Logan Circle, a once-fashionable address that recently began regaining some of its turn-of-the-century grandeur, has long led a double life. Spilling over from the 14th Street red-light district, drug pushers, pimps and prostitutes do a flourishing business in the shadow of its gentrified Victorian spires.
Disgruntled by the illicit traffic in the midst of their renovated homes, some of the lawyers, government workers and other professionals who live in the area have recently begun an aggressive assault on the trade, especially during busier weekend evenings.
"We got tired of asking ourselves what the police were going to do about the prostitutes. This is our neighborhood, and we want it back," said Frona Hall, one of the residents who take to the streets on Friday and Saturday nights to try to force out the prostitutes and their customers.
Hall and an ad hoc group calling themselves Citizens Against Prostitution and Solicitation (CAPS) walk the 14th Street corridor near their neighborhood for six hours every weekend handing out antiprostitution fliers, and generally trying to make it difficult for prostitutes to work there.
CAPS members look like refugees from a back yard barbecue, dressed in khaki shorts, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. They come out each weekend night because they all have horror stories to tell of living in the center of a major prostitution market.
Most said they have found used condoms discarded on their front steps, or seen people having sex in parked cars in front of their homes, or like Hall, have been propositioned by "strange" men as she gardened in her front yard.
"There are women who are afraid to walk in Logan Circle because they are whistled at or approached by pimps and fear for their lives," said group director Bob Maffin, "we live and work here, and we want to change that."
During one of their recent forays, 15 CAPS members approached three bikini-clad women who stood at 14th and N Streets NW.
The CAPS members milled about in front of the women, talking quietly. The women in bikinis, after muttering a few obscenities and getting no response, moved on.
"Sometimes they get real vulgar and throw bottles and stuff at us," said CAPS member Dick Hughes, "but it doesn't bother us, there's safety in numbers."
The CAPS members walk in a tight group, clutching armfuls of their fliers, which say "Put sex back in your bedroom not in front of our homes." A police officer on a motor scooter trails about a half block behind them in case of trouble. So far, no one has been hurt.
After two trips around the neighborhood sticking fliers under the wiper blades of parked cars and sometimes lecturing pedestrians "Put sex back in your bedroom not in front of our homes." -- Citizen group flier who appear intoxicated, the group takes up position along a median strip on 14th Street and begins handing out fliers to curious motorists.
"What's this for?" asks the driver of a four-wheel-drive truck after reading one of the fliers, "You think I'm looking for prostitutes?"
While the CAPS members make their rounds, 3rd District police barricade traffic on selected streets in the Logan Circle-Thomas Circle area as part of a prostitution crackdown that began in June.
The police operation, dubbed SOAP -- Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution -- is attempting to attack the economic basis of the prostitution by discouraging customers who often travel to the District by car from nearby Maryland and Virginia, according to Lt. Robert Poggi of the police morals division.
Uniformed officers set up barricades around Thomas Circle blocking the northbound lanes of 14th Street and several smaller side streets where the prostitutes and men with curled hair and fancy suits hang around.
"We are observing these areas and taking license numbers, then we stop him the motorist and call to his attention what we're up there for," said Poggi. "We tell him that there are policewomen up there as decoys and that he could also be arrested."
Poggi said since the SOAP operation started in mid-June, police have made 180 prostitution-related arrests, 49 misdemeanor arrests for various violations, and handed out 278 traffic citations. Poggi said uniformed officers have stopped and talked to more than 326 people who were potential prostitution customers.
Unlike past efforts to curtail prostitution in the area, which some have criticized as merely moving the prostitutes to other neighborhoods, Poggi said SOAP has focused on increasing the number of arrests by stepped-up enforcement.
"What we've tried to do is ensure we don't move them from place to place. Poggi said, "We are trying to capture rather than disperse them. If we see any movement we will just expand their area."
Despite the resolve of CAPS, and the questionable success of the SOAP operation, some of the women who work the streets say they are undaunted.
As the scream of police sirens and the smell of the burning flares used to block traffic around Thomas Circle filled the evening air on Saturday, some of the women who work the strip took a defiant attitude in the face of the face of the residents' patrols.
"Who cares what they do, I'll stand right up here with them," said one woman in a shiny black bathing suit, black seamed stockings and sky-high heels.
"If a car stops for me, I'm getting in."