Anacostia Makes Third Appearance on List

Posted June 11, 2004 at 3:11pm

Local groups and concerned citizens are combining efforts to revive a historic area of the city that is suffering from architectural demise.

The D.C. Preservation League, which works to protect and enhance historic parts of the city, recently listed Anacostia as one of the District’s most endangered places.

Anacostia was nominated for the endangered list by the African American Preservation Foundation Inc.

“We bring these places to light so that the community knows that these are in trouble,” said the league’s business manager, Rebecca Miller.

This is the third time the Anacostia area has been featured on the list. It was spotlighted in 1999 and 2000.

The African American Preservation Foundation helps members of black communities seek financial and technical support in the form of architectural assistance or suitable grants to maintain their historic property, said Renee Ingram, president of the foundation and league board member.

“Many of the buildings are severely blighted and are in serious need of rehabilitation,” Ingram said in a written statement to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Ingram wants to ensure that redevelopment initiatives for the part of Anacostia located on the west side of the river do not overshadow efforts for the historic area located on the east side.

According to Ingram, if rehabilitation incentives for existing residential properties are not weighted equally with redevelopment plans, the area will lose not only its historic building stock, but also its sense of community.

Historian Dianne Dale, who lived in Anacostia most of her life, recalls growing up in a neighborhood that was once very close. “It essentially was a village. Everybody knew everybody,” Dale said. “There was a strong sense of community.”

Dale, president of the Anacostia Historical Society, lived in area until 1991. The community started to suffer because of urban renewal that began around the 1940s, according to Dale.

Apartment buildings were built around single-family homes, several housing projects were erected and a highly transient population moved in, Dale said. Construction of Interstate 295 split the community in the 1960s.

The area was once a black neighborhood sandwiched between two white neighborhoods, according to Dale. When desegregation laws were enacted in the 1950s, Dale said the white population started moving away.

The community was 82 percent white in the 1950s and 66 percent black by the 1960s, Dale said. Today, Anacostia remains a predominantly black community.

The National Register of Historic Places recognized the area as a historic district in 1978. Decades of disinvestment have contributed to deteriorating buildings and landscape, according to Ingram.

These homes are “falling down,” Dale said. “Many were taken by right of eminent domain or demolished.”

The league supported a tax credit for moderate to low income families living in historic areas who would like to renovate their homes. Although approved in 2002, the tax credit has never received funding.

The D.C. Council has approved $1 million to finance the tax credit in 2005. A decision from D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) is expected some time this month, Miller said.

The league plans to join forces with the African American Preservation Foundation to help make the properties in Anacostia viable for the future, according to Miller. “In the long run, it’s good for everybody in the community of D.C.”