In the late 1960s the District government and Anacostia residents had high hopes and grand plans for nearly 500 acres of surplus military land on the banks of the Anacostia River at Bolling Air Force Base.
After a protracted fight that went all the way to the White House, the dreams crumbled and the city lost. The military took the land back, and now occupying the site is a newly completed seven-story gray building that is the new headquarters of the Defense Intelligence Agency. DIA gathers and evaluates military intelligence information for the Pentagon.
"The first people moved in in January," said Lt. Col. Neal Berry, a public affairs officer at DIA. "People moved into the offices in March. We're just about to finish" staffing the center, he said. Full staffing will be slightly more than 3,000 employes.
The $105 million complex, on South Capitol Street near Portland Street, has nearly 1 million square feet of office space, half used for offices and the other half for photographic processing and classrooms for the Defense Intelligence College, Berry said.
But businessmen who operate small shops a few blocks away at Portland Street and Martin Luther King Avenue said their new neighbor has brought few new dollars or jobs to the community.
"In many ways it stands as a monument to disappointment," said D.C. City Council member Wilhelmina Rolark, (D-Ward 8), who represents the area that includes Anacostia and the DIA building.
"The military is a world unto itself," she continued. "The main impact is the widening of some of the roads, to ease the impact of the increased traffic."
The businessmen agreed.
"I haven't really noticed an increase in business ," said William Carter, manager of Mellon Drug. "I see some strange faces," he said and added that he thought they might be military personnel assigned to Bolling.
Christopher Akins, manager of the High's Store across the street, said, "Some people come in here in uniform. I presume they're from the base." But he hasn't noticed a large number, he said.
Esther Kim of Long Bros. dry cleaning said that she had more military customers a few years ago than she has now.
Rudolph Patterson, the manager of the Mart, a liquor store at the corner of Portland Street and Martin Luther King Avenue, said he had noticed some military people coming in, "but nothing to write home about."
But Ted Myers, coowner of King Avenue Fish Bar, said that military personnel do patronize his small restaurant and takeout store. "I think the DIA building might have helped business," Myers said. "They'll call in orders or drop in. I'm glad it's there. I think it has helped business."
In the mid-1960s, after the military declared more than 500 acres of the Bolling base surplus, city agencies had dreams of turning the site into a new community of housing for low and moderate income families, schools, restaurants, walkways and parks.
"Community meetings were held," recalled Al Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. "With the help of George Washington University School of Urban and Regional Planning . . . models were developed."
But the ambitious plans ran into stiff opposition from Rep. Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.), then chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee.
Rivers included in a military construction authorization bill a provision that prohibited civilian use of the site and extended military control of the land until 1970. The provision was later extended. President Johnson signed the bill into law with misgivings because of language aimed at stopping the new town at Bolling. Rivers called the plans for a new community the "social concoctions of some idiots around Washington."
"We thought we had a victory," Hopkins said. "It was a tremendous disappointment to the people of Anacostia, a promise unkept, another one to go down in history."
John Kinnard, director of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum said, "We had hoped to put housing, a university, a marina down there. But the military decided they would keep it." His only hope is that the employes "who live long distances will want to live nearer and will seek housing in Anacostia , and that's the only thing that I can see happening."
The military had planned to build the DIA headquarters at Arlington Hall Station in Arlington, but later decided to construct the agency complex at the Anacostia-Bolling tract.
DIA did not recruit in Anacostia for the few civilian employes that were hired because, "We operate under the rules of the U.S. government," Berry said. "We don't differentiate between neighborhoods [in hiring.]" CAPTION: Picture, New Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters: view is form Interstate 295, outside grounds of $105 million complex recently completed on land once declared surplus by the military. By Vanessa Barnes Hillian -- The Washington Post; Map, no caption, BY D. ZUCKERMAN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST