By Christine Spolar
Residents Circle the Wagons
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 16, 1992
Logan Circle is at it again.
Years ago, the battle was how to turn the tide against prostitution. More recently, residents have roiled over the benefits of commercial development vs. residential preservation. For the past year, this neighborhood's tug of war is over those who need affordable housing.
Logan Circle, a Northwest urban village framed roughly by Massachusetts Avenue to the south, S Street to the north and 15th and Ninth streets on each side, is one of the more successful gentrification efforts in the District. It has all the blessings of urban regrowth as well as its frustrations. Beautiful bay-windowed homes line its grassy circle. In the same park, graced by a statue of Civil War Gen. John A. Logan, some of the city's neediest people scrape by.
The neighborhood successfully lobbied city officials last year to close a city-run emergency overnight shelter that housed about 150 single men. Today, a religious mainstay of 14th Street, Luther Place Memorial Church, is attempting to fill the gap in housing by building, beginning sometime next year, a 138,000-square-foot complex that will provide homes and social services for about 250 low-income renters. That's about four times the number of people the church now houses in various homes in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood, vigilant about any change that could affect its ambiance as well as property values, is again deeply involved in playing a role in just how that happens.
"Don't accuse us of being NIMBYs [not in my back yard]" opponents to housing programs, said Donald Smith, an 18-year resident of Logan Circle who is heading up an effort to monitor the church's effort. "We have more than our share of shelters. We want more people in the community who are community builders, not dependents," he said.
Charles Solem, the congregations's vice president, said, "We think this could be a real improvement to the community. We're hoping to build something that both the community and the church can be proud of."
This latest go-round is an example of Logan Circle's concern about development in its neighborhood, one that is situated close to downtown and yet works hard in many ways to maintain a small-town atmosphere.
Racially and economically complex, this neighborhood offers an intense mix of all that passes on this city's streets. Along a stretch of 14th Street theaters, restaurants and a blues club have cropped up next to shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens and, around the corner, a public health clinic. New Metro stops have opened nearby—the latest being part of the expansion of the Green Line at 13th and U streets, 7th and R streets and 7th and M streets—and have broadened the appeal of the neighborhood.
Longtime residents and new, upper-income and lower-income people live in the houses, condominiums and apartments in the area and meet for neighborhood get-togethers. There's a picnic in summer, a house tour at Christmastime and a potluck supper in November to recognize those who have donated their time and experience to improve the community.
On July 18, the neighborhood is planning a first-time performing arts street fair, sponsored by the Studio, Source, Woolly Mammoth and Living Stage theaters. Nothing like the food and music festival of Adams Morgan Day, this will focus on live arts, performed along 14th Street, which will be closed off between P and O streets, organizers said.
People say these events are all part of the urban lifestyle that draws them to Logan Circle.
"It's what downtown living should be," said Andy Witherell, head of the Logan Circle Community Association.
"I sit out on my steps and see who walks their dogs. It's a great mix," said Toni Hilton, who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment off the circle for eight years. "There's young, old, homosexual, heterosexual, doctors, lawyers, a little bit of everything."
The Logan Circle Community Association, a group of about 300 residents, has been the force behind much of the community exchange and activism. Barbara Rothenberg, who founded the association 20 years ago, remembers why she started looking out for other neighbors. "I realized I had moved into an open-air brothel," the real estate agent said. "There were literally hundreds of prostitutes out on the street."
The group worked with police to quell the illicit business, achieving some success about five years ago. Street-corner drug sales became a more serious problem, and the association has worked again with police to push back the crime, Rothenberg said.
Today, the neighborhood is looking again to keep a quality of life that bolsters its allure to the middle class. The Luther Place Memorial Church housing plan—deemed a model proposal by the Department of Housing and Urban Development—has splintered some of the neighborhood good will.
Smith, a member of the community association, said the complex, which will take up the 1300 block of N Street between 14th and Vermont and reach 10 stories at its tallest point, is an example of how his community is "being taken advantage of."
"I had no objection to what Luther Place was doing, serving the homeless, people with mental disabilities as well as providing day programs. But they are expanding this drastically and ... basically we feel our community is just saturated with these kind of programs," Smith said.
Logan Circle is located in Ward 2, a ward in the city that has a high number of group homes and shelters for the homeless. Last August, the neighborhood used its plight to convince Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to close one shelter, at 14th and Q streets. Luther Place, however, owns the property set for the new housing complex. The property is also properly zoned for such construction. The church has already been awarded $5 million in federal housing money to start what is expected to be a $13 million project, to raze buildings on the block and rebuild. Church officials, who have met repeatedly with community members, are moving ahead and hope the project becomes one the community embraces.
Witherell said that might be possible, if the church does as he said it promised a week ago: allow the neighborhood to help in determining the size and scale of the project. "Our intent is to find some common ground," he said.
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