The Adams mansion rising imposingly on a hill in Mount Pleasant is restored now, subdivided into two condominiums, with 13 or more in the modern white brick addition in back. But the complex -- where units cost up to $275,000 -- has been plagued by graffiti writers -- at considerable expense to the building's owners. "I don't know why they did things like that," said businessman Semih Uston, one of the building's coowners.
A block and a half away is another corner, with a building that is half empty. Cans, bottles, trash and decaying food litter the place. "It's terrible," says Patricia Parker, an architect who owns a home and a home improvement center nearby. "It can really get you down. It's just garbage back there."
She points to a park across the street. "There were so many rats, there were burrows. And it took my husband six or seven phone calls to get some action."
This is the story of two corners in Mount Pleasant, two corners that demonstrate the tensions produced by the redevelopment and building boom that has swept this city. Expensive housing and buildings left to deteriorate make uneasy bedmates, and the hostility between those who can afford to buy condos and those who can't afford to pay their steadily escalating rents sometimes bubbles over.
Mount Pleasant is a mixed neighborhood, both economically and racially, that faces serious displacement problems. As condominium conversions move east of Rock Creek Park into Ward 1, notes James Hampton of the city's Rental Accommodations Office, they are "aimed directly at the largest concentration of people, the largest concentration of low-income families and the largest concentration of multifamily buildings in the District of Columbia."
There are two responses in Washington. There are the government and public strategies to reverse the displacement trend -- ranging from tougher legislation on condominium conversions to tenant organizing to save rental housing. But those efforts amount to little more than keeping a finger in the dam. So then there are the people, who in fury and frustration, scribble their rage against "greed" and "speculators" on the clean walls of the new condos.
Adams House was saved after months of meetings between neighbors, city preservation officials and the building's owners, Uston and builder Barrett M. Linde. The neighbors who had fought the plans to tear down the buildings were the newcomers, mostly whites who have moved into the area within the past few years. Most were pleased with the compromise that was worked out: to restore the old home and build apartments in the back.
But someone in the neighborhood wasn't -- and thus the slogans and names painted on the walls. It's not someone who was displaced, for the building had been empty for years. But it's someone who resents what the mansion has come to represent.
Neighbors resent the litter that is found behind the other building, too, but when they get annoyed they call government officials. The building, which takes up a whole block, has a liquor store and independent grocery in the front, but the back half is empty. The building is owned by lawyer James Bierbower. He says he leased the space in back to the Holly Farms chicken people, but the franchise fell by the wayside when the neighbors protested the traffic and congestion they feared the restaurant would bring. "Technically, the lease is still in existence, though I would have to verify that," Bierbower said.
The neighbors wish something could be done to clean up the place now. "When I think about the amount of trash on this corner, when we come home in the evening and our steps are so filled with people that I sometimes have to get the police, I get pretty fed up," says Parker.
But she also recognizes that the improvements she seeks often carry a high price for society. As Hampton notes, when redevelopment starts, "it increases the market pressures and accelerates the displacement of tenants and homeowners who have been there for years."
Parker sympathizes with the plight of many of her neighbors. "Not enough effort is made to combine subsidies with condo conversion, and the elderly in particular are being hurt (by displacement)," she says.
"We're seeing a lot of changing faces," she says of the customers in her neighborhood store. "We're missing some of our older customers."
So the neighborhood changes.The longtime residents, the poorer ones, don't like what the newcomers represent, and the newcomers don't like the rundown buildings that haven't been fixed up yet -- or the litter they attract.
The Adams mansion will be coming back soon, but some of its old neighbors have already left.