19th and F St. NW
The 500 block of 19th St. NW represents a microcosm of larger trends in Foggy Bottom. On one side of the street is the imposing General Service Administration building, originally completed in 1917 as the headquarters for the Department of Interior (GSA, General Services Administration). On the west side of the street are three buildings currently owned by George Washington University (GWU). Two were constructed as long-term residential buildings in the late 1920s (Baist, Real Estate Atlas, 1932) and converted to university housing in the 1960s (DC Recorder of Deeds, Park Central Apartments), while the final building constructed on the block was custom-built for GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs in 2003.
The block's population was entirely African American from 1860-1920, according to Census data. By 1950, after roughly a half-century of declining industrial activity, suburbanization, and strong influence of the City Beautiful movement throughout the nation’s capital, Foggy Bottom and the 500 block of 19th St. NW, in particular, underwent thorough demographic change. By 1930, the hotel (the All-States Hotel) and apartment building (the Park Central Apartments) that took the place of the previously poor, all-black residences on the block came to house hundreds of middle class, all-white residents. The 19th and F St’s dramatic shift to a primarily-White neighborhood through urban renewal and development was made apparent by the 1960 and 1970 Census data. In 1960, the White population made up 95.5% of the total population of the area, while the Black population only composed 3.5% of the population. The Census data of the following decade, when compared to the data of the 1960 Census, continues to demonstrate this trend of a decreasingly Black neighborhood. During the decade of the 1970s, the Black population fell from 3.5% to 2.8%. The Census data points toward the phenomenon of gentrification around the block of 19th and F St (Census Data 1940-2010). As the White population was increasing dramatically within the relevant Census Tracts, it was decreasing in terms of D.C. as a whole. D.C. had become the first major city in the country with a majority black population at approximately the same time as the area surrounding 19th and F St. had become 95.5% White (Gillette, 1995, p.154).
As Washington evolved through the 20th century so did the block, by the redevelopment of the land into housing facilities. From the start of the nation’s capital, this land was surveyed as being ideal for building. The block was far away enough from the current National Mall that it missed all of the marsh lands that flooded the area, making the ground more stable and capable of large housing structures (Hawkins, Topography of the Federal City). Prior to the improvements made by the McMillan Plan, square 122 consisted of many small wood frame structures and open lots (Baist, real estate atlas, 1903). This location contained low-income slum style housing for lower class African American families. This type of community was one of the main reasons for the McMillan plan which focused on the elimination of alley slums, providing a provision of suitable alternative housing for the alley population, and the relief of pressure on the more affluent neighborhoods (Gillette, 1995, p. 136). Converting these inadequate communities was done by reinventing the area with modern and European style buildings. This block (square number 122) was first documented as a fully developed residential site in 1932 (Baist, Real Estate Atlas,1932). The Foggy Bottom neighborhood took on a new identity as many of the long time industries and breweries either moved to other places in the city or were shut down due to prohibition and a more prominent group of workers came to the area, such as those working for the federal government (Sherwood, Foggy Bottom). Regardless of the ownership of this property, the land itself was able to remain home for many different types of people, which reflected the city’s diversity. Significant land redevelopment was taking place in the city at this time, and this block was more established than many other locales (Encyclopedia, Foggy Bottom). Due to its vicinity to the White House, this block received much more attention than many others in the city. The growth of a permanent federal presence spawned by the McMillan Plan from the early 1900s onward laid out a general foundation on which to place zones for large office buildings that would be dedicated to solely government use uninterrupted by any substantially sized residential or commercial zones (Park Commission, Report).
The McMillan Plan that reinvigorated the city gained steam with the creation of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (Washington Post, 350 Room Cooperative Hotel). This commission was charged with implementing aspects of the McMillan Plan, and Congress granted $50 million to the commission so they could expand federal buildings in the city. Foggy Bottom contended with poor infrastructure conditions and federal expansion that increased the need for housing for a higher working class population. As a result, square 122 shifted to include more apartments mainly for government employees, including the All-States Hotel and the Park Central Apartments.
This reconfiguration is supported further by the photograph taken by William Edmund Barrett which depicts 19th and E Street, N.W. (Between E & F, on 19th St.). It serves as a window into the inception of the architectural transitioning from the modernist style to the postmodernist style in Washington D.C. described above (Barrett, 1964). It plays an important role in the development of the 500th block in general (Jackson 2014, p. 108). In the early 1950s, Willard Kiplinger noticed the changing streetscapes in Washington, as older buildings were being gradually demolished and replaced with buildings of a more modern architectural style. Wanting to keep a record of these scenes and buildings, Kiplinger began commissioning local artists to capture them before their disappearance. This collection of various watercolors, photographs, and drawings dating from 1950 to 1970 became known as the Vanishing Washington Project (Jackson 2014, p. 109). As a result of the interplay between economic, social, political, and cultural forces prominent during the time, Washington witnessed the transition from Fordism, a type of industrial capitalism, to advanced capitalism (Knox 1991, p. 181). With this change came the significant transformation of Washington’s urban environment. This time period marks the emergence of postmodern architecture seen blooming throughout the city during the late 20th century.
In the first half of the twentieth century, GW occupied mostly small residential buildings that could be easily adapted into classrooms. Many of these row homes were converted into permanent school buildings as large new halls were built around the area (Encyclopedia, Foggy Bottom). The university continued to expand for many decades, eventually reaching the 500 block of 19th St. NW in 1964, when it bought the Park Central apartment building located on 1900 F St. NW and converted it into GW’s first female dormitory. The original 1929 structure was kept intact because of the university policy of preserving historic buildings to support its educational mission. Today, that dormitory is known as Thurston Hall, and it can house 1116 students (Encyclopedia, Thurston Hall).
The placement of the block was a huge factor in its development from the start. Local factories brought forth a strong working class that lived peacefully on the block. However, in the 20th century, the block was squeezed between the powerful influences of both the federal government and the George Washington University. Their stable hold in the area has steadily brought up the value of the property, causing the transition from a residential block into an administrative, academic, and commercial one. With rising wealth and prestige by the later 20th century, GW increasingly spent large amounts of money on new construction, such as the Elliott School of International Affairs, rather than repurposing buildings formerly used for other purposes. Its rapid acquisition of former residential properties, however, resulted in many long legal battles and sometimes bitter relations with the surrounding neighborhood (Oman, GW Expands). Today, the 122 block seems to plateau in development and has remained a constant part in the GWU campus and in student life.
Research, interpretation, and text by Sam Horowitz, Sydney Noto, Noah Kim, Matthew Storm, Morgan Stana (2014)
Revised by Sebastian Corrales, Marcella Violano, Yusif Ziyadzade, Randy Dalrymple (2015)
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