DCentric » Logan Circle http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU From Locksmiths To Luxury Condos: Businessman Talks 14th Street Evolution http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/from-locksmiths-to-luxury-condos-businessman-talks-14th-street-evolution/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/from-locksmiths-to-luxury-condos-businessman-talks-14th-street-evolution/#comments Thu, 12 Apr 2012 15:18:45 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15340 Continue reading ]]>

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Downtown Lock Co. (center) has been on 14th Street since 1910. The building has been sold to make way for luxury condominiums along a street that's experiencing rapid redevelopment.

The evolution of 14th Street NW continues with regular announcements of new upscale restaurants and residences opening up along the corridor. But 14th Street wasn’t always the epicenter of fine dining in the District; in recent decades, it was more well-known as a place where drug dealers and prostitutes congregated.

A few older businesses still remain along the strip, but they’re starting to close shop, too. Take Downtown Lock Co. at 1345 14th St. NW, the building sold to make way for five, ultra-luxury condos.

“Back when we were there, the street had a lot of drugs, prostitution, a lot of drifters,” said Downtown Lock Co. co-owner Reuben Houchens. “You had to sort of establish yourself, first of all, that you weren’t afraid to be there. Of course we weren’t. [The way] we grew up, as we used to say, we knew the streets. And you had to basically hold your ground, as far as ‘we’re here and we will only tolerate so much.’ I’m talking about the pimps prostituting the girls, and drugs addicts and drug pushers — you had to be tough.”

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Work has already begun to transform Downtown Lock Co. on 14th Street NW into luxury condos.

Downtown Lock Co. started as a family business, and had been on 14th Street since 1910. Houchens, 70, is a D.C. native from the H Street NE corridor. He said he grew up in the shop, and recalled how celebrities would stop by from time to time because the locksmith and electronics repair store was one of the few places in the area to be an official service center for Lionel toy trains. Houcheons said senators and people like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lewis would visit during his years working there.

Houcheons and his partners bought the business in the 1970s, along with the building at 1345 14th St. NW. This was shortly after the 1968 riots that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings in D.C.

“Somebody looked [at us] and said, ‘You’re pretty stupid buying that building,’” Houchens recalled. “It turned out to be a good investment for anyone who bought property there.”

A good investment indeed; Houchens said they bought the building for $37,000, and sold it for $2.5 million. Downtown Lock Co. has temporarily relocated to Hyattsville, Md. where space is cheaper, but most of their business remains in the District.

Houchens isn’t bitter about 14th Street’s transformation (perhaps because he profited so handsomely from it). He acknowledged that perhaps some people don’t like the changes because they are afraid that D.C. “is becoming like New York City. Space isn’t available anymore.”

“After being there for so many years, you miss it,” he said. “… But the neighborhood changed for the better. It became a safer place. People thought it was safer to come there.”


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High Property Taxes and Changing Neighborhoods http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/high-property-taxes-and-changing-neighborhoods/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/high-property-taxes-and-changing-neighborhoods/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2011 15:52:14 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8860 Continue reading ]]>

Nic McPhee / Flickr

Pamela Johnson, who owns a storefront in the H Street NE neighborhood, says her property value has gone up so much that she can’t afford to pay her tax bill. Her story is included in The New York Times gentrification piece, which caused Matthew Yglesias to ask if property owners can ever be the victims of gentrification:


Normally you think of the gentrification problem as applying to renters. Objective conditions improve in a poor neighborhood, which is good. But the improved conditions lead to higher rents, so the poor people wind up not benefiting since they have to move out. It’s difficult for me to see how this kind of problem could afflict property owners, who regardless of race or class considerations ought to benefit from asset appreciation.

But as Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic points out, winning out financially isn’t always the only priority for owners:

I actually think it’s fairly easy to understand Johnson’s beef. She likes her neighborhood as it is. She may well be able to “sell high,” but the fact is she doesn’t want to sell at all. She probably would love to see her property values rise, but the neighborhood isn’t simply, for her, a financial instrument–it’s an emotional one.  In that sense, Johnson isn’t very different than millions of other humans who invest in neighborhoods.

Her contention that the city is “driving us out of here.” is very much debatable. But it’s worth noting that a class of owners with a commitment to something more than a naked financial return is a good thing. When Matt asserts that the city is trying to make H Street a “desirable place to live,” I am compelled to ask “desirable for whom?” I’m not being obtuse here–I understand, in the aggregate, his larger point. But very often people find a kind of value in their living condition that eludes socioeconomic data.

And although individual owners may make money by selling properties in increasingly pricey areas, what kind of overall effect do such sales have on neighborhoods? In Logan Circle, for instance, a group of low to moderate-income homeowners are contemplating selling their modest town homes to a developer for $800,000 each. If they decide to sell, they could walk away with a large return. But if they sell and leave the neighborhood, they take with them much of Logan’s remaining income diversity.

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Logan Circle to Get More Gentrified? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/logan-circle-to-get-more-gentrified/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/logan-circle-to-get-more-gentrified/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2011 17:13:40 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8087 Continue reading ]]> Logan Circle is one of those almost completely gentrified neighborhoods. It’s also one of those hot areas where rents may increase by 10 percent. And residents of 54 townhouses in the neighborhood, who “give the neighborhood a modicum of income diversity” could be leaving, reports Housing Complex.

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Two big developers, one of which is Monument Reality, are interested in buying up the properties. In the 1980s residents began buying the townhouses, once city-owned rental units, for $100,000 to $150,000. Now, developers are willing to pay upwards of $800,000 per townhouse, clear the land and put as much housing or commercial density on it as possible. But before that can take place, the condominium associations have to dissolve. More from Housing Complex, who wrote about a meeting of residents that took place Thursday night:

Even though it might be in their economic self-interest to take the money and run, judging from last night’s meeting at the Washington Plaza Hotel, at least a few people seemed too emotionally attached to their homes to leave. Others seemed willing to listen—and hold out for a better price.

“We’re living on a gold mine!” one resident protested.

“You can live on the gold mine for the rest of your life!” said Monument’s Josh Olsen, whose patience started to erode after several minutes of audience chaos. “You’re not going to get gold out of the gold mine unless you sell!”

The residents were asked to fill out surveys indicating their interest in the offer, and Olsen said he wouldn’t pursue the project unless a majority came back positive. It’s an interesting case: Because of how their associations are set up, each person has the power to singlehandedly forestall a big lurch forward for gentrification. From an urbanist standpoint, that means a few acres of prime land stay underused. On the other hand, it’s difficult to get excited about replacing 54 mostly low-to-moderate-income households of color with yuppies who can afford pricey condos.

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Race and Class on R Street http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/race-and-class-on-r-street/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/race-and-class-on-r-street/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 19:04:07 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2096 Continue reading ]]> I can’t stop thinking about my last post, where I highlighted the powerful piece Amanda Hess wrote for TBD, about an anomalous block in Logan Circle which is struggling with the exact issues this blog was created to address: race and class. One block in a desirable neighborhood, where gentrification coexists with an affordable housing development was home to at least two victims of appalling, violent assaults, because of their race and sexual orientation– and in one case, the perpetrators did not live where they committed their crime. They were just hanging out there.

It’s depressing to consider, because when I usually talk to people in this city about gentrification, the most optimistic types hope for an arrangement which sounds…exactly like the 1400 block of R Street, where the affordable R Street Apartments sit next to more expensive homes, creating a neighborhood full of ethnic and economic diversity. Unfortunately, Amanda’s investigation uncovered intimidation and what sound like hate crimes at R Street Apartments, which leads me to wonder if affordable housing can coexist with market-rate real estate? If off-duty cops are afraid to walk on a certain block of R Street, why isn’t more being done to make it safe?

Additionally, I’m uncomfortable with the binary nature this exploration takes on– poor blacks vs gay whites. I’m sure there are black residents of R Street who would prefer that no one gets attacked and left in the middle of the street. At the end of the article, Hess states that R Street is under new management, from Edgewood Management Corporation, and that some of the new staffers are gay themselves. I hope that such a change is enough to usher in a more peaceful environment for all residents of R street, no matter where they live. After reading this comment left on the TBD piece from a resident of that block, I am not optimistic:

I’m a resident on that block, and though I hadn’t heard news of this violence, it doesn’t come as a suprise. Metro PD cruisers, lights blazing, are daily guests on our block, mopping up whatever the episode-du-jour is at the R St. Apartments. As you allude to in the article, despite the maddening frequency of police visits, nothing visible has been done to reduce the thuggishness of the block that is at their root. Outside of the threat of physical harm, cars are routinely broken into in the alley across the street from the apartments, and recently signs went up over the neighborhood complaining of stolen bicycles at the intersection. Frankly, it’s an absolute disgrace that the authorities continue willingly to turn a blind eye on the folks so hellbent on creating a haven for violence and crime. Gentrification is a double-edged sword, yes, but one of the nice things about this portion of 14th is that the cookie-cutter buildings have yet to invade (though admittedly that state of affairs is not likely to continue for long). Anti-gentrifiers are often justified in their complaints that gentrification stamps out diversity to make way for the highest (often, but not always, white) bidders. The irony here, though, is that the city and other responsible authorities, in a bid to beat back gentrification, are effectively endorsing those who violently enforce a lack of diversity and civility. Pathetic.

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The most dangerous block in Logan Circle http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/the-most-dangerous-block-in-logan-circle/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/the-most-dangerous-block-in-logan-circle/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 16:24:36 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2090 Continue reading ]]>


I couldn’t stop reading this piece on gentrification and hate crimes in TBD:

The 1400 block of R has always seen more than its share of crime, and the building’s new low-flow showerheads have done little to douse that problem. “If there’s a report of a robbery, assault, anything of that nature in the area, the first place that officers will go is the 1400 block of R Street,” one D.C. police officer told me. “If I’m off-duty and walking by myself, I would walk five blocks out of my way to avoid that block.”

According to a search on the D.C. police website, the 1400 block of R Street records a crime rate two to three times that of the surrounding blocks…The block’s criminal element occasionally has priorities higher than financial gain. When Puntanen came to, he found his watch still on his wrist and his wallet and cell phone in his pocket. “The assault had nothing to do with money,” Puntanen says. “Obviously, I had no money. Everything I have is from the dump or from the corner or from the secondhand store. I have a 14-inch TV. I don’t even have a computer. No stereo,” he says. Stanley, too, was never robbed in his four months on R Street. “They only wanted one thing: To get the faggot white guy out of there,” Puntanen says.

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