In a city filled with plaques commemorating important events and historic locales, there is no official notice taken of defunct outdoor drug markets. When they're there, they have the attention of the residents, police and media. When they're gone, the illegal bazaars become ordinary streets again.
Hanover Place NW is one of those former drug markets. All that is left of the bad old days is the fading memory in the minds of the few residents who endured the decade-long turf war that law enforcement won in 1985. It has been so long since the one-block street was rocked by gunfire that newcomers are surprised to hear the old stories about the night 75 rounds were fired, and the 24-hour traffic jam caused by hundreds of people looking to buy cocaine. For them, Hanover Place is a conveniently located block with moderately priced houses.
Denyce and Willis Daniels and their two school-aged daughters are the first family to buy a renovated home on the street a mile north of the Capitol. Last week, Denyce Daniels stood outside her new home, studying old newspaper stories given to her by an official of the corporation that renovated her house. "This is really something," she said.
Five years ago, D.C. police suppressed a market that stubbornly refused to yield to repeated police raids and efforts by neighbors to discourage the drug dealers. Police nicknamed it Fort Hanover, setting up a temporary precinct house, holding roll call and patrolling the block day and night. After that, Hanover Place slid into a calmer existence, a place so quiet children play in the street and vacant land was planted as a community garden.
The first renovation on the block by a developer seems to signal a new direction for Hanover Place. As recently as a year ago, real estate brokers said no one would invest in the war-torn street. But the nonprofit North Capitol Neighborhood Housing Inc., which buys, renovates and resells houses in distressed areas, saw it differently. The organization bought 12 vacant lots and eight boarded houses. The first to be renovated was the Danielses' home.
Denyce Daniels sees only opportunity in her new block of narrow two-story row houses. She can overlook the boarded buildings on the south side of the street and the trash-strewn and cracked sidewalks on her side, she said, because she feels confident Hanover Place will improve. And she plans to be a part of the change for the better.
"I can tell good people live here because they care for their houses," said Denyce Daniels, who moved from Takoma Park. "There is some trash, but I can clean that up. I hope we can be an addition to the neighborhood."
Willis Daniels recalled the old days. He had visited a friend on Hanover Place when the dealers were all over the block.
"I used to come here back in 1980," he said. "When I saw what was going on, I never came back." He saw the block again several months ago when an agent showed them the house.
"I said, 'no way,' " he recalled. But then he saw the house, a modern interior carved out of an old building that once housed several families. There is the new kitchen, laundry room, two baths and four bedrooms. There is even room for their grand piano in the living room.
The Danielses' home is the only one that looks new and different on an otherwise drab block. Its lemon-yellow walls with white trim are a startling burst of color. One neighbor calls it the "diamond house."
North Capitol Neighborhood Housing Inc. plans to renovate the other structures on the block and build new ones on the vacant lots. They have worked closely with the Hanover Task Force, a group of residents and city officials formed to direct development after police ended their occupation in 1986.
Columbus Key, an architect who lives nearby, drew plans for the street. He and others submitted their master plan to the city two years ago. He said the plan, which called for more artists' lofts, beautification of occupied houses and limited commercial development, was accepted by the city.
Now there is the Daniels house to show for their efforts.
"Symbolically, that house is very important," he said. "It is part of the sequence of development we planned."
Although four years have passed since the group organized to address the future of their neighborhood, Key said he feels the time is right for the first renovations.
"I'd kind of rather see it take a natural pace," he said. "The natural pace is for a developer to come in when the market is right. It is much better than having the government just take over, tear the houses down and displace everyone."
Leroy Harris is also glad to see the first steps toward a new Hanover Place. Harris, 83, has owned a house on Hanover Place for almost 30 years. "This was the most beautiful of neighborhoods when we moved here," he said. "Just as nice as it could be. Then the drugs came. Those were the baddest of times.
"I like Hanover Place, yes, sir. I will do all I can to get it built back up again."