The small, white, two-story building at 60 Florida Ave. NE stands in a ramshackle neighborhood of warehouses and freight yards - an unlikely sit to stir deep and widely conflicting emotions.
For some, the plain but neatly kept building has, nevertheless, become a symbol of hope, a city government center where social workers offer help to the poor, the handicapped and others faced with misfortune.
But the out-of-the-way building also has emerged as a symbol of criminal corruption and political scandal, the focus of a federal bribery and conspiracy trial that ended in guilty verdicts this week for D.C. mayoral aide Joseph P. Yeldell and millionaire businessman Dominic F. Antonelli Jr.
The building became a social service center after it was leased by the D.C. Department of Human Resources. Today, it provides financial aid and food stamps for the poor, health care for foster children, vocational training for unemployed youngsters, testing and guidance for the handicapped and an array of other programs.
The building became central to the political corruption trial because it was leased by DHR, the agency Yeldell headed at the time, from a partnership controlled by Antonelli. According to the jury's verdict, Yeldell helped arrange the highly profitable Florida Avenue lease for Antonelli's partnership in exchange for Antonelli's help in providing him with a series of loans, including a secret $33,000 personal loan.
There already have been hints that the jury's verdict may have cast doubts on the controversial Florida Avenue lease. The jury found that the lease had been negotiated through fraud.
Sam D. Starobin, the city's general services director, said in an interview that he would soon take the preliminary step of asking city attorneys whether the U.S. District Court verdict provides a legal basis for seeking renegotiation or revocation of the lease.
No such action is expected for some time, however. In addition, city officials say they are uncertain whether the city would seek to alter or revoke the lease even if it determines that it has a legal right to do so.
No trace of the political scandal that surrounded 60 Florida Ave. NE was evident at the building yesterday. In its first-floor waiting room, a small group had gathered to see social workers and medical specialists. On one wall, signs were posted, saying "Your payments worker will see you by appointment only" and "Keep Your Temper - Nobody Else Wants It."
Upstairs in a large, carpeted room, handicapped men and women underwent a variety of tests designed to measure manual dexterity and mathematical ability. One woman assembled a series of metal pipes to match a diagram. Another connected electric wires to a series of light bulbs. A third made careful measurements with a ruler. Another operated an adding machine.
Arlene Blaha, a social rehabilitation administrator, praised the Florida Avenue center, saying, "It's comfortable, clean. The bathrooms work. The roof doesn't leak. It's quiet."
Previously she had worked at a building that she described as a cramped and decrepit warehouse. "It's been a good feeling for us to have this space," she said.