Dream City homesteading

Urban Homesteading program ad published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1977.

Urban Homesteading program ad published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1977.

The journalists Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood drew the title of their 1994 book on recent Washington history, Dream City, from Charles Dickens’ 1842 description of the nation’s capital: “city of magnificent intentions.”

Through the years, District and federal leaders have struggled to solve the city’s housing ills by implementing policies and programs borne of magnificent intentions. Urban homesteading, which the city adopted in 1974 to address a large pool of abandoned housing and growing demand for affordable housing, was one of those dreams.

For a small number of District families who paid $1 for a home, it was a dream come true. Yet, for the distressed neighborhoods where the homes were located, it was a dream deferred. The program which hoped to spur contagious reinvestment failed in that respect. Continue reading

Off the books at First and T

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a local TV crew, April 2015.

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a local TV crew, April 2015.

Last spring a long-lived Washington, D.C., hair salon shut its doors after about 50 years in business, 27 of them in the 100 block of Rhode Island Ave. NW. Jak & Company’s owner spent a few weeks in the media spotlight after a Washington Post reporter spotted a letter taped in the storefront’s plate glass door.

The letter announced that the business was closing; gentrification was one of the reasons the letter cited.

The history of changes in people and businesses at the intersection of First and T streets NW in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood includes a hidden history of ties to Washington’s African American underworld. Continue reading

The gentrification post

People who live in gentrifying neighborhoods enjoy many new things that accompany increased investment and influxes of new people: better police protection, more places to shop and eat, and cleaner streets. The changes may be gradual or they may appear in such a short period of time that it seems like overnight.

Something as simple as the appearance of a mailbox on a corner can reinforce longtime residents’ impressions that change is occurring.

And now that I’ve been over here and we’re getting whites moving in the neighborhood, we’ve got a mailbox on the corner. We don’t have to go up to the post office ….

The mailbox is new. And pickup on time: eleven o’clock very day. Eleven o’clock every day. So you see, you get different service and you get general services and so forth and so on. — Washington, D.C., Ward 7 resident, July 2015.

Branch Ave., 2007. Credit: Google maps.

Branch Ave., 2007. Credit: Google maps.

Branch Ave., 2015. Note new sidewalks.

Branch Ave., 2015. Note new sidewalks.

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein

Bob Moore: civil rights era activist, community planner (updated)


Credit: Washington City Paper.

Robert L. “Bob” Moore was the president and CEO of Washington, D.C.’s Development Corporation of Columbia Heights. He died earlier this week at age 74. Moore was a New Jersey native who did his undergraduate work at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.

Moore first encountered Jim Crow segregation when he travelled from to college by train. When the train stopped in Washington, D.C., he was forced to move to the “colored car.” Continue reading

A queen-sized hug

Queen Elizabeth II visited Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1991. Her itinerary included parts of the Capital City typically avoided by most visitors, royal and otherwise. An affordable housing development in the city’s Southeast was one of the places Queen Elizabeth visited.

In 2007, I interviewed people who were involved in coordinating the visit and who were principals in the housing development. The Washington, D.C., Local Initiatives Support Corporation continues to post excerpts from the oral histories done to document their history. Continue reading

Columbia Heights reborn

The riots that tore through Washington, D.C., after Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968 left many neighborhoods physically and emotionally scarred for decades. Columbia Heights was one of the most adversely affected. Continue reading

Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, Washington

The Washington, D.C., Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) office has begun posting excerpts from the oral history interviews I did for them between 2007 and 2009. The first excerpt posted is from my summer 2007 interview with Washington Parks and People executive director Steve Coleman.

My interview with Coleman covered a lot of territory. The clip posted at the DC LISC Website focuses on the rehabilitation of Washington’s Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park). Surf on over to the page or listen to the clip here:


Revitalizing Washington neighborhoods

In 2007 and 2008, I did more than 60 oral history interviews and documentary research for Washington’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) office. This week, LISC celebrated its 30th anniversary in Washington and it released a book derived from the interviews, written by community development expert Tony Proscio. Continue reading

Albert Schulteis: Baker, businessman and preservation flashpoint

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

In 2007 I stumbled into a Washington, D.C., historic preservation kerfuffle. A local preservation advocate desperately wanted the District of Columbia government to designate a large brick home in Chevy Chase as a historic landmark. Although never designated, the brick home at 3637 Patterson Street NW came to have three stories attached to it before it was demolished. This article documents the man who built the house; the building’s place in space and history; and, the historic preservation battle fought to prevent its demolition. Continue reading

Western Union’s microwave relay terminal in Washington, D.C.

Situated at nearly 400 feet above sea level, Tenleytown has the District’s highest elevation and some of the region’s most significant and contested radio architecture and engineering structures. Continue reading