At the corner of Fifth Street and Oakdale Place, at the very edge of the Howard University campus, sits a fenced-in grassy knoll. The site is across the street from the hospital and sits just outside the historic district boundary. About a year ago a sign planted on the site announced the pending arrival of new houses. The sign came down many months ago and nothing much happened. Sure, Howard mowed the lawn, but not much else happened.
On Christmas Eve, Howard University sold the two lots for $250,000 each to Bowie-based Tito Construction Company LLC and just last month DCRA issued building permits for the two lots (#B1000822 & #B1000823). Each permit states the scope of work as
BUILDING A NEW 3-FLOOR WITH A CELLAR 2-UNIT FLAT STRUCTURE.
The lots are much larger than every other lot on the block and these two two-unit houses will likely be spacious.
We haven’t written much on Howard Town Center (pictured above), but we found a good article on it at Greater Greater Washington.
Several years ago the Office of Planning released, and the City Council approved, the DUKE plan, a development framework for the U Street corridor and Howard Town Center. The section covering Howard Town Center rightly calls for development to “[e]xtend streets in an east-west system to connect the area to the center of Howard University’s campus,” specifically directing to “[c]onnect W Street on both sides.”
There are several streets running north-south in the Town Center area, but few running east-west. The purpose of this requirement is to break-up what planners call superblocks, large city blocks that tend to sap street vitality and limit neighborhood connectivity. Superblocks were popular with postwar modernist architects, but they have since been discredited as bad planning. Small city blocks, as urban observer Jane Jacobs noted, allow more paths for passing through a neighborhood and break the monotony that accompanies mega-buildings.
Though the initial plan by CastleRock Partners for the Phase I Site would bring a grocery store and housing, the Greater Greater Washington article notes that the CastleRock plan violates the east-west connectivity guideline of the DUKE plan in that it proposes placing a garage ramp where W Street should be.
Connecting the isolated sections of W Street would enhance access between LeDroit Park and the U Street corridor and the CastleRock proposal disregards this goal of the DUKE plan. Despite this, we will still be glad to shop at the grocery store once that opens up. Groundbreaking is set for next fall.
Howard University is seeking neighborhood input for its campus master plan. The university is planning to work with private partners to develop the parcels it owns between Georgia Avenue and Ninth Street. Currently, the plan is for a town center development with housing and shops, including a grocery store.
Nonetheless, there are Howard-owned properties in LeDroit Park and in other neighborhood and the university would like community input.
Take the survey and give the administration your two cents.
In our survey response, we wrote that encouraging the presence of a grocery store would benefit residents and students alike.
One of our favorite local restaurants is the feature of a story in today’s Post. Eatonville, at 14th & V Streets, is inspired by the life and literary works of Zora Neale Hurston, who grew up in Eatonville, Florida, and was one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston spent a few years in Washington attending Howard University, where in 1924 she co-founded The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper.
Her most famous work is her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which frequently makes the lists of best twentieth-century American novels. In addition to writing fictional works, she was also a folklorist, collecting tales from rural black communities in the South and in the Caribbean, publishing them in Mules and Men and other titles and incorporating the tales into her novels.
Early this summer we read a fascinating essay on Hurston, who lived a highly unconventional life: she lied about her age (she was 26 going on 17) to get into Morgan State to get her high school diploma. She eventually transferred to Howard and then to Barnard College for her undergraduate degree.
She deplored racism and Jim Crow but also criticized the New Deal and the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
She died in poverty in 1960, leaving a trail of novels, plays, folktales, academic research, and journalistic work; like many great cultural icons, her fame and acclaim increased long after her death.
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The restaurant Eatonville is an homage to Hurston’s life and work. The food is decent and reasonably priced (especially for Washington) and the commissioned murals warrant a viewing even if you’re not hungry.