Monday, March 28, 2011

W Street Project Named "Cedar Hill"

Well, things are finally becoming more official at the corner of W and 13th Streets SE. The developer's sign heralding their long-awaited townhouse and condo development is finally up, and the official name for the project: Cedar Hill.

The development is being built by Comstock Homes in some sort of partnership with Four Points. Four Points is also the development partner for Curtis Companies, who owns a majority of "downtown Anacostia" along MLK Avenue.

looking NW at the 13th and W intersection

looking NE up W towards 13th Street

The development's name, Cedar Hill, is the name of Frederick Douglass' hilltop estate just one block away at W and 14th. Although it seems a but odd for the name to be the exact same, I don't really foresee any major problems. These townhouses and condos will integrate with the neighborhood rather than being any sort of private enclave, so I can't imagine the name even sticking once all the units are marketed and sold.

Yes friends, brand new townhomes and condos for sale in the $200s. And on the same block as Uniontown and Big Chair Coffee. I don't think these will have much trouble selling.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Metrobus A-Line Survey

WMATA is studying their A bus lines that wind through Anacostia and Congress Heights, and have produced a survey asking riders questions like which lines they use, where they typically board, and what times they use the lines.

Click to Enlarge
The A Line routes have a combined weekday ridership of about 15,000 passengers, which is one of the highest riderships in the Metrobus system. The goal of the study and survey is to make improvements to the lines and make the bus riding experience more convenient and efficient for riders.

Click Here and scroll down to participate in the online survey

>> Also, don't forget the Transit Happy Hour on Monday evening from 6-8PM at Uniontown Bar & Grill <<

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Streetcar Meeting + Transit Happy Hour

In the next week there are two Anacostia streetcar-related events that you should definitely attend. The first is hosted by the Federal Transit Administration and the District Department of Transportation, and is related to the Phase 2 Environmental Assessment and Historic Preservation Study for the Anacostia line. From the website:
The study is anticipated to be completed by September 2011 and is intended to identify the best alternatives that address the project’s purpose and need, maximize environmental benefits, and minimize the potential for adverse impacts. In addition, DDOT will evaluate potential effects to cultural resources in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
These meetings are a great way to voice support and ask questions. Citizen participation makes a huge difference.
What: Public Meeting for Anacostia Streetcar Phase 2 Environmental Assessment & Historic Preservation Study

When: Saturday, March 26, 10AM-12PM

Where: Matthews Memorial Church, 2616 MLK Ave SE

The second event is a happy hour at Uniontown Bar & Grill sponsored by the DC chapter of the Sierra Club. The happy hour is a way to informally discuss ways to improve transportation in the District.

What: Transit Happy Hour

When: Monday, March 28, 6-8PM

Uniontown Bar & Grill, 2200 MLK Ave SE
I hope to see you all at one or both of these events. The streetcar is a project that will have a major impact on the future of the neighborhood, and the city needs to hear your voices!

reminder: Anacostia had streetcars before

There's been a lot of discussion around Anacostia lately about the benefit of streetcars in the neighborhood. Many are excited about them, many aren't. Some are excited about the convenience and connectivity they'll bring, others are afraid of the impact on parking. I for one think it's kind of ridiculous that this project wouldn't happen, when it was promised back in 2007 (and years before) when I first purchased in the neighborhood. It's a big deal to backtrack on a project of this magnitude.

That said, I wanted to remind the readership that Anacostia had streetcars before. This is not a new concept. And not only did Anacostia have them, but the tracks webbed across the city to form a network that made Anacostia more connected with the city it's a part of.

streetcar down MLK, across the bridge, to Navy Yard ... yeah they had that in the 1800s

As you can see from the images in this post, Washington DC was better served by streetcar in 1891 than it is in 2011. In the meantime, society got excited about cars, tire companies bought out streetcar companies, buses emerged, and we kinda forgot about a transit option that now many other cities across the country and world are getting really excited about and is leading to billions of dollars in economic development.

Streetcars are going to change things. They will take getting used to. But they are a sustainable, convenient, and development-inspiring mode of transportation that will change this neighborhood for the better. Now is the time to support and embrace.

map images courtesy of the Library of Congress

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

where the shotgun once stood

Shotgun houses are an endangered species. In Anacostia, there exists only one true shotgun that I can think of, and it's just outside the historic district (and if we're being technical, in the Fairlawn neighborhood) on 17th Street SE near Good Hope Road. Shotgun houses are deep one-story homes that are typically very humble structures and are scattered across much of the American South.

the shotgun on 17th Street SE

On the blog Victorian Secrets, the author gives one explanation for the origin of the style:
It is often said that these houses acquired their name because, if all the doors were open, a shotgun could be fired from front porch to backyard without hitting anything. But even this near-cliche is disputed for reasons beyond the tendency of shotgun pellets to scatter widely.

Since the early 1990s, a widely-accepted theory is that the shotgun house design originated among plantation slaves in the Carribean, and was carried to New Orleans and disseminated throughout the south by slaves and free African-Americans. It has been claimed that the "shotgun" name is a corruption of several Yoruba words related to the concept of "house".

An irony is that exterminating shotgun houses was once a progressive goal. Well into the 1970s, shotgun houses were viewed as inherently-substandard, a symbol of poverty like the unpaved streets and outdoor plumbing that characterized the neighborhoods where they stood. Urban renewal relentlessly demolished them by the block.
Regardless, they are a form that should not be forgotten. Sadly, Anacostia lost a shotgun house at 1314 V Street SE in 2002, when the owner demolished it without permission.

bad condition ≠ reason to demolish

the area is now used as a parking lot for the church across the street

Here's some more history of DC's shotguns:
Washington has been a southern-style city for most of its existence, so it might be expected to have a great many shotgun houses. However, this does not appear to be the case. Perhaps the most likely place to find shotguns would have been among the notorious alley dwellings that were demolished in the 1930s and '40s. However, in photos most of these appear to have been very plain two story brick and wooden structures which allowed more density than single story houses. Perhaps the best DC neighborhood for finding shotgun houses is Deanwood, where there is a sprinkling on the sidestreets between Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and Sherriff Road NE.

Although shotgun houses are most often associated with poor African-American neighborhoods, each of the pictured houses appear to have had early inhabitants who were white. 1314 V Street SE is another tradesman's home in a formerly segregated white neighborhood. It has many signature shotgun house touches, including a tin gabled roof and full-width front porch, which in this case has a flat, steeply-sloping roof. Some catalogers claim that because shotgun houses are meant to be packed cheek-by-jowl on narrow urban lots, pure examples should lack side windows, as 314 V does.
Every time I learn of a demolition I am more encouraged to continue acting to protect what's still here. This isn't rich people history - but it's a history that's incredibly important and needs protection.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tonight: Public Housing at Fendall & V

ANC Commissioners Charles Wilson and Greta Fuller are hosting a meeting tonight to discuss the Department of Human Services' plans for subsidized/homeless housing at Fendall and V Streets.

When: Tuesday March 22, 7-8PM
Where: Anacostia UPO Center, 1649 Good Hope Road SE

Concerned that this type of housing is being funneled into the Historic Anacostia neighborhood? Want to hear DC's plans and give input? Go to the meeting!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Maple View Deli Closed?

From the looks of it, Maple View Deli (corner of MLK, Maple View, and Pleasant Street) has closed up shop. One can hope that maybe it will open its doors again, but they've been closed for a couple weeks now, with rumors swirling that it is permanent.

As we all know, it wasn't the most attractive or inviting carry-out in the world, but the owner and employees were very kind and the food was good. What's too bad is that I have been working with Maple View for the past few months on applying for facade grant money and getting designs to retrofit the non-so-welcoming building into a fun and inviting one. I even applied for an Awesome Foundation grant to help revive the interior because I really loved the spirit of the place. See below for the exterior plans:

rendering courtesy of DC Historic Designs

Again, maybe this is just a temporary thing, but it looks like Maple View Deli is closed for business. I wonder if this means the owners of this block (own Maple View and the two unpleasant apartment buildings behind it), will do something drastic and awesome with their land...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good Hope, Good News

La Threadz, Anacostia's only boutique clothing store, is moving into new digs just across from their current space at 1345 Good Hope Road. This is a good thing.

the new La Threadz space is the one-story red/orange building

The new space is just to the right of American Shottas, the neighborhood music shop that has a huge selection of local stuff. No word on what will happen with La Threadz' existing space, below.

this building always had a weird McDonalds vibe to me

The owner told me that the new building has a better layout than their current space, and that they will be moving their existing signage across the street.

I do love this little stretch of Good Hope...

As you can see from the above photo taken this past fall, the building is literally across the street. The new space used to house a church, and as you can see, used to be a natural brown brick.

The official move is slated to take place in the next one or two months.

Good Hope, Bad News

Oh 1357 Good Hope Road, how you tease us. First we were worried that you'd be demolished. Then we were excited when you were finally purchased. Now we see that you are back up for sale.

storefront was given a hackjob renovation

Turns out that CG Alliance, the Clarendon-based company who purchased the building last year and began renovations to make it their headquarters, lost a major contract and no longer needs / can afford to keep the building.

the back building could be a really awesome space

As you can see, they had begun renovations. Although they were not the most spectacular of renovations, I was encouraged that the building was staying and that the building would no longer be vacant.

see where they filled in some of the windows in back

The building has new windows, a new high-security fence, and a very odd-looking entrance treatment. Fortunately, the building at the rear of the property was not altered. As one of, if not the oldest existing commercial building on Good Hope, this building deserves a full restoration and an owner that wants this to be a jewel.

But, we're back to square one. Will the building be demolished by a new owner? Should the neighborhood rise up to nominate it for Historic Landmark status (if you're interested, let me know, most of the legwork has already been done) or absorb it into the Anacostia Historic District? What would you like to see at this prominent corner?

The properties, technically 1351-1357 Good Hope Road SE, are listed for sale as a bundle for $975,000. Click Here for the listing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Subsidized Housing at V and Fendall?

A conversation has been growing on the Historic Anacostia Google Group about the buildings being renovated at V and Fendall Streets.

The buildings are owned and under development by Pounds Properties, the development company of former Redskin Darryl Pounds.

According to Mr. Pounds, when construction is complete the buildings will be sold to the city and the units will become housing for single mothers.

I'm glad that Pounds is finally finishing work on these properties, which have sat abandoned for as long as I've been around the neighborhood. What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Unity Health Building on Galen Street

Wondering what that huge dirtscape is on Galen Street between 16th Street and the Frederick Douglass estate? Unity Health Care is finally fully under construction on their new health center.

As you can see, the site is quite large and will certainly add new activity to this corner of the neighborhood. The new center will be replacing the health "shack" at the corner of W and Chester Streets SE.

One of the remarkable things about this project is its proximity to the Frederick Douglass estate, which you can see in the background of the above photo. I hope that there will be major landscape screening between the two sites to that the juxtaposition isn't so jarring.

What do you think of the design? It's not in the historic district, so it did not have to follow any design standards. Remember that an abandoned apartment building used to grace this plot of land.

From Galen Street, the above view toward 16th Street is of a large portion of the neighborhood that is outside of the historic district.

I'm glad to see the health center move from its present location, but definitely have concerns about its location adjacent Cedar Hill. Do you think this is "the next Salvation Army", or will this be a net positive addition to the community?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

React Radio Moving to 1918 MLK

A new radio station is launching in DC, and they've chosen Anacostia for their headquarters. React Radio (WPWC 1480AM) will be a DC-based, globally-minded progressive music and talk radio station, and will be broadcasting from the former Mama Cole's space at 1918 MLK Avenue.

will be interested to see how the exterior and signage changes

The station's content is "designed to provoke thought and action and serve as an alternative to commercial radio." Their missions is to provide "a media platform to empower, engage, entertain and educate people."

renovations are fully underway on the interior

Cheers to a new addition to the neighborhood, and to the only station broadcasting east of the Anacostia River!

Although their website is not yet operational, you can follow progress at their blog:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Artist Interview: Ben Skinner and the Jealous Curator

"Try A Little Tenderness, As Painful As It Seems", presented by The Jealous Curator, is a must-see show by artist Ben Skinner that opens at Honfleur Gallery on Friday, March 4, at 7PM. Drinks and refreshments will be served. 1241 Good Hope Road SE.

Below is an interview I did with Vancouver-based artist Ben Skinner and The Jealous Curator. Skinner, 33, grew up in small-town Petrolia, Ontario, went to school in Nova Scotia and Chicago, and is known for his clean, text-based mixed-media works that are site specific - which in this case means that he created most of the pieces for this show as a direct response to the Anacostia neighborhood and his perception of its current influences and evolutions.

Skinner's show is curated by The Jealous Curator, a blogger-turned-tangible-world-curator (this is her first off-line show). An artist herself, she always felt stunted by the feeling that others were coming up with more innovative work than she was - so The Jealous Curator began a daily blog two years ago that profiles artists across the world whose work she is jealous of.

Spunky, intellectually curious, and highly skilled, Ben Skinner (BS) and The Jealous Curator (JC) have created a must-see show at Honfleur and along the neighborhood's main streets that will be talked about for a very long time.

* * *

Where should art be seen?

I think what's great about Honfleur Gallery is that they have a balance of local artists and artists from other areas. If you just did one or the other, things might get a little stagnant. I think its great to show people in this community what's outside and in other areas – but its also good for people in community to be proud of who's here and what is here that can be celebrated and discussed.

JC: Art can be very untouchable in a way – especially as a kid – my parents took me to the Vancouver art gallery as a kid and I felt “I could never be in here." For the youth, having spaces locally shows them "you know, I could do this." It's accessible.

BS: I think galleries are an important part of the community – to be able to step into a space that is outside of the advertising / commodity world where all the text you read has some kind of ulterior motive other than to just make you think.

I would like to see more art seen in public space. I think galleries are great, and great for supporting artists. One downside to galleries, though, is that that they are limiting in that there is a certain type of person who will enter a gallery. Maybe someone doesn’t understand art or doesn’t think it is for them or about them. A gallery is usually a quiet, empty space where people can sometimes feel uncomfortable. I really think public mural pieces are important, and public things like the Big Chair...

...which was built as an advertisement...

BS: ...but is now a landmark. That’s one of the reason I love public art so much - it creates landmarks that people can use to map out the city. So much of corporate looking public art looks like “art by committee” and seems to be chosen for its safeness. The ones I see too much of are like a big abstract modernist blob of steel on a street corner.

You attended art undergrad and went to grad school at the Art Institue of Chicago. Do you think that your education had an influence on the style of expression and the diversity of media you work with today?

BS: When I went to grad school there was a shift in the way I worked. I was more interested in doing socially conscious works and public work. In the art world they use a term called public intervention for pieces like that where you’ve put something out there for the public without going through the proper channels. It often means it’s a temporary or guerrilla style piece. I love the action of that and the reclaiming of public space to the larger public than just the people who come into a gallery.

So then does graffiti also fit into that category? It almost sounds like a glorification of vandalistic art. Where does one draw the line?

BS: I was never interested in the aesthetic of graffiti because it speaks to a smaller audience – really just the community of graffiti artists, where others mostly see it as vandalism and urban decay. I think that the vinyl lettering I do is a way to, in a very clean and professional looking way, communicate something different.

BS: I’m also conscious about the types of buildings I'm putting them on. I'm putting them on abandoned and vacant storefronts – and it gives a poetic voice to a space that people aren’t really caring about right now – it's not in anyone's way.

JC: What I love about them is that it puts such a human voice on these public places – there was one in Chicago on an abandoned jewelry store that said “I fell in love here once”. It adds a human history to forlorn spaces.

Downtown Chicago had a very anti-graffiti stance where you would be fined for having cans of spray paint on you – I never associated myself with the graffiti kids, but I saw where they came from by being shat upon by city officials and having works buffed out overnight. Mine lasted longer because it is almost camouflaged as signage. It didn’t look like graffiti because it was in Helvetica.

What are your preferred mediums and why?

BS: I don’t really have preferred mediums. I think what I like to do is experiment with materials – keeping it in flux all the time. I don’t want to get locked into being a “painter” or a “sculptor”. But, the use of text has been within a lot of my work for many years. I love working with words and how they are interpreted to have different meanings.

BS: I don’t do the super realistic stuff all that often. For me, the concept needs to be strong or it just looks like illustration. I want for the idea to stand out as strongly as the technical skill.

Have you had to take on more conventional jobs to pay the bills, and if so how have they influenced your art?

Out of art school I started doing window displays for Urban Outfitters. I got to hone some technical construction skills that I didn’t have experience with in art school, and got to learn by basically teaching myself. From there I ended up working for a Canadian women's retailer called Aritzia – so now I am currently their visual display developer. I work out of their head office and they have about 47 stores – which translates to about 100 windows. I come up with the concept for those and design and produce them. That has been the best job in the world for me because I can experiment with all sorts of techniques, materials, and processes that I wouldn’t be able to afford if I was doing it myself.

BS: I've been able to refine a sense of finish and detail that’s important in the display industry, and is more and more important in my art because I can't live with a piece of fishing line hanging loose or a scuff somewhere – it has to be as perfect as possible.

You're not a flaky artist at all – you know how long things are going to take to build because you actually build things. He does this every day at work, so he can figure out a way to get his site-specific art pieces done on time.

Do you feel that the media that you work with should represent our present day?

BS: I don’t think that it has to at all – otherwise there would only be new media internet art, you know? Everything would be social media art projects. I think that having variety is the best approach.

JC: It makes a richer art environment. Painting can be so traditional – but it's the things that people are doing with it. Mixed media can be so creative – I think that that’s why I love Ben's work.

How have your expectations or interests changes over the years?

BS: I'm more conscious of the context in which my artwork is shown and the community that is seeing it. Knowing that I had a show in this neighborhood wasn’t just an opportunity to show a bunch of painting that I've already done.

JC: Stuff that is relevant to the neighbor’s experience and life.

BS: I strive to do work that is site specific. Its not that the text will specifically have to do with Vancouver or something...

JC: ..but that there’s not a disconnect. There are other neighborhoods that are going through similar evolutions, but if the show were to go someplace else, he'd have to make other specific pieces.

BS: Sometimes I think of something and think “oh that would be a really clever piece”, but other times it has to be relevant to a specific place.

Do you see yourself as a political artist?

BS: I'm a part-time political artist.

JC: It's political in that you’ve thought about the issues and you want to talk about them.

BS: Politics is a slippery word and I don’t really know what it means anymore. I'm actually not that interested in politics as a governmental system. I'm interested in it in the way that it affects people's lives at the grassroots level, and how it affects individuals and communities - but I know the two can't be completely separated. I'm not a political activist, but I feel like the work I do for my audience is a small way that I can make a kind of change.

Why should someone come see your show?

BS: I think they should know that the art was made with them, the neighborhood, and the city in mind - conscious of the changes it is going through. I’d like for people to be able to see the pieces and think about them in that context.

* * *

Skinner's show is opening the same night as a show at The Gallery at Vivid Solutions (2208 MLK Ave SE): Cartograph - works in mixed-media collage by GĂ©rard Lange, which opens at 6PM. Please come out for the shows, walk MLK and Good Hope to see the guerrilla art, and stop in at Uniontown or Big Chair for a drink. Hot.