Fort Lincoln was meant to be a model "new town in town" to test the ideas of President Lyndon Johnson's Greatest Society. It would show the world that urban blight could be overcome, that communities could be integrated both racially and economically, that the Johnson adminstration was committed to the revitalization of the nation's urban centers. And it was to inspire similar efforts in other cities.
Fort Lincoln New Town, sitting at the District's highest elevation -- at Bladensburg Road and South Dakota Avenue NE, along the border between the city and Prince George's County -- may not be the oasis that its planners had envisioned.
Nearly 14 years after Johnson announced the idea, it still does not have the offices, shops, restaurants, markets and hotel that were included in the original vision.
But its $7.7 million elementary school, empty for five years, has its first pupils; there are several hundred people living in apartments; and despite soaring housing costs in the District, the prices -- $60,000 buys a two-bedroom apartment -- are comparatively low.
Moreover, the location offers what some believe Washington lacks most: a view.
It may indeed be what one of its developers calls "the best-kept real estate secret in town."
Still, what Fort Lincoln needs most -- business development -- has yet to appear. The new town's office development site remains vacant, despite talk that federal departments plan to locate there.
Promises from President Nixon to locate 5,000 to 10,000 federal workers there fell through. So did reaffirmations by the Office of Management and Budget, which told a congressional committee in 1973 that a million square feet of leasable space was planned for Fort Lincoln. Only last April, the Commerce Department was eyeing the 1.7 million square feet of office space Fort Lincoln offers.
But so far, nothing.
H. Ralph Taylor, vice president of the Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., a group, headed by Theodore Hagans Jr., that is developing the new town, says "investment in that office center would get that whole Town Center going." He estimated the office center could be ready for occupancy in two to three years if the government or any other group agrees to locate there.
But so far, the General Services Administration, which is in charge of housing federal bureaucracies, continues to send workers to the suburbs to either federal office complexes such as the one in Suitland or to leased office space.
Meanwhile, much of Fort Lincoln sits unused, despite the intentions of its architects to offer not just offices, but a mix of high-rise offices and condominium apartments, town houses, shops, restaurants, a supermarket and a 350-room hotel, as well as a lake (to be built by the D. C. Department of Housing and Urban Development under a long-approved urban renewal grant), hills, trees and views.
It would be twice as large as Crystal City in Arlington, but only half as crowded, with 4,000 parking spaces, a public-transportation link to the Rhode Island Avenue Metrorail station -- a 2 1/2-mile round trip -- and a tax yield to the District of about $4 million yearly from the private office space envisioned.
The complex of apartments and townhouses -- and potential office space -- at Bladensburg Road and South Dakota Avenue NE is located on the 360-acre site of the former National Training School for Boys. It was originally one of a chain of forts and batteries surrounding Washington during the Civil War. When the "training school" (actually a prison) moved to Morgantown, W.Va., the grounds became available.
Although some advocates wanted a park, others hoped the area would become the campus of D.C. Community College, and some thought that a new Government Printing. Office would be located there. But an open letter to President Johnson printed in The Washington Post on Feb. 7, 1965, suggested a model new town. In 1967, Johnson staged a three-day planning session with representatives of virtually every federal and District agency, intending to create plans for the dream town.
But quarreling followed the dream -- every Washington government agency had to have its say. Moreover, "citizen participation," that was supposed to elicit comment and ideas, became battles to make sure certain groups would not share in the new town. In 1970, the Redevelopment Land Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed to let free enterprise develop Fort Lincoln.
Government agencies didn't back out entirely, however. The National Park Service built gazebos and a playground crammed with jungle gyms and other equipment, and will maintain the park area of the new town. The District built the school, complete with an indoor swimming pool. But it was private enterprise, the Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., that built two eight-story high-rise apartment buildings. Now, the company would like to build more units but wants to keep costs down by building only what it sells in advance.
Construction has begun on a 10-story, 150-unit apartment building for the elderly, with occupancy slated for fall. Also planned for this year are town houses expected to sell for over $100,000. In contrast, apartments in Cannon Village that sold for $37,000 for a top-floor unit in 1976 are being resold for more than $50,000, according to Taylor.
Owners are predominantly middle-class black singles and families.
"We have a strong, stable community that would welcome anybody," says Taylor. "We want to broaden the market . . . attract more white singles and families."
Taylor admits that the black/-white balance at Fort Lincoln New Town could "kill us or make it succeed." And he acknowledges that the state of the economy has hurt. "We were doing well until interest rates went crazy, but we hope to be back in operation in the spring," he says.
Condos at Fort Lincoln are priced lower than current market rates because the land is owned by the federal government. For example, a two-bedroom, one-bath, apartment with fireplace, skylight, cathedral ceiling and storage area sells for less than $60,000. The apartment has its own private entrance and separately metered utilities, and is built of brick and block for easy exterior maintenance. Residents have access to an indoor swimming pool, lighted tennis and basketball courts, a jogging track and ball fields.
Closely related to Fort Lincoln new town's success or failure is the question of public transportation. Metrobus service runs to the Rhode Island Avenue Metrorail station, and buses connect to both the red and blue rail lines. The D. C. Department of Transportation is conducting a $50,000 study of alternative routes and technology connecting Fort Lincoln and the Metrorail system.
Sandy McFeeley, an attorney with the Postal Service and a native Washingtonian who grew up a mile from Fort Lincoln, has lived in Cannon Village at Fort Lincoln since 1977. She serves on its condominium board as treasurer. The Cannon Village apartment cluster, one of the older complexes, opened in 1976.
I looked at a lot of houses before I bought, and Fort Lincoln seemed to be better built than others I had seen. It's reasonable convenient for me, too," McFeeley says. She believes there is a sense of community at the development and says residents are "very protective of one another . . . (although) the police tell us Fort Lincoln is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city."
McFeeley says her main concern now is with the plumbing trouble she and others have experienced from sewer backups and problems with underground pipes. Taylor, or Hagans Enterprises management firm says, "The pipes aren't that much of a problem. The system was built to city code . . . as it happens, it gets repaired. It's part of the normal process.
Another Fort Lincoln New Town resident, Bill Twitty, who lives in the Hillside complex, is enthusiastic about the development.
For the condominium's "Think" committee, Twitty organized a plan for owners to "adopt" a tree or shrub to care for. Owners of ground level units have a grassy area on one side of the town house, while owners of the upper-level units have areas on the opposite side. They are also encouraged to plant flowers in the areas they adopt.
"This keeps maintenance costs down," he explains. "We pay for cutting the grass, snow removal, but not for upkeep of schrubs and trees. It also gives a feeling of full ownership."
Twitty, also a native of Washington considers Fort Lincoln New Town as a "big family." In addition to organizing Project ID for residents, he has worked with police community relations teams on security.
A few units here and there have bars on doors and windows, but the practice is widespread.
Town houses in the Hillside complex begin at $75,000, which includes two bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a balcony and a fireplace. The $77,490 units contain three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a fireplace, skylight and balcony. A tri-level model has three bedrooms, two baths, two powder rooms, two fireplaces and a family room, and sells for $104,490. Some units also have a greenhouse window.
Summit Villas, an adult community for residents over 21, is a complex of apartments that have either one or two levels. Because each unit has its own private entrance there are no halls or interior public spaces to be maintained. An upper level end unit with two bedrooms, one bath, a fireplace, skylight, cathedral ceiling and a private storage area sells for $59,490.
Medical service at Fort Lincoln New Town is provided by the Family Medical Center supported by Georgetown University and Providence Hospital, which staff it with 15 physicians trained in family medicine. Nearby are a pharmacy, grocery store and a Social Security field office. CAPTION: Pictures 1 through 3, Summit Villas, an adult community for residents over 21: Each unit has a private entrance. Gazebos built by the National Park Service. Another Fort Lincoln complex, Hillside, contains town houses which range from $75,000 to $104,490. The $75,000 home includes two bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, balcony and fireplace.; Picture 4, The federal government did not turn its back on Ft. Lincoln. The National Park Service built a playground, crammed with jungle gyms and other equipment. By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post