Author Archive

My Historic Washington: Mt. Pleasant

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Mt. Pleasant: Home to cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

Mt. Pleasant: Home to rich cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

One thing you should know about me is that I was born and raised in D.C, which The New York Times recently called “the last colony." Voting rights or not, it's my hometown and I love it.

I grew up in Barnaby Woods, but I’ve lived in Mt. Pleasant since December 2001. Mt. P (as locals call it) is one of those neighborhoods area realtors describe as “transitional.” Property values have definitely gone up over the years, but we’re not quite what some folks would consider “gentrified.” Personally, I hope we never are.

We have our own little shopping district on Mt. Pleasant Street. I make it a point to check out the latest outrageous outfits displayed in the El West window on my way to picking up the best Peruvian chicken in the city at El Pollo Sabroso. But Mt. P is nothing compared to what has been going on just two blocks to the east in a neighborhood called Columbia Heights, which The Washington Post believes is thriving at the expense of Mt. P.

Since I moved here, the gang activity in Columbia Heights has been pushed to neighborhoods to the north and south, there is a brand new middle school building, and the area around the metro station has been transformed by luxury apartments and a shopping mall complete with a Target. When I walk home from the gym or the shiny new grocery store, there are people on the street everywhere, no matter the time of day. I admit that I love the new shops - even if most are national chains - and the new locally-owned restaurants, mainly because I can walk there instead of driving out to the burbs.

But all of this convenience comes at a price, and it’s a loss of diversity.

For decades, Mt. P and Columbia Heights were home to immigrants from South and Central America. Spanish was the dominant language on the streets, and the shops and take-out joints catered to Latino tastes. Now, low-rent housing and empty lots are being converted into condos that are priced out of reach for many that call these areas home. When the customers leave, the businesses will leave too, and Mt. P will lose it’s flavor. Columbia Heights already has.

It’s selfish, but I’m not sorry that the five-lanes of 16th Street have so far insulated Mt. P from what is happening in Columbia Heights. Because of this, my neighborhood is still "in transition," though it is not clear what we are transitioning from or to.

I, for one, hope we stay in transition for a long time.

– Alison Hinchman

Alison Hinchman is the technology manager for PreservationNation.org. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preservation Leadership Training: Birmingham, Alabama

Posted on: January 12th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

“...I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.“

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963

This weekend, I and two other staff members of the Center for Preservation Leadership for the National Trust for Historic Preservation welcomed 35 individuals from 16 states to Preservation Leadership Training (PLT) in Birmingham, Alabama. This is my first real visit to Birmingham, and I marveled how I now stood in a place of change, a a place of bravery and a place of critical importance to the history of the United States.

Temple Emanu-El

I think this moment was most poignant along Freedom Walk in Kelly Ingram Park. Two walls close in with vicious snarling dogs inches from my face—representations of the dogs Bull Connor released upon protesters in 1963. A short short walk away two children, defiant proclaim “I ain't afraid of your jail.” Overlooking the park is the 16th Street Baptist Church, a solid structure that has seen so much and watched so many stand for justice and truth in the fight for civil rights.

Highland Methodist Church

This week the participants will experience PLT in this city with its rich historical tapestry. This is most evident in the Five Point's South neighborhood (where PLT is taking place) which has an enormous collection of historical buildings built between 1890s and 1930. Take a look at Temple Emanu-El, by architectural master William Weston, the Highland Methodist Church which holds a prominent place at the confluence of Five Points, the detailing on the LaSalle Apartment building which dates from 1926, or the South Highland Presbyterian Church and its Victorian Gothic architecture.

South Highland Presbyterian Church

In particular I wanted to note that our group, consisting of individuals from Alabama, California, Indiana, Louisiana and more will explore the Prince Hall Grand Lodge-- a masonic temple deep in the heart of the 4th Avenue Historical District, steps away from the 16th Street Baptist Church. This building is a challenge, in scope and use. However, in the spirit of Martin Luther King's “network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” this group is here to embrace Birmingham and produce proposals for a building that played its own role within the Civil Rights Movement.

LaSalle Apartment Building

If you are in Birmingham on Friday, January 17, 2009 please attend the public presentations which will take place at 5:30 at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama. Click here to view the flier. For more information on PLT visit our website.

-Priya Chhaya

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

My Historic Washington: Takoma

Posted on: January 12th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Our farmers' market, where we shop for fresh produce along side of Fox Man and the Purple People.

Our farmers' market, where we shop for fresh produce along side of Fox Man and the Purple People.

Confession: My husband likes to ride a unicycle, and I have amassed a large collection of strollers on the front porch of our 1913 bungalow. But in Takoma, located at the top of the diamond-shaped Washington, D.C., we’re hardly the most eccentric neighbors on the block.

Takoma - with its vegetarian restaurants, thrift shops, well-tended old houses and streets named for trees - seems far removed from the power corridor of downtown Washington, D.C., but it’s only 15 minutes away by subway.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Vietnam War protesters settled in the area, painting its houses bright, unconventional colors like orange and lime green. Some of those hippies never left. Visit the farmers’ market on Sunday - which just marked its 25th year - and you’ll see regulars like a bearded man carrying a fox pelt in a trap as a form of protest against animal cruelty. We call him the Fox Man. And then there's the Purple People, a family who wear dark purple robes, live in a purple house and drive a purple Mini Cooper.

There are mainstream people here, too. People like my husband and I, who moved out of a downtown apartment to a house with transom windows and a porch swing. A laid-back, anything-goes spirit trickles down to Takoma’s architecture - Victorian houses without modern additions, bungalows painted day-glo yellow, and yes, a few unicycles and strollers on those front porches.

Everyone is welcome here. For this reason and so many more, historic Takoma is my Washington. If you make your way to D.C. for the inauguration, I invite you to come see a side of the city that is as far from K Street as you can get.

– Margaret Foster

Margaret Foster is the online editor for Preservation magazine. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

My Historic Washington: Capitol Hill

Posted on: January 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

When I was looking for someplace to live in DC, I selected Capitol Hill for the most mundane of reasons: it seemed to be the only neighborhood where I could park my car without buying a space. As a twenty-something non-profit worker, the idea of paying nearly the equivalent of my recently-satisfied car loan to board my car seemed ludicrous (not to mention impossible when combined with city-priced rent).  Now, nearly ten years later, the car is long since gone, but I've stayed put on the Hill -- and can hardly conceive of living anywhere else.

Eastern Market was the first thing to draw me in, and I fell quickly and permanently in love with it. The 135-year old public market building is the last of its kind in DC still performing its original function, but it is also much more than just a place to shop. In addition to providing a home for independent grocers (selling produce, meats, baked goods, fish, cheese, flowers, and more) a thriving, year-round farm line and flea market brings together locals and tourists alike every weekend -- forming what is, essentially, Capitol Hill's town square. I realize that sounds hokey, but it's true. I can't begin to count the number of times a quick outing to pick up my weekly ration of fresh tomatoes has spun out into a full day of browsing the vendors, chatting over coffee, and catching up on what's new.

I'm also wildly enthusiastic about my local hardware store, Frager's. It's a little like shopping in my grandfather's basement -- full of wood and tools, to be sure, but also full of every random tidbit that life requires, stored with a mysterious logic that makes every aisle and turn of the corner an opportunity for serendipitous discovery. Despite a rabbit warren-like layout, every person who works there can almost instantly locate virtually anything, and advise authoritatively on its use, just like grandpa. On the rare occasions I go outside my neighborhood to meet my home improvement needs and end up in a big-box hardware store, I tend to wander the broad aisles aimlessly, overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it all.

And then there's the food. I love to eat, and over the years I've lived there, the options on the Hill have expanded, seemingly exponentially. The two commercial strips that anchored the Hill when I arrived -- Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol and Massachusetts Avenue near Union Station have been joined by the now-vibrant Barracks Row Main Street, and grittier upstart areas on H Street and the far end of Pennsylvania Avenue. I can head to an ultra-homey dive for a half-smoke (DC's local improvement on the hot dog) and a beer served in a mason jar, hit a hole in the wall with mussels so delicious that they beat Bobby Flay's on his "Throwdown" program, or head to an upscale wine bar (or two) for tastings and tapas.  It's a good thing, really, that my car has gone by the wayside... I need to walk a lot to keep all of the deliciousness from sticking.

These are just a few of the reasons Capitol Hill is my Washington. If you happen to make it to DC for the inauguration -- or any other time -- I invite you to stop by, whether it's for a quick bite to eat, to hang out at the Market, or to waltz the aisles of a hardware store.

My colleague Jason Clement, who shared his love of Brookland earlier this week, stopped by my 'hood over the holidays and took some photos. He's a better photographer than I am, so I'll leave you with his impressions.

-- Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the content manager and online editor for PreservationNation.org. Stay tuned over the weeks leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater DC area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Breaking News: A Dangerous Turn for St. Elizabeths Hospital

Posted on: January 8th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

In a dangerous turn for St. Elizabeths Hospital, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voted today to approve the General Services Administration's (GSA) master plan for the six-million-gross-square-foot Department of Homeland Security headquarters consolidation. It is a conditional approval: the National Park Service must turn over parkland for the access road and planning for the East Campus portion must be completed. GSA must also submit a funding request for the rehabilitation phases of the project before new construction can begin - although realistically, that funding may not be secured.

National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe testified on behalf of the organization that the master plan was premature and posed extraordinary harm to St. Elizabeths. Instead, he and others advocated a mixed-use, low-impact development with a federal anchor tenant that would preserve the site and benefit the neighborhood. Representatives from the Brookings Institution, the D.C. Preservation League, Alexander Company, and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall also testified in opposition to the consolidation proposal. Peter May, who represents the National Park Service on the NCPC, delivered a moving statement on behalf of the Department of the Interior in opposition to the plan.

In the end, the approval of the St. Elizabeths master plan sets a terrible precedent for America's National Historic Landmarks. These exceptional places are accorded special protection under federal law. In the case of St. Elizabeths, those protections were overlooked in favor of real estate considerations. Such a precedent could jeopardize our most important historic places.

Read National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe's testimony and the online version of an op-ed that appeared in today's Washington Post.

- Nell Ziehl

Nell Ziehl is a program officer for the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.