Category Archives: Built Environment Descriptions

Societal Changes on S Street and the Country with WeWork and The Wonder Bread Factory

The Wonder Bread Factory does more than sell bread, it tells a story. The year was 1940, and the family on S Street walked into the Wonder Bread Factory with bread on their brains and hunger in their stomachs. They waved to their neighbors, who were also there to buy bread and various Hostess Cake pastries, and they observed the beautiful brick holding up the building. After reading S Street Rising, a book that describes S Street’s poorer and more violent days, I was curious, and even a little bit nervous, about what I would see when I visited the area myself.

A picture of a drug raid on S Street during the crack epidemic in DC
A picture of a drug raid on S Street during the crack epidemic in DC

I was definitely surprised. While I did see the same beautiful brick that families in the 1940s would have seen, I did not see any bread. I did not see families casually strolling into the factory; I saw young workers in business casual apparel entering a revamped building with graphic art on their walls, and various electronics in every corner. S Street has transformed into an urban masterpiece with colorful apartments, the Shaw-Howard Metro Stop seconds away, and several restaurants scattered around the surrounding area.

Additionally, the Wonder Bread Factory is now home to WeWork, a company dedicated to providing ambitious and inspiring entrepreneurs with office spaces. Over time, this building has developed into an “architectural gem successfully repurposed for 21st century economic needs and philosophical desires.” As society has changed, this location and WeWork has done everything they can to stay ahead. In this essay, I discuss how The Wonder Bread Factory and WeWork building is a reflection of the society and job market of their respective time periods and how its transformation is representative of broader societal change.

The Wonder Bread Factory symbolized the changing times on S Street in the 1900s and showcased the unity and sense of community within the people. S Street Rising by Ruben Castaneda tells the story of a broken Shaw neighborhood filled with prostitution, violence, and drugs (Castaneda). As I was reading, I imagined S Street as trash-filled, dirty, and sad. However, Ruben also described to readers the stories of New Community Church and Baldie. He told us how slowly but surely, the Shaw community connected over Jim’s love for God and healing. Even Baldie, a notorious drug dealer, would respect Jim’s mission and protect him and the church at all costs (Castaneda). In the beginning, S Street was described as broken and irreparable, but over time readers could feel hope begin to rise.

When I visited the street myself, I spoke to Keith, the man who currently lives in Baldie’s house, and he told me joyful stories that took place in the Wonder Bread and Hostess Cake Factory, a contrast to the violence portrayed in the book. He revealed to me about his friends and workers tossing bread to each other from different areas of the bakery with smiles on their faces and flour on their hands. This was not the S Street I was anticipating. Even with the crime on the street, families still had time to grab some bread and pastries from the Wonder Bread Factory which was once considered a “staple of Washington households.”  Individuals depended on the products and workers to be a constant in their lives; Dr. Sandy Berk shares, “‘When I would take the streetcar to Griffith Stadium as a child from my NE neighborhood you knew you were getting close when you began to smell the bread and the bakeries. You could close your eyes and know when you were within three blocks.’” 

No matter how bad their lives or the street was, they could always count on fresh, homemade bread. The factory was a safe space for the people on the street and they would find comfort in the food and each other. Castaneda depicted the area as drug-ridden and violent, but he failed to share with readers the happiness and sense of community the S Street citizens felt. The Wonder Bread Factory brought everyone together for one common goal: to eat some delicious bread.

An image of a vintage Wonder Bread advertisement
An image of a vintage Wonder Bread advertisement

Not only did The Wonder Bread Factory unify the street through its products, but it also accurately reflected the evolving demographics in DC and the area. In the 1900s, DC’s demographics were constantly changing. According to Peter Tatian and Serena Lei, “in only two decades, the white population fell by over 300,000… DC became majority-black in the late 1950s.” This is not only accurate of the district, but also in S Street and Shaw. Additionally, this trend continued, based on data from the US Census, approximately 82% of the area was black while only 8% were white in 2000. As we can infer from the data, Shaw remained relatively consistent demographically for approximately forty-years. Families chose to stay despite the crime due to financial issues or what I believe was an attachment to the neighborhood they have watched grow their whole lives. Also, the area itself did not change much economically during this period, which gave residents no reason to leave either. However, in the late 1980’s and 90’s, Shaw began to change.

Before and after of a DC club near Shaw
Before and after of a DC club near Shaw

It all began when The Wonder Bread Factory shut down in the 1980’s, and the building remained abandoned until it was purchased in 1997. In addition, the Shaw-Howard University Metro Station opened in 1991, allowing more individuals to enter the area and cause an increase of tourism and population. Also, 5,134 housing units were built in Shaw in the 2000s compared to 7,013 units that were established in 1939 or earlier. As a result, almost all of the units built in the early 90s were either replaced or expanded with the newer houses. The families and people who grew up in S Street were no longer surrounded by familiar spaces and scenes. The people and buildings around them were changing and the area was becoming more desirable for millennials and corporations. In 2010, the US Census shows that 33.1% of the population in Shaw were white, a 25.1% increase compared to 2000, while the black population decreased to 51.7%. The black population went from a majority to nearly half and S Street was unrecognizable. The Wonder Bread Factory closing and repurchasing sparked a movement. When the Wonder Bread Factory was open, it was representative of the demographics and community.  While it was abandoned, the area was evolving, and now the new owners, WeWork, showcase the current and future changes. Regardless of what the citizens may have wanted, there was no escaping renewing the street. However, as The Wonder Bread Factory shows, you can not escape the past. During reconstruction, the brick, Hostess Cake, and Wonder Bread signs all remained the same. They will always be reminders of the history of the city, and while it has changed exponentially, the history and memories they signify for many will never be taken from them.

The Wonder Bread Factory building during reconstruction, you can see how only the interior is being redone
The Wonder Bread Factory building during reconstruction, you can see how only the interior is being redone

The WeWork building represents the influx of millennials into the evolving job force and in DC. As the country itself has been changing demographically, the workforce and businesses have been evolving with it. Businesses are not looking for the same skills and jobs that they did historically. The time for goods-making jobs has passed, and 86% of jobs in the United States today are based on offering services. Not only are the type of desirable careers changing, but the skills required by businesses are arguably more challenging. Low-skill based jobs are no longer increasing as rapidly, employment growth “was much higher among jobs that require average or above average social skills (83%).” However, these abilities are not typically taught in classrooms, capabilities such as interpersonal, management and communication skills, and those that require higher levels of analytical skills (77%), such as critical thinking and computer skills” are exactly what employers are looking for. As a result, the transition of The Wonder Bread Factory into WeWork was exactly what the job market reflects.

Business owners in a WeWork building
Business owners in a WeWork building

The Wonder Bread Factory was centered on making bread and providing goods, the exact industry that is now dying out. On the other hand, WeWork caters to entrepreneurs and freelancers, the precise career choices that millennials are attracted to and striving in. To explain, WeWork sells office spaces in their various buildings across the world. However, they are not your traditional spaces, they are filled with twenty-first century graphic art designs and structures — the layout many millennials dream of. Despite the myth that millennials are “lazy and entitled,” they are actually succeeding in the workforce more than ever before, and they believe now is the time to start their own businesses. WeWork recognized the “lack of creative space and creative environments” in DC, and set up shop on S Street, just in time for the young adults that are driving up DC’s population growth. WeWork has taken into consideration the evolving job force and skills, and they cater to the needs of the clients they believe their business model attracts. WeWork recognized that “the old business model is dead,” as Gary Mendel, the manager of WeWork in the renovated Wonder Bread Factory stated. Their consumers want easy access to public transportation, delicious restaurants nearby, full internet access and other forms of technology, and the potential to make connections with other freelancers. WeWork provides all of this and more. They have successfully established the perfect model and plan for the twenty-first century.

Millennials in a WeWork building playing a game in between work
Millennials in a WeWork building playing a game in between work

There is no aspect of WeWork‘s corporation that is not thought of and considered beforehand, and they are focused on adapting to cultural needs and on anticipating their changes before they even occur. WeWork’s mission statement opens up onto their page and immediately sets the tone for their business and goals. It states, “To create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living.” As previously stated, WeWork’s goal is to appeal to millennials. WeWork has recognized the changing demographics and skills in the business industry and they are capitalizing on it. According to Andrew Rice from Bloomberg, “WeWork has cast itself as a new kind of workplace for the post-recession labor force and a generation that has never known a cubicle. It aspires to make your job a place you never want to quit.” People, especially younger generations, crave to be inspired and challenged. Additionally, not only have millennials “become the biggest population of workers” but according to data they also choose excitement and work ethic over money. These are the perfect workers for WeWork‘s pro-entrepreneur business model. Millennials want to challenge themselves. They want to make a difference in the world, and there is no better place to start the change than at a corporation that encourages their workers to “Be persistent and knock down walls- literally if you have to. You have our permission.” 

A screen at WeWork with the phrase,
A screen at WeWork with the phrase, “Do what you love,” as clients surround it

In addition to WeWork catering to the changing workforce, they are also “building a community of creators” who inspire each other as well as the company itself. There is no other office space building where people can go to work every day with “lawyers, nonprofits, movie producers, political consultants, and a beef jerky brand.” Despite how different these jobs are, they have one thing in common: they want to belong to something. One WeWork customer states he has “200 business cards in a zip-lock bag since he started going to WeWork a few months ago.” These individuals go to work every day to do what they love and network with people who are just as passionate as they are. Together, they build their own community. Furthermore, it’s easy to be inspired at a building that is purposely designed to be as efficient as possible. According to Margaret Rhodes, “the layout of shared desks, the number of phones, the position of a given armchair—none of this is arbitrary.” There is not a single thing the architects and creators did not think of when designing these office spaces. Every detail is chosen meticulously and with their clientele in mind. Most importantly, all the choices the company makes are for the benefit of their current and potential clients. In order for WeWork to continue succeeding, they can not stop establishing their own separate communities where people are happy and inspired.

WeWork office space and the various sitting areas and kitchen spots
WeWork office space and the various sitting areas and kitchen spots

As I did my research on the WeWork corporation and on the Wonder Bread Factory’s history, there were two things that stuck with me. First, is this quote by WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey:

Because as we all know sitting in this room, the world has changed completely. All these buildings that we look at, towers which are full of these soul-crushing acoustic ceilings, and crappy gray carpets, and draining environments with fluorescent lights—like, no one wants to work that way anymore. … It has nothing to do with the economy. It has nothing to do with anything other than humanity.

WeWork wanted to create a much-needed community with modern office spaces that take advantage of all the twenty-first century has to offer. Their clients “network at weekly bagel-and-mimosa parties,” and “job referrals are made over the wagging tails of members’ dogs.” This is not an old and outdated company. One of WeWork‘s first investors stated, “Adam [WeWork co-founder] understood in a very serious way that we are in a new culture… I found it extraordinarily creative and original after being in this business for God knows how many years.” WeWork recognizes the importance of establishing communities, but they understand how people and companies need to adapt to societal changes or they will get lost in the past and no growth will be made. The second thing that has stuck with me was the talk Keith and I had the first time I visited The Wonder Bread Factory. Keith mentioned how the days of drugs and violence are long gone now and the location has certainly improved, but he emphasized that he felt something was missing. He struggled to expand on it further. I believe that Keith and other members of the street who have lived there for years, have not fully accepted the changes in the area. There are new stores, apartments, businesses, and people, but none of these developments can replace the old memories they all had. They have all personally remained the same, but their surroundings are different. Their Wonder Bread Factory, or community hub, is gone and replaced with a new community filled with young entrepreneurs aching to make a difference and alter even more of the world they know. The reality is, society, the job force, and even the skills workers need, are changing. People and companies like WeWork have accepted this and are taking advantage of this new culture. However, some individuals are still holding to the past and do not want to let go of places like the Wonder Bread Factory and the ways things used to be. There is no right or wrong answer, but people do need to understand that societal and cultural changes will not wait for anyone. Every individual will eventually have to make their own choice: do you fall behind or become a part of the revolution?

A Simple and Revolutionary Design: The WeWork Website

As I entered the WeWork Wonder Bread Factory building, inspiration overtook me. I was surrounded by modern-graphic art, and young workers ready to take on the world. When I entered the WeWork Wonder Bread Factory website, I felt the same feeling as when I walked into the building itself. By simply being in the building, or on the website, I feel like I am apart of something revolutionary. This corporation does an excellent job of connecting all aspects of their company together. Instead of having separate or varying buildings and websites, they all complement each other to establish one brand. More specifically, the WeWork website’s user-friendly and modern design work together to attract the younger buyers that the company desires.

The beautiful interior of the building. This shows how modern the building is and how different is is from the past.
The beautiful interior of the building. This shows how modern the building is and how different is is from the past.

The WeWork site is filled with appealing graphics and an easy structure that will impress potential buyers. The site opens with beautiful pictures of the interior building; there are six different images of varying locations. Not only do the images accurately capture the sophisticated interior of the location, but they also impress visitors and potential buyers. WeWork provides office spaces for any person or company to buy. However, beyond that they also have various amenities such as common areas, phone booths, onsite staff, coffee, printing, fruit water, and more (WeWork). This is not your typical business. WeWork‘s goal is to provide people with their dream work space and based on their multiple locations across the country, they are succeeding (WeWork). Individuals who are looking to purchase office space would immediately lose interest in a website and location that did not have accurate or appealing pictures of the site.

This is the top of the website, the picture of the staircase will continuously switch out with other pictures of the interior. On the left is also a form that will follow users as they scroll down the page.
This is the top of the website, the picture of the staircase will continuously switch out with other pictures of the interior. On the left is also a form that will follow users as they scroll down the page.

Next to the images there is a form to schedule a tour, and this form continues to stay on the left side of the page as you scroll down. Website users do not need to go back up to the top of the page to schedule anything. This function makes it very easy for people to schedule a visit. There are also no additional links needed to access different portions of this website; people do not need to leave the original page for any more information. Users only need to simply scroll down to get the office space prices and different building amenities. This function also matches the company’s physical location. Inside the building, it is easy to access everything. There is no confusion on where items are and WeWork knows this is appealing for their clientele. When people visit websites, they do not want to be bothered with complex designs nor do they want to get lost searching for information on the page. This website does not have these problems, which will immediately impress buyers because they do not have to go searching for the material and resources they need. Additionally, they may also make the connection that the website reflects the business itself, and will be more willing to purchase or visit the space.

A screenshot of the various amenities the building has, again, on the left is the form to schedule a visit
A screenshot of the various amenities the building has, again, on the left is the form to schedule a visit

An easily functionable and appealing website combine to contribute to attracting the young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs that WeWork strives for. This website’s main purpose is for their office spaces to be purchased by those who share WeWork’s vision. Their site states, “We are creators, leaders, and self-starters. We try new things, we challenge convention, and we’re not afraid to fail” (WeWork). This statement is inspiring, especially for young individuals who are eager to begin their own business or career. Therefore, in order to hook these people, they must have a website that captures everything their business and office spaces represent. A younger audience will be more impressed with WeWork’s easy and appealing site. Since this younger generation has grown up with technology, they have higher expectations for websites and corporations. Additionally, now in the digital-age, buyers are looking for better graphic designs, and for websites to be as easy to use as possible. Old-fashioned and complicated sites are becoming extinct, and WeWork capitalizes on this fact.

The website's mission statement, which also reflects the overall WeWork brand they have established for themselves
The website’s mission statement, which also reflects the overall WeWork brand they have established for themselves

The WeWork Wonder Bread Factory building website goes above-and-beyond to attract potential customers, and based on my observations of their workforce, they are succeeding in luring in entrepreneurs who strive to change the world.

The Beauty and Necessity in Change: Wonder Bread Factory, S Street

From the second I walked into the Wonder Bread Factory, I was struck by its beauty. I expected to see old brick, and historic structures from the building’s older Dorsch’s White Cross Bakery days from 1913, but instead, I was surrounded by sophisticated graphic art designs, and complex objects. There is no question that the Wonder Bread Factory on 641 S St. NW is not the same building it was decades earlier. There are no longer flour-covered workers tossing dough and bread from one section of the kitchen to the other. They have been replaced with millennials in business suits conversing over coffee on beautiful wooden tables. The interior may have drastically changed, but I have the feeling that people are still accomplishing something special.

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The exterior of WeWork and the old Wonder Bread Factory.

When WeWork, a company dedicated to providing office spaces, came to DC, they were motivated to find a location that would improve the “creative space” that was lacking in the city (O’Connell). The thirty-three thousand square foot building with “high ceilings, large glass windows, exposed brick and wood beams” was the exact space they were searching for (O’Connell). The building requires a keycard to enter, but guests can ring the doorbell for entrance. Once inside, there is a waiting area with decorative, seasonal pillows on two couches and a wooden table. There is also graphic art design on this portion of the walls, which is an interesting touch to include with the older brick. 

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The seating area with various pillows and couches. Notice the older brick wall, graphic art, and beautiful natural light from the streets.

Additionally, the architects certainly made use of the building’s space. Despite the extensive design, there is a giant lobby, and plenty of area to navigate between spaces. Behind the waiting area, there is WeWork’s own reading and book selection. Also, there are two secluded conference rooms and a kitchen for workers. The first conference room is seen immediately when entering, has a sign called, “The Green House,” and in it there are also various plants. In between the two conference rooms, there is a model RV, that holds additional couch seating for guests. 

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The books, tables, and TV for staff to work with.
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The “Green Room” or first conference room seen when entering the building.
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More of the conference room, as well as the Model RV and additional seating for guests
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The end of the lobby, more tables, and beautiful art.

At the end of the spacious lobby, there are two beautiful, vibrant paintings that depict runners sprinting to the finish line. There is a long table in front of them as well. The entire interior is extremely colorful, but mostly contains navy blues and various shades of greens. A majority of the objects are wooden, and the space itself makes use of the building’s natural light. Despite how modern it looks, the building also kept the brick and high ceiling structures which complements the twenty-first century design.

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Here is the receptionist’s desk, as well as the large lobby and walking space, there is plenty of room to walk around from area to area. This is also an excellent picture of the building’s ceiling structure.

The interior of the site felt revolutionary, and brought up feelings concerning change due to the atmosphere and mood of the décor. Previously, I talked to Keith, an older man who has lived across the street from the Wonder Bread Factory for several years. He described how customers and workers would toss various bread products to each other inside the factory. They would laugh and have a fun time together, while occasionally getting free bread out of it. As I was wandering around the current building, I pictured the sounds and images of these men working together. Now, individuals are tossing around various concepts for potential companies in the Wonder Bread Factory building. When I observed the area and the workers, I felt positive and hopeful energy. They loved what they were accomplishing, and most importantly, they were happy in their careers. Although I was disappointed at how different the location was from Keith described to me, I could not help but be amazed at how effortlessly things have changed. While it is important to cherish and remember the past, it is necessary to move on, and adapt to the changes in society surrounding us.

Picture of the beginning of the construction process
Picture of the beginning of the construction process

 

External Environmental Description: Changes Overtime in DC and S Street

The longer I have lived in and researched Washington, DC, the more I have realized how quickly environments and locations change. Nothing seems to last forever, and while this may be portrayed like a bad thing, the Hostess Cake building is showing me how change can be a great thing. The Hostess Cake/Wonder Bread Factory building is on 641 S St. NW. It is also located directly across the street from the New Community Church, and right next to the Shaw-Howard metro stop. The metro stop allows easy access for essentially anyone to discover and interact with my site. Additionally, there are several apartment buildings surrounding the store. The apartments were very modern, but some of them had a more historic character or tone with their brick structure. Similarly, the Hostess Cake building, which was established in 1913, originally as the Dorsch’s White Cross Bakery, also kept the original brick when the building was reconstructed. In addition, there is a small white cross located on the top of the building in between the Hostess Cake and Wonder Bread signs. All three of these symbols and signs are representative of the site’s complex ownership history. Although the format and interior is completely redone and new, there is still evidence of the building’s past.

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The site is used by completely different individuals than its original purpose years ago. If it were not for the three signs, people would not know what the building’s purpose is. In fact, I struggled to understand what the building was used for until I watched individuals with business attire enter. The location is home to the Wonder Bread Factory office space, and the upper level of the factory is also leased to the company ISL. There is additional office space for the company “wework”, that is connected to Hostess Cake/Wonder Bread, and has an identical brick infrastructure. After the Wonder Bread section closes at six, individuals need an electronic key in order to access the interior. People who were entering and exiting seemed to be easily navigating the space, and had no difficulty getting inside.

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Overall, the site was not very colorful, and only contained blue in the “Wonder Bread” sign, red in the “Hostess Cake” sign, and white in the cross. However, the surrounding apartments were vibrant. There was not a single apartment I could see that had two of the same colors. There were reds, purples, grays, and blues. The modern and colorful apartments, in combination with the historic brick of the Hostess Cake/Wonder Bread building, created a beautiful area. Although some sections of the location had similar styles, none of them were identical and they all created their own unique, but complementary, sector.

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Combined with its surroundings, my site made me feel nostalgic. After speaking with a man named Keith, who lives next to the New Community Church, and has lived in the same home for several years, I got a good sense of how much has changed overtime in the area. With me, Keith reflected on how he and S Street have changed and adapted together. He commented on the nearly non-existent drug problem, which previously was rampant on the street and in the Hostess Cake/Wonder Bread alleyway. Even though this was my first time observing my location, Keith painted a picture in my mind on what the area used to look like years ago. His descriptions were what established the nostalgic feeling I had. I began to contemplate the changes in my own life, and wondered what physical changes I would observe when I returned to my hometown of Watertown, CT. Although my town would not be nearly as revised as S Street, I still wondered how even the smallest alterations would possibly impact my life for the better. All of these thoughts were brought up by observing the exterior of my site, and by reflecting not only on the its simple infrastructure of 2016, but also by imagining what may have been in my building’s place years ago.