Speculation has been part of the history of Logan Circle from the very beginning.
Alexander (Boss) Shepherd, a legendary District figure who oversaw much of the public works construction in the city in the late 1800s and later became the governor of the District, bought land around Logan Circle in the mid-1880s while the area was still farmland.
As head of the city's board of public works, Alexander made Logan Circle a priority area for sidewalks, wide streets and gas lines.
By 1872, with the first gas line installed, speculators followed Shepherd's lead and began plans for building large houses around the circle. In some cases they bought the land to build those houses from Shepherd.
Thanks to the streets, sidewalks and gas lines provided by Shepherd, whose public works program was later investigated by Congress, housing construction in the area boomed, according to a report on the Logan Circle Preservation Area prepared by Turner and Satterlee Associates in 1973.
The report said federal employes of the late 1800s saw Logan Circle as The fashionable neighborhood to move into, although many called it too suburban and distant from the Federal Triangle area downtown.
An unusual aspect of the Logan Circle area during its first years was that it was racially integrated, according to the Turner and Satterlee report.
However, the integration of Logan Circle ended as Massachusetts Avenue was extended, according to the report, and the northwestern part of the city became the new fashionable address. By 1930 few whites remained but the black middle-class stayed because of the area's central location and its reputation as one of the prime areas for wealthier blacks to reside.
Noted black educator Mary McLeod Bethune bought a house just off the circle in 1938 as headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women; prominent black attorneys lived on the circle, such as Belford and Marjorie Lawson, from 1938 to 1958, and other black professionals, including several doctors and the Lawson's good friend and boarder, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell.
The in the 1950s Charles C. W. (Sweet Daddy) Grace, a famour preacher and founder of the United House of Prayer, bought an 11-room mansion on the circle and painted it red, white and blue to match his painted fingernails.
The area steadily deteriorated after World War II as the children and grandchildren of the freed slaves who had come north to Washington to live in shacks behind houses on 11th, 10th and 9th street, the area east of the circle, began to frequent the circle and rent rooms in the area. Houses on the circle were converted by absentee landlords into rooming houses for these poor people, according to the Turner and Satterlee report.
The area became a slum hidden behind grand Victorian facades.
There were threats to tear down the houses to convert the area into another commerical oval, like Thomas Circle. But in 1969 the National Capitol Planning Commission, noting the area's distinctive architecture, adopted a plan for regenerating the neighborhood by renovating houses.
In 1972 the area was designated as an historic district after plans were made by the Redevelopment Land Agency, as part of urban renewal, to rehabilitate a third of the buildings on the circle.
"We saw Logan Circle as being the key to development in the western part of the Shaw Urban Renewal area (east of the circle and 13th Street)," said James Banks, who was the city's top housing official from 1969-1974. "If renewal caught on there we hoped it would be the spark for renewal of 9th, 7th and the other streets east of the circle. That's what has happened."