203 writers, 228 homes, one federal city

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(Courtesy of Dan Vera/DCWriters.org/COURTESY OF DAN VERA/DCWRITERS.ORG) - The former home of comic book author Don Marquis, a lone brick townhouse in the midst of high rises around Thomas Circle.

Washington, well renowned for its politicians and pundits, is less known for its literary luminaries. Poets and publishers Dan Vera and Kim Roberts, whose hobby is tracking down the homes of local writers, hope to change that.

Vera and Roberts created a Web site called DC Writers’ Homes to highlight the history of writers in the city. They recently updated the site with 87 writers and their homes, bringing the total to 203 writers living in 228 residences.

“Americans think they don’t like history, but most people like good stories,” Roberts says. “This Web site offers a way to teach history through real estate and make it more accessible to people.”

Vera and Roberts got started on the project as a quirky hobby, researching where famous and not-so-famous authors lived. Eventually, with the encouragement of friends, they applied for a grant from the Humanities Council and turned their hobby into a Web site. The only rule they established is that the author must be dead and the home must be standing.

“Real estate agents have told us they like the site because people like to know the history of their home and others in their neighborhood,” Roberts says. “One homeowner was annoyed that we were photographing his home, so we explained that Philip K. Dick had lived there. He looked blank until we explained that his novels had been made into movies, including ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Minority Report.’ Then the homeowner got really excited.”

While some homes are interesting only because of the writer who lived there, others have architectural interest. Roberts and Vera were amazed to find the home of comic-book author Don Marquis still standing — a lone brick townhouse amid high-rises around Thomas Circle.

Poet and essayist Joaquin Miller lived in a log cabin on top of Meridian Hill in the 1860s. It was moved to Rock Creek Park, where it stands today.

Larry L. King, best known for writing the play “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” lived in Woodley Park until he died in late 2012. He wrote seven plays, 14 books and numerous magazine articles.

Visitors to the Web site can search by author’s name, by neighborhood and by categories, such as authors who were also spies or diplomats or musicians. For example, Whittaker Chambers, best known for his testimony in the Alger Hiss spy trial, was also a translator. The most successful book he translated into English was “Bambi.”

Crowdsourcing development in D.C.’s Shaw

MRP Realty and Ellis Development have joined with Fundrise, an online platform for crowdsourcing real estate investments, to offer local residents an opportunity to invest in a mixed-use development in Shaw for as little as $100.

The joint venture’s proposal is one of the final two awaiting selection by the D.C. government, owner of the parcel at 965 Florida Ave. NW. The proposal for the Griffith includes a 20,000-square-foot market on the main level, similar to the Union Market, with local entrepreneurs selling food and other items. The ground level will also have space for a restaurant. Upstairs, the plan calls for 360 apartments.

“We like the concept of Fundrise because it seems similar to the entrepreneurial spirit of the market,” says Matt Robinson, principal of MRP Residential. “Normally, only Wall Street and private equity firms can invest in commercial real estate, so this gives that same option to members of the local community who will actually use the market.”

Fundrise launched a “Test the Waters” campaign on its Web site, asking would-be investors how much they would want to invest in the Griffith. The goal was to reach $300,000 in potential investments, which was surpassed within two hours of the launch.

“This is a democratized way of investing, so instead of a $1 million investment, you can put in as little as $100,” says Ben Miller, founder of Fundrise. “We can’t promise anything, of course, but we think this investment has the potential to earn 8 to 10 percent per year for investors.”

First, the D.C. government must choose the MRP joint venture, and then the potential investors must decide whether they want to commit money to the project. Fundrise has successfully completed multiple crowd-funded investments, mostly in the H Street NE corridor.

“Our plans call for the Griffith to be a luxury apartment complex, although we could still opt to change these into condos,” Robinson says. “The residences will have hardwood flooring, floor-to-ceiling windows, granite counters and stainless-steel appliances. The building will have an underground parking garage, an interior courtyard, a rooftop terrace and swimming pool, a fitness center and a lounge.”

Robinson expects a decision from the D.C. government within the next 60 to 90 days.

Data point

The sale of one median-priced home in Washington priced at $455,400 generates a total income for the local economy of $140,172, according to new research by the National Association of Realtors. The economy benefits because of home construction, real estate brokerage, mortgage lending, title insurance, rental and leasing businesses, home appraisals, moving services and other related activities. Consumers spend extra money on furniture, appliances and remodeling. Home sales also have a multiplier effect of increasing spending on restaurants, sports activities and charities.

Tip of the week

Summer sends people outdoors to their decks, patios and boat docks, but once the sun sets, they need more than a tiki torch to find their way around.

Although some homeowners opt to use battery-operated solar lights, a new product called GLOWr Wayfinding Illumination Discs provide 48 hours of light after just eight minutes of exposure to daylight.

Active light-absorbent crystals provide the source of illumination for the discs, which don’t need electricity, batteries or even the bulbs that most solar-powered lights need. The environmentally friendly discs have a life expectancy of 25 years.

The discs, which won a Housewares Design Award in New York this year, can be used to mark the boundaries on dark areas of yard, sidewalk or driveway, deck or boat dock.

Handy Home Products also makes a GLOWr address number system. The illuminated numbers make it easier for emergency responders and delivery drivers to find your home and, like the discs, offer a valuable light source.

— Michele Lerner

Lerner is a freelance writer. To pass on a tip or news item, contact us at realestate@washpost.com and put “Town Square” in the subject line.

 
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