When Charlie Medlin and Larry Foust bought a rundown town house off Logan Circle for $20,000 in 1974, they saw it as a chance to transform an old inner-city Washington home into the kind of place they'd always wanted at a price they could afford.
Today, behind the black steel window bars they have installed to protect their antique white lamp and late 19th century oil paintings, Medlin and Foust live in middle-class comfort. The partially renovated house is now worth $150,000.
Medlin and Foust are but two of thousands of urban pioneers who have bought houses in the crime-ridden and impoverished center city to build their dream homes, almost incidentally displacing tens of thousands of poor.
With their German shepherd dogs, their renovations and their antiques, they are bringing middle-class values to low-income urban neighborhoods, changing the landscape and feel of the center city.
The sound of teen-agers' radios playing loud music is giving way to the banging of workers' hammers as they renovate old Victorian houses. The old people who used to sit on stoops drinking from paper cups are being replaced by men and women sipping after-work cocktails on designer furniture behind heavily barred windows. The dirt patches where children and dogs played are being covered by tidy lawns surrounded by mulch chips and ropes with signs that say "Keep Off."
"To walk around Logan Circle in 1974," said Foust, a production supervisor for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, "and to walk around it today is the difference between day and night. People would constantly be shooting up (heroin) in the alley. And the noise: There was bumper-to-bumper traffic all night on Kingman, on Q Street and 14th Street from prostitutes.
"What you'll see today is a pretty nice part of town," he said. "You're always cautious and careful, but you can't live in a glass cage. You could get robbed or mugged in Georgetown just as easily as you would in Logan Circle."
But the change in Logan Circle and other central city neighborhoods is not complete. There are still thousands of poor people living in terribly crowded conditions on the same streets with the urban pioneers.Prostitutes stand on 14th Street corners nearby. And junkies' hypodermic needles still can be found in the gutter on Kingman Place.
It is a neighborhood in transition, with the new residents, middle class, largely white, being viewed with trepidation if not suspicion by the old residents, poor and overwhelmingly black.
There's an underlying tension to this neighborhood," said Ed Guinan, a member of the Community for Creative Non-Violence who rents a house on Q Street around the corner from Kingman Place. "There's no open conflict, but everyone eyes everyone else. You can feel the tension."
That tension was brought into sharp focus when Medlin and Foust, the second whites to buy a house on Kingman Place, tried to get the Baileys, the poor black family that rented the house for 12 years and considered it home, to move out.
"I'm still mad about what happened," said Foust.
Foust and Medlin had been renting an apartment in Glover Park. When it became apparent that their apartment building might be converted to condominiums, the two men began to search settled on Logan Circle. It was affordable and had potential. All that remained was for the Baileys to move.
The Baileys would not leave. They got a lawyer who spotted 130 housing code violations -- all of which had been left over from the previous owner. The lawyer then had the city housing department notify Medlin and Foust that the violations had to be fixed immediately or they would be subject to a fine. The two men didn't have the money to fix up the house. So they in turn took the Baileys to court for illegal occupancy of the property.
The battle dragged on for six months. All the while, the Baileys refused to pay rent. Meanwhile, the two men were forced to pay the mortgage on the house, rent for their own apartment and the cost of a lawyer to fight the Baileys. Finally the Bailey's attorney -- a Legal Aid lawyer paid with public funds -- told them they couldn't win the case. They would have to leave. On the day they moved out, Foust and Medlin moved in.
Though still angry, Foust now sees the plight of the Baileys somewhat philosophically. "The major problem is that for years people [like the Baileys] have rented and never bothered to buy," said Foust, who is moving from Kingman Place because he recently bought a house on Second Street NW just off Rhode Island Avenue, another area ripe for renovation. "They weren't planning for the future and the future came."
The tension reveals itself from time to time in crime, which often appears to be committed against the new middle-class residents of Kingman Place simply because they are new, different, and look like they have money. Many of those crimes seem to be committed with an almost casual air.
In one case, a 14-year-old who regularly goes to the Kingman Boys' Club was arrested inside one renovated home after he and a group of youths, who were playing in the street, dared each other to go in through an open door and steal. The youth told a reporter that it is common knowledge in the neighborhood that the people in that renovated town house often leave their door open when they are home and children regularly sneak in to take coins off a hallway table.
The men who live in the renovated house tell similar stories of how typewriters, money and cigarettes have been stolen from inside their home while they are elsewhere in the house.
Despite playing down the fear of robberies and attacks that go along with being clearly different and clearly better off than most of their neighbors, Foust and Medlin have taken precautions common to urban pioneers.
There is the German sheperd dog and the bars covering the windows. And if they have to take a night-time trip to the drugstore, only some four blocks away, they drive. The car is parked off the street, behind their house in their fenced-in yard.
The unending caution and fear have been part of the price of having their house leap $130,000 in value in five years. They had to wait out the changes in the neighborhood to profit from the changes in housing prices.
"We had friends," said Medlin, "who said, 'How can you live down there?' They wouldn't walk across 16th Street [toward Logan Circle]. "Just too dangerous, they said."
And even though the urban pioneers on Kingman Place say police cruisers pass by every few minutes -- more frequently than in any other area they have lived in -- there are still robberies and muggings. One new residents has been mugged four times in the last year.
Residents, both new and old, attribute the crimes to a small minority of the longtime residents who resent their new neighbors. But many of the poor people who still call Kingman Place home in fact like their new neighbors.
"They [the new neighbors] are no problem," said Catherine Braxton, one of the few old-time black residents of Kingman Place who own their homes. "They really are lovely people . . . but I think what makes people feel strange is all the people that are gone. The people who used to live here. The whole area is changing, you know.
"But they [the newcomers] have helped, really," she added. "Ever since they've come, there're more police and city garbage trucks coming through here every minute."
One old black woman, sitting at a card table with a group of friends at the corner of Kingman and Q Street, would not tell a reporter her name, but she disagreed with her friends who were saying that whites are taking over their neighborhood.
"You can't say they're doing anything wrong," she said. "If people wanted to stay, they had to get ready and buy their house. Everyone had the opportunity. Was a time no one wanted to buy a house here. You could have got one cheap."
Jean D. Jones, another longtime black resident of Kingman Place, says her only resentment against her new, middle-class neighbors is that they are reaping the benefit of the fight that she and other stable black families in the area have fought for years against drug addicts and prostitutes. She speaks with disdain of the public demonstrations some of her new neighbors have held against the prostitutes.
"With my big mouth I've screamed and called the police and had these houses, where the prostitutes and the drug addicts are, closed down," said Jones, a 99-pound woman who tells of nights when she has had to bring a .32-caliber pistol downstairs with her to get addicts off her front step. "These people coming in here now are riding on the gravy train. The meat has already been cooked. This area was getting better when they started to come."
Jones said her new, wealthier neighbors will bring her other problems as well when taxes in the area rise as a result of high assessments on newly renovated homes.
Resentment, crime and the uneasiness of being of a different economic class, a different culture and sometimes a different race, are not the only problems for urban pioneers. There is the considerable task of renovation, as well.
In the five years since, Medlin and Foust have fully renovated only two rooms, the living room and the bedroom. They say they have no idea how much they've spent because they're done much of the work themselves.
In the living room, where massive 19th century oil paintings with gold frames hang, every wall has been replastered and painted to feature the crown molding along the ceiling. The floors have been sanded and polished to their natural brown and covered with an Indian carpet.
The walls in the hallway are still not done, but the men have covered much of it by hanging a heavy oriental carpet. The room at the end of the hallway -- a room that was the Baileys' dining room -- has been turned into a temporary kitchen while the old kitchen has been gutted. New floor beams have been laid for the new floor that will support a modern kitchen.
Up the curving central staircase, which has a skylight above it, the men have knocked out a wall to create a new full-sized bathroom with a new bathtub, an enclosed shower and a stained glass window. In the bedroom, where plastering and painting were required, a new carpet has been put down and track lighting installed.
In back of the house a porch has been built and a fence erected.
"It still has some things that have to be done," said Medlin. "It takes money and time. But when I'm finished it'll be the house I want."
About a year ago, Medlin invited some of the Bailey children, whom he sees from time to time on Kingman Place, into the house to show them how he had renovated it and changed the rooms they had grown up in.
"They really like the big mirror over the fireplace," said Medlin. "It took me a while to even get them to come in, but once they saw the mirror they said they thought it was really nice. They said they like what I had done with the house."
A reporter asked Debra Bailey, 20, what she had thought of the house as she toured it.
"I didn't go in too far," she said as she sat in front of the house where her family now lives in three cramped rooms. "But the living room was all right. It looks like a museum with all that furniture and paintings. I wouldn't feel comfortable in there."
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