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Posts about East Of The River


Ward 8's Parklands a model for neighborhood revitalization

As the federal government returns control of St. Elizabeths East and Walter Reed to the DC government, the District has an opportunity to re-envision those neighborhoods. The Parklands in Ward 8, a neighborhood that has seen dramatic improvement over the last 2 decades, offers a successful model of equitable development.

Photo by DG-rad on Flickr.

The Parklands succeeded with a combination of a for-profit developer, passionate residents, a community development corporation, nonprofits, newly-opened federal land, and federal investment incentives. Hey, no one ever said this stuff was easy.

In the early 1990s, the Parklands in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast, DC was a 1,400 apartment complex with a rate of a murder a month per block. "But in 1991, in the midst of a drug and crime wave that had hit Southeast especially hard, the high rate of casualties was hardly unprecedented" writes Tony Proscio, author of Becoming What We Can Be: Stories of Community Development in Washington, DC.

The book then goes on to chronicle the magnificent turn-around of first the Parklands, then the neighborhood as a whole. Despite the blight and crime, a number of residents were determined to work together to make it a better place. Even before redevelopment occurred, community leader Brenda Jones founded the Parklands Community Center to provide youth with a safe space to learn and play.

Then in 1991 William C Smith & Co. acquired the Parklands apartment complex and renovated it to include "smaller scale clusters of 'villages' within the wider area. The renamed 'Villages of Parklands, which formally opened in 1994, made room for the humanizing lawns and walkways that contribute not only to social interaction and recreation but, just as important, to safety."

It became clear amid the rejuvenation of the neighborhood that children needed a place to grow and learn. William C Smith & Co teamed up with the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) to create a community center for Ward 8. Through generous contributions from local philanthropic organizations and the District of Columbia government, and the hard work of BBAR, the Town Hall Education, Arts, and Recreation Campus (THEARC) was born.

THEARC sits on a site formerly used by the Department of the Interior, which was returned to the District after sitting vacant for years. Today, it houses the Washington Middle School for Girls, Boys and Girls Club, a Children's National Medical Center clinic, the Washington Ballet, Corcoran College of Art & Design, and the Levine School of Music.

By 2007, a grocery store opened in the neighborhood, the first in two decades. The Giant at the Shops at Park Village was made possible through the city's use of land that had previously been Camp Simms Military Base, investment leveraged by the New Markets Tax Credit, the advocacy of the East of the River Community Development Corporation, and William C Smith & Co. Today, a neighborhood once ridden with crime and blight now has a grocery store, a sit down restaurant, a world class community center, and truly mixed income housing; from subsidized housing, to rental, to single family homes.

This large-scale redevelopment was made possible because of the commitment of the private, nonprofit, and government sectors. It was the ability to leverage investment in a multitude of ways that made redevelopment of the Parklands inclusive for all levels of income. The redevelopment of St. Elizabeths and Walter Reed should look to emulate this model.

For more stories of community redevelopment in Washington, including Columbia Heights, Edgewood Terrace, and H St, check out Becoming What We Can Be: Stories of Community Development in Washington, DC by Tony Proscio.


Development of Anacostia's Big K site is no laughing matter

Today, we have 2 articles on the Big K site in Historic Anacostia. Also see Chris Dickersin-Prokopp's piece.

"That big bad wolf hasn't come along and blown the houses down," Rev. Oliver "OJ" Johnson says of the 3 homes on the "Big K" lot in Historic Anacostia. "And now the city clearly doesn't know what to do."

Big K site on 2200 block of MLK, Jr. Ave in Historic Anacostia. Photos by the author.

To a smattering of responses at this weekend's Ward 8 Community Summit, Mayor Gray asked rhetorically, "Everybody know what Big K is?"

Attendees were certainly familiar with the site, owned by DC's Department of Housing and Community Development and left to decay for nearly 2 years.

"I tell you what we talked about, didn't we Victor [Hoskins, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development]?" Gray said, venturing off-message. "We talked about putting those suckers; picking 'em up and moving them somewhere else. And then we looked at it and thought they might fall down by the time we pick them and move them," Gray said through a laugh.

To both lifelong residents and recent arrivals the slow death of the Big K homes is neither trite nor a laughing matter.

2228 & 2234 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
Last week DHCD's Property Acquisition and Disposition Division finally released a call for solicitations "offering to sell four adjacent properties referred to collectively as the Big K Site." The four properties are the three homes at 2228, 2234, 2238 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and the former Big K Liquor store at the corner of MLK and Morris Road, 2252 MLK, built in 1906 by grocer James Conway.

Over the past two years staff turnover within DHCD and a general malaise have allowed the properties, acquired with a Community Development Block Grant, to become further forlorn. The most basic stabilization work on the lotsbeyond cutting the grass and trimming vegetationtook DHCD more than a full year.

Rear of 2228 MLK slowly crumbling.
This past January DHCD received approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board to demolish 2228 MLK, but the ever-defiant house still stands. According to people on the street and some amateur reconnaissance, the home and the one next-door at 2234 MLK are still accessible to squatters. Time is ticking as the eventual demolition of 2228 "will occur prior to closing" according to the RFP.

"The city's lack of vision on how to preserve the buildings and create a first class development is very troublesome. The city's carelessness in quickly stabilizing the properties is downright disturbing," says a resident of Historic Anacostia, actively involved in the area's preservation efforts.

"When the homes are not there, I think people in the community will feel a real sense of loss. Yes, it's been a tragedy watching their slow death but there was a hope the city could save the houses and they showed no interest or effort."

Rear of 2234 MLK leaning.

At the Ward 8 summit, Gray vacillated, saying, "I think they have a historic (emphasis added) designation" one moment and then, "But if they do we have to figure another way to get them off of that site so it can be developed."

Many cringed in response, including agency staff who know there have been no feasibility studies looking at moving the homes to another location, making the undertaking highly unlikely.

Recommendations from a community advisory group are guiding the development standards and goals. Historic preservation, mixed-use development, vocational training, architecture compatible with the existing neighborhood, and adequate financing to prevent a start-and-stop are the priority of community residents, according to DHCD.

View of 2228 MLK through the fence of next-door Astro Motors.
Implicit in the RFP is that the city "makes no representations regarding the character of soil or subsurface or the existence, location or condition of any utilities." Planned uses for the space will "contain neighborhood-serving retail and small business space, including a small business incubator" with "no housing" according to the community's suggestions. Total assessed value of the properties is $939,000, with more than 33,000 square feet to develop.

Meanwhile at 2226 MLK, at the corner with Maple View Place, is Astro Motors, a used car dealership that's been in Anacostia for parts of four decades. According to tax records the proposed 2013 value of the lot is $271,050. Without the certainty of the corner lot in the Big K site's development portfolio, potential investors might be hesitant go all in.

"They're waiting for that domino effect," says Rev. Johnson, a past Board member of local development corporations and a lifelong Anacostian, laughing only because he knows it's better to laugh it off than cry it out. "They want the one house to fall over and then knock over the other two. But as you can see those houses aren't going down like that, they've held on for quite some time."


Can Big K catalyze commercial development in Anacostia?

Today, we have 2 articles on the Big K site in Historic Anacostia. Also see John Muller's piece.

Named for a defunct corner liquor store with an enormous "K" painted on its side, the true significance of the Big K site in Historic Anacostia lies in the three decrepit but once majestic wood-frame historic homes that sit on contiguous lots adjacent to the Big K itself.

Last week, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) released a Solicitation for Offers for the development of the Big K Site in Historic Anacostia. A Solicitation for Offers (SFO) is essentially the same as a Request for Proposals (RFP), an equally bureaucratic but slightly more familiar term.

The first Agency Goal listed in the solicitation is, "Consistency with the recommendations of the Big K Community Advisory Group." The Community Advisory Group was guided by two relatively conservative DHCD-commissioned market studies (housing & commercial). For the most part, the recommendations are straightforward and predictable:

  • Desire mixed-use project;
  • Project that will support/benefit the community;
  • Prefer commercial use over housing;
  • Full-service restaurant was top choice for retail; and
  • Interest in having cultural use / community garden on-site.
In this case, the desired mix of uses appears to exclude residential. The SFO states specifically that the Advisory Group recommends no housing at all. However, the solicitation also gives weight to the Comprehensive Plan, which values this type of metro-accessible site, located on a commercial corridor, as an opportunity for higher density mixed-use development that does include housing.

More importantly, adding households within walking distance of this site will increase the demand for retail goods and services, raising the feasibility of the project's commercial component.

Physically, the site has some constraints, though none are insurmountable. DHCD only owns 4 of the 5 properties on the block. The one that it does not control is currently operated as a used car lot. Prospective developers could sweeten their offers by gaining control of the car lot and proposing to pair it with the adjacent lot (2228 MLK) included in the solicitation that contains a historic single family home approved to be razed (Solution 1, below).

The Big K liquor store on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave and Morris Rd (2252 MLK) lies outside of the Historic District, but considering the historic nature of the overall site and the community's desire for preservation, it may be wise for a developer to save as much of the building as possible. With that said, there is still plenty of room for the structure to grow up and out (Solution 2), and even laterally behind the adjacent homes (Solution 3).

The two remaining detached, single family homes (2234 and 2238 MLK) are located smack in the middle of their respective lots and must be preserved. But why not move them up to the lot line (Solution 4)? If the additional density gained justifies the cost, this may be an option worth exploring.

Ultimately, what gets built at the Big K will depend on the creativity of the development teams that respond to the solicitation, particularly in their ability to lure commercial tenants and make effective use of the plentiful incentives available at this site. While DHCD does not explicitly offer a subsidy beyond, presumably, selling the property for less than the appraised value, the project may be able to take advantage of Historic Tax Credits, New Markets Tax Credits, and/or Tax Increment Financing. Plus, if a high quality proposal is received and championed by residents of Anacostia, the Mayor and Council may be able to find a way to make it work financially via grants or tax abatement.

Here's to hoping the Big K gets some visionary responses, and why wouldn't it? Developers, architects, and preservationists should be drooling over the opportunity to be able to say that their project triggered the revitalization of Historic Anacostia.


Busboys & Poets: Take your pick of Anacostia's vacant commercial properties

Chatter has reached the contentious corners of Anacostia that Busboys & Poets is interested in the Southside. But Washington's first suburb needs Busboys more than Busboys needs it.

Lower Good Hope Road SE, an economic dead zone.

"Over here, it is wait and see," say the old-timers who have seen it all before. While newcomers largely live by the restoration creed of, "Just wait and you'll see." Somewhere these two groups unite in agreement that their neighborhood has too many vacant storefronts and not enough places to eat.

Busboys owner Andy Shallal has expressed interest in Anacostia, after a successful run at vending for LUMEN8­Anacostia, an arts "temporium" funded by the DC Office of Planning in April. Here are some possible locations to be on the lookout for.

"It Must Have Been Here All Along"

Up and down the vacant storefronts on lower Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road white lettering faces the sidewalk offering up optimistic, albeit cryptic, messages. "SHOW ME WITH YOUR ARMS HOW MUCH" streaks the glass of 2022 MLK.

A couple steps away at 2004 MLK, "WE CAN JUST PRETEND" was spread out on four glass panels of the former furniture store. The broken glass for "JUST" has been replaced. It now reads, "WE CAN _ PRETEND."

2004 MLK Jr. Ave. Photo by the author.

In both reality and parody, this former showroom would make a great locale for Busboys. Multiple floors, a loading dock, and other amenities make this as good a spot as any. However, word on the street is a social service job training program is actively looking at the space and working on a building needs assessment.

Down MLK and up Good Hope Road, you get farther away from the Metro but you're right at the foot of the recently completed 11th Street Bridge. A Busyboys here would attract immediate neighbors in Anacostia, Fairlawn, and Randle Highlands as well as attract neighbors from the clusters of Capitol Hill neighborhoods, a short car, bus, or bike ride away.

1306 - 1308 Good Hope Road SE. Photo by the author.

Most recently a dry cleaning plant, the two-story buff brick building at 13061308 Good Hope Road looks an ideal home for Busboys, complete with a welcoming missive, "IT MUST HAVE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG." An expired Building Permit lingers above "BEEN."

Next door the Good Hope Institute, a thriving Methadone clinic, can be a friend or foe to the restaurant. A friend if patients can enter into an ever-present jobs training program that would provide living wage jobs, a foe if patients panhandle and intimidate customers.

Vacant corner of 15th & Good Hope Road. Photo by the author.

Further up Good Hope Road SE, next-door to Ketcham Elementary School sits a wrap-around Art-Deco building that has been vacant so long that the for-sale sign has been lost to the elements. Hugging the corner of 15th & Good Hope Road, the adjacent storefronts, formerly a printing office, church, barbershop, and hair salon, are all vacant, and have been for many years.

With only a smattering of religious-themed bookstores east of the river, Busboys' opening would presumably bring along its progressive-themed bookstore, run by Teaching for Change. The vacant properties at 15th & Good Hope Road would seem to offer the most potential for a fully realized bookshop in its own space.

If it's not broke, don't fix it

Uniontown Bar & Grill at 2200 MLK Jr. Ave. Photo by the author.
According to a source familiar with area commercial real estate, the most likely destination for Busboys will be the current location of Uniontown Bar & Grill at 2200 MLK, Jr. Avenue. Proximity to the nearby Metro, a five minute walk, is guiding this thinking.

Although paying rent for the upstairs, Uniontown has only built out the street level making the eatery feel rather cramped. With the proprietor facing criminal charges, management problems will eventually arise with immediate concerns such as the liquor license needing guidance from a seasoned restaurateur.

"[Busboys proprietor Andy Shallal] is the frontiersmen that legitimizes the neighborhood," a local developer said. "He'll take his time. He took more than a year to open in Hyattsville."

Either buying out or waiting out Uniontown might be the most logical and prudent business decision, however, historic Anacostia's commercial thoroughfare has a critical mass of properties worth a look in the meantime.

Public Safety

100-year old Anacostia abandominium houses crack addict

Don't be misled. The plywood that covers the front door and one of two front windows of 2010 14th Street SE, a 100-year old home in Historic Anacostia, belies the wide open rear entrance from which drug users come and go with impunity.

Front of 2010 14th Street SE. Photos by the author.

When George W. Thompson, who bought the house in 1969, died many years ago, his wife, Marie, was also dead. His will left the house to his daughter, who reportedly died soon thereafter. No one emerged to claim the house.

Until DC's Water and Sewer Authority filed a lien against Thompson in the fall of 2009, no one paid the house much mind except the husband of Thompson's deceased daughter, who according to multiple sources in the neighborhood has been squatting in the house for years.

"Yeah, a former associate of mine has been set up in there pretty tight for a number of years," said community activist William Alston-El, who through community work and life experiences is affiliated with Anacostia's underworld. "His wife died and that's when he started. He's on crack, he's pretty gone in the head, you know. Yeah, you could say it's a crack house abandominium, a lot of people have been up in there, you know what I mean?"

By 2011 the taxes grew to more than $3,000. At this time Redemptor Litium, LLC, with holdings throughout all city neighborhoods, purchased the lien.

"This is a typical law school exam question," says James M. Loots, the lawyer representing Redemptor Litium, LLC. "The tax sale is supposed to fix the problem of getting the property under control and back to contributing property taxes."

Loots says his client has filed a motion for judgment and followed every necessary step to receive an order of foreclosure from posting the mandatory orange notice on the front door, to searching for heirs in the probate docket, to advertising in the paper for all known and unknown heirs to come forth.

The case is on a judge's desk and awaits another status hearing scheduled for next month.

Unfriendly neighbor

Dewey Sampson lives next door to the crack house abandominium. A federal employee, Sampson bought his home a little less than two years ago. On move-in day, two men sitting out front of the house next door offered their help, as good neighbors. Sampson soon learned from a long-time resident two down over that the men didn't live there. Nobody does. They are known undesirables, squatters.

"Early last summer I saw the orange sticker posted on the door," Sampson said. "I was really excited. I thought something was going to happen, but I didn't think it would take this long."

After the posting, last fall Sampson called the police on two squatters, who after an evening of drinking and drugging were cursing at each other loud enough for Sampson to hear through his walls.

"The police came right away. When they took one of the guys away he kept yelling, 'This is my house! This is my house! I was like what is he talking about?" said Sampson.

After telling him what I'd heard from Alston-El, Sampson said it now made sense. What's still illogical to Sampson and his fiance is how the house could sit vacant for so many years.

"This is a paradigm example of what the tax sale process is designed to addressgetting vacant or neglected properties back on the tax rolls and into productive use. Unfortunately, that process takes a very long time," said Loots.

The sooner the better for Sampson, who last week saw a face he'd never seen before leaving the back of the house. "I don't want to judge people, but she looked like she was on drugs." Adding insult to injury, Sampson just paid an exterminator as a result of termites coming over from the abandominium.

"Those guys coming and going primarily are a safety concern for my fiancÚ, me, and the entire neighborhood. What if they set the house on fire and it spreads?" Sampson said. "What do we do then?"

Inside the house

This past Sunday morning with iPhone in hand, I went around to back of the home. Although the city boarded up the front door and the adjacent window last fall, I saw no evidence that anyone has made an effort to secure the rear.

I opened the mesh-screened back porch easily. There were bars on the back porch window to stop intruders from climbing in, but the back door is wide open.

Rear of abandominium in Historic Anacostia.

Stepping inside the kitchen, the rancid smell of urine welcomed me. The counter was covered in stubs of used candles and empty cans of Goya beans. The floor was littered with all sorts of debris, including chunks of fallen plaster from the ceiling. Slices of light from the second floor peeked through through small gaps in the floorboards above.

In the living room, more clothes covered the floor, along with discarded syringes and a bent spoon used to fire up dope. Two windows fronted 14th Street, one boarded up, one deflecting the morning sun behind a thick curtain. Peeling back the curtain, I saw Engine Company Fifteen; down the street is Saint Phillip the Evangelist Episcopal Church; in the median sits the restored Old Market House Square, which had a ribbon cutting last fall.

In the tight hallway junk mail fertilizes the floor. Three framed pictures rest atop the radiator: a baby girl not yet pre-school aged, a young man flashing a smile in cap and gown, and repentant hands coming together in a moment of prayer. Lord knows the rebirth of Historic Anacostia's crumbling homes need communion through any and all lines of invocation. Underneath the three photos is an unread Washington Post from this past November.

I ascended the staircase, keeping my ears open for any sounds of rustling. At the head of the stairs is a small room, the door ajar. A bare mattress sat snug in the far corner, amid fallen sheetrock and plaster. Behind the door I saw dress shirts and suits. I walk back into the hall and past the bathroom with the upturned bathtub and toilet laying on its side.

In the far room, Clothes strewn everywhere, a king size bed headboard sans bed, a plastic lawn chair, a DirecTV remote with no television to control. Running up in the home alone, without the better company of a friend, I feel I should get going.

Passing a closed green door, I heard the static of a raspy cough. Time to get ghost. I slipped down the stairs, knowing the man behind the green door will not pursue what he likely thinks is a fellow squatter just looking for a small poor man's piece of the rock, an abandominium.

Inside the kitchen of 2010 14th Street SE.

Over debris, clothes, beer cans, and drug paraphernalia I passed through the living room, crouched under a long board that's presumably been set up as a barrier between the kitchen and further entryway into the abandominium for a less able-bodied person. My first and last self-guided tour of an Anacostia abandominium.

I give Alston-El a call, telling him what I saw.

"What's the waiting list for housing in this city, 45,000? Me and you could find that many units and more in all these abandominiums," Alston-El says. A painter-by-trade, Alston-El repeats his lament, "They fix these places up and then there'd be jobs for everyone from the community who can work with their hands. It could create some small businesses. Yeah, but they don't want to do that, you see, because it would save the neighborhood. But, nope, too much like right."


Longtime resident talks Barry Farm's changes over 50 years

Talk to anyone returning to DC who's been away for a few years, and you'll get an earful about how much the city has changed. Even to residents, DC has been rendered unrecognizable by the changes, setbacks, blunders, and improvements of the past 50 years.

Leon Dews of 2717 Wade Road SE in Barry Farm.

But there are those who have been around long enough to recall another time entirely. Leon Dews, 62, has been on-hand to witness multiple transformations in his own neighborhood of Barry Farm.

"It was like voodoo," says Dews, recounting memories of his childhood in Barry Farm. "When the sun ducked down behind the trees, there was no kids in the street. Nowadays you see kids out at 11, 12, 2 o'clock in the morning. Kids talk back to the parents, cuss the parents out and all that (expletive)."

In the Barry Farm community there are two historic homes on the 2700 block of Wade Road, SE that are not included in the city's thus-far unrealized redevelopment plans. Dews' home at 2717 Wade Road, built in the early 1920s, is one of the two.

"When they do that redevelopment, it doesn't matter to me. I plan on having my senior citizen's apartment," said Dews. "See, this is not part of the dwellings," he says, referring to the neighboring public housing project of Barry Farm Dwellings.

Yet, Dews has noticed recent changes that have affected his family's two-story home, one of the last remaining houses in the neighborhood with a basement. In recent years, a sidewalk was installed out front of the house. During his childhood and adolescence, Dews said it was a dirt road.

"I've watched them change the houses down there twice since I was coming up," he remembers, citing an influx of refugees from the urban renewal efforts in Southwest Washington. "At first it wasn't those big houses. It was little what we called shotgun houses. Open the front door and see through the back door. Back in the 40s & 50s."

2717 Wade Road SE was built in 1923. Photo by the author.

Born in 1949, Dews says, "Most of the neighbors I know died."

Even with turnover in the area's housing, there was always a tight community. "It really didn't change the neighborhood that bad. See Barry Farm was always like a tribe," he said. Then, referring to the nearby Garfield Heights neighborhood, he added "they had the Garfields on the other side of the bridge. They didn't come over here and we didn't go over there. It was no guns, it was sticks and baseball bats back then, and fists."

During our conversation, along with local filmmaker and artist Tendani Mpulubusi, Dews shared some insights into his background. "I'm one of the original Teenorama dancers," Dews says reticently of the popular local teenage dance show of the 1960s. "I got on the cameras a couple times."

Dews and his extended family are well-known in southeast Washington. They were members of the Seafayers Yacht Club, founded in 1945 as the nation's oldest black yacht club. At one time, Dews owned a 55 foot boat.

He credits his life's success to his father. "My father had a third grade education. I thought he was the dumbest mother-(expletive) in the world, back then. But after I grew up I realized he was the smartest man in the world with a third grade education," Dews recalls fondly. "He always lectured us and whooped our ass."


Then & Now: Anacostia's Saint Teresa

As songs of praise emanate from numerous houses of worship in Anacostia each Sunday morning, one church stands out as a part of living history. It has experienced reorganization, schisms, and change, but it still faithfully anchors the same corner as it did more than 130 years ago.

Saint Teresa of Avila in Anacostia. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Saint Teresa of Avilla Avila, at the northwest corner of 13th and V streets SE, is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in DC east of the Anacostia River. It was originally part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, because the Vatican did not make the City of Washington a separate archdiocese until 1939. St. Teresa, in fact, is older than the Archdiocese of Washington by more than a half century.

The new church was greeted with great enthusiasm even before it was finished being built. An April 1879 Washington Post article describing the laying of its cornerstone also reports of a celebratory parade, saying:

The route was determined on as follows: from City hall, down Four-and-a-half street to Pennsylvania avenue, thence to St. Peter's church, where the visiting clergy and others will join the procession, thence across the navy yard bridge to Uniontown. With regard to the formation of the line, it is thought that it will be the same on St. Patrick's day, except that there will be five divisions instead of four, the colored societies making the fifth.
When Saint Teresa opened its doors in the fall of 1879 Uniontown had a hotel, post office, police substation with mounted patrols while Henry A. Griswold's single-horse streetcar ran every 20 minutes. Frederick Douglass, the United States Marshal for the city lived just down the street.

According to The Anacostia Story. by the turn of the 20th century black parishioners were dissatisfied with the limited role they were permitted; African Americans were relegated to celebrate Mass in the church basement.

In response a group under the name "Mission of St. Teresa" organized to establish a separate church and parish for African American Catholics. Others changed their affiliation and went crosstown to Saint Augustine, the city's mother church for black Catholics since 1858, four years before the city's emancipation.

By 1920 ground was dug, dirt was moved, cement was turned and cornerstone laid for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church on Morris Road SE, on the grounds of Fort Stanton.

According to Cultural Tourism DC, this was the second formal division of St. Teresa's. The first occurred when white parishioners left to establish Assumption Catholic Church in what had been the village hall for Congress Heights at 611 Alabama Avenue SE on April 2, 1916.

Saint Teresa today. Photo by the author.

As the neighborhood's demographics began to change in the 1960s and the neighborhood became increasingly African American, the congregation of Saint Teresa changed as well. In 1976 Saint Teresa received its first African-American pastor. On a recent visit, with the exception of some college students, the overwhelming majority of worshipers are African American.

Today, Saint Teresa is one of more than a dozen historic churches in greater Anacostia still going strong, an important and familiar neighbor for parts of three centuries.

Excerpts from this post originally appeared in a 2010 article for East of the River.


Then & Now: Anacostia's neon sign

At the corner of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Historic Anacostia's gateway, is a landmark older than the famed Big Chair.

Anacostia's neon sign, circa 1947. Photo by Theodor Horydczak.

This photo by Theodor Horydczak (1890-1971), one of more than 14,000 photos of his available through the Library of Congress's American Memory series, captures Anacostia's iconic neon signage in January 1947.

Commercial neon lighting signage first appeared at a Paris barbershop a couple of years before the outbreak of World War I. The new signs, sometimes referred to as "liquid fire," arrived in the United States in 1923. From conversations with Anacostia residents and initial research, Anacostia's sign appears to date back to the early 1940s.

Anacostia's historic neon sign today. Photo by the author.
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