The vacant lot at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Military Road NW has old steps but no buildings. It looks as if rowhouses were demolished and never replaced (or begun but never completed). I've lived in the D.C. area all my life but don't remember what was on that spot before.
Chuck Rich, Silver Spring
There were 10 single-family homes on that block. We can tell that by looking at D.C. land records. We also can learn that the current owner of the block -- the east side of Connecticut between Military and Kanawha Street -- is the Cafritz Co.
So, what's up, Cafritz Co.?
"Whatever is going on in that property is not going to be something we're going to discuss," a company spokeswoman said.
Well, sheesh. What's the big secret? It's not like you're turning it into a whale oil rendering plant, are you? Are you?
According to nearby residents, the houses on that block were bought up by a developer and then all torn down in the late 1970s -- except for the stairs. That developer went bankrupt, and the parcel was bought by Calvin Cafritz.
For years, Calvin allowed neighbors to use the vacant lot as a public garden as he worked to put up a "PUD" -- planned unit development -- of 204 apartments and some medical and commercial tenants.
For various convoluted, narcolepsy-inducing reasons, that's never happened. Calvin booted out the gardens -- it's his land, after all -- but people still walk their dogs there and, if a recent visit by Answer Man is any indication, enjoy the occasional bottle of beer.
"For 25 to 30 years, we've had a de facto public park on private land," said Jeff Norman, who served on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. "As far as I know, it is the only large vacant lot on Connecticut Avenue between K Street and Kensington."
Everyone expects an apartment building will go up someday. Until then, the stairs-to-nowhere serve as a cryptic symbol. They remind Answer Man of something he sees each summer, when the Answer Family vacations at a beach in South Carolina. On the side of the highway, about halfway between Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, wooden steps climb about 20 feet into the air, then mysteriously stop.
They must be there to show prospective property buyers what their view would be like if they purchased a lot for their vacation home. But we like to think they symbolize the futility of life.
On the Water Front
After the recent column about the President's Cup Regatta speedboat races on the Potomac, Answer Man spoke with Tom Milstead, the event's former race chairman. Tom said the regatta folded in the early 1980s because of finances -- or lack of them. The National Park Service decided it no longer wanted to block off Hains Point and make it accessible only to those who bought tickets to the races, Tom said.
Ron Auth of Hughesville used to attend the races with his brother and father. The fastest boats -- unlimited hydrofoils -- were berthed at the Anacostia Naval Air Station, where Ron's dad worked. That let them see the boats up close. Said Ron, "The first thing they did when taking the boats out of the water was remove the propeller and cover it so nobody could see how it was shaped or what the angles of the blades were."
When she was a preteen, Alexandria's Diane Harrison competed in swimming races that were connected with the President's Cup. "I particularly remember that a constant winner of the speedboat races was the late bandleader Guy Lombardo," Diane wrote.
Lombardo competed from 1946 to 1956. His boat, Tempo VII, won the cup in 1955.
Julia Feldmeier helped research this column. Send your questions about the D.C. area to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or write John Kelly, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.