Monday, April 23, 2012

Should East Shaw Be a Historic District?

One of the stated goals of the District's Comprehensive Plan is to establish a historic district in the eastern portion of Shaw, which the Comprehensive Plan calls the Shaw East Survey Area.  The likely boundaries of the historic district are shown in the image to the left.  (Click on the image for a larger view.)

At this time, though, the District's historic preservation office is not actively pursuing this goal, and a community-driven effort would be needed to make East Shaw a historic district. In the early 2000s, just such an effort was begun; however, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, after originally supporting the proposed historic district, voted to oppose the potential designation.

What are your thoughts on the historic district proposal?  Would becoming a historic district benefit East Shaw?

Read more about the proposal, view a 182-page report on the history of the East Shaw area (which includes detailed information on the history of East Shaw's commercial establishments, schools, churches, and individual residential buildings), and add your comments, after the jump.

Historic Area Boundaries
Presumably, the boundaries of the East Shaw historic area, and its justifications, would be based on a 2001-2002 study prepared for the District's Historic Preservation Office by Kelsey and Associates.  (The study is called the "Historic Survey of Shaw East".)  The boundaries of the Shaw East historic area would roughly be 7th Street, NW, to the west; New Jersey Avenue, NW, to the east; N Street, NW, to the south; and Florida Avenue, NW, to the north.  As shown in the map above (click the map for a larger image), the Shaw East historic area would essentially fill in the area that is currently surrounded by the Mt. Vernon Square, Blagden Alley/Naylor Court, Shaw, Greater U Street, and LeDroit Park historic districts.  (You can view a map of all of the existing historic districts in the District of Columbia here.)

Incorporation into Adjacent Historic Areas
The report doesn't recommend that the Shaw East area be established as its own historic district, but instead recommends that the Shaw East historic area be incorporated into existing historic districts.  Specifically, the report recommends that the portion of the Shaw East survey area that is north of Rhode Island Avenue, NW, be incorporated into the Greater U Street historic district and that the portion of the Shaw East survey area that is south of Rhode Island Avenue, NW, be incorporated into the Mount Vernon Square historic district.

Why not incorporate at least the southern part of Shaw East into the existing Shaw historic district?  The report states that the "development patterns, architecture, and social history" of the Shaw East survey area south of Rhode Island Avenue, NW, mirrors those of the Mount Vernon Square historic district.  The report recommends against expanding the Shaw and Blagden Alley/Naylor Court historic districts to include the Shaw East area because a "dividing line of new construction separates the two in the 1300, 1400 and 1500 blocks of 7th Street" and the "clear desire of the Blagden Alley/Naylor Court residents demonstrated in the recent past to remain a unique entity would likely cause strife in a contemporary effort to expand the two combined districts eastward."

Individual Historic Buildings
The 2001-2002 survey states that the following buildings in the Shaw East survey would qualify for individual District of Columbia landmark status:
  • White Cross Bakery, 641 S Street (Abandoned)
  • Hemingway Temple A.M.E. Church (Calvary Chapel, Washington Shaker Society, and Turner Memorial), 501 P Street
  • Third Baptist Church, 1542-46 5th Street
  • Bread for the City (Formerly Barker Lumber Warehouse), 1525 7th Street
  • Springfield Baptist Church, 508 P Street
  • Asbury Dwellings (Formerly Technical High School and Shaw Junior High School), Rhode Island and 7th Street
  • Afrika House (Formerly the Morse Elementary School), 440 R Street
  • Bundy School, 429 O Street
  • Bakery Building, 1819 Wiltberger Street
Building Permits: Most alterations to the exterior of a building in a historic district must be approved by the District government to ensure that they are consistent with the historic preservation law.  On the positive side, this generally means that construction will be of a higher quality and more consistent with historic buildings, but the process often adds time and costs to building rehabilitation projects.

For example, pop-up additions might not be allowed, or might be required to be set back from the front of the building — often viewed as a positive impact of a historic district designation.  On the other hand, even the replacement of windows requires a permit in a historic district — which generally means that window replacements will be more time-consuming and costly.  (Check out  the Historic Preservation Office's window replacement guide here.) 

Property Value/Gentrification:  Research indicates that designation of a historic district generally increases the value of a property in the district.  (Check out some articles on this topic here.)  At the same time, designation of a historic district also is sometimes seen as a factor that promotes or increases the pace of gentrification.

Historic Survey of Shaw East
[If the document does not appear below, click here to open it as a PDF.]


  1. At first blush I'm not in favor. We ought to keep some of our old neighborhoods free for residents to mess with and allow the homes to evolve.

    On another note, your historic map link is dead.

  2. Nah.
    Cities are dynamic. Allow for some close in areas for change and keep it so that affordable housing can be a possiblity in close in neighborhoods. I like the economic diversity that is here.

  3. I'm all for it. I'd gladly pay a little more or invest more time for a historic update/remodel to have the piece of mind that a neighbor isn't going to put something stupid on their roof.

  4. I researched and authored that report 12 years ago! Glad to see it revisited, and thanks for the post!

  5. I approve! Would love to see more designation.

  6. One person's stylish designation is another person's stifling restriction. Bldgs/homes constructed before a certain date should be able to opt in? Vacant properties should be free to do whatever architect's want w/in reason w/o HPRB getting involved.