An old Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. warehouse, a long-time eyesore in the Bloomingdale-Eckington neighborhood, became a cultural center on Sunday.
An estimated 250 people attended the dedication ceremony, which marked the first step in the creation of the Crispus Attucks Park of the Arts.Community leaders say they hope the park - named for a black patriot shot by British soldiers during the Bostom Massacre in 1770 - will eventually contain tennis and basketball courts, a play area, greenhouse and a home repair center.
The Northwest Washington warehouse was renovated through the efforts of community residents and an estimated $100,000 worth of help from local contractors.
Bands, dance troupes, choral groups and baton twirlers performed on the center's indoor stage - it also has one outdoors - during the dedication ceremony. Rick Sowell, chairman of the board that will run the park, said the center would provide facilities for such groups and teach them a variety of arts and crafts as well.
"We went through turmoil and growing pains, but we're here now," Sowell said. Then he cut a cake inscribed with words that summed up the efforts: "You can make it if you try."
The warehouse, built in 1910, and the land adjacent to it had been used to store telephone poles and other equipment.
The site, accessible only through alleys, lies behind the rowhouses in the block bounded by U, V, North Capitol and First streets NW. When the phone company stopped using the storage facility in 1974, C&P tried to sell it, but there were no takers. Meanwhile, residents whose back yards overlooked the site began to resent the fact that while the facility, surrounded by a high, locked fence, went unused, the children played football in the streets.
"The kids played in the street, and when they broke car windows, people would call the police," said Sowell. "But the only parks were six blocks away - and teen-agers controlled them. So the V Street Block Club asked me to join and come up with a solution for the younger kids.
Sowell, who manages bands for a living, says he got the idea for the cultural center from a young neighborhood resident named Tony Rich who did valet work for one of the bands. The kids don't fool around when they're playing music reasoned Rich, so why not teach them music in that old warhouse?
Sowell went to C&P with the idea, but phone company officials countered with a plan to donate the site to the city, which could, in turn, give the land to the block club. The city declined, and community leaders got discouraged.But a break in the stalemate came in December 1976, when Charles Mericka, vice president of the George Hyman Construction Co., read about the impasse in The Washington Post. When the construction company and several of its subcontractors agreed to renovate the warehouse, the phone company agreed to give it and the land to the community - which had incorporated as NUV-1, a name derived from the streets that surround the new park.
With $7,500 in seed money from the National Capital United Presbytery, Sowell used barbecues and trips to rally neighborhood youngsters behind the project. Volunteer architect Ward Bucher worked with community residents to draw up plans for the renovation, which began last July.
"This represents about $100,000 in contributed labor," said Mericka. Individual workers who were paid for their labor by the Hyman Co. and its subcontractors during the week often showed up to join volunteer workers on weekends, according to Mericka.
Sowell and others involved in the Crispus Attucks Park project said the new center will offer activities that appeal to neighborhood youths. The center also will be the site for a home repair course, conducted by the D.C. Cooperative Extension Service, that is scheduled to begin April 18.
"Kids are hooked on television, so we'll teach videotaping. They like rock and roll, so we'll teach them to read and write music using rock and roll. They're tumbling on the cement, so why not teach them gymnastics?" said Sowell.
"We want to concertrate on kids from 5 to 15, to try to give them some positive direction before they take pimps and drug dealers as their models," said Mark Morgan, who grew up on U Street and is now a director of NUV-1. The group hopes to obtain CETA (Conprehensive Employment Traning Act) employes to staff the park. Until that is arranged, volunteers will run the center.