Almost everybody attending the annual Logan Circle Community Association awards dinner last week was honored with a plaque, and that seemed to please just about everybody.
Association President Jim Smith handed out awards for best garden, best chairperson, best council member and best government agency as well as for the two new block clubs within the organization's boundaries of Seventh to 16th streets NW, Massachusetts to Florida avenues NW. There was a plaque for the author of a just-published cookbook of recipes from Logan Circle residents. Then there were awards for 28 police officers and officials credited with routing the entrenched prostitution trade from the neighborhood.
"We wanted to award the unsung heroes of our neighborhood," said Barbara Rothenberg, vice president and founder of the community organization. "These people have made a tremendous difference in our area."
Residents of Logan Circle, a historic district known for its distinctive and expensive Victorian row houses, have drawn attention to their neighborhood with an annual house tour and with a highly publicized campaign to rid the area of prostitutes.
Concerned that police did not take the problem seriously enough, residents at one time stuck bumper stickers on cars of drivers observed picking up streetwalkers. The bright pink bumper stickers read "Disease Warning: occupants of this vehicle have been seen in the company of street ladies along 14th Street." More recently, they barricaded Vermont Avenue between the circle and N Street NW in an effort to dissuade potential customers.
Neither the residents' efforts nor the police department's traditional undercover work seemed to succeed. Whenever the enforcement lessened or the residents tired of their campaign, the prostitutes would return.
However, a new approach to the problem brought praise to the police from the Logan Circle group. Lt. Kerry White's unit, the STOP (Stemming the Operation of Prostitutes) squad, was honored for ridding the neighborhood of most of its nighttime prostitution.
In six months, the five-member squad has made 1,303 prostitution-related arrests.
White, assigned to the 3rd District, which includes Logan Circle, said he was challenged by his new deputy chief James Schugart in February to develop a plan to deal with the prostitutes.
"I decided to tackle the problem with uniformed officers," he said. "It was quite simple. We just stood next to the prostitute and made it clear that she would not be doing any business that night."
White said customers approaching the women would slow their cars, see the officers and speed away.
"One night, a customer called out to a woman standing next to me," he said. "She looked at him and said, 'Are you crazy? Don't you see this officer?' "
White said that he and his squad moved with the women as they shifted from block to block until they reached L Street NW, the border between two police districts.
Police and residents say the operation has made a difference. Rothenberg, one of the residents most involved in the fight against prostitution, said: "The prostitutes are indeed gone. At first we were afraid to believe they were gone. People kept asking me, 'Where are the hookers?' "
Transvestite prostitutes continue to be a problem for the 900 block of M Street NW, where they often take over the block at night, yelling at would-be customers and cursing at residents who object to their tactics.
To combat the problem, Hal Davitt and his wife Marthlu Bledsoe formed the Blagden Alley Association. Named for the once-residential alley that is bounded by Ninth, 10th, M and N streets NW, the association has encouraged the city to assist with problems such as street trash and open barrel fires lit by vagrants in addition to the prostitution.
After receiving his plaque for forming one of the newest block associations in the neighborhood, Davitt said during the Washington Plaza Hotel dinner, "So far we have been most effective in getting the government to realize we exist. They always seem surprised that anyone lives in what they consider a bombed-out neighborhood."
Robert Peck, a resident of Logan Circle for three years, was honored for the formal, Victorian-styled garden he planted in front of his house at 1307 Rhode Island Ave. NW.
"We just sort of started out with a few shrubs and some sandstone blocks we rescued from a building being torn down," he said. "Then we added some seasonal plants and a bench. It just sort of grew around the sandstone."
Peck said his garden, which borders the sidewalk, had been disturbed only once since he started work on it.
"A disoriented street person wandered in one day and started pulling plants out by the roots," he said. "The dog barked and we were able to rescue the plants. I don't think the man really meant to harm the garden."
Rhoda Lipton was honored for "Logan Circle Cooks," which she wrote after spending the past year cajoling residents and business owners of the neighborhood into sharing their original recipes.
"We ended up heavy on main courses and desserts and light on breads and preserves," she said. "Our biggest problem was that most good cooks don't use recipes and therefore they had to actually make the dish in order to write down a recipe."
Although Lipton did not test each recipe, she said she has sampled most of the food featured in the book.
"I have been to a lot of fabulous dinner parties in my neighborhood," she said. "After a while, people got used to me saying, 'What a wonderful salad,' or 'What a wonderful vegetable dish.' And then, of course, I would ask for the recipe."