Not too many years ago, Washington's West End could have ben called the Tough End.
"A miserable place, full of fighting, drinking and murders," is how one-long-time resident remembers this section east of Georgetown. "It was tough all around."
Today the "Tough End" is being transformed into what many believe will be the next trendy place to live.
Along 25th Street and L Street and elsewhere in the West End, rundown Victorian town houses are being fixed up for the young affluent professionals this renewed area is expected to attract.
About 50 years ago, when Washington was a "counrty city," the West End had chickens, cows and pigs roaming the streets.
"My house stood on a dirt hill," said Reginald Martin, 70, a native of the city who lives at 2407 M St. NW. Then as now, there was a mix of races, he said, and all children played together.
Local merchants were small enough to be able to extend credit and call their customers by their first names, residents say. Although there might be four small grocers at an intersection, one on each corner, there was no competition.
Bootleg stills, outdoor privies and numbers rackets were common in the West End of 1939, said Richard Nugent, who lives at 2145 Newport Place on the fringe of the area.
Today the West End is getting a new face. Offices and commericial shops are in the works and a guest Quarters hotel is going up at 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Ulysses Auger plans to build a hotel by his 22ns Street restaurant, Blackie's.
Renovated town houses in the new West End will command luxury prices. Restoration firms say the three-and four-story Victorian row houses have sold for upwards of $100,000 unrestored; renovated, they are expected to double in price. In the old days, these houses were overcrowded, dilapidated tenements, where West End's predominently black population lived. Some of those houses have been torn down.
"I was the only white on the block," said Ruth Schumm, who moved to 2143 N St. NW 34 years ago. The neighborhood had such a tough reputation that "many's a time I couldn't get a cab to take me home," she said.
There was always a lot of noise and fighting, she said. "Drunks would be singing in the alley or dragging their women by the hair." It was so crowded that people were living on the street and I would walk home through a "sea of kids greeting me with a 'Hello, Miss Ruth.'"
Poor families with as many as eight or 10 children would live in one room, said N Street resident Tom Ryan. Another resident remembers when gangs of young West Enders would go after people who parked their cars in the neighborhood to walk to Georgetown.
But Tom Preston, who used to live in Hastings Court, an N Street apartment building, maintains that "it was people from the other neighborhoods that would commit the crime, the residents would run them out."
Once someone stole Ruth Schumm's new trash cans and she recalled that Wilma McRae, her next-door neighboor, "organized a posse" of neighborhood residents to find them.
(The Metropolitan Police, whose Second District station was located on L Street at 23rd until recent years, now say regard the West End as a low-crime area, with burglaries the predominant offense.)
When the city's housing laws were changed a number of decades ago, many of the tenants could not afford the higher rents that resulted when landlords were required to modernize plumbing. Many West End residents did not have the means or desire to buy their homes, or were constrained by a fixed incomes. One by one, the low-income families began to move.
Meanwhile, Georgetown had become popular and high-priced, and affluent professionals began to look to the neighborhood east of Rock Creek for less expensive houses.
Fastly becoming a "ghetto of wealth," the West End is the closest in-city neighborhood near Georgetown that once wasn't too expensive, said Janice Kenny, who used to live on 25th Street but has moved to Capitol Hill.
All of 25th Street is being in West-bridge, Oliver Carr's new building on 26th Street, "won't want to look at these porches," maintains Roland Woody, who has been displaced from 25th Street after living there 30 years.
"When we leave, it's like breaking up a family. Now displaced residents come back on the weekends to visit their friends." Some weekends as many as 30 people return, he said.
Homeowner Richard Nugent said his taxes have tripled since 1970, from $199 to $600. The assessment on his house rose from $6,000 to $9,000 from 1970 to 1973 and then leaped to $40,000.
Now that the West End is a prime rental area, Ruth Schumm said she gets many offers to buy the three town houses she owns. The most spectacular one came from three Arab doctors who offered her $500,000 fot them. "I often think, 'You wouldn't have even come to visit me when I first lived here," she said.