Friday, January 29, 2010

The power of five or six horses fits into Naylor Court stable

In 1887 for $800, William P Lipscomb had a brick stable with a tin roof and no plumbing built behind his 920 O Street home. One could reasonably assume that he had one or two horses, but probably not a carriage, for the stable measured only 24 feet by 28 feet with a hayloft on the second floor. This was a very common size and configuration for the average stable in the city at the turn of the century. This stable, in Naylor Court is now protected on the National Register as a National Historic Landmark - as are all of the buildings in square 0367. Like all city stables, it has lived many lives. Most recently it was the home of a lovely young couple who shared broad ranging interests including photography and a passion for vintage scooters (Vespa).

“Vespa is both Latin and Italian for wasp—derived from both the high-pitched noise of the two-stroke engine, and adopted as a name for the vehicle in reference to its body shape: the thicker rear part connected to the front part by a narrow waist, and the steering rod resembled antennae.” (From )

Some little stables in the back alleys of Washington became homes for mechanical horsepower after the need for animal horse power faded at the turn of the last century. Many became community auto repair garages meeting the needs of the poor in the neighborhood who tried to run old and failing cars on empty pockets. Some became lofts. Others were abandoned. Some simply fell down through neglect and the subsequent consequences of demolition by nature. Fortunately recognition of the sentimental and historic value of these little properties is gradually increasing in Washington. They are elegant in their utilitarian simplicity – just like the little Vespa!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stabilizing Businesses in the Alley Part II

The perimeter of a city block puts its best face forward and generally remains with a preserved and unchanging fa├žade for decades. This is the face the world sees every day. In contrast, the cores of city blocks are in a continuous state of change and evolution. Their inhabitants reflect a wide spectrum of lives and needs over the years. There is a somewhat romantic ebb and flow to the nature of alleys that is so easily destroyed by government fiat and misguided urban planners. The cradles of creativity were rocked in many small alley dwellings and industrial lofts in DC and NY and elsewhere. Thankfully this fact and the recognition of the utilitarian value of alley space are slowly becoming recognized.

 St. Martins Lane stables turned into offices, 
homes and restaurants in Washington D.C. 
 “By utilizing the physical layout of the alley for “defensible space” and by manipulating the fears of “outsiders” toward the alley, alley residents were able to lay claim to control over their neighborhood, thus establishing a sense of sovereignty and power as well as security. This control over their own “turf” meant that alley dwellers were able to establish social control over their own community, and maintain the values and world view of that community.” (James Borchert from Alley Life in Washington)

“To skulk through an American alley is to step backward in time, downward on the social ladder and quickly to confront the world of trash collectors, garbage-pickers, weekend car mechanics and children. Refugees, all of them, from the wide-open world of the big street Out Front.

   Backstaged, the alley is the outback world of the unmentionable, if not the unwanted, the displaced of modern society. A few glaring exceptions – unpaved tracklets through old bucolic suburbs, or posh little stashes of elegant townhouses along refurbished alleys in Georgetown, D.C. and other Early American enclaves – silhouette themselves against a dark and vast majority. Out of sight, out of mind, the American residential alley has been the academic, geographic and social outcast of the built environment for at least a half-century.” (From Alleys a Hidden Resource by Grady Clay 1978)