Demolition Begins on the Buchanan School Site Near Southeast Safeway, Making Way for Residences
81 High-end Town Home/Condos Slated for the Site
by Larry Janezich
This past week saw the beginning of demolition to make way for new residential units on the Buchanan School site between D and E Streets, on 13th Street, SE. It is one of the three residential projects being built in close proximity to Southeast Safeway. The Watkins Alley Project, up before ANC6B is one of those projects, and lies on the south side of E Street, across from the Buchanan School project.
Previously printed on the newhilleast listserv and reproduced here:
Our Land of Broken Dreams
by Jim Myers
Piles of rubble along 13th Street, SE, behind old Buchanan School now seem to be all that remains of a pair of quixotic ventures that came to naught in Hill East — and also sometimes made our neighborhood seem cursed by the shadow of too many ideas that were never meant to be in the first place.
Years ago, DC started getting rid of unwanted school buildings that were a result of racial segregation, requiring two schools where one would do thereafter. The Buchanan School was sold and for more than a decade became an enterprise that called itself the International Graduate University. But it wasn’t a “university” in the common definitions, and that fact eventually left it empty without seeming purpose at all, while the land it sat on quietly but massively increased in value.
In recent days they’ve demolished section of Buchanan School closest to the 13th and D corner that briefly claimed to be the important-sounding Democracy Hall of Fame. In the early days, the Hall enshrined the likes of Lech Walensa, who came all the way from Poland to our neighborhood to be so honored.
So Hall of Fame is now gone, and next to the piles, heavy machines on have also knocked down the remains of quixotic efforts by Lady Bird Johnson and her New York socialite/ philanthropist friend Brooke Astor who in 1968 wanted to turn the block along 13th Street into an “open-air living room” for our neighborhood.
It eventually included a sunken basketball court with seating for spectators, chess and checkers tables, concrete art and more — all of which evolved into sad uselessness in relatively short order. But, maybe, the neighborhood didn’t want an open-air living room; what many people here eventually seemed to want was a real living room in PG County.
Still the ill-fated “living room” venture was very ceremoniously dedicated in 1968 only days after rioting in the city ended, and on the day Lady Bird and Brooke came to Hill East, DC newspapers were still reporting about bodies being found in the rubble of burnt-out buildings elsewhere in the city.
After that, the sunken court eventually became a chosen spot to consummate open-air drug deals (among other things) out of sight of the cops, and the discovery of new dead bodies on the basketball court sadly followed.
Then, for years, the rest of what remained of the open-air living room just sat there, rousing the question, “What was that supposed to be?”
Another of Lady Bird’s efforts in the 1300 block of South Carolina Avenue, SE, was removed years ago to build the row houses that were part of the Bryan School redevelopment project. A similar vision – dozens of townhouses and condos – now apparently awaits at Buchanan and environs.
12 responses to “Demolition Begins on the Buchanan School Site Near Southeast Safeway, Making Way for Residences”
And we wonder why the homeless population keeps on growing. Does the mayor and city council really believe DC residents can afford those prices?
These are going to be sold immediately. Prince will be no problem at all.
We shouldn’t begrudge the well-meaning but inept actions from the past — the Lord knows, and may not forgive, the transgression we are committing today. However the larger urban sin was to let it remain — that the property lay fallow after the venture had failed so spectacularly, for so many decades.
That entire property represents to me a lost opportunity for our neighborhood. It was sold off by DCPS for a relative pittance, when it could have alleviated severe overcrowding at DCPS’s Watkins Elementary, right next door, and when our department of parks and rec (DPR) steadfastly refused to invest in, much less expand, its rec center housed at Watkins. The Watkins rec center has been wildly over-utilized for the better part of four decades and is the only such center in SE Capitol Hill, sharing a decrepit and too-small interior space with the school itself, and an undersubscribed (and infrequently open) outdoor pool. The last major investment in the Watkins rec center was by mayoral fiat by then-mayor Fenty, to resurface the football field–only after Watkins Elementary parents screamed and hollered did a new playground get installed, to replace broken and unrepaired equipment. I suppose the condos going in now will be beloved for their part, if for no other reason than taxes actually being paid on that property going forward after years of the prior owner avoiding property taxes. But certainly that school could have been a true community amenity.
Something like half of Watkins students are from out of boundary. I don’t think it needed this parcel of land to expand to. Watkins seriously needs a renovation. Which, thankfully, it’s now getting.
Unfortunately, Watkins’ renovation is not going to address adequately the rec center component of the site, which is seriously underfunded and rather unplanned. To be sure, it’s better than it was in the original plans for the renovation–because of pushes from the community and Watkins parents–but not where it could be and where the community itself–school and neighbors–have indicated they’d like it to be. Like the Buchanan School, it’s a community loss, no matter who attends Watkins.
I’m not certain what the point of Jim’s post/history lesson is. I’m glad this piece of land is being put to some good use. Maybe I’ll be labelled a “gentrifier” … which is somehow a dirty word.
Certainly It is a shame working class people can’t afford to buy/rent in our neighborhood, but what’s the alternative? … forcing owners/landlords to offer properties at lower sale/rent? That’s currently in action (in rent at least) and I doubt it has much impact livability by those on the lower end of the economic scale. Housing projects like Potomac Gardens obviously were a city planning failure.
“Working Class” people can afford it, it depends on how you define the phrase.
Taking an abandoned / vacant property and converting it to a productive use. Thank you DC and the developers for making this happen.
Interesting history lesson. Thanks Jim. One question – how did Peter Bug become established in this spot? Was it connected Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts on 13th?
I just wish they had left the forsythia shrubs for a few more weeks. One of the most spectacular displays on the Hill!
Does anyone know what will happen to the three William Tarr sculptures on the perimeter of the property?