On Washington’s streets, the new is written over the old. If we’re lucky, the old never goes away completely.
Take the building at the northwest corner of 14th and Church streets NW, two blocks from Logan Circle. In the window of the fancy street-level pizza shop is an ad for flatbread. (“Three new flavors on an ultra-thin herb crust!”) Barely visible in the stone next to it is a palimpsest: three lines of blurry text. These ghostly traces are the shadows of metal letters, long since removed but still announcing the building’s original purpose:
Once, this particular stretch of 14th Street was chockablock with automobile showrooms.
That’s just one of the things I discovered Wednesday while following a new Neighborhood Heritage Trail devoted to Logan Circle and its environs. Smartly designed signs were installed this week, and the trail — the 15th created by Cultural Tourism DC — will be dedicated Saturday.
Would Logan Circle be just as trendy today if the roundabout at Rhode Island and Vermont avenues still went by its original name: Iowa Circle? Probably. The name was changed in 1930, 29 years after the statue to Civil War general John A. Logan was erected. Since then, the neighborhood has been up and down and up again, a history chronicled on 15 signs along the 1.5-mile trail.
There’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 15th and Church, designed by the city’s first professional African American architect, Calvin T.S. Brent. There’s the Louisa Hand Laundry on 12th Street, now a private home but originally the place to which the White House sent its soiled garments. There’s the boarded-up brick building at 1433 11th St. NW. When it was a boarding house, Ella Watson lived there. She’s the cleaning woman immortalized by Gordon Parks in his 1942 photograph “American Gothic, Washington, D.C.”
I walked the trail with Tim Christensen, president of the Logan Circle Community Association. Tim moved to the neighborhood from Michigan in 1987, attracted by its then-low rents.
Logan Circle was sketchy then. It was easy to find a prostitute; not so easy to find a microbrewed ale or artisinal cheese. Today, it’s the other way around.
As I read the sign about the handsome Greek Revival house at 1-2 Logan Cir. (once the home of U.S. Grant’s son, later an art school for GIs run by Henry M. Letcher, and in the 1960s a hippy crash pad for jazz musicians), Paul Casarec and Steve Hunter came up. The couple moved to the neighborhood in 1995, first to Church Street then to Kingman.
“Six months before Whole Foods announced it was coming,” Paul pointed out.
For many, that was the propitious turning point in Logan Circle’s latest evolutionary blip.
The nice thing about this Heritage Trail — whose lead researcher and writer was Sarah Shoenfeld — is how it tells so many stories from the past while inviting us to look at the present. Who among us doesn’t like to gaze upon old black-and-white photos of strangely familiar neighborhoods? And how much better to then cast your eyes over the same intersection, as it exists now, 40, 60 or 100 years later.
If you want to walk it yourself, the first trail sign is at 16th and Q streets NW, near the Jewish Community Center. Saturday’s dedication starts at 3 p.m. in Logan Circle Park. Among the speakers will be Ahn Ho-young, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States . The Korean connection? The country opened its first embassy in Washington in 1891 at 15 Logan Cir. In 2012, it bought the building back and will use it for Korean cultural events.
I was at an orientation Wednesday for a group of kids who will be going to Camp Moss Hollow on Monday. Some had been before, some hadn’t. Parents asked questions: What if my child gets homesick? What if my child is on medication? Are there ticks?
I asked my own question: Have you seen any bears?
The answer: Not yet, but every camper is instructed on how to behave when the wildest of wildlife makes an appearance.
The camp, on 400 acres in Fauquier County, is supported by readers of The Washington Post, who help ensure that at-risk kids from the Washington area can get a taste of nature. To make your donation, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15251-0045.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.