Snowzilla 2016

The forecasters did label it historic, after all.

On Wednesday January 20, 2016, weather forecasters issued a blizzard watch for the Washington, DC, area. The following day, the notice was upgraded to a blizzard warning. The National Weather Service has named the event ‘Winter Storm Jonas”; Washington Post meteorologists have named it “Snowzilla.” For me, Snowzilla it is. Seriously, does the name “Jonas” inspire fear and awe?

Anywhere from 1.5 to 2 feet of snow was predicted. Mass transit is shutting down for the weekend. There’s a run on grocery and hardware stores — even Washington City Paper reported that a local Trader Joes had sold out of all its veggie flaxseed tortilla chips. Pepco, the electric company, announced that we could be spending days in a pre-electric living history museum.

Clearly, this is the BIG ONE. Besides staging firewood and all the necessary supplies (except the flaxseed anythings) to cope with the storm, I’ll be documenting the event as it unfolds. So sit back, grab something to eat and drink, and watch the end of the world from the comfort of your browser window. Continue reading

Screwed blues, screwed journalism

Last year, Philadelphia City Paper folded after 34 years in print. I read it religiously while I attended the University of Pennsylvania. I was excited when I got a chance to write for the weekly — almost as much as I was when I got my first Philadelphia Inquirer byline four months earlier.

And, I was devastated when I read that it was going out of print.

My disappointment stemmed partly from nostalgia and partly from concerns about the future of local news reporting. As local news reporting organizations are disappearing, so too are their roles informing people and holding public officials accountable for their actions. As a historian, I also was concerned about what the closures meant for online newspaper archives and for what’s popularly known as history’s first draft. Continue reading

Modernism in the ‘hood: The Four Corners Safeway story

Unless you’re a big fan of mid-century modern architecture, the Four Corners Safeway store in Silver Spring, Maryland, probably doesn’t seem like anything special. It’s just the neighborhood supermarket. But if you’re a 20th century architecture aficionado, the neighborhood Safeway store is a true gem.

Located about 1/2-mile north of the National Capital Beltway, the Four Corners Safeway is one of a dwindling number of distinctive supermarket buildings that the chain built in the Washington area after World War II. Architectural historians have dubbed the distinctive curved roofline and vaulted interior space “Marina Style” after the chain’s 1959 prototype store built in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood.

Four Corners Safeway opening advertisement. The Washington Evening Star, October 4, 1962.

Four Corners Safeway opening advertisement. The Washington Evening Star, October 4, 1962.

Continue reading

Proposed bike lanes in Washington pit cyclists against churches

DC-BikeLane

Existing Washington bike lanes, 2015.

My latest History News Network article examines the historical basis for the conflict that erupted when the District of Columbia Department of Transportation proposed building bike lanes through the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

Bike lanes don’t cause gentrification and they are not necessarily products of gentrification. Yet, judging by the adversarial situations that have emerged in cities across the United States over the past decade, bike lanes appear to be inextricably tied to debates over whether gentrification is beneficial or damaging to neighborhoods and people.

Read the new article here: The Battle Over Bike Lanes in Washington, DC.

© 2016 D.S. Rotenstein

Ms. Wynn’s legacy

I met the former owner of 526 McKoy Street in Decatur, Georgia, on a cool winter morning the second week of January 2012. She was one of the first interviews I did with Decatur homeowners in the city’s gentrifying Oakhurst neighborhood. Earlier this year, she died at age 86.

526 McKoy Street, Decatur, Ga. May 201

526 McKoy Street, Decatur, Ga. May 2015.

Continue reading

Flip house gray Decatur style

Washington architectural writer Amanda Kolson Hurley recently examined the origins of what she’s dubbed “flip house gray” for Washington City Paper. According to Hurley, house flippers prefer a neutral, boring color palette. Over the past few years gray has emerged as the dominant bland color in the nation’s capital.

Hurley’s article provided an answer to a question I had back in 2012: why was a Decatur, Ga., house flipper painting a red brick bungalow and its garage matching shades of gray?

East Lake Dr. house, 2009. Credit: Decatur Citywide Historic Resources Survey.

East Lake Dr. house, Decatur, 2009. Credit: Decatur Citywide Historic Resources Survey.

East Lake Dr. house, early 2012.

East Lake Dr. house, Decatur, early 2012.

Continue reading

Staying prayed up

Over the weekend I got a Facebook message from a woman I met while living in Georgia. “Not sure if u knew my son michael. He was kill one year oct 16, last year,” Decatur resident Veronica Edwards wrote to me.

Our paths crossed in early 2014 when I interviewed her about a statement she made in October 2013 before the Decatur City Commission. Her brief and highly emotional comments imploring the city commission to enact a moratorium on the demolition of single-family homes made a lasting impression on me. She begged her city’s leaders to protect her and her elderly neighbors as gentrification pressures were making life unbearable in the neighborhood she and her family had called home for nearly 50 years:

Of course when we came to the Decatur neighborhood, it was called the “white flight.” They took off. You all took off and went away. We endured. We stayed. Now it’s time for you all to have our back.

Veronica Edwards (center) at the Tearing Down Oakhurst program, Charis Books and More, March 11. 2014.

Veronica Edwards (center) at the Tearing Down Oakhurst program, Charis Books and More, March 11. 2014.

Continue reading

Montgomery County’s earliest ranch house?

garden-homes-letterheadThe community builders who laid out the lots and constructed the first homes in Silver Spring, Maryland’s Northwood Park subdivision were skilled real estate entrepreneurs. The people who owned Garden Homes, Inc., selected an attractive and accessible site for their subdivisions. And, they built homes finished in popular styles they knew would sell quickly.

One home built in 1939 stood out from all of the Cape Cods and English Cottage period revival homes Garden Homes built. It was a fully modernist home plucked from cutting edge California. Several years before other builders were marketing their own California cottages in suburban Maryland, Northwood Park’s builders completed what may be the earliest ranch-style house in Montgomery County. Continue reading

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

Home for sale, Realtors blocked

reno-2015-08-27

2014 Twitter exchange, Stacy Shelton Reno and a cyberstalker using the screen name “Scott Boulevard.”

In August 2014 a Decatur, Ga., Realtor had lunch with the executive director of a local history organization. A few hours later, the Realtor was swapping tweets with local cyberstalkers about my impending move back to Maryland from Atlanta.

The Realtor learned about my relocation plans during her lunch. I had confided about the move to a handful of close friends, including the history colleague. The Realtor, mainly because of her past absurd and malicious allegations that I had been stalking her, was one of the people we did not want to know about the planned move. Her communications on Twitter underscored the concerns my wife and I had when we decided to sell our home. Continue reading