A 20-square block area of Anacostia has been named a historic district, a designation that will make homeowners eligible for loans and grants to renovate their properties.
A residential community dating to the 1850s, Anacostia recieved its designation from the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital, a federal-state review doard. The committee also nominated the historic area for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the area is listed on the National Register - a process that should be completed within a few months - owners of buildings characteristic of the historic district will be eligible for loans and grants through the National Park Service, provided they follow certain architectural guideliness. Owners of historic commercial and rental properties who renovate them according to these guideliness may reap tax benefits.
The designation has aroused a mixture of hope and concern among community leaders.
"We hope this will give impetus to a whole revitalization thrust," said James E. Nutall, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C. "But there is an inherent risk that the attraction district status may make Anacostia like some areas of the city, like Southwest and parts of Capital Hill."
Nutall said he is confident, however, that the Anacostia community has built-in checks and balances that could stem the threat of speculation. One such mechanism, he said, is Neighborhood Housing Services, a non-profit corporation that makes loans to Anacostia tenants who want to but their homes and to homeowners who want to rehabilitate their houses.
John R. Tetrault, assistant director of Neighborhood Housing Services, said that the organization works closely with Anacostia civic groups in monitoring real estate activity.
"We're encouraging renters to buy their homes," said Tetrault. "About 69 percent of the single-family homes in Anacostia are owner occupied. And we have a commiment from Home Federal Savings and Loan for $1 million in mortgage money for Anacostia."
Qualified applicants can obtain 100 percent mortgages for houses in Anacostia, according to Tertrault. Neighborhood Housing Services screens the applicants and lends them part of the mortgage money while Home Federal Savings and Loan provides the rest.
Gene Pool, president of the Frederick Douglas Community Improvement Council, which filed the applicantion for historic district status, said he thought the landmark designation would help "teach people that they have something of value."
"We see the National Register nomination as a magnet to keep people here, not to bring new people in," said Tetrault. "Maybe people won't be afraid to admit they live in Anacostia now."
The historic district is generally bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue on the west, Mapleview Place and the Frederick Douglass property on the south, 16th and Fendall streets on the east and Good Hope Road and U Street on the north.
Community leaders expressed disappointment that much of the commercial corridor along Good Hope Road was left out of the historic district.
"We wanted the business area to be in so the merchants could get some money to fix up their stores," said Tetrault. The joint committee found that most of the commercial area "is predominantly composed of intrusive structures of a later commercial character which are detrimental to the integrity of the Historic District."
the Anacostia Historic District includes Cedar Hill, the home of black statesman Frederick Douglass, and Uniontown, one of Washington's first suburbs. Incorporated in 1854, Uniontown was originally populated by artisans and laborers who worked at the Navy Yard, just across the river. Its homes, mainly frame cottages, were priced to appeal to the working classes. The district also includes Griswold's sub-division, a tract of larger homes built in the 1880s.