Underneath a segment of I-695 at the southern border of Capitol Hill sits a little patch of cement and gravel that regularly plays host to a liberal fever dream of multiethnic artists, musicians, dancers and athletes.
The underpass, known as “Bridge Spot,” started as a place where skateboarders hung out during rainstorms, but it evolved into an open-air art gallery thanks to mural-painting parties sponsored by the art collective Albus Cavus. In 2011, local sculptor Ben Ashworth added skateboard ramps that he built with neighborhood kids, and Bridge Spot bloomed into an ad hoc community center at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Second Street Southeast.
“The space morphs from a dog park one minute to a crew playing basketball, or tennis against the wall, to a skate park, a bike park, to a still-life drawing session, an impromptu building workshop, a no-budget video or photo shoot, a mural happening, a boxing lesson or someone just resting in the shade to soak it all up,” Ashworth said.
Unfortunately, the multipurpose spot happens to sit atop a century-old train tunnel, which its owner, CSX Transportation, hopes to demolish soon. The company has allocated about $160 million to the project, which will replace the current tunnel with one large enough for modern, double-decker trains.
The company is in the process of vetting three options for rebuilding the tunnel — and none of the build alternatives sees a future for Bridge Spot, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released last week. Even a fourth “no-build” option could spell the end for the space if emergency repairs on the aging structure become necessary.
That’s sad news for D.C. skateboarders, because Bridge Spot is one of the few spots where they are never hassled by police, said Justin Britt, 18.
Pro and semi-pro skaters from around the D.C. region often stop by to try Ashworth’s 24-foot long “wave” wall or a ramp that sends skaters flying up a pylon featuring a four-headed monster painted by up-and-coming D.C. artist Ben Tolman.
Given the slow pace of bureaucracy, and the fact that the reconstruction project is nearly a year behind schedule, Bridge Spot may stand well into 2014. But when it finally vanishes, its loss will be felt by many local artists, skateboarders and, most importantly, the kids who helped build it, said Alicia Cosnahan, a local artist known as “Decoy,” who organized Bridge Spot’s mural-painting parties.
“It organically flowed together, with the paintings and the neighborhood community,” she said, already using the past-tense. “It was a really neat space in D.C. and a lot of people will miss it.”
Street Art Scavenger Hunt
The recent explosion of D.C. traffic cameras has made life even more difficult for graffiti artists, wheat-pasters and their ilk, says Alex Goldstein, director of The Fridge, a street-art gallery in Capitol Hill. “People have moved on to paying work, for better or for worse,” he says. Here are a few places you can still find innovative installations:
14th & U St. NW
Take a stroll to the southeast corner of this intersection and look up. Bolted to a street sign is a plasma-cut steel sculpture by L.A. artist Ster. Or peek down the northwest ally to see a constellation of stickers by local artists, plus some masking-tape lettering.
Ninth St. & Barry Place NW
Turn down the unpaved ally behind the refrigeration supply store, and you’ll find a huge, bespeckled duck head above oversized wild-style lettering. Farther down the wall stands a scholarly samurai with pencils instead of swords, the work of local muralist Aniekan Udofia.
In an alleyway behind historic homes painted in subdued hues, the Fridge Gallery is a riot of color. Featured artists regularly repaint the gallery, which is currently showing the work of the Buenos Ares art collective Graffitimundo, both inside and outside of the building. 516 Eighth St. SE; 202-664-4151. (Eastern Market)