August 19, 2012 - 9:45 am

A neighborhood listserv can be civil, too

Earlier last week a Howard student on the 400 block of Elm Street held a somewhat raucous party. Some neighbors voiced their displeasure on the neighborhood listserv. Normally this sort of event is not news, but the student’s apology on the listserv was notable:

It came to my attention that last night and possibly other nights this week, a student of Howard or I have disrupted this order of the 400 block of Elm. I would like to apologize to you for this. I did not anticipate so many people, however, I understand that it is still my responsibility. I am sending this email to assure you and the residence of Elm Street that this will not be a recurring problem, in fact, this will be the last time I cause this disturbance again. I do realize that this is a historic neighborhood and I never meant to disrespect you or any of the neighbors. This is your community, not mine. Once again I apologize and I would love to speak to you in person, maybe over lunch or coffee.

If anyone has any question, feel free to email me or if you would like to speak in person, email me and we can set up a time that works best.

Once again I apologize and I can assure you that my tenants and I will not cause this incident again

Thank you for your time
Langston W

The public apology is appreciated. However, the sentence “this is your community, not mine” was striking. A community belongs to the people who live there at that time, even residents who are also enrolled at the adjacent university.

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June 19, 2012 - 9:16 am

Just who was Ernest Everett Just?

An academic’s prestige is usually measured by the degree to which his peers admire his work.  Any job where success depends on reputation is bound to be a difficult and political career.  Howard biologist Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941), who lived at 412 T Street in LeDroit Park, faced a constant struggle for recognition for his groundbreaking work in biology in the early 20th century.

I occasionally give history tours of the neighborhood.  My tour touches on two major themes: the neighborhood’s eclectic architecture and the prominent black Americans who lived in LeDroit Park. I had never heard of Just before moving to LeDroit Park, but in researching topics for my tour I came across a 1995 postage stamp commemorating him. This makes him the first of two LeDroit Park residents featured on postage stamps.

Two months ago, a neighbor who was a researcher at Howard University recommended Kenneth Manning‘s 1983 biography of Just.  He assured me that the book, entitled Black Apollo of Science, detailed all the administrative problems at Howard that still exist to this day.

I picked up the book hoping to read historical accounts of LeDroit Park while Just lived in the neighborhood. Though there was very little about the neighborhood, the book provided interesting stories about Howard University’s administrative and financial troubles during the early 20th century.

The book was light on LeDroit Park and Washington because Just himself increasingly disliked teaching at Howard and the pervasive racism he faced living in the United States. In the 1920s, midway through his career, Just began to spend more time conducting research at research institutes in Berlin; Naples; and Roscoff, France. He deliberately avoided returning to the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he felt he was socially isolated because of his race. Just saw Europe as an escape from racism he faced at home.

In Europe Just could finally attend the same operas he had seen advertised in Washington’s whites-only venues and he could travel and book hotels without worrying that his reservations would be rejected due to Jim Crow.

Whether Just was pursuing his PhD at the University of Chicago or conducing research in Massachusetts or Europe, his wife and children remained in LeDroit Park at 412 T Street. But as Just eventually grew apart from the United States, he also grew apart from his wife. Just took several lovers in Europe during his research stints and he eventual filed for divorce from his wife Ethel in the late ’30s.  This was a formality, though, as their love had died many years ago.

Though Just was in France at the time of the 1940 census, the census ledger lists him as the absent head of household at 412 T Street.

The Just family stood out for its educational attainment.  Notice that in column 14, Just is listed as having completed eight years of college, an outstanding accomplishment even by today’s standards.  His wife had finished six years of college, his son four, and his daughter Maribel, aged 17, was in her first year of college.

Out of pure luck, Just was listed on line 68, which was one of two lines per page that the Census Bureau selected for supplmentary questions.

Here Just stands out again.  Though most LeDroit residents were listed as maids, porters, or laborers, Just’s profession is listed as “Zoology professor” at Howard University.

Just’s life was not easy. He grew up in poverty and his father died when Just was a child.  Just’s mother was a teacher who valued his education dearly and she sent him as a teenager to a boarding school in New Hampshire.  During his time at boarding school, his mother died, leaving Just orphaned but independent.

After boarding school, he proceeded to Dartmouth to study classics and biology, the field to which he devoted his entire career.  Since few universities at the time would hire black researchers or professors, Just took a position at Howard University and in 1912 became the head of Howard’s Department of Zoology.

The Howard position was Just’s main source of income for the rest of his life and he used it, along with a few private grants, to fund his research in Massachusetts and Europe.  Though Just kept his position at Howard until his death, he spent many semesters and summers studying marine biology far away from Washington.  Howard, it seems, was only a source of income for Just, as he frequently battled with the university’s administration for more equipment, more funding, and more research time.

Howard’s presidents, especially Mordecai Johnson, demanded that Just focus less on research and more on teaching and building a graduate zoology program.

Johnson wasn’t the only person pressuring Just. White philanthropists who wanted to raise academic achievement and living standards of American blacks funded Just’s work with the goal that he would train aspiring black scientists and doctors. Their hope was that Just would train black biology students so they could study medicine and return to the rural south where white doctors would not treat black patients.

Just, however, wanted philanthropic funding to support his biological research efforts, not his teaching efforts. Just preferred research and appeared far more interested in advancing the human understanding of cell biology.

Old letters Manning uncovered reveal that Just held a low opinion of Howard undergraduates during his tenure. Just thought teaching biology to them was a waste of time and would distract him from important research.

To teach or to research? This is an old academic controversy. Many professors prefer to conduct research because they find it more intellectually satisfying and because it builds their careers, expertise, and reputations. At universities that rely heavily on tuition fees for their income, administrators realize that teaching is an important source of income.

For Just, the written correspondence between him and various philanthropies shows that because he was black, he was expected to carry the herculean task of advancing both the human understanding of biology and the welfare of his race— a burden his white benefactors did not place on white scientists. These expectations, though well intentioned, continually hindered Just’s career as his appeals for research grants rarely bore fruit.  Various foundations and Howard administrators urged Just to spend more effort building a biology program and producing trained biologists.

Just found a warmer reception in Germany, Italy, and France, where scientists were more eager to collaborate with him and build on his work. While in Europe, Just dated several women. He even established residence in Latvia briefly so he could quickly file for divorce from his wife in Washington.  He eventually decided to mary his German mistress and start a life in Europe, even if it meant resigning his post at Howard and living in penury in Europe.

Failing to win grants, though, Just held onto his Howard position as his sole source of income.  Just’s time in Europe was productive. He published his most renowned works on cell biology and cell fertilization during this self-exile.

His new-found haven across the Atlantic didn’t remain peaceful for long.  Though he had tried to escape racism in the United States, Nazi violence had made Berlin inhospitable. In Italy, Just’s appeals to Mussolini for research funding went nowhere and Italian biology conferences became fascist propaganda events.

Just’s final European post in France came under Nazi control and Just was ordered to leave. The advancement of fascism eventually made this European exile untenable. Sadly, everywhere Just went, some virulent -ism— racism, fascism, Nazism— eventually caught up with him.

Just returned to the United States with his new wife and newborn child. His new wife and child settled in New Jersey, but Just had to return to work for pay at Howard.  Suffering from pancreatic cancer, Just stayed with his sister Inez at 1853 3rd Street, here in LeDroit Park.  His health was in rapid decline and in October 1941 Just died.

Despite having overturned a ruling theory of cell fertilization, Just never fully received the professional recognition he desired and deserved.  He was always tied to Howard, even though he wanted desperately to leave to focus solely on research.  Howard tied him to Washington, a city whose segregation degraded him.  Washington also tied him to a wife he no longer loved.

Manning’s book is very well researched and combs through many of Just’s letters to colleagues, mentors, friends, and lovers. It tells a fascinating account of race relations in America, the history of biology research, and one man’s unhappy task facing down all these problems.

Manning was able to weave these threads of science, race, academia, and Just’s personal life into a unified and compelling work accessible to the general reader.  Happy endings are the work of fiction writers; Just’s story is more poignant because it recounts a life marked by great successes and great disappointments.


Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just
By Kenneth Manning
1983, Oxford University Press. 330 pages.
[Amazon] [DC Public Library]

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March 24, 2012 - 9:49 am

Howard Theatre encourages private parking

To reduce the liklihood that patrons will park on residential streets around the Howard Theatre, the theatre will sell prepaid private parking through Ticketmaster.  The passes are for private lots owned by Howard University and other private owners.

In fact, we were looking on Ticketmaster at prices and availability for April’s Wanda Sykes show and spotted this prominent parking add-on at the bottom:

The lots described above are as follows:

  • Valet shuttle Lot B – Howard University’s large parking lot at Georgia Avenue and W Street.
  • Self-parking Lot A – Howard University’s HURB-I parking lot at 7th & T Streets.
  • Premier Valet – private triangle lot at T Street and Florida Avenue, across from the theater.

When Progression Place, the office and apartment project at the Shaw Metro, finally opens, the theatre will lay claim to a significant number of the project’s underground parking spaces during nighttime hours, thus adding a another option.

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October 06, 2011 - 8:01 am

Howard still owns a few properties in LeDroit Park

In reviewing Howard University’s proposed campus plan, we started to take account of all of the property in DC that the university owns.  Up until 10 years ago, Howard University was accused of being LeDroit Park’s biggest slumlord, owning numerous properties in the neighborhood and letting them lie vacant, blighted, and decaying.

Under the reign of university president H. Patrick Swygert, Howard made a significant and commendable effort to rehab and sell many of its vacant properties in the neighborhood.

For instance, the university owned all but one house on 400 block of Oakdale Place.  It let these houses lie vacant, blighted, and boarded up.  Under Pres. Swygert, the university renovated the houses and sold them to employees.  Today the 400 block of Oakdale Place is fully occupied and a new condo building is nearing completion on the western end.

531 & 533 U St NW in 2004. Howard University renovated 531 (right) in 2004. Image from the DC government.

In other cases, the university renovated properties but has retained ownership.  531 U Street NW looked terrible in 2004 (right), but now looks very nice. We can’t quite tell if the house is occupied, but it consistently appears to be in good condition.

Elsewhere on the 500 and 600 blocks of U Street, Howard built historic infill houses (below) on vacant lots it owned on the north side of the street. The result is a block with with a continuous wall of housing on the street’s northern face. The houses’ façades are of high quality, with detailed brick work, ornate porches, and a variety of detailing.

Historic Infill

The job is not entirely done, however, and Howard University retains ownership of a few properties that raise eyebrows. Let’s look at these three:

649 Florida Ave NW Walter Washington House Mary Church Terrell House

649 Florida Avenue (left) sits as a vacant lot, frequently collecting trash and debris. A university official told us that long ago Howard had considered using the lot to create a delightful pedestrian path to the university from the Shaw Metro. That never happened and now the lot sits vacant.

408-410 T Street (center) was the home of Walter Washington, DC’s first elected mayor. The university owns the property, and though it’s not blighted, it may be vacant. With some renovation work, this would make an excellent rental home for a Howard professor or anyone else for that matter.

326 T Street (right) is the Mary Church Terrell House, future home of the Robert and Mary Church Terrell House & LeDroit Park Museum and Cultural Center.  Though it’s vacant and undoubtedly meets the District’s definition of blight, we are willing to cut the university more slack in this case since the eventual outcome will be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.   Unfortunately, the campus plan does not specify any additional Howard funding to restore the site.

In addition to the properties above, Howard owns a few more properties in LeDroit Park:

  • Gravel parking lot at the SE corner of 5th and W Streets. (Square 3072, Lot 818).  Campus plan does not mention any change to this lot.
  • Carver Hall, 211 Elm St NW (Square 3084, Lot 830). Campus plan mentions the dorm’s decommission, but no reuse plans.
  • Slowe Hall, 1919 3rd St NW (Square 3088, Lot 835). Campus plan mentions the dorm’s decommission, but no reuse plans.
  • Howard University Hospital daycare, 1907-11 5th St NW (Square 3090, Lot 41)
  • 420 T St NW – a house that appears to be occupied (Square 3094, Lot 800)
  • Howard University Hospital (Square 3075, Lot 807)
  • Parking garage bounded by 4th St, Oakdale Pl, 5th St, and V St. (Square 3080, Lot 73)
  • Parking garage bounded by 4th St, V St, 5th St, and an alley. (Square 3072, Lot 52)

Though Howard retains a few problematic properties, it’s important to note the great strides the university has made in taking responsibility for its property portfolio in the neighborhood. A plan for these few remaining properties, even one in which the university retains ownership but leases, would put residents at greater ease.

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September 29, 2011 - 9:09 am

Civic association conditions zoning support on vacancy

Mary Church Terrell HouseAt Tuesday night’s meeting of the LeDroit Park Civic Association, the association voted 11-2 to support the Howard University Campus Plan.  Since several issues in the plan remain unresolved and unspecified, your author voted against supporting it.

Among many concerns are the several vacant properties that Howard University owns in the area.  Though Howard has made a commendable effort to refurbish and sell many of these properties in LeDroit Park over the past decade, we are worried that the university, after it moves students out of Slowe and Carver Halls might leave these two dormitories vacant for several years.

The university has been very adept at finding excuses for keeping several of its properties vacant in decades past.

For current vagueness in the plan, university officials say they haven’t determined a use yet or that they haven’t found the financing or that everything is the economy’s fault.

That may be true, but vacant buildings attract trouble.  They become safe-havens for criminals, vagrants, and rodents.  Some vacant properties become truly blighted with windows covered up with plywood or metal covers.  This blight drags down property values and lowers the quality of life.

For most private property owners, vacant properties (class 3) face a steep 5% annual property tax and blighted buildings (class 4) face a 10% annual property tax.  These punitive tax rates are meant to urge owners of vacant and blighted properties to return their properties to good order and productive use.

As a university, however, Howard pays no taxes on its land, so a punitive 5% or 10% tax on $0 is still $0 .  As such, the neighborhood needs a legal mechanism to ensure the university does not vacate Slowe and Carver Halls and then blame the economy as they board up the buildings for several years.

Whether the university keeps the buildings as student dorms or converts them to faculty housing is fine either way, but vacancy and blight threatens the progress the neighborhood has made over the past decade.

To prevent this, your author moved “To amend our support [for the campus plan] to prohibit vacancy of Slowe and Carver Halls for more than one year.”

The motion was property seconded and passed unanimously.

The civic association will submit this language to the Zoning Commission and urge the commission to attach it to the legally enforceable order that ratifies the campus plan.  This will ensure that these two large dormitories do not sit vacant for an unreasonable length of time over the next decade.

Howard University’s campus plan is an ambitious and mostly good plan, but it’s important that point out its shortcomings and to ensure the university does not get away with undue burdens on neighborhoods and the District.

Exemption from property taxes is a privilege, not a right, and residents are wise to ensure this exemption is not abused to the detriment of the public interest.

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September 20, 2011 - 2:08 pm

Howard a cappella groups sings on NBC

We Love DC alerted us to Afro Blue, an a cappella group at Howard University, that recently competed on NBC’s The Sing Off.

Afro Blue sang Corinne Bailey Ray’s 2006 song “Put Your Records On“:

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April 05, 2011 - 9:05 am

Howard development & Cardozo’s renovation

Draft Campus Plan

Representatives of two large projects of local interest will appear at Thursday’s monthly meeting of ANC1B.

First, Howard University will give a short presentation of its draft campus plan (right). The university is finishing up the draft that it intends to submit for public review and Zoning Commission approval in the coming months. The draft we’ve seen shows positive steps for development along lower Georgia Avenue.  We will post more details later this week.

Second, the city and its architects will present the concept design for the renovation of Cardozo Senior High School.  The historic school building opened at a time when girls and boys were separated within schools.  As a consequence, the building has two small gyms, rather than one adequate gym.  The architecture team proposes appending a new gym to the west side of the building and partly burying it into the hillside.  Burying the structure into the hillside allays residents’ previous objections to any additions that would obstruct the spectacular views from Clifton Street NW.  The roof of the gym will serve as a parking lot and may provide a fireworks view (not launching!) platform for future Independence Days.

Two liquor licenses are on the agenda, too:

  • Sankofa Café, 2714 Georgia Avenue NW – New tavern. “Live entertainment and a Summer Garden. Total seating is 86. Total occupancy load is 136. Summer garden 40 seats. Hours of operation: Sunday-Thursday 7 am-2 am, Friday & Saturday 7 am-3 am. Hours of sales/service/consumption of alcoholic beverages: Sunday-Thursday 5 pm-2 am, Friday & Saturday 12 am-3 am. Hours of live entertainment: Sunday 6:00 pm-2 am, Thursday through Saturday 6 pm-1 am. Summer Garden hours of alcoholic beverage sales/service/consumption: Sunday 12 pm-12 a,. Monday through Thursday 3 pm-12 am,Friday & Saturday 12 pm-12 am. Summer Garden hourse lf live entertainment: Sunday 6 pm-9 pm, Thursday through Saturday 6 pm-9 pm.”
  • H2 LLC Voluntary Agreement

The monthly meeting of ANC1B will be Thursday at 7 pm at the Reeves Center at 14th & U Streets NW.

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March 19, 2011 - 2:16 pm

Howard wants to increase campus housing 28%

Last month Howard University’s Board of Trustees agreed to proceed the planning process to build 1,300 beds of student housing in two new dorms on campus. This marks a 28% increase from the current 4,609 beds the university controls.  This is smart move that will aid academic success and reduce commuting pressure through the surrounding neighborhoods.


View Howard University’s future development in a larger map

The university’s goal is to create a “Freshmen Village” on 4th Street just north of LeDroit Park.  Ms. Maybelle Bennett, Howard’s community outreach director, said that enhancing academic performance and graduation rates is the university’s motivation for concentrating housing and services for new students in Freshmen Village.  Since a student’s first year is critical to a student’s success during an undergraduate career, the university wants, as Ms. Bennett adoringly put it, “to bring our babies home.”

The university will add these two new buildings to their forthcoming campus plan proposal that they will submit to the Zoning Commission in the coming months.  Each university in the District is required to submit a campus plan for the commission’s approval every ten years.

We think this is a smart move on the university’s part and will benefit everyone.

National social benefits

Universities serve a unique social mission: they exist to educate America’s youth.  As such, we must remember that a university’s success is in the national social interest.  The university’s goal of improving academic performance is laudable and its reasonable measures should be supported on social grounds.

Traffic and environmental benefits

Furthermore, by bringing more students onto campus, the university reduces the commuting pressure currently placed on students and the surrounding neighborhoods. More students walking from bed to class means fewer students driving from home to campus.

As it stands today, hundreds of students commute from housing in Prince George’s Plaza alone.  Though most of them probably take the Metro, many will undoubtedly drive on occasion, thus adding traffic and pollution to surrounding neighborhoods.  Carpooling in a Prius still has a greater environmental impact than walking, which is mankind’s oldest, cheapest, cleanest, quietest, and most universal form of transport.

Economic development benefits

With 1,300 more people within a short walk of Florida Avenue, the new dorms will increase the economic viability of the commercial spaces along LeDroit Park’s southern edge.  All of the properties along Florida Avenue are zoned for both residential and commercial use, even though most are solely residences at the moment.  In fact a century ago the 400 block of Florida Avenue (across the street from the Post Office) hosted numerous prominent black-owned businesses and doctors’ offices.

What do you think? Are you supportive of the university’s desire to add more housing on campus?

Ms. Bennett will present the plan for Freshmen Village to the LeDroit Park Civic Association. The meeting is open to the public and residents are encouraged to attend. The meeting will be at 7 pm on Tuesday, March 22 in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (enter through the back at U and Bohrer Streets).

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June 18, 2010 - 7:22 am

How LeDroit Park Came to be Added to the City

The following is a Washington Times article from 1903. The article explains some of the early history of the neighborhood and even includes three photos, the first of which was misidentified as Fifth Street, though we have actually matched it up with Second Street.  We have included a few links to related information.

Second Street opposite the Anna J. Cooper House.

HOW LE DROIT PARK CAME TO BE ADDED TO THE CITY
Washington Times
Sunday, May 31, 1903

For Many Years the Section of Washington Known by That Name Had Practically Its Separate Government and Had All the Characteristics of a Country Town, Although Plainly Within the Boundary Limits. * * *

In that portion of Florida Avenue between Seventh Street and Eighth Streets northwest where the street cars of the Seventh Street line and the Ninth Street line pass over the same tracks, thousands of passengers are carried every day, and probably but a few if any realize the fact that they are passing over a road older than the organization of the city, a road that dates back to the Revolutionary period— the Bladensburg Road, which connected Georgetown with Bladensburg before the location of the National Capital was determined.

The Map on the Wall.

If the people passing this point will note the little frame building occupied by a florist, 713 Florida Avenue northwest, they will observe that in front of these premises and fastened to the blacksmith shop adjoining is a goodly sized signboard on which is painted an old map of this section and showing the intersection of the old Blandensburg Road and Boundary Street, now known as Florida Avenue. From this map it is seen that Seventh Street Road [now Georgia Avenue] intersects Boundary Street and the old Bladensburg Road at a point about 100 feet east of where the two roads join at an acute angle, and glancing along the lines of Boundary Street and the north lines of some buildings which have been erected in this angle we easily see the direction of the Bladensburg Road and discover that the small building 713 Florida Avenue northwest marks the spot where the Bladensburg Road deflected from Boundary Street and bore off in a northeasterly direction toward Bladensburg.

Once Part of Jamaica Vacancy.

The map referred to is said to be a portion of [the estate named] Jamaica and and Smith’s Vacancy, but if we examine the plats in the office of the Surveyor of the District we will hardly find on file any plats of those sections, but may learn that Le Droit Park was once part of Jamaica and Smith’s Vacancy and possibly a portion of [the estate named] Port Royal. Prior to the cession of the territory now included in the District from Maryland the land known as Jamaica was owned by one Philip R. Fendall, of Virginia. He conveyed this tract of 494 acres on the 12th day of January, 1792, to Samuel Blodgett, jr., of Massachusetts, and from this point the title of the land can be traced down to the present time.

The names attached to the different vacancies establish the names of the various owners of lands adjoining Bladensburg Road at the time it was abandoned as a thoroughfare and taken up as a portion of the farms in that section, and the presence of this old road accounts for some of the peculiar lines in some of the northern boundaries of some of the lots in Le Droit Park. This road crossed Second Street at a point north of Elm Street here. The old plats show Moore’s Vacancy. The road finally joined the present road to Bladensburg at a point where the sixth milestone of the norther line of the District was located.

It is probable that this peculiarly natural boundary of some of the lands which afterward became Le Droit Park may have had something to do with the strange lines which are found in the streets of that suburb, although it was not the intention at the time that Le Droit Park was subdivided to have the streets conform with the city streets.

Site of Campbell Hospital.

During the civil war the territory now contained in Le Droit Park was used as the site of Campbell General Hospital, one of the important hospitals near Washington. The hospital comprised some seventeen separate wooden buildings, erected in the form of a hollow square, with the central portion divided into irregular spaces by buildings cutting across the inclosure and connecting the outside buildings.

The larger dimension of this hospital was fro north to south, and extended from Boundary Street, now known as Florida Avenue, on the south, to the land occupied for many years as a baseball park, situated south of Freedman’s Hospital, and designated on some of the old maps as Levi Park. From east to west the hospital covered the ground from Seventh Street to what is now known as Fifth Street in Le Droit Park, and it is possible that a portion of the space between Fifth Street and Fourth Street was also included in the hospital inclosure.

The McClelland Residence.

At this time there were only two dwellings in the tract known afterward as Le Droit Park— the McClelland and Gilman homestands. Each included about ten acres of land used for grazing and garden purposes. The McClelland property and the Gilman property were divided by a row of large oak trees which were situated about fifty feet apart and continued from Florida Avenue, then Boundary Street, to the northern line of the park.

[See the following 1861 map, a map we extolled several months ago:


]

To the east of the Gilman tract was a narrow strip of land known as the Prather tract. East of this was Moore’s Lane, now Second Street, and still to the east was the tracts of the Moores, George and David, covering the territory as far east as the present location of Lincoln Avenue [now Lincoln Road], on which was located Harewood Hospital, another hospital of considerable note during the civil war.

T.R. Senior, who was commissary at Campbell Hospital, returned to the city some twelve years after the war closed and purchased a residence at the corner of Elm and Second Streets, where he now resides. Members of the family of David McClelland now occupy the old homestead on Second Street.

Following the close of the war it became necessary to provide for such of the freedmen as were in need of assistance. Campbell General Hospital was occupied by the freedmen until August 16, 1869, when the patients were transferred to the new Freedman’s Hospital, which has been erected in connection with Howard University.

The property upon which Freedman’s Hospital stands consisted of a tract of 150 acres and was purchased from John A. Smith. In April, 1867, Howardtown was laid out and soon after some 500 lots were sold, and at this time it seems that the idea was conveyed that streets would be opened to the south through the Miller tract. In April, 1870, the Howard University purchased the Miller tract, and laid out streets to connect the streets of Howardtown with the city streets, and a little later built four houses on the line of what is now known as Fourth Street and in 1872 subdivided the Miller tract, but for some reason the plat was not recorded.

In 1873 the Miller tract was sold by Howard University to A[ndrew] Langdon, and a short time afterward A[mzi] L[orenzo] Barber, formerly secretary of Howard University, became associated with Langdon and hs partner, and by arrangements with D[avid] McClelland, all of the three tracts known as the Miller tract, the McClelland tract, and the Gilman tract were united and subdivided, and in June, 1873, a subdivision known as Le Droit Park was placed on record in the surveyor’s office. A subsequent plat was filed some eighteen months later, in which the proprietors of the subdivision declared it to be their purpose and intention to retain and control the ownership of all the streets platted, and the right to inclose the whole or any portion of the tracts or tract included in the subdivision and to locate and control all entrances and gates to the same.

During the autumn of 1876 A. L. Barber & Co. commenced the erection of fences across the north line of Le Droit Park, and from this time until August, 1891, fences were maintained along the northern line of the park. From 1886 to 1891 frequent fence wars were in operation. The fence across what is now Fourth Street would be removed by one party, and the opposing party would secure an injunction and restore it. This mode of procedure was repeated at various times until in 1901 a compromise verdict was agreed upon by the two factions and the fence was removed, Fourth Street was improved north of the park, and the streets of the park passed into the control of the city after a period of some eighteen years of private ownership.

The organization of Le Droit Park, under the limitations of the plat filed in 1873, was a peculiar experiment, that of the founding of an independent suburb adjoining the city. the southern line of the park was inclosed with a handsome combination iron and wood fence, some of which may now be found on the southern line of the McClelland property. Buildings were erected with plenty of room around them, and during the period from 1873 to 1885 the larger part of the buildings were planned and erected by James H. McGill. Double houses were quite common, but it was not until 1888 that such a thing as a row of houses were known in the park.

Before control of the streets was surrendered to the city the conditions existing in the park resembled closely those found in small country towns. Many of the inhabitants owned cows, which were pastured upon the vacant lots; the women “went a-neighboring,” and the social life savored strongly of a village, and yet it was near the city. The express and telegraph messengers, however, always collected of residents an extra fee for the reason that they lived out of the city.

With the opening of the streets and the introduction of street cars the park soon lost its former characteristics and became part of the city with all of its advantages and disadvantages. The opening of Rhode Island Avenue [from Florida Avenue eastward] spoiled in a measure the former beauty of the McClelland and Gilman homesteads, although there is still much more ground remaining in both of these old tracts that many people would care to own. The opening of Fifth Street will, to some extent, divide the traffic which now finds a way through Fourth Street. Sixth Street ends at Spruce Street [now U Street], and further progress seems barred by the residence, 601 Spruce Street, and there seems no immediate chance of the extension of Third Street above its present limit [at V Street??], where progress is barred by a high fence decorated with the advertisement of a prominent firm.

Former Familiar Street Names.

The old names of the streets of the park, such as Harewood Avenue [now Third Street], Maple Avenue [now U Street], Moore’s Lane [later Le Droit Avenue, then Second Street], Linden Street [now Fourth Street], Larch Street [now Fifth Street], Juniper Street [now Sixth Street], and Bohrer Street [still extant], are nearly forgotten, and have passed away with the fence and its period. The names of the city streets have taken their places, and with the growth of the population the country life and country scenes have given way to those of the city.

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March 10, 2010 - 7:01 am

What’s That on the Grassy Knoll?

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.

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