laugh.
Out in the hall a mirror reflects the emptiness and darkness of this place as we move towards the back of the vacant building and past another reception area. The intercom next to the rear door emblazoned with "Parkway Guest House" in black trimmed gold-lettering stopped working years ago. We hit the stairs to rooms 6, 7, and 8.
Upstairs, a narrow hallway leads past three rooms. Much of the ceiling in each is now on the floor. Through the windows, sun refracts off the siding of the Grandview Estates, a 46-unit complex that opened nearly four years ago alongside hopes of local economic regeneration. Further down the hall in room 8, the roof has given in.
"You don't see this sort of craftsmanship anymore," Alston-El says as he unwinds an antique Ruby Red Glass Globe Exit sign from a light fixture above. Were you to follow the exit blindly, you would go out the door and fall to the ground below.
For Anacostia and the surrounding neighborhoods of Hillsdale, Barry Farm, and Ft. Stanton, the initial step towards sustained economic revitalization can be a doozy. The contrast of a new condominium complex filled with young professionals side-by-side with a vacant building equally accessible and dangerous to roving populations of the area's homeless, substance addicts, and prostitutes will continue to be the prevailing paradox east of the river, from Talbert Street SE to Brandywine Street SE, until greater public and private investment is joined by robust citizen activism and wherewithal.
The concentration of abandominiums from single family homes to apartment buildings to the Parkway Guest House presents a portfolio that with the right leadership, partnership and vision presents as much opportunity as challenge. Now that restaurateur Andy Shallal has announced his plans to open new franchises in Takoma and Brookland, it seems a logical location to begin expanding east of the river would be in an abandominium such as the Parkway Guest House.
Two people died in a fire last week in a vacant low-rise apartment building in Fairlawn. Meanwhile, Mayor Gray pledged $100 million towards new affordable housing. The two together present a clarion call for solutions to the housing problems east of the Anacostia River.
Community activist William Alston-El outside of the former Parkway Guest House, 1262 Talbert Street SE. Photos by the author.
"Marion Barry told Gray the only way he's going to get re-elected, if the Feds don't get him first, is if he plays that affordable housing game," said community activist William Alston-El. "But it ain't a game, it's a matter of life and death. His pledge is too late for them two. [Mayor Gray] needs to come out to the neighborhood and see how people on the lower level are living."
Over the past year, Alston-El and I have toured the Anacocostia neighborhood's extensive portfolio of abandominiums. As dangerous as guns, HIV/AIDS, alcohol, and drugs, the accessibility of vacant properties is a public health concern.
What happened at 1704 R Street SE?
Anacostia High School just down the way, a group of women sit with a child on the front stoop of 1706 R Street SE, next door to the boarded-up middle row building, 1704 R Street SE, where a two-alarm fire took the lives of 2 squatters days before. Yellow tape surrounds the scene. Police cruisers idle across the street as we walk by acknowledging their presence.
The smell of smoke and burnt wood is still thick in the air. "It smells like death out here," Alston-El says before explaining his connection to one of the deceased; he boxed with her brother while imprisoned in Lorton. "There aren't too many Toogoods around." We walk around to the alley to investigate.
A large sandy colored cat bounds over a backyard fence and suddenly stops, plopping down in the charred remnants in the rear of 1704 R Street SE. "Get away from here," yells an onsite fire restoration specialist as the feline scurries away. He approaches us and asks our credentials, "We're reporters looking for the truth," Alston-El offers.
At that the man who says he's been "standing next to dead bodies for 10 hours," begins to tell us the circumstances he knows.
"All indications are that the four-apartment building had been modified by the people who had been living here without permission," he says. "The bottom right dwelling, how you got into it, before the fire, was you opened the door but someone took a piece of plywood and sheeted that off from the inside probably for their own protection against someone injuring them while they were sleeping. That became the cause of death.
"When the fire started in this room here, in the back right, and I mean right because everything in construction is discussed facing the front of the building, so when it started in the back right and really started to spread it's really very difficult for the human mind to run through 1,400 degrees."
I ask if the cause of fire is known. "No, that's under investigation. So they didn't have a way out and were overcome by smoke. Passed out. There was no skin injury when we found them they just suffocated from lack of oxygen. The entire inside of the building is 100% unstable. My job is to structurally support the building so they can do an investigation to answer the question you just asked which is, 'How did it start?'"
Reports from the DC Fire Department corroborate the restorationist's details. "After the heavy volume of fire was knocked down, units re-entered the building, where they located two civilian fatalities. Two firefighters were hurt in the early stages of the firefight and taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries."
According to Alston-El, Toogood was an alcoholic with a bad leg and had been living in the abandominium for three years. "No wonder she didn't make it out. Somebody was firing up their drugs, something went wrong and they dipped out leaving that fire behind."
Police have been canvassing the neighborhood seeking information and any eyewitness accounts of a third party fleeing the blaze.
With a housing crisis, buildings should not remain vacant
Mayor Gray made it a priority in his State of the District address to provide more affordable housing. One place to start is to push for action on existing abandoned buildings the city already owns, or where bureaucratic hurdles are blocking owners' progress.
Take the sprawling Bruxton abandominiums at 1700-1720 W Street SE, still owned by the "DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SUITE 317" according to tax records. A sign from the Department of Housing and Community Development announces "No Trespassing or Dumping."
In separate colors someone from the neighborhood has spray painted "FUCK" "CRuddy" just beneath the sign. The winter has slowed the ivy's growth which has begun to cover the banner advertising "spacious" 2 bedroom / 2 bath homes "coming soon."
The District has given affordable housing developer Manna the rights to redevelop the Bruxton, but it remains boarded-up and vacant to this day. A Manna staff member commented in March of last year:
SE Manna, Inc. is committed to making this property part of a vibrant Anacostia community. Manna was awarded the property in 2009 through the District's PADD program and began developing the property as the Buxton Condominium. Along the way, Manna has invested over $300,000 in pre-development costs and has encountered several "speed bumps" those in the affordable housing field would be very familiar with, including:City needs help reporting abandominiums
Manna is currently in compliance with all terms required by DHCD and its private lender, including 9 units pre-sold. The Buxton is awaiting DHCD approval to move forward and we are eager to begin this project, and continue to market the available units to qualified buyers.
- Permitting issues dues to lack of water availability;
- The District's Department of Housing and Community Development terminated our contract on the building, though we were in compliance with all terms. This decision was reversed through the intervention of Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor Hoskins and DHCD Dir. John Hall;
- The units were originally priced from $170,000-$205,000. Manna soon realized that the market in this neighborhood could not bear that price, applied and received funding through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to reduce prices to $95,000-$140,000.
Although the city owns its share of abandominiums or has initiated the long and involved litigious process of getting vacant or blighted properties back into productive use, the greatest number of abandominiums are held by tax delinquents, absentee owners, or dissolved companies.
"Because these vacant properties are privately owned, we are bound by very tight statute on what we can reasonably do," said head of the DC Office of Consumer and Regulatory Afair's Vacant Building Enforcement Division, Reuben Pemberton, respected in Anacostia for his responsiveness and attendance at civic meetings.
Pemberton works with 4 investigators. In order to classify a property as vacant or blighted it has to have two inspections.
"We have a lot of eyes out there in the neighborhood. People can send us an email at email@example.com or call 202-442-4332 to report a property," Pemberton said. DCRA's Vacant Building Enforcement division performed more than 4,200 inspections in fiscal year 2012 and is on schedule to do more than 5,000 this year.
For denizens of the Barry Farm community in Southeast Washington, the 19th century still holds strong at the corner
Zabia Dews, the "Mayor of Barry Farm," outside Charlie's Corner store at the junction of Sumner and Wade Roads SE. Photo by the author.
"Look up at these street names," says Zabia Dews, 63, of the 2700 block of Wade Road SE, pointing to signs above for the junction of Sumner Road SE and Wade Road SE. "There's a history here people don't know about, or they forgot. We can't let it disappear."
The original names remain today: Howard Road SE, which runs past the Anacostia Metro Station, for General Oliver Otis Howard; Sumner Road SE for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner; Wade Road SE for Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade; Pomeroy Road SE for Kansas Senator Samuel Pomeroy, an early member of Howard University's Board of Trustees; and Stevens Road SE for Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, prominently featured in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."
The James Barry farm
In 1801 the board of commissioners of the embryonic capital city wrote to the principal landholders "asking to be furnished with lists of lots sold by them." Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, Notley Young, a prominent plantation owner, and more than a dozen other men including James Barry, "one of the incorporators of the Washington Canal Company," received the letter.
"Mr. Barry was largely invested in business, both foreign and domestic, and he was very zealous as an advocate of the interests of the eastern section of the city, in opposition to the claims of the western section," according to the Records of the Columbia Historical Society.
More than 60 years later, in April 1864, the surveyor of Washington County (all land in the District east of the Potomac, outside of the L'Enfant Plan and Georgetown) was "instructed to stone the new road between the northwest and southwest boundaries of the Barry Farm, known as the Stickfoot Branch road," reported the Daily National Republican.
In September young men were drafted off the farm to fill President Lincoln's call for a half million more Union troops. By now the Barry Farm, across the Eastern Branch from the Washington Navy Yard, was sandwiched between the United States Government Hospital for the Insane (Saint Elizabeths) which saw its first patient in 1855 and Uniontown (Anacostia), the city's first subdivision.
At this time, during the Civil War, the city was brimming with "the floating colored population" of runaway slaves from "Maryland, Virginia, and farther South," according to General Oliver Otis Howard's autobiography. In 1865 Howard became Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, a government agency established to aid freed slaves and their families.
"What would make you self-supporting?" asked Howard.
"Land! Give us land!" several replied.
In the spring of 1867, Howard used $52,000 in Freedmen's Bureau funds to purchase all 375 acres of the Barry Farm. He sold 1- and 2-acre lots. Within 2 years, 266 families called Barry Farm home, including the sons of Frederick Douglass.
Old Barry Farm develops
"The land all the time was constantly inquired for by working freedmen," Howard recalled. "It was taken with avidity, and the monthly payments, with very few exceptions, were promptly and regularly made. The prospect to the freedmen of owning a homestead was a great stimulus to exertion." A schoolhouse for 150 pupils was quickly erected. Barry Farm was a self-sufficient, self-contained community.
An 1894 Hopkins map (plate 34) of Barry Farm shows streets names still in currency today. Photo from the DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division.
Today, Barry Farm is almost exclusively associated with the faded 26-acre Barry Farm Dwellings, a 432-unit (nearly a third vacant) property of the DC Housing Authority. The name association hasn't always been that way, says Dews, known as the "Mayor of Barry Farm" for his familial roots on Wade Road SE for nearly a century and his mentorship of neighborhood youth. "It's been a long time since we've been a tribe. But that's what we were and it's important for the younger generation to know this history."
As the city restarts its redevelopment planning process for Barry Farm Dwellings, at an estimated cost of $400 million over a timeline of two decades, the Barry Farm Resident Council, with assistance from Empower DC and local activists, has communicated to the DC Housing Authority that alongside issues of public safety, displacement and employment, a heritage preservation plan is a key concern. 140 years ago, Barry Farm residents and the city were similarly at odds.
According to the Baltimore Sun's Washington correspondent writing in the summer of 1872, "The board of public works propose to open streets in the village and as the residents there have each a deed of one acre of land for his cottage, they are not disposed to surrender any portion of their homesteads for streets or anything else without compensation." When a contractor "appeared in the village to cut up the lots, he was beset, the horses taken from the street plows, the wagons upset, and the laborers driven away. In the afternoon the work was begun under the protection of the police."
Then as now, self-preservation and kinfolk survival is the indigenous creed of Barry Farm, Dews says. "These street names are what's left of the tribe that represented the hard work and sacrifice necessary to build families and businesses. We need to get back to the old way of living."
Farm vehicles no longer have their own parking privileges in Historic Anacostia. A weathered sign offering them special treatment is now gone; a new perimeter fence and fresh asphalt recently appeared on a site where, in 2008, a developer envisioned a $500-700 million mixed-use project.
Vacant storefronts, social service providers, treatment centers, art galleries, city government agencies, carry-outs and liquor stores, barber shops and beauty salons, cash checking spots and branch banks, small contractors and creative class incubators, a coffeehouse-bar hybrid and a progressive radio station roughly define Anacostia's commercial strip. A flower shop and faded grocery store recently shuttered.
By spring, new management plans to open a restaurant in former Uniontown Bar & Grill space. The Anacostia Playhouse, leaping across the river from H Street NE, will pull back its curtains in a former training center on Shannon Place SE.
Through fits and starts, more than 5 years after President Obama spoke nearby on his way to becoming the first black President (although widely reported as being in Anacostia, Obama spoke at THEARC, a short walk from the Southern Avenue Metro), Ward 8's Anacostia remains on the periphery of the city's economic renewal.
Will the neighborhood, more than 2 decades after its own Metro station opened, finally begin to attract sustained investment this year?
Can new retail take root?
What happens to the former Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket at 14th and Good Hope Road SE will demonstrate if the neighborhood economy can move from government-subsidized service delivery, such as a dialysis center and childcare, to support places of commerce such as a restaurant, bookstore, hardware store and grocery.
The former Yes! Organic Market, now the Fairlawn Market, over on Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Ward 7, has endured many struggles, perpetuating the perception of the area as being a difficult market for retail. (Chipotle turned down free rent in 2010 to serve as the anchor tenant on the ground floor of The Grays, where the Fairlawn Market is.)
Ground zero in historic Anacostia remains Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, the same corner where John Wilkes Booth met Davy Herold on his escape to southern Maryland. In the summer of 2011, renderings were released that teased at the intersection's potential. Since that time, despite the backing of Victor Hoskins, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and other city agency heads, no development of note has happened at the corner.
Stanley Jackson, now head of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, predicted in 2005 when he was Mayor Williams' Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development that Anacostia would be "one of the hottest markets in the city" by now. Not yet.
In 2008 the Department of Housing and Community Development, whose signs adorn dozens of vacant properties in the neighborhood, moved into the $18 million Anacostia Gateway development at the northeast corner of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Initial plans were to relocate the city's Department of Transportation here but that did not materialize.
Anacostia's Business Improvement District is slowly coming to life; the pop-up arts festival LUMEN8Anacostia will return this June and storefront renovations are planned to begin in the coming months. In December of this year will Anacostia's BID have more members than it does now?
1300 block of Valley Place SE; preservation and demolition by neglect
To walk the residential streets of the city's first sub-division is to see up close and personal a shining example of preservation and regeneration next-door to an eyesore of demolition by neglect and neighborhood decay. On the 1300 block of Valley Place SE five homes remain that were developed in the mid-1880s by real estate investor and president of the local streetcar line, Henry A. Griswold.
Over the past few weeks the exterior of 1328 Valley Place SE has been fully renovated, in part through a popular grant program coordinated by the Office of Planning that targets 14 Historic Districts citywide. Next door, 1326 Valley Place SE, is one of the properties DHCD owns. The crumbling building is literally going to seed, as nature attempts to reclaim what's left.
According to tax records, 1326 was sold in 2005 at a foreclosure auction for a throw over $2,000. Local residents provided documents in 2011 from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs indicating that Darwin Trust Properties, LLC acquired the property at that time.
Darwin Trust's CEO was incarcerated while the city pursued legal action against the company under the demolition by neglect statute. Through the litigation, the city was able to get a court order to let DCRA abate the property. After half a decade of further deterioration, the city finally bought the property in a November 2011 foreclosure sale for just under $12,000. According to a 2013 preliminary tax assessment, the land is worth $116,410 and the total value of the property is $118,520.
Based on the valuations alone, the city got a steal, purchasing the property for less than 10 percent of its assessed value. But the time to take advantage of this bargain is running short. The 2013 assessment is down nearly 15% from the 2011 value of $135,900, as the building continues to crumble.
Given the home's historic character, we can hope the city finds a way to restore what's left and continue to rejuvenate this old street in Historic Anacostia.
Keeping a watchful eye on the vacant properties around her youth center, Hannah Hawkins has seen hundreds of squatters come and go in and out of the surrounding abandominiums over the 2 decades she and her volunteers have supported the community from 2263 Mount View Place SE. On a recent morning Hawkins caught a woman going into the Southeast Neighborhood House. Hawkins asked what she was doing. "I'm looking for artifacts," the trespasser announced before Hawkins chased her off.
The portfolio of abondominiums in the neighborhood is well-known both throughout circles of the city's chronic homeless as well as real estate agents, developers and city officials. While housing prices continue to rise across the city, in Anacostia they have remained flat. Abondominiums shelter the homeless and criminal class for free while suppressing property values and property tax revenues for the city.
After demolishing 2228 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE last year, DHCD selected a developer for the Big K site. According to a press release, plans are to "construct a new office building that features commercial and retail space, as well as restore the existing historic houses on the site." Time will tell when this block, first developed by coach painter James Beall in the early 1880s, finally comes back to life.
The real estate site DC Curbed recently featured listings for 8 condos, townhouses and single family homes in the neighborhood and nearby. Asking prices topped out at $229,000 with a low of $43,000 for a condo in Barry Farm.
On the fringes of each end of the Anacostia Historic District are multi-unit residential complexes, the Bruxton Condos and a cluster of 3 vacant apartments on High Sreet SE, whose development has been too long in coming. While most eyes are focused on Anacostia's exterior, its commercial strip, the interior, the integrity of its housing stock, continues to be endangered.
Based on responses the city received at a handful of Ward 8 summits and town halls in recent years, cleaning up existing vacant residential and commercial properties is a top concern of citizens, taking precedent over new development. Multiple reports released over the years by city government and think tanks list strategies to deal with the area's blight, but if there's been any implementation of these methods, the blight largely remains. A 2004 study noted, "The area's combination of natural beauty, waterfront access, transportation resources and cultural heritage is unrivaled in the city, however, it is important as well to note challenges in existing conditions."
Now that the days of old Anacostia's farm vehicles are bygone, can the neighborhood move beyond the limitations of its past and attract new residential and commercial investment?
The Yes! Organic Market in DC's Fairlawn neighborhood has struggled to survive, and Anacostia's only grocery store recently closed. Why can't grocery stores thrive here? Mainly, economics. But one spot could work.
There are many factors that determine the success of a retail enterprise, including marketing, accessibility, visibility, competition, demographics, and location. Yes! Organic may have been difficult to access for westbound drivers, and it could certainly have benefited from an improved outreach campaign, but the fundamental challenge for the store is that it is located in an area with low aggregate income, a result of relatively low household incomes and the presence of relatively few households.
Much of the area around Fairlawn's Yes! is undeveloped (Anacostia Park and River, Fort Dupont Park, etc.), and the developed blocks are low- to medium-density. The graphic above helps illustrate how the purchasing power the store's service area compares with those of other grocery outlets in the city.
The Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket closed its doors because the former owner sold the property. The buyer is optimistic about the site's potential, but in a presentation to the Historic Anacostia Block Association in February of this year, he all but ruled out the possibility of bringing in another grocery store. He said that the potential grocery tenants he spoke with were deterred by the presumed arrival of Walmart at Skyland, just up the street.
Does the eventual presence of two full-service grocery stores at the top of the hill mean that Ward 8's flatland neighborhoods will be forever without their own market? If there is a location best suited for a store to fill the gap, it is at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and Howard Rd SE, immediately adjacent to the Anacostia Metrorail station and Metrobus hub, and the meeting point for the Anacostia, Hillsdale, and Barry Farm neighborhoods.
The ideal, and most feasible, site for new development at this intersection is the vast lot owned by Bethlehem Baptist Church, currently used as parking. It is not uncommon for churches, often major landowners, to develop the land they own for a purpose consistent with their mission.
Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, two blocks from Bethlehem, recently oversaw the development of a new affordable housing complex on one of their parcels. Across town, at 10th and G Streets NW, the First Congregational United Church of Christ was part of a redevelopment team that delivered a new facility for the church on the ground floors of an office building.
Bethlehem Baptist lot. Photo by the author.
By developing their vacant land as housing, office space, or a community or spiritual facility, with ground floor retail including a grocery store to replace the shuttered Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and its pastor Reverend James E. Coates, DC's inaugural Ward 8 councilmember, could cement a legacy in the District while doing a huge service to their neighbors in the heart of Ward 8.
Cross-posted at R. U. Seriousing Me?
WMATA's latest data release confirmed what we already knew: most Metrorail riders take the train from the suburbs into DC. But relatively few ride to the District neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. Where are they coming from and going to?
About 75% of total trips in the AM peak terminate at one of the 42 stations in or immediately adjacent to the District (within 500 feet). Only 2% of these riders, or 1.5% of all trips, get off at one of the 7 stations in or bordering the portion of the District east of the Anacostia River.
Of the more than 3500 riders who make up the numerator of this statistic, 40% get off at Anacostia and 20% at Minnesota Ave, affectionately known as the downtowns of their respective wards (8 and 7). The reason nearly 5 times as many people take the train to Farragut North as to all East of the River stations combined is obvious: Land use.
The Anacostia and Minnesota Ave station areas offer fairly similar non-residential uses, which include a limited number of destinations one would commute to on a weekday morning. Both have a few schools nearby, one relatively new District government office building, a smattering of small retail stores and restaurants, mostly carryout, and a number of light industrial sites.
Anacostia has a couple additional office or medical buildings, while Minnesota Ave boasts a grocery store. For those who do commute to work or school in these neighborhoods, parking is cheap or free, and buses often offer a superior option to rail for those who are traveling between East of the River neighborhoods.
But what about the chosen few who do take Metrorail to these 7 stations? In contrast to the system-wide statistics, 63% of trips ending east of the river originated in DC, 28% in Maryland, and 9% in Virginia. The share coming from the suburbs is certain to increase when the federal Department of Homeland Security campus at Saint Elizabeths is completed.
Interestingly, 9% of riders traveling East of the River boarded at the Columbia Heights or Georgia Avenue-Petworth stations. Without additional data, one can only hypothesize why so many people (relatively) are making this specific commute. One driver may be the schools. For example, Thurgood Marshall Academy, a high performing public charter high school across the street from the Anacostia metro station, draws students and teachers from all over the city.
Perhaps WMATA could release a subset of their data showing trips made with discounted student passes? That would make it possible to further explore this hypothesis.
Cross-posted at R.U. Seriousing Me?
- The war on Dana Milbank's car
- Two maps that explain what DC might look like as a state
- Have you been "walkblocked"? Are you "zonely"? New terms sprout in the urbanist lexicon
- David Catania's platform supports Metro, streetcars, bus lanes, bike lanes, transit-oriented development, and more
- Red paint keeps drivers out of San Francisco's bus lanes
- This German city's monorail redefines river transportation
- Gehry trims Eisenhower Memorial tapestries