Tuesday, December 2, 2008

S.O.S. (Save our Stables) Initiative is Launched

The National Trust for Historic Preservation request for nominations of historic buildings or areas that are recognized as being at risk of destruction http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/11-most-endangered stimulated the author (DC Preservationist) to launch an initiative to help preserve the few remaining Washington D.C. stables – S.O.S. (Save our Stables).
On December 7th 2008, the Logan Circle Christmas Tour will feature several stables in Blagden Alley and Naylor Court to share insights into the past seldom seen worlds that lay behind the elegant Victorian homes on the Streets in front of them.

(Dakota stables c. 1944 as a garage)

(From the Office for Metropolitan History reported in the New York Times)

Preservationists lost a battle to protect the Dakota, built in 1894 and shown here in 1944, after the owner secured a stripping permit.
Soon word spread that a demolition crew was hacking away at the brick cornices of the stables, an 1894 Romanesque Revival building, on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, that once housed horses and carriages but had long served as a parking garage. In just four days the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was to hold a public hearing on pleas dating back 20 years to designate the low-rise building, with its round-arched windows and serpentine ornamentation, as a historic landmark. But once the building’s distinctive features had been erased, the battle was lost. The commission went ahead with its hearing, but ultimately decided not to designate the structure because it had been irreparably changed.
Today a 16-story luxury condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern is rising on the site: the Related Companies is asking from $765,000 for a studio to $7 million or more for a five-bedroom unit in the building.
The strategy has become wearyingly familiar to preservationists. A property owner — in this case Sylgar Properties, which was under contract to sell the site to Related — is notified by the landmarks commission that its building or the neighborhood is being considered for landmark status. The owner then rushes to obtain a demolition or stripping permit from the city’s Department of Buildings so that notable qualities can be removed, rendering the structure unworthy of protection. In the case of Dakota Stables, some preservationists have accused the landmarks commission of deliberately dragging its heels. “The commission had no intention of designating Dakota Stables,” said Kate Wood, the executive director of Landmark West!, a preservation group. “They waited until it had been torn down. It was clearly too late for them to do anything meaningful.” Some commissioners say the landmarks commission and the buildings department should adopt a more reliable alert system to prevent pre-emptive demolitions. “When a property owner goes to the buildings department for a permit to strip, it should be a red flag,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, who has served on the landmarks commission since 2002. Christopher Moore, a commission member, also said the situation demanded redress. “There is a standard of honor I wish the developers would follow,” he said. “The landmarks commission should have greater authority” over the granting of demolition permits, he added. “All of a sudden, the cornice is gone.”

New York Times
- "Demolition through Loopholes"

The Adaptive Lives of Washington DC Stables over 150 Years

Stables are architecturally simple yet elegant structures, melding form and function. Because of this simplicity and their “hidden” location in alleys, many DC stables have been blessed with multiple lives over the past 150 years. Originally built to house horses, carriages and hay, their classic features – bollards, square two story configuration, hayloft door and beam, horse head height windows, cupolas and massive doors and hinges – make them readily recognizable today. Some were private and small while others were commercial and large. The occasional stable was born into elegance as part of an estate (such as the Heurich mansion). With the civil war, came a massive demand for D.C. stables that continued throughout the period of reconstruction. However, by 1900 few new stables were being built as the automobile eclipsed the horse and carriage, street car lines developed and demand declined. Nonetheless, their simple architecture allowed easy conversion of many stables to alley auto repair shops. These were hard lived years for stables. Some were abused but most were neglected. Many were destroyed as alleys began to be abolished by government fiat through a series of alley abolition acts. Ironically a long period of building stagnation in D.C. (after the1968 riots) protected many of the remaining stables. Today, few alley auto repair garages exist but stables are slowly being rediscovered and restored to live adaptive new lives as musician and artist studios, offices or homes. Unlike the labyrinths of London mews, intact collections of stables are virtually nonexistent in D.C. today. Almost none were built outside of the city as it was defined by turn of the century maps. Today, stables have a hard earned right to be protected (two D.C. alleys and their stables were recognized as National Historic Landmarks in 1990) and nurtured so that they can continue to thrive. They uniquely remind us of their struggles and the roles that they have played in the special history of Washington, its alleys, transportation, commerce and the arts. They have a special charm that is timeless.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Major Traffic Access to Alley is Blocked

The DC alleys are unique in the nation with their collections of old stables and other bygone commercial buildings such as sausage smoke houses (in Treto Way). Very few are left in the city with the potential to be sensitively developed in an historic manner so that they recall and preserve segments of alley lives of the past. No doubt there will continue to be discussion about traffic management over the coming years with proposals ranging from full traffic access to restricted access to pedestrian access only. Below is an article from Greater Greater Washington that reviews a recent "discussion" about restricting traffic flow from a proposed large development on U Street and 14th Street.


"Our curb cut is limited to the present circumstances"

Article and Photo by David Alpert

How often does Councilmember Phil Mendelson (at-large) personally show up to the Board of Zoning Adjustment to testify in support of a variance? I suspect not often, but show up he did at yesterday's BZA hearing on the 14th and U "Utopia" project.

Mendelson read a letter in support of locating the proposed garage entrance on 14th Street instead of in the alley behind. The developer, the Dupont ANC, and local residents and businesses all want this as well. Councilmember Jack Evans also submitted a concurring letter, which his committee clerk, Jeff Coudriet (who also lives nearby), presented at the hearing. The BZA voted to approve the curb cut and all of the variances the developer needed.

I agree in this case. This is an unusual block with an unusual alley system, and the garage entrance poses many problems. But I'm very concerned that this not set precedent for other, less exceptional situations. Along U Street west of 13th, developers plan to replace the one-story, bland Rite Aid with a larger hotel and ground-floor retail. The rear of the building faces a standard alley, but a row of townhouses back onto the other side of the alley. Some of those residents are trying to pressure that developer to build their garage entrance across the 13th Street sidewalk, instead of off the adjacent straight alley.

Bad idea.

Unlike at Utopia, using this alley doesn't require cars to make two sharp turns and take three separate alleys. Unlike at Utopia, there are no alley dwellings. This garage entrance could be located at the eastern end of the alley, so cars only have to drive on a very short part. I'd even be okay with widening the alley a little bit right at the end, so there's enough room for one car in each direction. But another, extremely wide curb cut right next to an existing alley curb cut harms the rest of the public too much, while alley access to the garage harms the local property owners little.

It's clear that some major political chips got called in to get Mendelson to show up in person for the Utopia curb cut, and to generate the repeated letters from Evans supporting neighbors' position on the project. The political pressure was so potent that yesterday afternoon, DDOT decided to withdraw its original comments opposing the curb cut. That's politics, and I don't agree with those who complain about corruption every time an elected official weighs in. Taking positions on issues and pushing agencies on behalf of constituents is what elected officials do, and if you want to influence them, organize.

While Evans and Mendelson weren't wrong about this curb cut, we need to get organized and connected enough to ensure that Council members aren't sending letters in support of every curb cut when some residents don't want traffic in their alley. Alley traffic impacts the residents, but a curb cut impacts everyone else. A curb cut increases the opportunities for vehicles to hit pedestrians and bicycles; it reduces the space we have for sidewalk cafes; it visually widens the street, making drivers go faster.

Fortunately, Mendelson's letter gives us good ammunition for differentiating the Utopia case from others, like the 13th and U Rite Aid/Hotel:

There are very few communities in the District like the one comprising the residents of [the alleys behind Utopia]. The two others that come to mind are Blagden Alley in Shaw and Brown's Court on Capitol Hill ... It is important to consider that this space is atypical. It is unlike the typical square with all the dwellings fronting on the public street, only to back up to alleys. [The residents of these alleys] must walk down their alleys to go anywhere, which creates unavoidable pedestrian and vehicular conflicts.

Public policy must balance a larger impact on a few against the smaller impact on many. Typically, in the political process, the few are better organized and louder than the many. Through this blog and Smart Growth organizations, we the many are getting organized. And I want to make it clear to Evans, Mendelson, and any other elected official that while I don't disagree with their views on the Utopia curb cut, such an exception, and their political muscle on its behalf, should be extremely, extremely rare.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

HPRB and BZA process order may be "backwards"

Scott Roberts recently pointed out the possible illogical order of the review process: -

‘Backwards’ HPRB/Zoning Process Reviewed

The Economic Development and Zoning Committee is taking action against a series of procedures that they say DC has backwards. As it stands, someone who wants to develop a property needs to go to the Historic Preservation Review Board first to make sure that their proposed development doesn’t violate any historic restrictions. Then the person goes to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, taking them through a tougher process to determine whether their proposal violates any zoning regulations. And finally, they get approval on any use of public space their proposal may involve.

The committee researched other cities’ systems, and they found that in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston, zoning and permit issues need to be resolved before the local historic commission reviews the plans. They concluded, “We believe that the current system in Washington, DC, would be improved by a change in the order of review. Putting the public space and zoning issues ahead of the historic review would give HPRB the ability to review the project in total in making their decision.”

Commissioner Alberti agreed that it makes sense to reverse the order. “How can HPRB rule on design issues when BZA hasn’t ruled on how much space you can occupy and for what uses, and how can BZA decided how much space you can use without talking to Public Space?” he wondered. “DC is anomalous.”

The commission agreed to send a letter to the mayor and DC Council, per the committee’s recommendation, suggesting that the city restructure its permitting process.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Photographic Link to the Past

Shorpy.com is a photoblog featuring high-definition images from the first half of the 20th century. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a boy who worked in an Alabama coal mine and ironworks in the 1910s. It's a wonderful site for high quality photographs documenting a wide range of elements of Washington D.C.’s history as well as other parts of the nation. One becomes mesmerized and transported in time as you peruse this huge and well constructed gallery! I highly recommend spending a little time here if you have any interest at all in history. (ed)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Georgetown Saves Stable from Destruction

(31st Street between Dumbarton and N Streets)

According to a reliable and well placed source within Washington’s architectural preservation community, this stable (the white one on the left) was nearly destroyed several years ago. Outrage from the Georgetown citizens resulted in “a bonanza of stop work orders,” the demolition ceased after half of the building had been destroyed and the contractor was forced to restore the building to its original configuration. Parenthetically, it was unusual for a Washington D.C. stable to be built facing a main street rather than within an alley.

At a community function several months ago, the editor asked Jack Evans about the July 2008 destruction of the 1863 Historic Landmark protected Civil War stable in Naylor court (1316 rear 9th Street). He said he couldn’t understand why it was allowed to be torn down and that if something like that had ever happened in Georgetown the outcry would be overwhelming. He’s right!

In 1954 when developers threatened to destroy the historic stables and warehouses along the canal in Georgetown, the residents of Foggy Bottom and Georgetown created a coalition to save the properties and succeeded. Today, 54 years later, this area has become a destination landmark. Small businesses – such as Blues Alley - are thriving.

“It may be a jazz world, but it looks like it’s going to be a Blues Alley universe-Blues Alley clubs everywhere, Blues Alley CDs and videos, a Blues Alley clothing collection, and even a Blues Alley crystal decanter.

Washington’s well-known jazz club-which attracts legendary jazz performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Byrd and Wynton Marsalis-has signed a $57 million licensing agreement with a group of Japanese investors to open three clubs next year in Japan, according to Blues Alley owner John T. Bunyan.

And other deals with investors in the United States, Germany and Spain are in the works to capitalize on the popular supper club’s name and knack for booking jazz …”

(Washington Post, December 13th 1989)


1316 rear 9th Street (originally a Civil War stable) was a home and furniture repair

shop up until a year before its destruction by a developer/investment company.

Few can see clearly into the future, but it shouldn’t be difficult for all of us to recognize and respect the past. Washington D.C. is blessed with many small alley structures that have earned the right of preservation. The history of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom preservation activism should serve to educate the rest of the city. There is no reason why these lessons cannot be used to guide other sections of the city as development continues to threaten our history one brick at a time.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

“A Tour of My Losses: A Quarter Century of Preservation in Washington”

Lecture by Sally Berk*

The National Trust for Historic Preservation - Latrobe Chapter

On Tuesday September 23rd 2008, Sally Berk* gave a moving lecture of personal reflections on her life over the past 25 years as an historic preservation activist. She shared her personal principles of architectural preservation. At the end of her lecture Ms. Berk issued a challenge for others to continue her work in historic architectural preservation (for she is retiring) and a plea to support efforts to preserve St. Martin’s Convent and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Preservation is good business.
Preservation building work constitutes 50% of the building efforts in Washington D.C. and accounts for a financial contribution that is equal to that of new construction ($9.5 billion dollars for preservation and $9.5 billion dollars for new construction).

Preservation is about managing change and not about preventing it.
Change is inevitable. It is wiser to learn how to manage change and have an active and guiding hand in that process than to attempt to thwart it and lose the opportunity for melding preservation and change.

Preservation is about continuing the historic context.
The background of an area in terms of its legacy (such as music, the arts, and commercial buildings) lends a hand in contextual historic architectural preservation of that area.

Preservation is about respecting the historic context.
The juxtaposition of new construction that does not respect the historic context of the building or the area diminishes the historic legacy of the properties.

Preservation is not about copying history.
Some areas of the city that are generally thought of as “historic” have sanctioned new construction that mimics 19th Century architecture, thereby becoming a caricature of their past. Historic replication is not a substitute for historic preservation.

One should be able to read the layers of the city.
As one walks through any city, one should be able to read the layers of the past as each new era’s unique style of architecture is graciously interdigitated with that of the past. Each layer should be recognizable and appreciated for its era’s contribution to the overall gestalt of the building or collection of structures.

“Demolition isn't the only threat to historic sites. Equally threatening can be alterations, additions and new construction that comprise the iconography and/or integrity of the site. The preservationist, therefore, has the responsibility of managing change to the historic artifact. Writing a landmark nomination and obtaining historic designation are only the first steps in an ongoing process that can be controversial and contentious -- and sometimes with luck -- enormously rewarding.”

F Street Lament, Michael Berman, 2000

* After twenty-five years of preservation activism, Sally Berk has a long list of rewarding, vexing, and in some cases, unresolved preservation efforts to her name. Ms. Berk, who holds an undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in preservation from The George Washington University, also served as president of the DC Preservation League from 1995-1998.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Alley Archeology in DC Behind the Times

"Alley housing in Washington is not very well documented. For example, because no city building permits were required before 1877, there is little documentary information on the buildings themselves. Census and city directories did not record alleys until 1858, when the City Directly listed 49 alleys with 348 heads of household. Earlier alleys and those too small to be recorded in directories as well as the conditions of alley life, require archaeological documentation." (page 58)

"A grant from the Department of the Interior funded a survey for potential nomination of the Blagden Alley Neighborhood as an historic district. This survey included researching the historic and archaeological resources within the project area. The historic resources survey involved the investigation of the architectural, social and cultural history of the area encompassing Blagden and Naylor Alleys. Archival research included reviewing tax books, primary and secondary sources, city directories, newspaper accounts, biographical sources, historic photographs and oral histories.

Squares 367 and 368 in which Blagden and Naylor Alleys are located retain a mixture of residential and commercial buildings that illustrate the historic evolution of land use in the City of Washington, particularly the independent development of property facing the public streets versus property facing the alleys."

"Only since the early 1980’s has there been any systematic archaeological work on the development of the city. …. As should be evident, archaeology of alley life in the city has barely begun, but it should have a powerful future. We are particularly hopeful that archaeology be done in the Blagden Alley and Naylor Court neighborhood with the interest and participation of the local community. As Theresa Singleton writes, “African-American archaeology should be seen primarily as a way of framing questions pertinent fo the African experience in the Americas. It is not necessary to restrict such questions to sites with an identifiable or discrete black provenience, but to any site that can illuminate aspects of African-American history and culture.” We believe that historical archaeology can help us uncover the silences of both documents and artifacts and offer a vehicle in which to examine our history and preconceptions of that history. (page 65)"

"In 1880, only 8 percent of the adult males in Borchert’s sample of alley dwellers were skilled. Most of these men were carpenters, barbers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, plasterers or brick masons. Fewer than 7 percent were white collar, proprietors or professional and of these 17 percent were “rag picker”, “rag gatherer”, “rag dealer”, “junk dealer” and 33 percent were “peddler”, jobber”, huckster and horse trader” (page 62)

"Blagden alley was one of the earliest alleys to be developed and was occupied until the 1940’s."

From: http://www.loc.gov/loc/kidslc/live-hiddenwashington.html

(Opportunities to explore DC Alley history and preserve 1860's buildings are being bulldozed by developers - e.g. 1316 rear 9th Street where two historic buildings have been razed this summer- ed)

European living comes to Washington

Washington is slowly developing a more “European atmosphere” as it thinks and plans its way into a new era of urban development. It is ironic that one of the reasons that some seem to be leaving the city - lack of parking and oppressive traffic - has become a force for change to create a bicycle and pedestrian friendly city with even fewer cars. In D.C. 37% of the population do not even own cars. Bike paths abound. With many new “grocery stores” within walking distances, the incentives to drive diminish. Melbourne has also treasured and managed to preserve its inner alleys - see “Laneways and other pedestrian amenities. It is encouraging to see Washington recognizing the value of “foot traffic” as it proceeds with the plans for development of the old convention center site.

“Redevelopment of the site [old convention center] will facilitate new connections, encouraging flow between diverse downtown communities: historic and predominantly residential neighborhoods to the north and mainly commercial office development to the south. In contrast to the imposing scale that characterizes the surrounding area, the project is designed to be human-scaled, highly permeable and pedestrian-friendly. A civic plaza forms the heart of the project and generous public spaces punctuate the whole neighborhood.”


The following was forwarded by PH - a fellow preservationist and green space planner with an interest and expertise in urban traffic flow http://www.streetsblog.org/

Laneways and other pedestrian amenities
Melbourne is filled with hidden "laneways" that cut between major streets downtown. The city has been steadily reclaiming these hidden treasures from traffic and disuse, and the laneways have become renowned for their charm, with al fresco eateries, boutique shops and bars. A number of inviting pedestrian arcades, reminiscent of those in Paris, can be found as well. Sidewalk build-outs for traffic calming are plentiful around town and are put to varied uses, including café seating and bike parking.

As he has been doing in New York City, Danish architect Jan Gehl has been working with the City of Melbourne to improve the quality of its public realm.

All in all, Melbourne is a wonderful place to explore on foot, by tram or by bike -- after you spend half an eternity getting there!
Photos: Ken Coughlin

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blagden Alley and Naylor Court Walking Tour

According to Hal Davitt (president of the Blagden Alley/Naylor Court Association) historian Mike Herlong will be guiding a walking tour of these two historic alleys on Saturday September 20th and Sunday September 21st from 12:00 to 2:00. The tour will start at 9th and N at 12:00. From past personal experience, this is a wonderful tour and an opportunity to learn more about these alleys, their structures, the life in the alleys and the role of various preservation organizations. Some parts of the alley such as this wall are beginning to crumble through neglect.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hidden Alleys and Stables in NYC

New York has many forgotten alleys wherein there are nests of stables such as "Sniffen Court" (which is on the National Register of Historic Places, just like Naylor Court). You can save the bus or train fare and take a virtual trip to visit the alleys through the links below. The stables were built during the civil war - just like the recently destroyed stable in Naylor Court. "Sniffen Court" is a gated community where the stables have been tastefully preserved and adaptively reused in intelligent ways. This collection of stables is an inspiration for the development and protection of Naylor Court and Blagden Alleys. If one does not have a vision of the future, it is nearly impossible to recognize when that future is being threatened by destruction in the present! The era of the alley abolition mentality needs to fade from our memories for the reasons for which this legislation was crafted in Washington D.C. no longer exist. Now is the time to work hard to preserve what is left after years of demolition and recognize the precious nature of these little buildings.


Quote of the day

"The greenest building is the one that already exists."
by Carl Elefante AIA LEED AP

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Former 9th Street DeSoto, Plymouth, Chrysler Dealership to be Rejeuvenated

Douglas Development has recently purchased
1234 9th Street NW, a property that once housed a car dealership. The former large showroom windows were replaced by glass blocks many years ago. The space is huge, open and solid. A fading painted sign from the dealership days lingers on the North inside wall as a silent testimony to its past life. Douglas Development has also purchased several other properties on the 9th Street side of the alley (1216, 1218, 1226) as well as their associated alley structures. One of these alley buildings is a small stable that at one time in its life was a "Neighborhood Auto Repair" shop. Remnants of the signage can still be seen over the former stable door. Douglas Development has a history of respecting the Historic Landmark designation of buildings and plans to expertly and sensitively restore the little stable. Perhaps some of the development projects within this collection of buildings may eventually wear an automotive theme woven somewhere into their new lives!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Listen to an erudite discussion about architecture, politcal power and community activism


Join the show: 1-800-433-8850 (kojo@wamu.org)

Shaping the City with Roger K. Lewis

D.C. is a political town. And that fact inevitably influences the look and feel of our surroundings. From feuds over zoning to debates over historic preservation, Roger K. Lewis joins Kojo to explore how politics-- of the partisan and petty variety--- affect the District's 'built environment'.


Roger K. Lewis, Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ABC News 7 picks up the story about the demolished civil war stable

"D.C. Historic Stable Demolished" by Stephen Tschida ABC 7 News August 13th 2008

"Preservationists are accusing D.C. of neglecting its heritage. They say the city is green, lighting demolition of irreplaceable buildings. Built over 150 years ago, horse stables still line Naylor Court. Some are upscale homes now but one recently came tumbling down, with the city's blessing. The people who live in this corner of Shaw, with so much history, were stunned to hear the wrecking ball and saddened to see one of the old stables turned to rubble. A spokesperson for the historic preservation review board says the city approved the demolition of the old stable because it had deteriorated dramatically. Some residents are troubled since many of the city's historic buildings are in bad shape. This is not an isolated incident. Behind the old Howard Theatre, cars park on what was a historic building. The city occasionally will approve tearing down a historic building if the developer reconstructs it, but some believe the goal often is simply to clear the way for the sale of the property. In the corner cluttered with history, some residents just hope the days of demolition will slow now that the economy is in the can."

The original story and the video from ABC 7 are linked below.



Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Last Auto Repair Shop Closes in the Alley

For almost 20 years Abate, a gentle and kind man, has worked in Naylor Court NW servicing the neighborhood cars and repairing damaged fenders. He learned his bodywork craft in Ethiopia where he worked for Ethiopian Airlines doing metal work in aluminum.

The alley in Naylor Court had been the home for many auto repair shops as it made the transition from stables for horses. Repairing the leaf springs and wheels of coaches was not too different from repairing the leaf springs and wheels from model T Fords. Over the past 70 years in Washington, the car sales corridor of 14th Street gradually disappeared to the point that today there is only one new car dealership in Washington. Many former car dealerships are now lofts. The alley auto shops provided a service for an impoverished community, whose cheap cars were in need of frequent repair. For years, the alley was "log jammed" with cars - three deep - which served as homes for cats, business offices for drug deals, bedrooms for prostitutes and sources of income for rogue illegal towing companies who were paid by weight for scrap metal and stolen cars. Even the DC Archives (1300 Naylor Court) across the alley from Abate's had an auto repair shop for the street cleaning trucks even as it maintained part of its structure as a huge stable.

Abate's shop (Blue Ridge Leasing - formerly Venus Motors) closed this week, marking the end of a chapter in the lives of the modern alley. He had a unique business model for selling cars since he had very little space. Being well known in the community, he would always have a list of cars that people were seeking. They knew the make, the model and the year. As long as the car was solid and reasonable in price and mileage it was a deal. The color did not mater. So, every car he bought was already sold!

Abate's presence in the alley ensured the safety of the alley dwellers, for he worked late hours and he and his men always kept an eye out for trouble. He will be missed by those who knew him well. The breadth of his connections and the depth of the love and respect for him within his community will ensure that he will be able to evolve into a new and better life. The Naylor Court Alley will continue to evolve as it has since its original drawings of 1797. With intelligent planning and sensitivity it can become a very special place in the heart of Washington. Designation of Naylor Court as an Historic Landmark in 1990 showed great foresight that is being rewarded today and will be for the years ahead.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Concept of a "mews"

In London and many other Cities in Europe, the small back alleys were lined with stables. Today through preservation and respect for their past lives, they have been preserved. Most are homes but some are small shops and even high end (Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar) classic car businesses. The mews are like little villages within large cities where people know and care for each other. Not too different than at the turn of the century!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Second 1860’s building destroyed in Naylor Court Alley - July 2008

A second building lay tucked behind the Lincoln era (1863) stable.
According to records, the house was built in the Reconstruction era (1869). New construction will replace these buildings, however it will be a replication and not a preservation. An original structure with historic provenance is priceless. A replica is something anyone can fabricate and can never ever begin to replace the original. This destruction should never have happened and is under investigation.

Jack Evans agrees to help the community protect historic alley buildings

Jack Evans has agreed to work with a coalition in the community to help to create protective measures to ensure the continued lives of small historic buildings within the alleys in his district. Even with the national recognition of Naylor Court on the National Register as an historic landmark (1990) this alone appears insufficient to protect the special collection of 16 (now 15) stables from destruction. Having city council member Evans working with the community to preserve the unique history of small alley structures is very encouraging to those of us who understand and value the uniqueness of the collective group of buildings. Individually some may not seem like much, but together they create a special picture of the past life in D.C. Alleys. Naylor Court is the last alley in the city with this concentration of intact stables. The vision of the coalition is reflected in the London and Paris mews where old stables were saved and turned into homes and small. Georgetown has been able to preserve much of its historic little byways. We believe that our neighborhood should be able to as well. The little stable on the left was destroyed in July 2008.

[Below is from work done by Traceries and the law firm of Shaughnessy, Volzer and Gagner, P.C. in 1990]

“Behind the public street facades, the property oriented onto the alleyways developed in a very different fashion. The growing population in the city dramatically increased the demand for housing, particularly for inexpensive dwellings for the large number of working class blacks. One solution to this population pressure was to increase the population density on each square by subdividing lots at the rear of street property that faced directly onto alleyways. This is amply illustrated in the history of Squares 367 (Naylor Court) and 368 (Blagden Alley).”

“Before 1867, Square 367 had only ten lots officially recorded as fronting solely on the alley, although the 1857 Boschke map showed several structures located near or on the alleys. The earliest extant alley dwelling is located on Square 367 at the rear of 1316 9th Street, N.W. It was constructed between 1863 and 1869 as a dwelling. At the time of its construction, the property remained a single lot, indicating a possible social relationship between the inhabitants of the two buildings.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An elegant history of Shaw

Several years ago, Kelsey and Associates created a wonderful and thorough survey of the Shaw area replete with old photos. It is a pdf file that can be viewed and downloaded through the link below. I highly recommend taking a look at it.

Kelsey & Associates, Inc.
"Preserving Architectural Heritage"
1929 13th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Telephone:(202) 213-9796, Email: info@washingtonhistory.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A proposal to protect historic alley buildings from developer destruction

"It occurred to me that you may establish a "preservation group"
related explicitly to stables in DC - to create a kind of plaque
that would be present on each stable around town (even the derelict
ones) signifying it's historic relevance and protection. Very much
like the plaques I saw in England on the mews there. It would be
good to establish this since there are so few left and get the HPRB
behind the idea of preserving these gems."
"In any case I hope that the media attention and the push-back
on the HPRB get these properties more protection and bring
accountability to (name deleted - editor) and his company. It
also really saddens since this person was supposedly trained as
an architect should know better than to hypocritically claim
sensitivity to the historic fabric of our cities and proceed
to tear down old buildings. But I'm sure this isn't over
and I hope something good comes out of this. Also I really
enjoyed the blog you created it's really great - and a
good way to get awareness about this issue and other
stables out there."
(submitted by a DC architect and preservationist)

An old book (that is free) about Living in the Alleys of Washington DC

This is a wonderful old book that is free through Google and can be downloaded. It is a fascinating read that gives you insights into the struggles for survival that faced those who lived in the alleys of Washington D.C. at the turn of the century. There are many photos of long forgotten places and memories. For those who are captivated by Washington's past, this is a "must read." It is a little "dry" but that reflects the writing of the time and the nature of documentary journalism at the turn of the century. The link to get a free copy of this book is at the bottom of this entry. It is a 6.3 MB file.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Naylor Court from the 1860's

The lanes of Naylor Court , laid out in the 1860’s were among hundreds of intersecting alleys that were hidden behind DC houses, especially in Shaw. Stables, workshops, sheds and cheaply built two-story houses filled these alleys. While many of Naylor Court’s original dwellings are gone, a few remain. Naylor Court’s alleys form hald of today’s Blagden Alley-Naylor Court Historic District.

Starting with the Civil War housing crisis, builders crammed scores of dwellings into tight spaces such as these. Most dwellings lacked running water, plumbing or electricity and they quickly became dilapidated. Yet the need for shelter was desperate. In 1908 more than 300 people filled Blagden Alley dwellings, averaging 7 per household and paying $6 per month.

In 1900 Nochen Kafitz, a Lithuanian immigrant opened a grocery in his house a few blocks away on Glick Alley. (The alley now gone, once lay between 6th, 7th and S Streets and Rhode Island Avenue.) His son Morris (1887 – 1964) changed his name to Cafritz and became a key DC real estate developer and philanthropist.

New alley dwelling construction was outlawed in 1934 and many alleys were cleared of housing. But some alleys lingered, attracting prostitutes, gamblers, drug dealers and speakeasies. Others though were tightly knit communities where people who just happened to be poor looked out for one another.

Since the 1980’s the alley’s small dwellings, former carriage barns and horse stalls have housed artists studios and residences as well as working garages. In 1990 the city moved its archives to the former Tally Ho Stables built in 1883.

From Cultural Tourism. DC 2006

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Washington views the history of Blagden Alley and Naylor Court

Blagden Alley is an historic district defined by middle-class residences, churches and small apartment buildings that display a rich variety of Victorian architectural styles dating from the 1860s to the 1890s. In the interior of many blocks are alley dwellings, such as; working class residences, stables, and commercial buildings that are hidden behind the facing the streets. The area illustrates how different classes, races, and services were physically organized in the 19th-century city of Washington.

The names Blagden Alley and Naylor Court were derived from two 19th-century property owners, Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor. Blagden owned property in the area and ran a lumberyard in the city. Dickerson Nailor (now spelled Naylor) also owned property and was a grocer. After the Civil War, Washington's downtown became increasingly commercial and residential development grew north to the Blagden Alley area in the 1870s as well as attracted several prestigious and affluent residents.

The elegant townhouse, the Blanche K. Bruce House (NHL) at 909 M Street, was constructed in 1873. Bruce was the first African American to serve as a senator in Congress (R-Miss, 1875-1881). To the south was a house built by Alexander "Boss" Shepard, the chief of the Board of Public Works during the 1870s. Streetcar lines connected 9th and 7th Streets with downtown in 1873, and these streets served as the main commercial corridors.

After the Civil War, many African Americans migrated to Washington and came to live in the alley dwellings. They were small and poorly constructed buildings, mainly of wood and brick. The living conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were concentrated efforts to have the alley dwellings demolished. Blagden Alley and Naylor Court are two of only a handful of alleys that still exist.

The Blagden Alley neighborhood continued to serve as a closely-knit racially mixed middle and working class neighborhood into the 20th century. However, the widening of 9th Street with its subsequent loss of street trees and yards, the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, the increase of absentee landlords, and the 1968 riots led to deterioration of the area.

Today, renovating and restoring homes is widespread and the area has an active community group, the Blagden Alley Neighborhood Association, interested in fighting crime. New residents have been attracted to the area by the charm of the buildings and the proximity to downtown.

Blagden Alley-Naylor Court is bounded by 9th, 10th, M and O Streets, N.W. All of the buildings mentioned are private and not open to the public. Metro stop: Mt. Vernon Sq-UDC.

From: Jack Evans Website - http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/EVANS/blagdenalley.html

Developer destroys the oldest stable in Naylor Court - a decision made by the Historic Preservation Review Board

This beautiful little 1860's stable was destroyed on July 3rd 2008 by Community Three Development LLC. It was the oldest stable in the alley and had been lived in up until a year before its demolition. The neighborhood considered it to be very solid and it was warm in the winter - something unusual for the alley dwellings. The lines of the building were "true" and it was one of 16 stables in Naylor Court. This is the last block in the city with this concentration of preserved stables. The entire alley was registered as an historic landmark in 1990 (record #7696) Photo from: http://flickr.com/photos/57668330@N00/2443242265/in/set-72157604758482957/

Friday, July 18, 2008

Horse Barn in NW to be City Archives (1988)


Naylor Court and Blagden alleys designated as historic landmarks in 1990

Naylor Court and Blagden Alley Historic Landmark Recognition

Location: Ninth, Tenth, N, and O streets, NW

Blagden Alley/Naylor Court Historic District is one of the few remaining intact examples of Washington, DC's characteristic alley dwelling phenomenon. Alley dwellings were small houses situated on alleys behind large homes that faced the main streets. They often shared the alleys with workshops, stables, and other accessory buildings. During the Civil War's severe housing shortages, alley housing was one of the few options available to poor and working-class residents. Interracial in the beginning, alley dwellings were predominantly African American by the turn of the 20th century.

In 1880, 64 families lived in Blagden Alley — all African American. The typical Blagden Alley home had four rooms with a small back yard, a water pump, a privy, and a shed. Stables and businesses were added to the alleys later. Hidden from the main streets, alley dwellers often formed supportive communities. From the outside, however, alley communities were seen as unsanitary and dangerous Most were torn down by 1955 after the Alley Dwelling Elimination Act was implemented by Congress in 1934.

Blagden Alley and Naylor Court remain intact due to community activism during the 1980s. They are home to the DC Archives, Office of Public Records, which occupies a former stable, and a number of small businesses and shops. They were listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Places in 1990.


James Borchert, Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 48, 102-03, 132.

Thomas J. Carrier, Historic Georgetown: A Walking Tour, Images of America Series (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 1999).

DC Historic Preservation Office, Inventory of Historic Sites.