Thursday, January 14, 2010

1883 Bicycle mishap

While looking for something I came across the following in the "personal" section of the classified page of a newspaper:
"The party who drove a buggy into a bicycle on the 14th-st road yesterday will please send his address to this office. By doing so he will learn of what is thought of one who is not man enough to stop to see the extent of the injuries inflicted by his unmanly conduct."

-- "Display Ad 3 -- No Title. " The Washington Post (1877-1922) 2 May 1883 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Washington Post (1877 - 1993), ProQuest. Web. 14 Jan. 2010.

Don't need a car to be a jerk.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Women, the past and home ownership

As I've stated before I'm not too keen on architectural history, in that I just don't have an interest in it. However, I do have an interest in property transfers and its history, as that tends to relate to personal wealth.
Today, I'll be covering myself in red rot from old volumes regarding, some DC properties in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There are published books (Lusk real estate assessment directories, published by Rufus Lusk & Sons) listing the owner of the property. I noticed, running my eyes down the list of owners, I saw several repeats for a series of houses right next to or nearby each other. So you'd have say a Ruppert or a Richardson owning 4 or 5 houses on a block. And not all owners were male. Most were male, but not all.
Now going back to the 1900 census project, so far (I'm still cleaning up data) of the 1101 households, 892 rent. That is a huge chunk. 78 are owners with a mortgage, and 104 own their homes free and clear. Of the homeowners, 45 are women. Now, it would be correct to say that in 1900, not many women owned their own home. It would be also correct to say not many men owned their own homes either, since most rental heads were male.
Though not as popular as the career of laundress there were about 9 landladies and 1 female capitalist. Yes, ladies and gents, someone said their occupation was that of a capitalist. So in this turn of the century world there were women involved in the real estate game, as owners or property managers (landlady). Not many, but 1900 wasn't 2000 where credit was extended to anyone who could breathe for a home loan.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Don't fill out 2010 Census forms drunk

This year is when we will get the 2010 Census in the mail or if you don't get it or fill it out, census takers will come to your door. Anyway, my cousin has completed the 1900 census for the Truxton Circle area and I still got to mash the data up, clear out the non-addresses, and decide what kind of paper I want to write. The last enumeration district she had to do, was ED 63, and according to her complaint, the dude who was the census taker must have been drunk. Since it is 1900 I will concur on the drunk part, and not chalk it up to crack. The census taker's work was sloppy, disjointed, and simply disorganized. We imagine that he was staggering around eastern Mt. Vernon Square area asking random passersby where they lived.
Maybe he kept stopping by bars. I don't know about the number of saloons or bars in the TC area circa 1900 but apparently a lot of the Irish that were captured in our study were barkeeps. Yes, I know that just goes right into a stereotype. What can I say, our data has stereotypes. Don't blame us, blame the occupational landscape for Irish, and African Americans for 1900.
Back to our drunken census taker, he has made trying to clean up the data hard, and there will probably be some holes. So for the sake of any future researcher in 2090, please write clearly with a clear head, when you fill out your 2010 census form.
Thank you.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Euphemia Lofton-Haynes or Intellectualism doesn't pay well

It has been twice in one week I have referred to Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes, first Afro-American woman with a PhD in Mathematics in conversation, not by name, but by accomplishment. Her connection with anything relating to me is that once upon a time she owned my house. She didn't live in it, it was an investment property. She bought it, rented it out, and later sold it, as she did with several other properties in the area. It was just one of many in her portfolio.
If the quick biographies of her, very few, if almost none mention where she got the money for living the life of an educator and social activist. She was the only daughter (she had a brother) of a dentist, so she came from some level of comfort. She worked in public schools such as Armstrong and Dunbar, Miner's College, and later the president of the DC Board of Education. Positions, though highly respectable, don't strike me as highly lucrative. According to the biography provided by the university that holds Dr. Lofton-Haynes papers, "the Haynes' family moved solidly into the upper-middle class, owning a substantial number of rental properties throughout the District."
She is rightly known for her educational achievements, but what supported her ability to become the intellectual and activist was not her income as an educator. Right now I'm meditating on what that means.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The past is a weird country you only get to visit via travelogues

I was chatting with my cousin about the census project. We were on the topic of occupations. Some bewilder her, like hustler and huckster and compositor. Then there are others where she was amazed at the sheer number of laundresses. Lota lota laundresses. Off the top of my head I was trying to remember the history of Washington DC domestic service, along with the history of American consumer culture and the rise of the home washing machine and indoor plumbing, which would have made a laundress unnecessary. Later, conditions changed where the "need" & "supply" for domestic servants (another large female occupation) disappeared.
She also noted the large number of people in one house, also unusual for our time, normal for then. I explained that several houses in the neighborhood were two or more units. You can see it with some of the Bates Street houses still, where there are two doors, one for the lower unit, and another for the 2nd floor unit. Regardless, there would be three generations sharing a house or a unit.
Another shocking thing I told her, not revealed in the data, but coming from the whole laundress and plumber (a biggy for white males) discussion, was the lack of running water in many neighborhood houses. Yes, not every house had running water inside. Think of all the things you use that requiring water on command (toilets, dishwasher, shower, etc) and imagine not having that. I illustrate this for her I recalled one of our late grandmother's odd habits such as keeping a chamber pot under her bed. She had running water, but she was, eh, mentally ru-ral. The running water problem lasted up till about the late 50s or 60s in parts of Shaw.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

DC Urban farm, 1940

I'm going through some papers and I came across a snapshot of census records. Apparently in 1940 there were 65 people living on farms (or 65 farms the table is hard to interpret). Considering that not every mile of the District was developed, that there were some parts of the District used for agriculture.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ten Days of Truxtun- The End

Day 10. I've been trying to figure out at what point Tom Truxtun went from Captain Truxtun to Commodore Truxtun. Apparently some time between 1800-1801, when he took command of the President and before he quit the US Navy all together because of some ranking spat, that wasn't entirely Truxtun's fault. In 1801 the fake war with France ended and there wasn't much of a need for a wartime naval force. And it appears through some letters sent in 1802 about a meeting with the Secretary of the Navy, because he caught a cold failed to dine with the Secretary, who apparently wasn't that keen on him in the 1st place, who then failed to provide Truxtun with the requested personnel needed. It seems that Truxtun decided if he was going to get no respect he may as well quit. So he did and from 1803-1822 lived life as a gentleman living off of prize money won in earlier years. He had a farm, a couple for a while, but settled at Wood Lawn, a farm not far from Philadelphia. He served as a High Sheriff from 1816-1819. In 1822 he died, his wife a year later.

Ten Days of Truxtun:
Day 1- The Name-The Hood
Day 2- Slavery
Day 3- Commodore's background
Day 4- What I did During the American Revolution
Day 5- Continuing the Revolutionary War
Day 6- Going for broke
Day 7- In the Navy
Day 8- Not the British Navy
Day 9- Fake French War

Resources- Commodore Thomas Truxtun 1755-1822 by Eugene S. Ferguson. The free Library of Philadelphia, 1947.
Truxtun of the Constellation: The Life of Commodor Thomas Truxtun, US Navy, 1755-1822, by Eugene S. Ferguson. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ten Days of Truxtun- Fake French War

Day 9. Friendships are funny things, particularly between nations. France was our ally in the Revolutionary War and our revolution inspired the French Revolution, well the revolution part not so much the beheading and turn the world upside down part. Anyway America made peace with Great Britain and in regards to the war between Britain and revolutionary France, the French turned on the Americans. Not officially though, they just sent privateers after American ships. Thus the fake war.
In 1799 (as far as I can tell) Captain Thomas Truxtun had some significant victories over the French. One was the capture of L'Insurgente, which was one of France's fastest frigates. The other was the severe damage of La Vengeance, a much heavier ship that was bigger and had more firepower that Truxtun's Constellation. Truxtun's newfangled ideas about discipline and naval training is credited to his victories.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ten Days of Truxtun- Not the British Navy

Day 8. After some chatting with a friend whose knowledge of the British Navy in the 18th & 19th Century comes from reading novels and having a crazed roommate obsessed with the Horatio Hornblower series, we came to the conclusion that the last place you wanted to be was in the British Navy. There was the bad food, the floggings, the classism, disease, more floggings, and the warfare, 'cause no one likes getting shot at. Now Captain Tom Truxtun tried to move away from the British model with fewer floggings replaced with reprimands, and some idea about courtesy and mutual respect. The problem with the British system he wrote,
" A man of war is a petty kingdom and is governed by a petty despot... The little tyrant, who struts his few fathoms of scoured plank, dare not unbend, lest he should lose that appearance of respect from his inferiors which their fears inspire. He has therefore, no society, no smiles, no courtesies for or from any one. Wrapped up in notion of his own dignity, and the means of preserving it, he shuts himself up from all around him. He stands alone, without the friendship or sympathy of one on board; a solitary being in the midst of the ocean."
[Ferguson, 147]
So therefore let Capt. Truxtun inspire you this day not to be a tyrant to your interns or underlings, smile at your co-workers or remember to show them some courtesy in your dealings with them this day.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Ten Days of Truxtun- In the Navy

Day 7, in March of 1794 Congress decided grudgingly to support a Navy. The idea was 6 ships would be built, they would address the attacks from the Algiers on American ships, and once that's done disband and go back to being a shiny new nation. Well that was the idea. Tom Truxtun agreed to be one of the 6 captains of this American navy which limited his income. He would make more money as a merchant seaman than as a captain in the navy. Each captain was in charge of overseeing the building of his ship and Truxtun chose Baltimore for his ship. Unfortunately there was a huge problem with finding suitable live oak, needed to build the type of ship needed, which created delays and it didn't help that peace was achieved with the Algerians. In 1796 the US Navy was in danger of being dismantled, per the act of Congress that commission it, but was saved with the Navy bill signed by George Washington April 20, 1796.
Besides getting the Constellation built, Truxtun's other great contribution to the Navy was creating a system of organization. The initial idea of the Navy was there would be 6 ships, six captains, and they would operate independently of each other. The nation was loathe to use signals and other customs from the Royal Navy, so Truxtun wrote a book in 1797 Instructions, Signals, and Explanations, Ordered for the United States Fleet. He stressed learning and the study of the naval arts in a profession that wasn't known for it's love of reading, or scientific study.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ten Days of Truxtun- Going for broke

Day 6, in looking at the life of Tom Truxtun, for whom a circle was named, and that now gone circle names a 'hood.
Nothing truly exciting happened between the end of the Revolutionary War and 1794 in Tom's life. He got older, sailed the world, got into a scrape with John Paul Jones, had a bunch of kids, the usual. The notable things to mention was his career as a merchant seaman was pretty good despite nearly losing it all and going into deep debit because the post war economy went into the crapper. Apparently, printing a lot of money, speculating and importing and not really exporting is bad for a country.
Next, Ten Days of Truxtun- In the Navy

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Ten Days of Truxton- Continuing the Revolutionary War

Day 5. When we last left Tom Truxtun was a privateer having successfully captured ships with the Independence in the Caribbean. In 1777 at the age of 22, Captain Truxtun of the Mars, sailed towards the English Channel to take on British ships. The Mars, other privateers and the Continental Navy were also cruising those waters to pick of British merchant ships. When they overtook a ship, they would then go to the friendly ports of France, and have the items liquidated there.
In January 1778, he returned to America, specifically Boston, then later that year with his wife and child returned to Philadelphia after the British had vacated. In 1779 he captained the Andrew Caldwell, which sadly was captured by the British as it was just in sight of the neutral Dutch island of St. Eustatius. After his capture he was able to get to St. Eustatius and there he made an effort to get back to America. While there he managed to buy another vessel and cargo to take back to Philadelphia. On the way back Truxtun hit what probably was a hurricane, off the coast of the Carolinas. In the storm he lost all of his masts but was able to limp home (while initiating an attack on the way) by creating a jury-mast(?) and a jury-rig. The ship he was on was the Lydia and he renamed it the Independence II after she was fixed. The new name brought better luck in the privateering effort in 1780. Truxtun almost made a million dollars off what he was able to capture, however inflation was ever so increasing as the Continental Congress kept printing money.
In 1781, Truxtun managed to get himself into a fight with a British ship where both parties were hit pretty hard. However, later it was discovered that the ship was an American British loyalist ship out of New York. In 1782, General George Washington praised Truxtun's service at a dinner, remarking that he had, "been as a regiment to the United States."

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Ten Days of Truxtun- What I did During the American Revolution

Day 4 of looking at the man for whom the neighborhood gets its name.
In my last post about Tom Truxtun I mistakenly said he was captain of the Chance, I was wrong. After losing his first ship he captained to the British, he was just a prize lieutenant on the privateering ship the Chance. Not because he lost a ship in the Caribbean but because he got to the investors too late and they had already chosen captains.
So in Spring 1776 he sailed out from Philadelphia on the Chance heading for the Caribbean to stick up British merchant ships. Which by the way was a very profitable enterprise during the Revolutionary War. Investors would get half the spoils, and the rest were divided amongst officers and crew.... once it got through the court system. The Chance did well taking unarmed and out gunned British ships.
In the Summer of 1776 Tom Truxtun teamed up with a New York investor by the name of Issac Sears. Sears made Tom the captain of a 70 ton sloop called the Independence at the age of 21. Apparently the British were holding New York's bay at the time so he had to sneak his ship out by going down the East River.
Somewhere in southern waters he managed to capture a ship that got separated from its convoy. In capturing that ship he got a hold of the signals the convoy was using. So he joined the convoy, showing all the right signals, blending in. At night he came close to a ship he thought was holding the greatest bounty, took it over and separated it from the convoy. His adventure with the Independence led in the capture of 2 brigs and two ships, though one did get recaptured by the British.
I'll continue with Tom Truxtun in 1777 as captain of the Mars.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ten Days of Truxton- Commodore's Background

Okay day 3.
Who was Thomas Truxtun?
He's a boy from Long Island, 20 miles from the "town" of New York. Born in February 17, 1755 son of a barrister who was working on his second family. His father had left the first set in Jamaica, West Indies. Tom Truxtun had about two years of formal schooling before he was sent off to sea at the age of 12. Though this reminds me of a Dicken’s plot, his mother had died and his father was working on family #3 and poor Tom gets apprenticed to the Pitt. The Pitt was a Bristol ship and Tom was to be cabin boy. At the age of 16 he was pressed into His Majesty’s Royal Navy (remember America was still a colony) during some international flap between England and Spain. After England and Spain settled peacefully Tom Truxton, went back to merchant seamanship on the London.
When he was 20 years old he became captain of the Charming Polly and married a 15 year old girl named Mary in 1775. He was captured in that same year, due to hostilities between the British and the American Colonies, lost his ship (of which he’d owned ½) when overtaken by the Brits in the Caribbean. When he got back to America he became a privateer as captain of the Chance exacting his revenge on British ships in the Caribbean.
Next- Ten Days of Truxton- What I did During the American Revolution

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ten Days of Truxton- Slavery

I've heard of an objection to Truxton's name because he was a slaveholder. The whole city is named for a big old slaveholder. Worse yet, we've got a big phallic symbol on the Mall in honor of Washington, not far from that other memorial from another slaveholder, Jefferson, who also owned a number of humans.
The big biography by Eugene S. Furguson has very little to say about Commodore Thomas Truxton and slavery. Just one paragraph speaking of a period of then Captain Truxtun's life when he was a on financially shaky ground and his family was growing with 6 girls and two boys. And the family seemed to split their time between Cranbury, New Jersey and Philadelphia:
Their Negro servant, Hannah, was still with the family; but Captain Truxtun, influenced by his late friend Franklin's stand on slavery, had set her free on condition that he never be called upon to support her, should she leave his employ. Apparently she had chosen to stay on.

The Franklin mentioned is Benjamin Franklin.
Then the question is why did Hannah choose to stay. A couple factors might explain, she's a woman, possibly alone with no family, possibly no supportive Afro-American community in Cranbury, her age may've played a factor, and it's 1794-95.
So Truxtun's sin was owning at least one woman who didn't leave when the opportunity to do so was presented. For some that's unforgivable and puts him in the same league as worse transgressors such as Washington and Jefferson. Others may not count it against him in light of what he has given to fledgling US Navy.

Next Ten Days of Truxton- Commodore's Background

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Segregation Map


Segregation Map
Originally uploaded by In Shaw
I got excited when I discovered this map from 1938. It is a hand drawn map of Southwest DC, much of which really doesn't exist anymore. What it shows are negro and white commerical and residential areas as well as black occupied alley dwellings.
Demographic info is so cool.
I find it facinating because it further chips away at the ideas I had about Southern segregation. I always imagined it as very distinct, blacks on one side of town, whites on another and you won't find one in the other's neighborhood. My own (on again/ off again) study of Truxton Circle and this map shows a little mixture. The brown represents Afro-American street facing residences, black for black alley dwellings, and the yellow for white street facing residents. There are a few all yellow blocks, but there are plenty of yellow and black blocks, and yellow/ black/ brown blocks. The blue os commerical space.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Before the ANCs

Everyso often I see on other blogs commentary about the ANC system here in the District. Suggestions on how to improve them varies, but I wanted to share something, which may or may not add to the discussion. The ANC system came about after Home Rule in the 70s and are in line with the Ward system. Before Home Rule there were the civic (black) and the citizen (white) neighborhood associations that would advocate for city services.
I noticed, when poking around in early 20th century DC history, some associations' borders kept changing or had proposed changes due to population changes or other reasons. In 1925 the North Washington merged with the North Capitol and Eckington Citizens Asssociations to become the North Capitol Society. The reason was the two groups tended to overlap and replicate each others work.
Even after the ANC system, there were changes in size and number. The system that was put in place in 1974-1976 does not look the same as the one we have today. So changes can be made, because they have been made.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Historic house in LeDroit


1900blk 3rd St NW
Originally uploaded by In Shaw
Yesterday I wandered over to 3rd Street NW to admire the history. Please note this house, the chain link fence, the history! Some folks know the significance of this house, which currently is a private home from all indications. So please do not harass the occupants. Up until a few days ago I had passed the house on a few occasions without noting its importance. Then one day I was cleaning off my desk at work and there was this brochure for the National Archives' Regional Archives- Southeast Region in Morrow, GA. As objects of interest they had on the brochure national registration cards for notables who at the time probably weren't that notable when they filled out the card. Of the five cards there are the names and then current addresses for Huey Long, Jr., George Herman Ruth, James E. Carter, and Harry Houdini. And also some guy named Ed who lived on 3rd Street.
----
The house was one of several homes occupied by Edward Kennedy Ellington, also known as Duke Ellington. He was 19 when living at the house pictured.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ridge Street, again


Once again no body entered my contest. When you realize how easy it was you'll kick yourself. It was:
Here's the question, what is the address of a Ridge Street NW house that is still standing today but in 1940 was listed as "old and in poor condition" or "poor condition"?

473 Ridge Street NW is up for sale for $379K. In 1940 it's assessed value was $1,557, and described as "1 2 story frame, 4 rooms; no improvements; very old and in poor condition."
The house pictured is 425 Ridge Street. In 1940 for 425-425 1/2 Ridge Street the assessed value was $3,732. The description read as follows, "2 2 story bricks, divided into 2 3-room apartments or flats each; no improvements except inside water; old and in poor condition." The monthly rental for it was $70 and it held 4 families, a total of 19 persons.

So seriously the only Ridge Street houses NOT described as being old and in poor or terrible condition were, 413, 457, 475, 458, 438, 440, 442, and 444. 458 was a blacksmith's shop and garage, so it wouldn't have mattered.

Ref- RG 302 P-1, Folder Sq. 512 & 513.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How quick can you grant write?

May 1st is the deadline for the DC Community Heritage Project grant. Taking a look at past recipients of the $2000 or less, grants, there is a wide range, from community arts groups, garden clubs, civic associations, and main streets. The kind of humanities projects the Humanities Council is looking to provide grants for are:

Book Discussion
Conference
Curriculum Development
Debate
Discussion Guide
Exhibit
Film Discussion
Film/Video Production
Historical Dramatization
Humanist-in-Residence
Oral Histories/Interviews
Panel Discussion
Historic Preservation guides
Radio Production
Research
Scholarly Editing/Publishing
Seminars
Site Interpretation/Tour
Teacher’s Institute/Seminar
Workshop

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Monday, April 06, 2009

The Underside of History-a rant

Christmas with the family or as I sometimes call it, the meeting of the angry black people (Stay Black! Stay Angry!), brought up another crime the white man committed against our family. This year it was farmland Great Grandpa Kelly had, that the white man took away, sold for a pittance and cut Great Grandpa a small check for. Two relatives, whipped themselves up into a frenzy about how they were going to get the land back. Which will be hard considering it is currently part of a municipal airport. Dibs on the middle of runway 2.
History is filled with tons of stories of injustices, conflicts, and lots of things left unresolved. This just not the great man on the horse history, it is also relatively unknown individuals, their descendants, or their associates (connected by membership, ethnicity, nationality, local ties, etc). Descendants may file/make claims of restitution or restoration, digging in courthouses, libraries and archives to find evidence to support them. Or associates hold past wrongs done to them as justification to fight, to resist, or to distrust.
Playing out on the neighborhood level or in local politics, old (shall I call them 'historic'?) arguments get dusted off, and are given new life in current fights against or for initiatives, as with the proposed tax on grocery bags. Historically, the municipal government has not always been fair, equitable or just with the Black and struggling populations, and that history has been well 'preserved' for the present day pastime of bringing class and race into the discussion.
Present day DC bureaucrats and politicians will be/are judged by the misdeeds of their associates (who have yet to be let go or voted out of office) as well as their predecessors dating back to the establishment of the federal city. I wonder how many DC citizens are still smarting from unanswered phone calls, poor city services, and other negativies occurring years ago, possibly several administrations ago, forgetting the positive efforts, mad at the present office holder?
It is history. It is not the great man on the horse history, but is part of the narrative of how we live today. Things might have been different for me if Great Grandpa Kelly never lost his land. Maybe my grandfather, his son, would have been something other than a North Carolina sharecropper, working his own land as opposed to the land of a white landlord. It's not great history, but a chapter in my family's history. Who knows maybe my aunt and cousin will find the documents and make a case against the county, or the bank (or the bank that bought that bank) or whomever 'stole' the land. I doubt it, but on the off chance they win, dibs on the runway.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

History

This morning I had in mind to write one thing but read in today's Washington Post "D.C.'s Past Is Prologue," about the Historical Society of Washington D.C. over on Mt. Vernon Sq. Reading the article I'm a bit concerned about the paragraph:
Thomas said he envisions a place where more records could be archived, such as papers from neighborhood associations -- and that could increase the annual line item. The society's supporters are suggesting an appropriation of $2.5 million to $4 million.
I have no problem with the city supporting and funding some of the Historical Society's functions, but I'm concerned about what this would mean for the DC Archives (Naylor Ct) and the Washingtonia Division at the Martin Luther King Library (Gallery Place), both under the DC government's jurisdiction. Does it mean the problems of the DC Archives can be ignored?
The article also says the Historical Society tells the city's non federal stories and "the King public library and the Jewish Historical Society... have archives, theirs are more specialized." When the author writes the "King public library" can I assume that's the Washingtonia division at the MLK? And if so, what exactly is it's speciality that makes it so different from the Historical Society's archives? More printed and published material at the MLK? A better set of census microfilms at the MLK? Just for my own research I found a lot of overlap. With maps they and the Library of Congress overlap. The major differences were in quality of the document, ease and price of making duplicates, access, staffing and hours. However each repository has its own particular strengths that don't overlap. The Historical's on-line catalog makes it a superior resource as well as its fantastic photo collection. The Washingtonia's strength is that it gets down to the neighborhood level in organization and has a great library of published resources. But they both cover DC history.
Also DC history is all over the city. It's at the Historical Society, in the Washingtonia division of the MLK, the Library of Congress, George Washington University, Georgetown, Catholic, National Archives, and the DC Archives.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Old Streetcar route: The Fourth Street Line

From Rider's Washington, 1924.
Fourth Street Line: operates between Steamboat wharves (M and Water Sts., S.W.) and W St. and Georgia Ave., N.W. Route: northwest on Water St. to 11th St., north on 11th St. to Virginia Ave., northwest on Virginia Ave., to B St., west on B St. to 14th St., nort on 14th St. to G St. N.W., east on G St. to 5th St., north on 5th St. to New York Ave., northeast on New York Avenue to 4th St., north on 4th St. to Florida Ave., east on Florida Ave., to 3rd St., north on 3rd St. to Elm St., west on Elm St. to 4th St., north on 4th St. to W St. to Georgia Ave.
Car signs: northbound, "LEDRIOT PARK"; southbound, "WHARVES."

Is it just me or does that sound like a screwy route?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Old Streetcar Routes

Well I'm back from the annual trek to Florida to see the family, and since I'm catching up on what's been going on, here's some history.

From Rider's Washington, a tourist guidebook from the 1920s, there is a description of the different streetcar lines. I'll mention a few here.
Florida Avenue Line: operates between Stephenson Monument (Pennsylvania Ave. and 7th St.) and Navy Yard Gate. Route: north on 7th St. to T St., east on T St. to Florida Ave., southeast on Florida Ave., to 8th St. N.E., south on 8th St., to Navy Yard Gate (M St. S.E.). Car signs: north and eastbound, "NAVY YARD"; west and southbound, "7TH AND PA, AVE. N.W."

New Jersey Avenue Line: operates between Rock creek Bridge (20th and Calvert Sts. N.W.) and Navy Yard Gate (8th and M Sts. S.E.). Route: east on Calvert St. to 18th St., south on 18th St. to U St., east on U St. to Florida Ave. to New Jersey Ave., southeast on New Jersey Ave. to Massachusetts Ave. to Union Station, thence southwest on Delaware Ave to B St. N.E., east on B St. to Pennsylvania Ave., southeast Pennsylvania Ave. to 8th St., south on 8th St. to Navy Yard.

The Washington Railway and Electric Company was another (I don't have it in my notes who operated the above lines) streetcar company in DC. Their Georgia Avenue-Ninth Street Line had four lines. Line A went from Forest Glen to Water St. going down Georgia then down 9th. Line B went from between the Wharves to Ga Ave and Eastern Ave. Line C went between Water St to the Soldiers Home. Line D went between Takoma, Anacostia and Congress Heights. It started at Butternut St in Takoma to GA Ave and went along the same southern route as Line A to 4 1/2 St to Maryland Ave to B St and Canal Sts. then east on E, south on 4th, then east on G, then south on 11th to Anacostia Bridge, then south on Nichols Ave to a terminal at Talbert St. From Talbert on Nichols Ave to Congress Heights and west on Portland St to Steel Plant, The names of the streets may have changed because the directions seems odd once you get past the Anacostia Bridge, which could be (I dunno) the Fredrick Douglass Memorial Bridge.

Later the Fourth Street Line.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Capital Sporting Grounds: Preface and Introduction

This is the first book I've read by someone I know who wasn't my professor. That is a factor, in that those assigned books by professors pushing their products, were something to quickly get through. Heck knows I probably never read the preface or acknowledgements. If I did read the introductory chapter, it was more than likely skimmed.
B.'s or Dr. Brett L. Abrams', PhD (American U) book, is so far, so good, but with some bumps. If I weren't making notes in the book, I probably would read faster as this is not a difficult read, he's telling a story. However, at points, I'm finding myself in disagreement with his writing style, and my notes are reflecting that. These are just minor stylistic things like where a sentence is in a paragraph. My other notes are just markers, either summing up a thought or highlighting major points. Habitually with non-fiction I tend to make notes in books (I own), as a way to talk with the author. Of course, in this case I could just walk over and talk with the author.
The Preface tells why this book is different from what's out there. Books covering the topic of stadiums are coffee-table picture books or technical tomes on economics or construction. There are books that are about single stadiums, in other cities, not D.C. So what B. is doing is filling a vacuum, looking at the District of Columbia/ DC Metro area and stadium development taking in account the politics and history of that development.
The Introduction provides the historical background of the growth and development of Washington, DC as a city. He quickly reviews DC's character as four cities, an international city, a federal city, a local city, and a regional city.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

B.'s Stadium Book gets WP write up

My next door neighbor/co-worker B. has his book Capital Sporting Grounds out now and his book got some love from Marc Fisher. I just got the book in my hot little hands today, and I hope to give an honest as I can report of it once done.
I'm a bit more interested in Capital Sporting Grounds than the other book he released last year, because its topic is development history in Washington DC. Also B. gave a pretty interesting presentation sometime back at the Historical Society about stadium development and some of the backroom dealing involved. B. is interested in the story and I look forward to experiencing his storytelling.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

History resource

I've been playing with the relationship calculator to figure that whole 5th cousin twice removed thing. Anyway, not specifically Shaw related, but helpful in pinning down what portions of the US Census to look for former Shaw residents by street.
The One-Step Webpages by Stephen Morse are more helpful when you have a subscription to Ancestry. Yes, the same Ancestry.Com that maybe one day will digitize the material in the DC Archives. Maybe. Without the subscription it points you in the right direction.
There are other tools on the site that are useful if you're looking into 19th and early 20th Century immigrants going through New York. It would be a great resource for people doing New York history. Unfortunately, I'm not doing New York history.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Access

I was going to write about the power outage in the eastern part of Shaw this morning, but I got an email through my local professional organization about a supposed deal between The Generations Network, Inc.(TGN), the company behind Ancestry.Com and the DC Archives.
Jonetta Rose Barras reports and is critical of the proposed deal. In short TGN wants to digitize DC Archive material and make it available for a fee on its website. Considering the poor access to materials at the DC Archives now, I think it is a good thing. Compared to the Library of Congress, National Archives, Washingtonia Room at the MLK library, and the Washington Historical Society's archive/library, places that have posted hours, available staff and are set up to deal with researchers, the access is poor. Paid access is a step up from nearly no access. Better would be free access.
And Ancestry does provide some free access. There is the Social Security Death Index, which is helpful in finding dead DC tax payers. The Jewish Burial Index (DC) is free and the 1880 Census is free, with registration. Then again, one could just go to an institution where they have a subscription to the service and access all the databases there.
But the claim that the "‘physical and intellectual control’ of the city’s vast repository of historical records would be relinquished to an outside entity.'" as some elements of wrong in it. At worst DC would be loaning records for the purpose of digitizing. At best the digitization would be on-site or local. But once the digitization is done, the records go back on the shelves. The District of Columbia isn't the first, and won't be the last local goverment to have their records digitized by TGN.
I use Ancestry for work and research and the database has been very helpful, making quick work of some time consuming searches. And to make even my work easier by adding more D.C. items would make me so happy.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Crowding- and good intentions gone lost

I forget which census year it was but one year there were 11 people living in the house I currently occupy. As far as I know, the house has always been a two bedroom and I believe the cellar is a late 20th century addition. My house is about 1,000 sq ft.
I have read that overcrowding could be blamed on segregation. Segregation was probably one of several causes, if there are so many structures in the city and many of those structures are off limits due to covenants and other restrictions, then that limits housing choices. I get a sense that economics had something to do with it as well, but that is just a guess.
Anywho, a turn of the century description of crowded rental housing comes from a report from Clare de Graffenried:
I have no doubt that lodgers are harbored in these alleys whose presence, for many reasons not creditable to the occupants, is always concealed. The confessed facts are startling enough. We have here accounts of 7 persons living in two rooms-- the mother and her sons, 21, 17 and 7 years of age, occupying one bedchamber. Again, 9 individuals live in two romse[sic]; 11 people in four rooms. Five, almost all adults, sleep in one room-- the mother 43, a son 21, and daughters 19, 17, and 14; and 4 persons use another room-- a mother 45, and aunt 70, and a son 22, and a baby 9 months old.
--Page 18 of Kober, George "The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, DC" Washington, DC 1907.

Doing a Google search for Miss de Graffenried, brought up Between Justice and Beauty by Howard Gillette, Jr., which on page 113 where he notes that she goes for the dramatic story over statistics. Later Gillette writes on page regarding the predecessor of the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, which built the houses on Bates Street:
By 1904 the company housed 140 families, 30 of whom were black. Since the overwhelming majority of alley dwellers were black, the company clearly did not direct its attention to those in greatest need.-- page 115

In Kober in 1909 writes about their housing efforts:
It should be stated, that while the original intention was to provide homes for alley residents and thereby remove the slums, it was considered best to begin this movement by providing improved dwellings for the better class of wage earners, in the belief that houses vacated by them would be rented by the next grade, and so on until the bottom of the ladder was reached. --page 31

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More from The History and Development of the Housing Movement

Here's something else from George Kober's The History of Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, D.C. regarding slum housing:
But even in modern cities unhealthful habitations abound and have been permitted to be erected without interference.
We have them in Washington and Georgetown in considerable number, which greatly increased during the War, when the slave deserted the plantation to find refuge and liberty in the District of Columbia, the only spot at that time in the United States that offered such a boon.
The rapid influx of a negro population, estimated to have been between 30,000 and 40,000, imperatively demanded immediate accommodation. In consequence of this necessity, hovels of every description arose as if by magic. The result of this abnormal growth of a class of people destitute of means and education, ignorant of physical laws, at a time of war and confusion has been the erection of cheap dwellings, as much of the material having been obtained from army camps and hospitals.
--Pages 4-5

That could explain the shanty nature of some of the 'houses' pictured in the book and in other places I've seen regarding bad DC housing. The weirdest thing is people paid rent to live in these poorly constructed shacks. In 1874 the amount ranged from $2.50-$10.00. In an 1896 survey unfit housing rents were about $8-10.50. What's that in 2009 dollars? No clue the BLS inflation calculator only goes back to 1913. But $10 1913 dollars equals $214.57 in today's dollars. Roughly.
Later I will cover overcrowding.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

1909 book on alleys and crappy DC housing

Weller, Charles Frederick. Neglected neighbors :stories of life in the alleys, tenements and shanties of the national capital. Philadelphia : J.C. Winston, 1909. Is available online at http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/3370011. It does the whole city. However the author appears to be concerned solely with white occupants of slum housing.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fun with ProQuest:1825 T Street NW

Yes, this is a couple of blocks west of 16th Street, so definately not in Shaw. But I came across a Washington Post article* when looking for Northwest slum housing with no electricity. 1825 T Street was built as negro housing, replacing 5 frame houses that once sat on that spot. It was part of a plan to clear (tear down) slum housing from 16th to Conneticut Avenue. Currently they are condos, and appear to have been condos since the 80s. I thought it was interesting, so thus, I post.

*"Apartments To Replace Slum Area." by Robert P. Jordan. The Washington Post (1877-1954) [Washington, D.C.] 9 Jul 1950,R1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Washington Post (1877 - 1992). ProQuest.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

1950s School Map


JrHigh1956Borders
Originally uploaded by In Shaw
I also have the High School map and I can't help but notice that 16th Street is a common dividing line.
This is from "Corning Sets Integrated School Zone Boundaries," by Marie Smith, Washington Post, July 2, 1954 p. 1, 25-26. It is the proposed school boundaries for schools that were to integrate. Wanna guess what big demographic change occurs east of 16th?
Also I want to mention that when I present stuff from the past, occasionally called 'history', I will try to cite it so you dear reader can find the information yourself. History is subject to interpretation, and I bring my own biases. Un-cited, history is subject to being made up.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sort of Retelling/rewriting History

I'm trudging through Monique M. Taylor's Harlem: Between heaven and hell which looks at the role of the black middle class and gentrification in Harlem. Harlem, has a special place in AfrAmerican and American cultural history, so there is that attractive and laudable past that attracts middle and upper middle class blacks.
In the first chapter Taylor writes how Harlem came into being via a real estate bust. Speculators bought up properties in Harlem around the turn of the 20th century because the Manhattan subway or street car (I'm not clear which) was coming up to Harlem and well, you know. Too many houses constructed, too high of a price, and then the bubble popped. Sound familiar? In this economic crisis " many landlords were willing to rent properties to blacks. ... Others shrewdly took advantage of white prejudice. The hope was that by placing blacks into certain properties, neighboring whites would vacate their properties and free them up at extremely low prices."[1] Around the mid to late 1910s Harlem became a majority black neighborhood. Then by 1920 notable and influential black organizations had established or relocated themselves in Harlem. Over time the positives that Harlem is known for flourished.
However, while there was this great Harlem Renaissance taking place, the glory outshone the negative side of Harlem. The unemployment, the crowded living conditions, the poverty and segregation. The famous Cotton Club was for white patrons only. The realities of the negatives resulted in large homes being carved up into smaller units to crowd poor people into and when the glitter of Harlem's shine started getting dull a depressing ghetto began to show underneath.
The background is needed to understand the black middle class who come to or returned to Harlem to 'restore it to it's former glory.' As I was reading the stories of the black mid class (let's say buppies for short) fixing up properties I noticed something. They are making the buildings reflect their pre-black neighborhood past, while lauding the Harlem Renaissance period. You mix your time periods long enough they meld into one, so that it is easy to imagine people like us (buppies) living in the grand houses and participating in the Renaissance. No one in the book, so far, has confused the periods, but the thinking seems to skate very close to it.
The book is very interesting in addressing class. But class seems to be too clunky and static a term. Taylor does show in one example how the relationship between buppies and poor blacks goes from we are all one to those sorry so-and-sos. Maybe more about that later.

[1]Taylor, Monique M. Harlem: Between heaven and hell. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, 2002. p. 5

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

DC Archives Holdings, pt 2

See Part 1, and I take no responsibility for the accuracy of this catalog.
Mayor's Office (and predecessor, the Board of Commissioners)
Minutes, Including orders, of the Commissioners. 1953-67
Records relating to executive session meetings of the Board of Commissioners("Confidential Memorandum"), 1957-1966. (6 cu ft)
Photographic prints and negatives, slides, and other visual records from the Office of Communications and its successors, ca. 1946-1990. (22 cu ft)
General Correspondence of Mayor Walter E. Washington, 1967-1969. (18 cu ft)
Speeches of Mayor Marion Barry, 1979-1990. (12 cu ft)
Office files of Mayor Marion Barry, ca 1985-1990 (bulk) (2.74 cu ft)
Subject files of the Mayor's Press Secretary, ca 1989-90. (4 cu ft)
Records of he 1978 & 1982 Mayoral Transition Committees; records of cabinet meetings, 1979-82; and "Pre-Policy" meetings, 1984-85; and Policy Discussion Group meetings, 1982. (9 cu ft)
Subject files of Mayor Walter Washington,, 1967-69 (ulk), 1961-70 (inclusive) (18 cu ft)
Subject files of Deputy Mayor Thomas Fletcher, 1967-69 (bulk), 1961-70. (inclusive). (17 cu ft)
"Chron files" Reading Files. Mayor's Correspondence Unit, 1979-85. (8 cu ft)
Letters Received, Board of Commissioners, ca. 1908-28. 18 cu ft. [Estrays from the Letters Received in RG 351 in the National Archives]

Planning Office
Project files, re. to building the Convention Center, 1965-84; and correspondence and other records, 1985-87. (ca 13 cu ft)

Police Department
"May Day Report, 1971. (1.5 cu ft)

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

DC Archives Holdings, pt 1

Why this isn't on the DC Archives website, I don't know. This is 15 years out of date, so I don't vouch for the accuracy.

District of Columbia Archives
Holdings - Mar. 1993 [ca. 4719 cu. ft]

Auditor's Office
DC Auditor. Printed Reports, 1980-, (3 cu. ft)

Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Dept of
Articles of Incorporation, 1870-1954 (40 cu ft) and related indexes (7 vols.)

Elections and Ethics, Board of
Board of Elections, "Voter Information Master" file. (1 reel of computer tape).

Emergency Preparedness Office (Civil Defense)
Records re. Demonstrations, Civil Disturbances adn Special Events, 1965; 1968-78. (25 cu ft)

Housing and Community Development, Dept of
Dept of Housing and Community Development. Redevelopment Land Agency Records, ca. 1965-1976. (11 cu ft)
Dept of Housing and Community Development. Redevelopment Land Agency. Shaw and H St. NE; 14th St.; Downtown; building survey forms, 1968-1972 (27 cu ft)
Dept of Housing and Community Development. Redevelopment Land Agency. Slides showing condition of houses in NE. (0.5 cu ft)
Dept. of Housing and Community Development. National Capital Housing Authority. Legal Division. Reading Files, 1943-54; 1964-71. Copies of NCHA minutes, 1954-68. Miscellaneous records. (6 cu ft)
Dept. of Housing and Community Development. Redevelopment Land Agency. Audiovisual materials re. to Washington, including films. slides, audio tapes, video tapes, ca 1976 (ca 12 cu ft)

Human Services
Dept of Human Services. Minutes of the Board of Health, 1822-78. (3 vols.)and Health Officer's Scrapbook, 1920-25 (1 vol)
Dept of Human Services. Minutes and Other Records of the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1978-79. (2 in)
Dept of Human Services. Records of he Mayor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Teenage Pregnancy Prevention, 1984-1985 (.33 cu ft)
Dept Human Service. Public Health Commissioner. Disinterment Permits (Applications), 1937-48 (3 cu ft)

Law Revision Commission
Minutes, correspondence, recommendations, annual reports, adn other records, 1975-1991. (10 cu ft)

Parts 2 and 3 and whatever to follow when I feel like typing them up

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Friday, October 03, 2008

July 28, 1933: Low Cost Housing & Slum Clearance

I really have little to add to what Shaw & Bloomingdale bloggers have to say about the various things going on, so I'm going to go to history and type up more of City Planner John Nolen's report "Low Cost Housing and Slum Clearance Opportunities in Washington Under the Public Works Administration". I previously typed up the section "Washington's Problem". The following is "Objectives of a Housing Program":

Many reports on this subject by Mr. [John] Ihlder and others to this Commission have indicated that the following program should be followed.

1. Concentrate on the elimination of the alley slums.

2. Provide suitable housing for the alley population either by repair or reconstruction of existing vacant street dwellings, or by the building of entirely new housing. New housing might well be for not only the alley population but similar economic and social elements of a population not now adequately housed.

3.Through the rehabilitation of blighted areas, pressure would be relieved on better neighborhoods inducting the natural flow of capital by private initiative for other modern reconstruction as the inevitable result of the rehabilitation of the areas originally causing the shift in population.

It may be that the present situation and opportunities will make advisable some change in the order of this program; for example,- the population in the alleys has been increased by the depression whereas the street vacancies in the same neighborhoods have increased. This situation will make more difficult the acquisition of alley property at fair prices, as well as work a hardship on the unfortunate elements of the alley population. At the same time the widespread increase in street vacancies may mean a willingness on the part of owners to sell their property at reasonable prices. A housing development only incidentally involving inhabited alleys as the first step to be taken may thus well take advantage of natural economic conditions.

-From part of a Report by John Nolen to the National Capital Planning Commission, July 28, 1933. Found in the appendix to the July 1933 minutes. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 328, A1-15.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

With Lawyers and Money All Things are Possible

I'm going through zoning cases at the place they pay me and I noticed something funny. Well I notice a lot of odd, "huh?" stuff. For example, I'm trying to figure out what happened to the Salvation Army Headquarters that was supposed to be at the spot where 555 Massachusetts sits now. Around 1990 there was supposed to be a non-profit with shelter (Zoning Commission 90-8M/88-23C). But instead there is something else. Maybe not enough lawyers and money.
Another project was the 7th Street Penn Quarter area with the older facades and the modern high rise behind it. I have read/heard complaints about how the whole facade thing is bad and it's bad for historic preservation. Well looking at the papers, the Historic Preservation people signed off on the project. Yes, there is a signature and everything. Were they browbeaten by the developer's lawyers?
And there are other projects, other PUDs, where I'll admit, I don't have all the information. But I look at what the paperwork says, remember what the location looks like now and sometimes things don't match up.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

History lesson, and no this won't be on the test

I have something. It is long and if you have time I'd like you to read it and give your thoughts. I'm leaving off the date and the source so I can ask you the following questions:
When do you think this was written? What year, what decade? Language will give a clue.
After reading the following passage, how do you see DC's housing problem?

Washington's Problem (select part of report sumbitted to govt body) by John Nolen (govt employee):

__________’s long study of the housing problem in Washington has revealed without question that the inhabited alleys are not only the most serious part of the situation but are, to a great extent, the cause of a general housing problem in the sections of the city in which they are most predominant. Moreover, relative to other cities in the United States, the inhabited alleys of Washington are as serious from a social, health and public welfare point of view as are some of the slums in the industrial centers.
The general importance of the inhabited alley situation to the city as a whole lies in the social and economic blight that envelops many alley dwelling area. These areas have so depreciated that both white and colored population area moving away to the better neighborhoods. Although in the old city of Washington all but one section declined in total population during the last decade, and all sections declined in white population an average of 20%, in more than half of the old city the colored population increased, so that many section heretofore predominantly white have changed in the short period of ten years to predominately colored. This encroachment, especially in the northwest direction in areas that have always been white, has resulted in part from the depreciation of the neighborhoods normally occupied by colored residents of the better economic class. This shift in population over such a short period of time seriously affects property values and the use of existing school facilities, and raises many other municipal problems. The increase in vacancies in the blighted areas has brought pressure for changing the zoning of residential area to commercial in sections of the city where there is already an ample supply of commercial area. Moreover, a normal proportionate share of improvements to private property during the last eight or ten years has failed to go into the reconstruction of the deteriorated residential portions of the old city. There has been a relatively insignificant increase in assessed values affecting the tax income of the municipality from these areas. All of these forces, operating apparently to an increasing degree, have left areas of stagnation and blight, many of which are favorably situated for housing the lowest income groups in a manner conducive to the public welfare and an adequate return on private capital. Such enterprises, aside from their local benefit, should have a city-wide effect in stabilizing the character and value of neighborhoods.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Make the ghetto go away, and work together

Of course, we all recognize that if we are ultimately to improve psychological and physical conditions for minorities there must be total elimination of ghettoes and the establishment of a truly integrated society. In the meantime, however, all those working for economic and social justice are forced to address themselves to interim programs which, while not totally changing the situation, will nevertheless bring about improvement in the lives of those forced to live in ghettoes. And so, whiel [sic] many of those steps may lead to limited integration, those which do not must clearly be seen as interim steps until the objective situation makes a more fundamental approach.


and later

... Labor, Housing and the Office of Economic Opportunity, ought to work with the people of Shaw in developing, coordinating and concentrating their various programs upon social and economic problems of this area.


-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at a March 13, 1967 rally for Shaw

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Not so much lunch break research

But as part of trying to answer a work-related question, I found myself looking at DC Building Permits on microfilm from 1892 to 1920something. Just a quick observation… the 19th century stuff is a lot of new buildings. But there are, and more so in the 1917 & up permits, permits for additions to pre-existing structures. In 1917 and thereabouts people where building kitchen additions, two story add-ons, new porches, steps, thus basically not leaving their homes in the pristine state the original builder had left.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Urban Renewal: So what were you thinking?

I've been meaning to getting around to talking about a lovely record group at the National Archives. If you go to their OPAC called ARC and throw in the phrase "National Capitol Planning Commission" you will find a slew of series that pertain to the history and development of the District of Columbia. Records Relating to Urban Renewal (ARC ID# 784266) do contain a lot of info about Shaw and other areas that got 'renewed' in the middle of the 20th Century. Another series I want to focus on in this post are the Transcripts of Proceedings and Minutes of Meetings, 01/1924 - 12/02/1999 (ARC ID# 1571319).
At the 1962 September Open Session Meeting of the Commission (9/13/1962), when speaking about the Northeast No. 1 Urban Renewal Project, Brig. General F.J. Clarke made the statement:
Urban Renewal, as presently thought of, may be separated into 2 principal categories: First, being those actions which are concerned with preventing future slums, namely improved planning, improved codes, etc.; and, 2nd, the elimination of existing slum or blighted areas.
In this category of eliminating existing slums, the primary purpose of urban renewal is the elimination of slum or blighted areas by various means: acquisition and demolition of structures; the rehabilitation of existing structures; installation of public facilities, and other measures.
Secondarily in purpose but not in importance is the prevention of the recurrence of slum and blighted conditions again in the redeveloped or renewed area.

There's more, but I don't feel like transcribing it right now. It points a bit to the thinking of the 'why'. It's getting to the what, that makes things interesting.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

People over things

This comes out of some email correspondence I had this week about an inquiry about a Shaw house's history. Sometimes you can find the date of when something was built, sometimes not. The date on my lovely domicile is based on tax records, one year it's taxed as land, next year land and an improvement, no permit, and zilch about a builder. However, my interest in structures, my own particularly, is based on maintenance and bases for complaints when it comes to maintenance and the inadequacies of the building.
I have a greater interest in flesh and blood than bricks and mortar. People do things, they go to work, they have families, they have relationships, they have a story, and the place where they live is absolutely uninteresting without them.
And the people I'm most interested in are the ones who lived around here. This is to differentiate from the landlords who most likely, didn't. I'm picking up from some of you a thinking that the focus should be on the property owner. Maybe in other parts of the country, maybe the place where you came from, people built and bought homes to live in. Maybe they made their little plot, a family home, where at least one generation would remember it fondly as the place they grew up and a place to return. Not the case here. The owners were landlords, their family homes were elsewhere. In the case of the woman who once owned my house, it was just another investment, something that could be bought and sold and rented out for income.
From the 1880 to 1930 census stuff I've seen, there were a lot of renters in the neighborhood. And I've noticed these people moved around. I was trying to find out who was the earliest family to live at a certain TC house on the 1500 blk of 1st Street. I found the family living there a few years after the date the house was built, and when I went back through the city directory (arranged by name) to see if the house existed a previous year (and it would be confirmed by that family being there in those previous years), that family lived further up 1st in Eckington.
The fun question then becomes, why move around? Why stay in a place for only a few years only to move 1/4 mile somewhere else? Why can't you stay in one spot? The building just sits there, and doesn't generate a lot of questions for me. The building is the backdrop, the scenery, the stage, but the play is nothing without the performers.
I've rambled enough, but sometime later I want to return to the idea of what it means to be an area with a very restless renter population.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Clio shines upon DC History

I got my wish that the Historical Society's library/archive be open on Saturday and lo and behold I got the following email:
Exciting News from the Historical Society of Washington

Kiplinger Research Library Open FIVE DAYS a week !
Tuesday - Saturday
For the first time in years, beginning tomorrow January 4, the Library will be open on Friday and Saturday in addition to the regular Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday schedule. Open from 10 – 5pm. Come on down! Call 202-383-1850 with questions.

Now another resource to comb for my personal interpretation of history.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fun with the Census: Housing data 1890-1930

Okay, I am a bad researcher. There is a Census report that I've probably photocopied several times but I keep losing it, and forgetting it's exact title. So in that vein, I share with y'all a portion of a census report that I failed to copy the title page for...
In 1890 25.5% of District homes were owner occupied, 74.5% were rentals. 1900, 23.4 owned, 73.5% rented, and then there is a tenure unknown part that I'm just going to ignore. 1910, 24.4 owned, 72.3 rented. 1920, 29.6 owned, 68.3 rented. 1930, 37.6 owned, 59.9 rented.
Now in the then Census tracts of 10 & 11, 10 being N. Cap, K, 7th and S, and 11 being 7th, K, 15th and S, there are some fun demographics for 1930. Tract 10 was 17.8% native white, 6.2 foreign white, and 75.5 Negro. Tract 11, was 51.7% native white, 8.4 foreign white and 39.7 black. Track 10 had the highest percentage of African Americans in the District in 1930, compared to all the other tracks. Anacostia at the time, Tract 30, was only 24% Negro.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Stuff at the DC Archives

Okay there is a lot of history stuff from this weekend with the Washington Historical Conference and an email that went out regarding historic preservation that raised one of my eyebrows.
I was happy to stumble upon the DC Archives desk because the web presence of this part of the DC government is like nil. I had a researcher friend complain that he couldn't find any information about hours, or contact info to save his life. It's there, just not terribly easy to find like the Washingtonia collection or the Historical Society's archive.
The DC Archives is at 1300 Naylor Court, NW (office 202 671 1105, fax 202 727 6076) and off the top of my head they have regular office hours. So they are right in Shaw, not too far from the Convention Center.
At the desk I got a list of the different series the archives has and here are a few highlights:

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs:
Building/Construction/ Alternation Permits & Plans (1949-1995)

Department of Public Works:
Plans of Demolished Buildings (1900-1979)

Department of Housing and Community Development
Redevelopment Land Agency Records (1965-1976)
Shaw & H Street Building Survey Forms (1968-1972)
14th Street & Downtown Survey Forms (1968-1974)
Organizational Records, includes annual reports, history, etc (1934-1987)

Not on the list but I think it was confirmed that the records for a department that condemned buildings may be at the archives as well. I'm very interested in those.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Home Rule

For work, I'm trying to get a better understanding of Home Rule. Not the cool store on 14th, but the District of Columbia getting more control over local functions that were run/directed by the Federal government. The District of Columbia Self-Government and Reorganization Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-198, 93rd Congress, S. 1435, 12/24/1973) was the thing that gave us Home Rule. Home Rule as in getting a city elected mayor (before, they were appointed) and city council. Also in the period of Home Rule we got our beloved Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in 1975, boundaries established and the system started in 1975, ANCs got elected the following year.
Though I'm not seeing a direct 1 to 1, it seems that ANCs replaced the old civic/citizen association role. The civic/citizen associations were the neighborhood level (there were also block groups, but that's too small) advocacy groups.

References:
"Civic groups vie with neighborhood commissions" Washington Post, Walterene Swanston: Jul 21, 1977. (p. DC-6)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Are we there yet?

In the 50s-60s the Feds and locals came up with the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area (SSURA) plan. My question, it being 2007 and all, well I was wondering, are we done yet? Has Shaw been urbanly renewed? Or is it one of those government things that will never die and 30 years from now Shaw will still be renewing? Is there a DC neighborhood that has been renewed and the authors of it have placed their hands on their hips, struck a profile, and announced that their work is now done? If so did they get what they planned for?

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

History, memory, and stuff

It's been well over a decade since I've had to take a historiography course and several years since I've had to study and read about bias in public history. One book that I know I've read for the public history portion of a museum class was Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays by Mike Wallace. Another book, which I have not read is A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston by Stephanie E. Yuhl, and from the reviews it seems to tell of a 'history' story shaped by a particular social group via selective building preservation and appropriating aspects of the African-American story that did not undermine their own. Both point to how history has been used and as Wallace asserts, abused. Wallace provides an example of President Ronald Reagan's style of storytelling that supported whatever conservative point he was trying to make. One example was the story of immigrants' coming to America, the land of opportunity, and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. This image glossed over the discrimination, poverty and other things faced by those immigrants, Wallace points out. A jewel from Yuhl's book:
"Similarly, Charleston's heritage trade was an ideological construct that enabled a small group of elite whites to perpetrate their selective historical memories and peddle them to eager tourists in a highly consumable form."

Bringing this down to the local level, Shaw has a story, which in it's most basic form is fine. That story being, black people lived here, black notables lived within the borders we know as Shaw, Dunbar was a the top African American high school in the country, and U Street was only second to Harlem. Okay, maybe some other cities may argue that last point, whatever. One of the problems in it's retelling, and these can be considered really minuscule problems, the Jewish/Italian/general immigrant story seem less real in the face of this popular story. Another small problem I see, is some unnecessary straw grabbing, such as claiming notables who lived in other neighborhoods, like LeDroit Park. And maybe a more important problem is selective memory and the sin of omission, that retells the popular story by picking and choosing the nicest parts, ignoring the huge social problem that made the area a target for urban renewal. The popular story doesn't tell where the black middle class went after the golden age, it doesn't explain why there are so many social services here and why the area became ripe for gentrification and street crime. It doesn't tell the long sad tale of housing, vacancy, slum lords, and programs that fell a little short due to cronyism and inflation. It does tell the story of the riots, the hint that there was something amiss. Messy history with still lingering sore points isn't exactly highly consumable for the tourist crowd.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Research can be fun

Semi-stolen from my other blog....
Well this lovely fourth of July was not as alcohol soaked as I may have let on. In fact the only drink I had was communion wine and one pina colada. But this weekend shall be fondly remembered as the research weekend.
The MLK Library's Washintonia collection was useless to me. Mainly cause it was closed. I mean I looked at their website and they only mentioned being closed on the 4th, not the 3rd or the 5th, as their sign clearly said on the door. So not to be deterred I wandered over to the Historical Society at Mt. Vernon Sq. Well I swear their Real Estate maps from 1887 are in much better shape than and at MLK. Sadly the Historical Society's library is not the best when it comes to reproducing what you found.
I was able to look at these great maps of the neighborhood and see how old some of these places are. My papers when I bought my crumbly pair of bricks and board said the house was built in 1900. Not so. It sits on the 1887 map. But that's not all. In the 1940s and 1950s a guy (if I took better notes I'd have the name) went around DC taking pictures of different neighborhoods. Well I thought my neighborhood was sooooo uninteresting he wouldn't have wasted film in my hood. Well he did and I found a picture of my street as well as the neighborhing areas. Woo hoo!

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