Eleven years ago the Johnson administration trumpeted plans for a new town in Washington, a well-designed, full integrated community for 16,000 people of all incomes. It was to be built in Northeast, on 360 acres of rolling hills where a Civil War bastion, Ft. Lincoln, once stood.
After years of controversy and delay, the families began moving into the new town a year ago and about 500 people live there now. Whether Fort Lincoln will ever fulfill the dreams of Great Society planners, however, remains to be seen.
It is so far largely a skeleton community of neat, brick town houses on cul de sacs, inhabited by middle-income blacks. A government-subsidized high-rise apartment building for the aged and handicapped has just opened, but subsidies for low-income home buyers are not in sight.
Nevertheless, the developer of Fort Lincoln is anxious that people know something is there now, and that much more is planned.
"No community in the country has more amenities than Fort Lincoln has or will have," the developer. Theodore Hagans Jr., told people yesterday, We're going to make Fort Lincoln what President Johnson thought it should be."
As part of a burgeoing public relations campaign to promote the new town, Hagan's company, Fort Lincoln New Town, Inc., staged a celebration yesterday to commemorate the first anniversary of families moving into the community.
The top officials of the city were assembled under a tent on a knoll to celebrate "a new way of life," as Mayor Walter E. Washington put it, and to thank Hagans for making Fort Lincoln a reality when not long ago all seemed lost.
About 200 people listened to speeches, posed with an Abe Lincoln look-alike, and rode around in a cable car on tires. Children held their ears and shouted in delight as Civil war buffs repeatedly fired a large cannon. Patriotic songs drifted out from loud-speakers and politicians arrived and departed to the sounds of the Olympic fanfare.
The mayor also dedicated a plaque in a plaza honoring the policemen and firemen in the Washington area who have died in the line of duty.
An extensive advertising campaign in the last three months has emphasized quality construction, low utility costs, and prices ranging from for a $35,500 two-bedroom garden-apartment style condominium home to $60,000 for a four-bedroom condominium town house.
Promoters also point out two parks scheduled to be completed by the District government in Fort Lincoln next year. They will have tennis, handball and basketball courts, a large playing field, horseshoe pits, a jogging track, an amphithcater an picnic areas. There are also plans for a lake.
The people who live at Fort Lincoln now seem generally pleased with their purchases. "It's a chance to buy a home in the District without spending a lot of money," said Larry Chambers, 47, who recently moved from Oxon Hill into a four-bedroom town house.
Chambers, a property manager, said he handles apartments "up on 16th Street where someone can tear off a door and nobody will care. Here people watch out for each other." Residents of Fort Lincoln report that there is little crime or vandalism.
"I would rather live here than anywhere else -- it's so close to everything," said Margaret Allen as she stood on the plush red carpet of her step-down living room.
Thus far 201 residences have been finished at Fort Lincoln and 155 are occupied. Thirty-eight more homes are almost finished and grading has started for another 258.
City officials say it is still too early to get an idea of the new town's racial composition, and the developers would prefer not to talk about it.
"It's a terribly sensitive issue," said Arnold H. Mays, the city housing official who has watched over Fort Lincoln since its inception. "You've got a minority developer (Hagans) who is trying to make money and achieve his beliefs in (developing) a racially balanced community."
If too much is made of the current black-white ratio, Mays said, other whites may stay away. "Whites don't like to be in a minority position," he said. "Really, 150 units is too few to make any (racial conclusions, but that won't stop people from making them anyway."
Prospective white buyers have to overcome several psychological barriers about Fort Lincoln, Mays said. One is that it is surrounded by a middle-class black neighborhood that is not near transitional areas where whites are now buying, such as Adams-Morgan, Capitol Hill and Logan Circle.
Fort Lincoln is bounded by Bladensburg Road and South Dakota Avenue, the Anacostia River and the District Prince George's County line.
"It's a 1 1/2-mile ride by shuttle bus to the Rhode Island Metro station," Mays says. "It's as convenient as many parts of Northwest, but psychologically to many [whites] it is a foreign place."
The developer's staff says the 15 per cent of the Fort Lincoln units are now occupied by whites. They said they could not say how many people that was. Residents of Fort Lincoln said they have seen only a handful of whites.
Part of the reason for the public relations campaign is to attract whites to Fort Lincoln, Mays said. "It would be nice to have a 50-50 racial split," said Jean Clarke, spokeswoman for the developer, "but that's like looking for utopia. The city itself is not socially or racially integrated." Washington is about 75 per cent black.
The developer has statistics for about everything else. Of the people who moved into the first 102 units, the average income is $28,000. Seventy per cent are white-collar government employees. Sixty-four per cent of the homes either have one or two people in them. Fifteen per cent of the residents have moved in from suburban Maryland, and 9 per cent from Virginia.
Another sensitive subject at Fort Lincoln these days is the term subsidy. "We are not subsidized," shouted spokeswoman Clarke, explaining that for years Fort Lincoln has carried a stigma as the site of low-income housing when in fact a private developer is now building homes for moderate-to upper-income families.
Although the home construction is not subsidized, other site improvements are. The District and federal governments have spent or obligated about $20 million for parks, streets and utilities. A $7.6 million elementary school is scheduled to go into operation within a year. These government-paid amenities help the developer keep condominium home prices down.
Construction at Fort Lincoln was delayed 10 years as a result of shifting priorities among officials, squabbling among citizens over goals, and uncertainties in the economy. Hagans stepped in 1975 and by the end of that year, ground was broken for the first homes.
The master plan calls for a federal government office builidng and a shopping mall, and construction of 4,500 residences. The timetable is for completion around 1984, but that, as Mays explains it, depends upon the ability of the market to absorb the homes, and the resolution of problems around the town center. Meanwhile, the District is selling Hagans parcels of land bit by bit.