The grass shot up more than two feet tall in many places, and rusting beer cans and assorted food wrappers dotted the three-block stretch of field running from 4000 to 4800 Livingston Rd. in Southeast.
"We used to have picnics and ball games here," said Eugene Williams a week ago, pointing to the field just across the street from his house. "Now we can't because of all the cans, glass and rats."
But now the tall grass is gone. On Tuesday afternoon the city mowed the neglected field.
Residents living opposite the field had started a campaign to get the field cut three months ago by forming the Livingston Road Park Coalition.
The coalition's goal, organizer David Thurston explained a few days ago, was to get the city's Department of Recreation to make the field a safe, open park for neighborhood youths. In the condition it had been in for the past few months, he said, the field was not only wasted space and an eyesore, but also rapidly becoming a health hazard because the high grass attracted rats and tempted people to use the field as a garbage dump.
The local residents this year wanted to avoid a repeat of past years, when the field could not be used because the grass was not cut before September.
Thurston said local residents would help with maintenance and supervise kids using the field.
Tim Sullivan of the Southeast Vicariate Cluster, a church-based organization actively supporting the coalition's cause, also said last week that "the problem is that other areas of the city get priority (for such services), but not the Southeast."
Melvin Chambers, acting director of the maintenance division of the Recreation Department, denied that his office had been playing favorites. What the office does do, he said, is give priority to "grounds adjacent to swimming pools, areas which support high-demand outdoor activities" and parks with supervisors.
So that, as one coalition member put it, "he could see for himself just how bad the problem is," the coalition invited Chambers to meet with members in front of the field last Thursday night. Councilwoman Wilhelmina Rolark also was invited.
Rolark showed up and pledged to the group that she would "do everything that I can to see that you get (the field mowed)," but about two dozen local residents waited in vain for Chambers before giving up after an hour and a half.
Chambers said he couldn't make last Thursday's meeting because an earlier meeting went on much longer than expected. He said he was unsuccessful in trying to contact the coalition that night.
Chambers, who has been acting director of maintenance for the past year, said until he received the coalition's letter inviting him to the meeting, he had not heard any complaints about the field.
He said he also was unaware of the coalition's proposal to provide self-supervision once the field was cut. "Evidently they told you a lot more than they told me," he told a reporter.
The city, meanwhile, had decided to cut the field this week. Chambers said that he personally inspected the field two days before last week's scheduled meeting with the coalition, and planned cutting of the field for this week.
Coalition members contacted Tuesday morning said they still were unaware of Chambers's decision.
But on Tuesday afternoon, maintenance department trucks appeared and the mowing of the grass began.
While "we are well aware of the need" in other areas not specifically designated as recreational parks, Chambers said, only so much can be done at a time when the division's workforce has been reduced by the District's efforts to balance the city budget.
Chambers said the field "is not really a maintenance problem" since it is not an established park. He suggested the coalition go to the Recreation Department's design and development office to get the park developed. But, he added, given the present budget picture, prospects do not look good for getting money for new projects.