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:

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 -

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:

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.