According to Google Maps, 197 feet separate Potomac Gardens Apartments from Cambridge Row Condominiums. Roughly 200 feet away from an apartment building defined by its violent past is the newly renovated Cambridge Row with studio spaces starting at $200,000 (“Cambridge Row”). In 1989, the neighborhood surrounding Potomac Gardens was deemed “the most dangerous in America” by talk show host, Geraldo Rivera (Sheir). Today, McWilliams Ballard Real Estate, the developer of Cambridge Row, describes the neighborhood as “ beautiful” and “walkable.” How can the same neighborhood be both “the most dangerous is America” and beautiful and walkable?
Before Cambridge Row was a luxury condominium complex, the building housed the historic Salvation Army Capitol Hill headquarters. Architects redesigned the building to offer thirteen brand new condominiums. In efforts to make the building appear more modern, it was painted a cream color, but the original shape and style remains unchanged. In addition to the Salvation Army building, Cambridge Row constructed a new adjoining building that offers twelve spaces (“Cambridge Row”).
When walking up to Cambridge Row, the first thing I noticed was how out of place it looks. The complex is next store to Potomac Gardens Apartments, which looks like it could easily double as a prison, and is across the street from Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy, a building whose main entrance features a graffiti styled portrait of the school’s namesake. The freshly paved sidewalks, bright green grass, and beautifully renovated building that welcome you to Cambridge Row do not appear to belong on the same street as everything surrounding it.
The day I visited Potomac Gardens, Cambridge Row happened to be having an open house. When Cambridge Row first opened they had 25 residencies for sale; now, there are only two spaces available. When I first walked into the space the first thing I noticed was how modern it looked. The space was very bright due to the large windows, and while the majority of the colors found in the space were cool-toned, the space was very inviting. The bright white cabinets in the kitchen stood out against the various blue, black, and grey elements throughout the space. Although the condo was quite small, whoever staged the rooms did so in a way to make them all feel larger.
While researching Cambridge Row, I noticed that in many of the images posted on their website, large windows are shown, but the view of the outside cannot be seen. I found an image that appeared to be the living room of the available unit I toured. Directly outside the large window is the back of Potomac Gardens Apartments, a detail that is not visible in image found on the website. Was this intentional? Did the developers specifically chose this image? Was the photographer asked angle the shot in a way that blocked the view of Potomac Gardens? If this was intentional, what is McWilliams Ballard Real Estate trying to hide?
After this discovery, I was curious about Potomac Gardens Apartment’s website. While there is not a website specifically for Potomac Gardens, there is a page about the complex on the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s site. I was surprised to see that all the images of the apartments found on this website did not include the iron fence that surrounds the perimeter of the complex. All the images were specifically taken inside the fence or cropped so the fence is not visible. While the blocked views found in Cambridge Row’s images may be a coincidence, the lack of fence found in Potomac Gardens’s images is most likely not.
While both of these complexes reside on the same block, they cater to very different residents. Cambridge Row appeals to young professionals by describing the complex as follows: “Located just moments to two metro stations, Barracks Row, Eastern Market and all of Capitol Hill. Cambridge Row offers the finest quality living in a beautiful walkable neighborhood filled with the Capitol’s best restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, open markets, grocers, and public transportation” (“Cambridge Row”). Potomac Gardens appeals to families by describing each apartment as a “family unit,” and by providing a list of nearby schools (“Potomac Gardens Family”). The differences between these two residences are vast, but it appears they have one similarity: both appear to be hiding something from possible future residents. Cambridge Row’s website is full of images that highlight large windows, but the outside view cannot be seen. They purposely fail to mention that the majority of the building’s “beautiful views” include the back of Potomac Gardens. The District of Columbia Housing Authority also has something to hide by not mentioning the controversial eight foot iron fence that surrounds Potomac Gardens. They also fail to mention the large security cameras that make the complex look more like a prison than the “family friendly” environment they describe on their website. It seems like both Cambridge Row and Potomac Gardens have something to hide.
“Cambridge Row.” McWilliams Ballard, www.livecambridgerow.com/.
“Potomac Gardens Family.” District of Columbia Housing Authority, www.dchousing.org/.
Sheir, Rebecca. “What Does the Future Hold for Capitol Hill’s Potomac Gardens?” wamu.org, American University Radio. 16 January 2015. Accessed 2 October 2016.