True Reformer Building To Be Renovated

The historic True Reformer building in the Shaw neighborhood has a new owner.

At its dedication in 1903, the Rev. William Lee Taylor, Grand Worthy Master of the Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, declared that the handsome office building in one of the District's racially segregated neighborhoods would "reflect credit on the Negro Race."

The order was a fraternal mutual benefit society formed in 1881 to provide black people the life insurance that white companies had denied them.

Now as then, the five-story Romanesque structure of beige and red brick at 1200 U St. NW towers over other commercial buildings between Seventh and 14th streets.

On Thursday, another dedication was held for the building when a new owner, the Public Welfare Foundation, unveiled a sign with its name on the front of the building.

The foundation was founded by newspaper publisher Charles Edward Marsh in 1947 to support local, national and international organizations that provide services to disadvantaged populations, according to publicist Jeff Travers. It now has its headquarters at the Watergate Office Building, Travers said.

Plans call for a complete restoration of the exterior and much of the interior of the True Reformer building, including a two-story grand hall, Travers said. The organization expects to move its offices to U Street by next year, he said.

The building has had several owners since the True Reformers declared bankruptcy in 1910, and it has been steadily occupied for most of that time. At one point, the young Duke Ellington, who lived in the neighborhood, played matinee dances in a rented room on the top floor.

The structure had been named a National Historic Landmark by the time J.J. Development of Maryland purchased it in 1996 and began to plan its restoration.

--Linda Wheeler

Stepped-Up Day-Care Inspections Begin

State inspectors are stepping up their surprise visits to Maryland's 12,000 family day-care homes, checking up more closely on how children are supervised when parents are not watching.

The additional scrutiny, which started Oct. 1, means first-time random visits for a majority of day-care homes. Only those with violations or complaints against them have faced unscheduled inspections in the past.

"I think it gives greater peace of mind [to parents] to know there will be one more inspection per licensing cycle," said Linda Heisner, executive director of the Maryland Child Care Administration.

The state allocated an extra $1.2 million this year for the hiring of 35 additional inspectors to make the surprise visits--significantly expanding a statewide staff of 101. The average caseload per inspector will also drop from 150 centers a year to 105.

Legislation mandating surprise inspections was signed in May, a year after two infant boys died in a Kent Island day-care home when a babysitter placed them to sleep in an adult bed and stacked blankets around them so they would not roll off.

The 5-month-olds, Matthew Harrison and Ian Denny, were left unattended for more than an hour and accidentally suffocated when a quilt fell across their faces. Their grieving mothers pressed the legislature for the random inspections, which both women have insisted will make day-care operators more accountable.

Heisner would not go as far, simply saying, "I think we would all like an additional opportunity to ensure that child-care facilities are operating in compliance with our regulations."

The state's routine inspections of day-care homes--every two years--are prearranged, and sometimes children are not even present. Larger day-care centers are inspected annually.

Next July, a new state law will require that all family day-care operators have training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid. Now care-givers are allowed a choice of health-related classes, and some do not choose the emergency training.

--Donna St. George