Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Dog Washed Out

The little white bandy-legged building affectionately known in the neighborhood as simply “the dog wash” spent its last few years as an art warehouse. Previously, it had been an active, dog washing and grooming operation with an intricate series of claw-foot cast iron tubs for canine comfort. Before that, it had been an auto body shop run by Harry Terrell and Bernard James.  Before that, doubtless there were many other past lives, but it was never a stable. Architecturally it was always configured as a garage unlike the 1863 stable that was torn down beside it (rear 1316 9th Street – now The Nine condo) in July 2009. 
A fragile wall, beaten by years of various vicious vehicular encounters finally 
 sustained one blow too many and is quickly rebuilt before the building collapses. 

On April 18th 1988 Linda Wheeler (Washington Post Staff Writer) wrote: - “The archives renovation ended a long-term unofficial policy by the city of ignoring the mechanics in Naylor Court and nearby Blagden Alley. For more than half a century, these mostly one and two-man businesses had attracted a steady flow of old cars in need of repair. Mechanics Terrell and James had a certificate of occupancy and proper licenses. Most of the others did not.” “They got the mechanics in here good,” said Terrell as he stood outside his one-room body shop, called A. Georgetown garage at the rear of 1314 Ninth St. NW. “They closed most everybody down. We are about the only ones left.”  

“Naylor Court and Blagden Alley are the only courts in Shaw that still have many of their original buildings. Most of the other courts in the area such as Goat, Freeman and Madison – have been demolished and replaced with apartment complexes or stand empty.”
“Social reformers succeeded in getting Congress to ban residential living in alleys and courts in 1944 because they had become associated with crime and squalor. Although more than a thousand of the small alley dwellings and shops were demolished, a few of those that survived are now considered fashionable addresses in Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill.” “Gone too are more than 40 abandoned cars and 20 tons of debris that clogged the alleyways.”
Last year the jocular “dog wash art connoisseur tenant” was forced to leave and seek cover elsewhere for his collection of art and artifacts because the property owners wanted to turn the former garage into a more lucrative business of some type. The old garage was about to begin a new life. Such is often the case with alley buildings whose structures are easily adaptable to new uses because of their utilitarian design. Many of the small structures in the DC alleys are in a state of flux today. But if you really think about it, when have they ever been stable over the last 50 years?
As an aside, it is incumbent on anyone who undertakes developing a property in this historically protected alley - Naylor Court - to be architecturally savvy enough to take a moment to think about the importance of integrating new development within the sensibility of the original collection of buildings. If not, the result is a collection of thematically disassociated buildings that reflect owner self interest rather than reflecting a sense of caring for a largely intact historic inner block of alleys. This alley (and its sister alley Blagden) has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.  Despite the restrictive covenant governing the management of Naylor Court, unstable-like pop-up condo-box towers are beginning to soar with HPO and HPRB approval in what was a previously homogenous historic stable alley.
1863 Stable torn down in 2009 despite restrictive historic preservation covenant 
(rear 1316 9th Street - now The NINE - former home of Orlando Parks)

It turned out that the new business in 1314 rear was going to be a sandwich shop (SUNdeVICH) run by Ali Bagheri with an international theme. Eleven sandwiches made that are “named after a different international city (with) ingredients and flavors of that region.”
According to WTOP DC News Bagheri had been in computer business for 10 years but left to follow his passions in the world of cuisine. There is no “hair-of-the-dog” hangover cure drink, there are no “hot dogs” or “German shepherd’s pies” on the menu. The dog wash theme has washed out and become something entirely different. A partner business, Daniel O’Brien of Seasonal Pantry in the 1887 Victorian building on 9th Street, creates a complementing “sit down” alternative at the front of the building to the “walk away” business at the back in the alley.
It's amazing, that this alley has sprouted two new gastronomic enterprises in old buildings. For most of its life, buying food for human consumption was unthinkable in this alley. Generally, food was for horses. These businesses are superb additions to the neighborhood. Each has worked very hard to integrate into the spirit of the neighborhood and to be respectful of its history. Not all new businesses in Naylor Court have been in the same MOOD but then, that’s quite another story for another, less happy dog day of summer.

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