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Blagden Alley:
Turning the Corner

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 20, 1993

The Blagden Alley neighborhood lies on the northeast edge of downtown Washington and, according to many who live there, is on the cusp of turning the corner on many of the problems inherent to inner-city living.

Longtime residents praise the neighborhood's diversity and central location, which makes it convenient to downtown shopping, art exhibits, movie theaters, Union Station and to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and routes that lead to suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. A Metro station that opened about a year ago at Seventh and M streets NW has made it even easier for area residents to move around.

The neighborhood lies just east of Logan Circle, in an area that includes Ninth and 11th streets NW between Rhode Island and Massachusetts avenues. It features large, turn-of-the-century Victorian row houses, some semidetached two- and three-story brick homes and, along Massachusetts Avenue and M Street, high-rise condominium and apartment complexes.

The polyglot neighborhood of about 5,000 people includes longtime black residents, professionals in their twenties, thirties and forties attracted to the area's relatively affordable row houses, and many Latino blue-collar workers who have been drawn in recent years to affordable apartment complexes in the area.

The variety of the neighborhood is apparent on warm days on the playground of Shaw Junior High School at 10th and Rhode Island, where young blacks often play basketball on the outdoor asphalt court while young Latinos engage in soccer matches in an adjacent grass-and-dirt playground.

"We've got everything," said Elizabeth Blakeslee, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission that covers most of the Blagden Alley area.

"People who live here and work downtown walk to work," Blakeslee said. "They have a lot more time to live outside of their car. And the neighborhood covers the spectrum on socioeconomic strata and race. That's the beauty of it."

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the neighborhood, said, "It's a neighborhood that's in transition, one that's been revitalized by people who have moved in during the last five years. There is a stable community there."

But the proximity to downtown has its price, Evans and Blakeslee acknowledged.

Prostitution and drug dealing trouble the neighborhood, although longtime residents say the level of these problems has decreased significantly in recent years as more people committed to the neighborhood have moved in and as police have stepped up foot patrols.

In one alley in the neighborhood, an artist lamented the District's high homicide rate by painting bodies on the street and calling it, "Court of Sorrows, Death of a Dream."

Resident Lynda Wright said that when she moved into her semidetached brick house on 10th Street 15 years ago, the area was plagued by an open-air drug market.

"It's 100 times better now," she said.

Wright, who owns a dog-washing business in an alley between Ninth and 10th streets, said she would like to see the District government try to attract more businesses onto the commercial strip of Ninth Street between Rhode Island Avenue and M Street, where a large number of buildings are boarded up.

Wright said uncertainty over Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's proposal to build a convention center just north of Mount Vernon Square is giving pause to people who may want to open businesses on nearby Ninth Street.

"People don't want to make a financial commitment until they see what the city plans for those six square blocks," Wright said.

Evans said he has requested from Kelly's office an analysis of how the city plans to finance the proposed $400 million to $500 million project, but has yet to receive it.

Vada Manager, a spokesman for Kelly, said the analysis has been suspended because of the city's dire financial condition. Kelly is attempting to balance a city budget facing a projected $750 million shortfall for the next two fiscal years. Kelly hopes to return to the convention issue in the spring, Manager said.

In the meantime, there are bargains to be had in the neighborhood for home buyers, said Blakeslee, who is a real estate agent.

Condominiums in the area, primarily on Massachusetts Avenue, range in price from about $37,000 to $100,000, Blakeslee said.

Single-family homes, mostly row houses, range from about $100,000 to the $400,000 range, she said. Row houses requiring renovation are available for between $70,000 and $150,000, Blakeslee added.

Rents for efficiencies start around $500 a month, one-bedroom apartments are about $650 and two-bedroom apartments go for about $1,000, Blakeslee said.

Despite its problems, the neighborhood is a good place to live, Blakeslee said.

"The solution is not for people to give up, but for people to stay and keep the neighborhood vibrant and encourage their friends to move there," Blakeslee said. "The neighborhood is improving, and I think it will prevail.

"A lot of people have the perception that it's a 'bad' neighborhood, but it has a lot going for it," Blakeslee said. "The pluses outweigh the minuses."

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