I have lived in the Ivy City neighborhood of Northeast D.C. for my entire 23 years. Known to many Washingtonians as a final destination of a seemingly unending bus route and home to warehouses such as Hecht's and various seafood and produce wholesalers, Ivy City is newly famous for the Dream nightclub, owned and operated by club connoisseur Mark Barnes.
In the last decade, I have watched Ivy City dwindle from a working-class area filled with promise to a poverty-stricken community plagued by drugs and prostitution. Ivy used to cover many houses and the former Alexander Crummell School. But visitors to this impoverished section of the city will soon find that lovely cascading ivies don't grow here anymore.
Ivy City is located in a small pocket of Northeast between Mount Olivet Road, New York Avenue and Fenwick streets. The neighborhood covers the northeastern edge of Gallaudet University, Mount Olivet Cemetery and the D.C. Government Vehicle Maintenance Facility. It was also formerly the home of the D.C. Inspection Station. It's the final destination of the D4 bus, which begins at Sibley Memorial Hospital, creeps along K Street and eventually passes Union Station before winding up here.
It is better known to visitors as a throughway to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway via Fenwick Street and West Virginia Avenue. More than 100 years ago, I have learned, Ivy City was the location of a sort of national industrial fair and a racetrack.
Elderly residents of my neighborhood say the land was originally swampland (which may explain the flooding) and temporary housing for military personnel. This may or may not be true, considering there aren't many publications detailing the history of the neighborhood. Unlike other areas of town, Ivy City is not the subject of books and walking tours; www.ivycity.com does not exist.
Over a decade ago, there were signs of improvement when a mini-shopping center was built with a paint store, barbershop and cleaners. The D.C. government even took notice and built low-income townhouses in the 1800 block of Capitol Avenue (named for its superb view of the Capitol, which hovers in the distance). Since then, the townhouses have flooded and been demolished and the shopping center stands virtually empty, with no prospective lessees in sight.
Over the past few months I have seen the possibility of development taking place through an Ivy City/Trinidad revitalization program shown frequently on the city's television channel. The program seeks to increase commercial development and home ownership. I have even seen posters throughout the neighborhood showing support for the effort.
Again, I get my hopes up and believe that change is imminent and possible -- and again I am let down. The program has supposedly been in effect for about a year, but no signs of revitalization have taken place. Houses and apartment buildings continue to stand boarded up and no signs of commercial growth or development are visible.
Attention has been focused on my neighborhood recently with the arrival of the Dream nightclub. This is better known to me as Parking Nightmare. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate Mark Barnes (previously known as operator of Republic Gardens) for choosing Ivy City as home to the creme de la creme of clubs. He has hired residents as outside security and a maintenance crew now frequents the neighborhood throughout the week. What great revenue and attention it has brought, right?
Wrong. Parking has been a nightmare from Thursday through Sunday, and the loud booming of the club and club patrons leaves residents virtual insomniacs. The placement of construction cones is now commonplace on weekends to protect parking spaces. West Virginia Avenue and Fenwick Street have become a sort of strip on weekends for club-goers. Dream is no dream.
Ivy City has never been known as the "place to be" or the quintessential cool neighborhood. But when I was growing up, I felt it was a respectable place to live. As a third-generation resident, I have heard many stories of pride, hope and faith, but more recently the stories have become ridden with despair and hopelessness.
There used to be community-based organizations that would sponsor trips and after-school activities for neighborhood children, but it seems that the vans don't come around anymore.
I have no interest in seeing Ivy City become as popular a neighborhood as Adams Morgan or Georgetown. But I would like its residents to take ownership of their surroundings. I would like to see more positive attention focused on the neighborhood. I would like to see more commercial retailers, refurbished homes and apartment buildings, more working people, and some kind of community-based program that would value the ideas of residents and sponsor activities.
Maybe, with that combined effort, ivy will grow here again.
Chanelle Bracey is an administrative assistant at the General Services Administration who graduated from Lincoln University last year and loves to write and to shop.
Editor's note: Mark Barnes says, "We have gone way above and beyond the call of duty and have had only one or two complaints about parking or noise. We had a tent on the top of the roof, and when we removed it, we didn't adjust the speaker. We will do this. The noise will go away easily.
"You are going to run into traffic when you start putting enterprises into a neighborhood. You are going to run into parking problems. This was absolutely the worst neighborhood in the city. Trash has been cleaned up. You have middle- and upper-class people walking through the neighborhood. Crime is down -- major crimes, shootings. Now you can walk in the area.
"Parking is an issue, but we have secured parking spaces in the area. We've been open six months. In the beginning, people didn't know where to park. There was a lot of confusion. We have alleviated the problems. When neighbors need to park, we set up cones. . . . We are constantly working every day to make it better. The real thing is any neighbor can walk in our door, from 9 to 5, and if they have a problem, I promise you I will solve it. They have my word on that."