By Linda WheelerWashington Post Staff Writer
Ivy City, the historic but neglected neighborhood tucked between Gallaudet University, Mount Olivet Cemetery and New York Avenue NW, may experience a renaissance as both a residential and commercial district, if city officals have their way.
The neighborhood has an unusual mixed zoning that dates back more than a century, when the area was the site of the country's National Fair and Industrial Exposition and a thoroughbred race track. The fairgrounds and track are long gone, replaced by a hodgepodge of warehouses, gas stations and junk yards, which wrap around the single-family houses and apartment buildings that are home to about 2,000 residents.
Fred Greene, director of the city's planning office, sees the combination of commercial-manufacturing and residential zoning as viable for residents and business.
"Ivy City is in an up-and-coming part of town," he said. "It is near the Hechinger Mall, which is getting ready to expand, and it is a very convenient to downtown. We need to protect the residential areas and make full use of the commercial areas."
Greene has formed a task force of Ivy City residents to help the community plan for its future, which he thinks should include a shopping center and new residential housing.
Longtime Ivy City residents, who have watched their small, insular neighborhood be eroded by expanding commercial development along its triangular borders, are cautious of Greene's pronouncements.
"We'll wait and see," said retired federal employe Fred Wilson, 74. "They make a lot of promises, but we've had promises in the past."
Ivy City is a community of narrow streets lined with two-story apartment buildings, row houses and a few detached homes. Abandoned houses and vacant lots are scattered throughout the 12-block neighborhood.
Crummell Elementary School at Gallaudet and Kendall streets NE, once the center of social and recreational activities for the community, has been closed for more than 20 years.
At midday on a recent Friday, the few people walking in the neighborhood were headed for the only convenience store, the Ivy City Market on Central Street.
Tony and Young Kim opened the store two years ago and live above their market.
"It has been quiet here," Tony Kim said as he stood in the small store with its tin ceiling and hand-built wooden shelves.
"We have had few problems. There are regular customers who come in daily, but most people go to the Hechinger Mall to shop."
At one time, Ivy City had three markets and three churches, according to David Daniel Sr., 68, who moved there in 1931.
"It's a graveyard now," he said. "When I moved to Ivy City from Ohio, there was one road in and one road out of Ivy City. There was no New York Avenue back then. We were surrounded by fields, where we would picnic and play ball."
Daniel said most of the residents at that time worked either for trash hauling companies or for a railroad that maintained a roundhouse at the edge of Ivy City.
"We had no boarded-up houses then and no apartment buildings either," he said.
"But as people got forced out of Southwest and other parts of the city, some of them came to Ivy City. You know, it's kind of like a man's suit. If a person is too big for the suit, he busts out the seams. Well, it is like that with a house. If you move too many people in, the place will give out sooner or later," he added.
Today, Daniel's son, David Daniel Jr., 38, lives in the family home on Corcoran Street, but his father moved to Maryland several years ago.
"Things have changed here," Daniel said. "I've had four burglaries of my house. And that is something that didn't happen when I was a kid. We used to know everyone, but I don't socialize much with my neighbors now. There are a lot of new people living in the apartment buildings."
The younger Daniel, a bus driver for Tourmobile, calls Ivy City a "rather rough place."
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Charles Butler, who owns a house down the street from Daniel, has attended the first two of Greene's task force meetings.
He said he appreciates Greene's optimism, but feels that the task force needs to deal first with the more immediate problems of unemployment and lack of recreational facilities and training programs.
"We are so caught up in solving our immediate problems that we have trouble seeing the long-range goals," he said. "But Mr. Greene may have out his finger on part of the problem. We need more homeowners here. For Ivy City to pull itself out of its plight, we need to create legislation which would allow low-income people like those who live here to buy and renovate their houses."
City records indicate that about 13 percent of the Ivy City residents own their houses, which is less than the city's average of about 33 percent.
Real estate sales in the area have been steady during the past two years according to Craig Pascal, spokesman for Rufus S. Lusk and Son Inc. He said most of the sales have been in two-unit buildings, which have sold for an average of $ 50,000.
But he also pointed to 11 sales of single-family dwellings since 1984. They ranged in price from $ 56,000 to $ 70,000.
Residents say city plans to make all of Ivy City a commercial zone have prompted people to leave and discouraged others from moving in,.
"I remember when the Ivy City Civic Association fought that commercial zoning for years and finally won," said Daniel Sr.
But that was followed by city plans to put a freeway through Ivy City in the mid-1960s. Although the highway was never built, residents remember that everyone believed that the highway would be built and that once again Ivy City was marked for extinction.
"As the city talked about the east leg [of the freeway], people moved out," said George Boyd, chairman of the ANC-5B, who lives in nearby Trinidad. "Leadership moved out because they believed the highway would happen. People left don't figure they have any leadership."
Ivy City is one of three neighborhoods in the city that have the combined commercial-manufacturing and residential zoning, Greene said. The others are the Hanover Place NW neighborhood near North Capitol Street and New York Avenue NW and the Reed-Cooke community, which is considered part of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood.
Greene, who has formed a task force of community members in the Hanover Place area, said he believes that Ivy City can make a comeback as a strong residential community.
"I sense a strong feeling that members of the Ivy City community want to stay there," he said. "And it is that interest that we want to protect. It is people that make a difference in these neighborhood projects. It is people that can convince a Safeway or a Giant to locate somewhere."
"We are talking about the future at those meetings," Greene said. "You have to have a positive attitute. And I can see things happening for Ivy City."