Author Archive

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.

Is this St. Elizabeths Hospital’s Last Hour?

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

 

 

Today, the National Capital Planning Commission could decide the fate of the National Historic Landmark St. Elizabeths Hospital, an irreplaceable collection of historic brick buildings and designed landscapes with spectacular views of downtown Washington, D.C.

In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed St. Elizabeths Hospital as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in an effort to raise awareness about the vacant and decaying site. The National Trust and others have endorsed the Urban Land Institute’s recommendation for mixed-use, public-private development at St. Elizabeths that would benefit - not detract from - the surrounding community (full report).

Now, St. Elizabeths Hospital faces a potentially devastating threat if the National Historic Landmark is re-developed as the new consolidated headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

For three years, the General Services Administration (GSA) has pushed an oversized, six-million-gross-square-foot redevelopment of St. Elizabeths over the objections of preservationists and other advocates for sustainable urban development. The National Park Service has criticized GSA's plan as "wholly incompatible" with preservation of the National Historic Landmark (full report), while the Brookings Institution has called the proposal a “lost opportunity” for Washington that would offer little or no benefit to the surrounding neighborhood (full report).

To its credit, GSA has improved the current master plan for the DHS headquarters based on comments from the coalition of preservationists dedicated to preserving the National Historic Landmark campus. However, we do not yet know what the Obama Administration's priorities are for DHS. The National Trust and others are urging President-Elect Barack Obama to reconsider this devastating proposal in favor of a solution that will preserve St. Elizabeths Hospital and bring greater benefit to the local community.

Read the online version of an op-ed by National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe 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.

My Historic Washington: Brookland

Posted on: January 7th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments

 

A small town in a big city, Brookland is a place where people still wave, which is perfect for a big city guy with small town tendencies.

Brookland's charming 12th Street, where mom and pop shops still rule.

I’m a big city guy with small town tendencies. Sounds strange I know, but that’s the only way I can describe it.

I grew up in a speck on the Louisiana map called Sulphur, a two-exit town I spent many years trying to escape for bigger and brighter lights, but now appreciate because of its warmth and simplicity.

It’s the kind of place where people swing on their porches every evening when it’s warm enough (which is most evenings when you live on a swamp) and wave to friends and total strangers. Houses are referred to by family names (“Across the way are the Thibodeauxs and next to them are the Bergerons.”), and plates of food covered in tin foil pass between neighbors after dinner, sometimes as nice gestures but usually just because there are leftovers. Come Sunday, the streets are dotted with ladies in big heels (and sometimes big hats) leaving church, tripping occasionally on sidewalks that have been rendered into jagged glaciers by roots that dig deep and spread wide.

These days I call the District of Columbia home, a place that Google says is 1,278 miles away (literally and figuratively) from what I was used to growing up, but that I’ve really come to enjoy. After years of pumping ourselves up by watching the DIY Network, my partner and I finally decided to buy our first house in the area in 2007. We ultimately settled on a neighborhood called Brookland, partly because the price was right and partly because - even from the window of our realtor’s SUV - we could tell that there was something different about it.

Much like Sulphur, Brookland is the kind of place where people still wave and the center of afternoon social activity is still the front porch. Our signature bungalow houses are detached (an anomaly in Washington), the yards are generously portioned, and our small streets are lined with towering trees. We have a fledgling Main Street anchored by a hardware store that I swear might have beat George Washington here, and during the winter when all the leaves are gone, the bells of the nearby National Basilica echo peacefully through the neighborhood.

My fondest memory so far was actually hand delivered to me by my mailman on one of our first Saturday afternoons in our house. Instead of quickly depositing our mail in our mailbox that day, he knocked on our front door. I answered not knowing what to expect, and boy was I right. In addition to my T-Mobile bill and the newest issue of Rachael Ray’s magazine (a guilty pleasure), I was handed a warm plate of sweet potato pie wrapped in tin foil. He explained that it was from Mrs. Dixon, an elderly woman who lives alone across the street. Earlier that week, she had seen my partner and I hauling tools and construction materials into our house for a big bathroom remodel. She called us over to her porch and asked if we could help her with a few odd jobs around her house. We did, and the homemade pie was our thank you.

For this reason and so many more, historic Brookland is my Washington. If you make your way to D.C. for the inauguration, I invite you to come explore why it's the best of both worlds for this big city guy with small town tendencies.

-Jason Clement

Jason Clement is an online content provider for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Check out his Brookland photo album for more neighborhood pictures, and stay tuned over the weeks leading up to the inauguration as more 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.

New Year, New Travels

Posted on: January 2nd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Beautiful Aiken, South Carolina is just one of 110 historic locations already included in our ongoing list of Distinctive Destinations.

Where will 2009 take you?

If you're looking for an antidote to cultural homogenization, consider visiting a city or town that is listed as one of our Dozen Distinctive Destinations.

Every year for the past decade, we've unveiled a list of places that offer authentic visitor experiences by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes, and strong commitments to historic preservation and revitalization. There are lots of options. In fact, you'll find 110 different locations in 42 states and Puerto Rico that are fun, family friendly and refreshingly original.

The list runs from Aiken, South Carolina to Woodstock, Illinois (sorry, we don't have a "Y" or "Z" named towns, yet). These places are home to great stories about interesting people and events, remarkable historic sites, and memorable places to eat, shop, and stay. What National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe said earlier this year about the 2008 list really applies to all of the sites listed over the past decade: “These communities represent the richness and diversity of America’s cultural heritage, and in preserving their historic fabric and spirit of place are models for other towns and cities.”

So, in thinking about the places you want to go in the new year, be sure to check our list first. And stay tuned because on January 13, your travel options will increase by twelve when we announce our Dozen Distinctive Destinations of 2009.

–Nord Wennerstrom

Nord Wennerstrom is the Director of Communications at 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.