The familiar black pillar with its luminous Metro "M" juts from the flat gray land at Southern Avenue and East Capitol Street just over the line in Prince George's County.
It marks the new Capitol Heights Metro subway station, which, with its landscaped grounds and shining steel elevators rising mysteriously from the center of the earth, sits in stark contrast to the dingy brick buildings around it.
The station -- which will have its ceremonial opening Saturday and open officially for passenger service Sunday -- represents for many a badly needed link between a remote corner of the metropolitan area and the heart of the city. Others, however, see the extension of the Metro's Blue Line to their neighborhood as a harbinger of unwanted change: increased crime, parking problems and possible neighborhood renovations leading to displacement of low-income residents.
Wesley Collins, president of the Far Northeast-southeast Council of Civic Associations, is enthusiastic. "It's wonderful," he says. "I'm very happy about the service to Far Northeast and Southeast, and I think most people will tell you the same thing."
In contrast, Virginia Morris, director of Far East Community Services, Inc., has many reservations. The station will be helpful for the predominantly black, low- to moderate-income area, she acknowledges, but it "will serve commuters more than residents of the immediate area. Many local people will use the bus -- it's a dollars and cents thing [during rush hour, it will cost $1 to ride downtown compared to 55 cents on the bus] and that's very important to most of the people who live here."
Morris said another concern of Capitol Heights resident -- both the poor and those who have professional or governmental jobs and live in detached single homes valued at $50,000 to $60,000 -- is that the area will become fashionable now that it is accessible to Metro and that the renovation of property will lead to their economic displacement.
"They see it [Metro] as a threat," Morris said. "Then of course, there's the worry that the parking facilities will be inadequate and the area will become overrun with commuter cars and turn into a prime area for auto theft and petty personal crime. Unless Metro puts in very good security, I think that may be a real worry. But I am an optimist and there is the potential for good here, too. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see."
Capitol Heights resident Kathy Mackie is not so sure. Stopping on her way to deliver newspapers to the Capitol View Plaza shopping center across Southern Avenue from the subway station, Mackie said recently that while Metro might be good for the area, in nearby senior citizens apartments and public housing projects, "They say all the whites will move in now and they'll fix it up and then the rest of us will have to go . . . The thing that really worries me is the thought that all of us black folks are probably on our way out now that it'll be convenient for white people to live here."
Inside the High's store in the Capitol View Plaza shopping center, manager Lawrence Jackson does not think Metro's coming will mean much in the way of increased business for area merchants.
"I don't think it will change things because I can't see people coming here except for the ones who'd be here anyway," he said. "And since they all live here, why would they need to take a train?"
Walter Joseph, a customer in the store, said that although he lives in Upper Marlboro and drives to work in Silver Spring, he is dubious about the new station, which he believes will aggravate the area's already serious crime problem.
"Someone was saying just the other night that most of the people arrested for various crimes are from this area and Far Northeast," he said. "I think these additional Metros are going to be a great getaway for criminals on foot. tThey'll take the subway into Silver Spring, rob somebody and come back to the projects. I plan to keep right on driving."
Loretta Tate, a community activist whose grandparents were among the first eight families to live in the Marshall Heights area, a neighborhood of detached single-family homes just southeast of the new station, still lives in the family home on 54th Street SE. Tate says Metro will bring a "new dimension" to the community and she is glad to see it open. The extended subway service will not only allow residents to get out but may encourage new businesses to come in. "And as you know, our problems with unemployment and poverty are extremely severe," she said.
Down in the empty concrete catacombs of the new station, which soon will be a bustling part of the Metro network, Metro Police Officer Timothy Briscoe proudly monitors the proceedings as one of the subway's sleek steel chariots swiftly swishes along the tracks, practicing before its debut.
Briscoe, who lives nearby and says he got his three-month-old job with Metro specifically because of the extension of the Blue Line, forsees high popularity for the new Capitol Heights Station. "A lot of people from the area asked to see it before it opened," he said with a chuckle, "but of course, it way my job to keep them out. Now, though, I think they'll all be coming back."
As the train pulls away from the platform, it sounds reverberates off the station's rough, graffiti-free walls. Briscoe smiles.
"Yes, baby, we got a nice system here. A very nice system . . . gonna save people a lot of the hassle of taking the bus." CAPTION: Picture, no caption; Map, map locates Capitol Heights Metro station on the Blue Line. Opening is Monday. By Richard Furno -- The Washington Post