The Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital has named as historic districts two neighborhoods - Dupont Circle and 16th Street. But as the boundaries were drawn by the joint committee, the historic area is considerably smaller than the area proposed by neighborhood civic groups. Some community leaders, while expressing gratification that the districts have been created, have complained that many sites important in black history have been left out.
The Dupont Circle Citizen Assn., supported by the North Dupont Community Assn. and the Midway Civic Assn., filed the application for historic district status last October. The application called for the district to extend from 15th Street on the east to 22nd Street on the west. Florida Avenue was to the northern boundary and N Street the southern, though part of M Street was to be included.
Instead, the joint committee created two separate districts. It drew the eastern boundary of the Dupont Circle Historic District down the middle of 17th Street and the northern boundary at Swann Street. The southern boundary was altered to exclude M Street. The 16th Street Historic District includes only the buildings fronting on 16th Street from M Street to W Street.
"The way the committee redrew the eastern and northern boundaries cut out many black history sites," said Ronald Alvarez, chairman of the historic district committee of the Dupont Circle Citizens Assn. "We felt it was important to include them because from the 19th century to the present Dupont Circle has been an integrated community."
According to Alvarez, the sites left out of the historic area include the home of black educator Kathleen Grimke at 1608 R St., the home of Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Assn. of Colored Women, at 1615 S St., the home of Carroll Miller, former dean of the graduate school at Howard University, at 1632 S St., and Freedman's Presbyterian Church, the first black presbyterian congregation in the city, at 15th and S Streets.
"The boundaries are pretty disappointing in reference to our people," said Gladys Scott Roberts, a retired black teacher who serves as President of the Midway Civic Assn. Roberts cited particularly the home of attornney Henry Lincoln Johnson and poet Georgia Douglas Johnson at 15th and S Streets.
"I was so shocked when I heard that they eliminated U Street," said Roberts. "Our theaters and our social life were there - we didn't have the advantage of going downtown. The 1700 block of U Street was known as "Strivers Row." It hurts our people to cut out U Street when you talk about history.
Alvarez also said that several important architectural sites - including the Cairo Hotel and the 1600 block of Riggs Place - had been left out. The decision also eliminated the 1800 block of M Street, which still has most of the houses that were there in the 1890s, according to Alverez.
In justifying the eastern boundary of the Dupont Circle Historic District, the joint committee called 17th Street "a wide commerical corridor which acts as a physical barrier separating the historic district from the area to the east." The 1500 and 1600 blocks of the strees in the area - blocks where many black history sites are located - were also left out of the 16th Street Historic District. According to the committee's decision, these blocks are not part of the "continuous visual experience" of 16th Street.
The two new historic districts have been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. If the Register agrees to list them, buildings within the districts will be subject to a 180-day delay if their owners want to tear them down or renovate their facades. They delay is supposed to give interested parties a chance to save the buildings.
Several other areas of the city are also historic districts. They include: Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Massachusetts Avenue from 17th Street to Observatory Circle, Le Droit Park, the Uniontown section of Anacostia, and Karlorama. Cleveland Park is now a historic district, but residents of the area are currently working on an application to widen the present boundaries.