Reconstruction or Destruction: The Storied Past and Bleak Future of ShawThe end of the Civil War gave birth to Shaw. The blocks sandwiched between Massachusetts Ave NW, New Jersey Ave NW, Florida Ave NW, and 11th Street NW, were in fact named after Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment that fought in the Civil War (Meyer). The area was originally undeveloped; it wasn’t until streetcars began running up and down the streets that people began to move in. As whites fled, middle class African Americans arrived. Much like Harlem of the early 20th Century, Shaw saw the rise of famous artists and musicians, such as the world renowned Duke Ellington (Schwartzman). The neighborhood was filled with black businesses alongside landmarks such as the Howard Theater, Frank Holiday’s Pool Hall, and Ben’s Chili Bowl. Shaw was a glamorous place for many residents in it’s heyday, with W. Norman Wood recalling he liked to, “linger outside a fancy restaurant and soak up the glamour of blacks coming and going in their tuxes and gowns”(Schwartzman). The tuxes and gowns would soon disappear. On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, which triggered a series of riots across the country. The DC riots were some of the worst, destroying entire neighborhoods and looked more like the streets of Saigon than America’s capital. The trumpets and pianos laid silent; the paint brushes unused. Following the riots, many of the middle class African Americans left, leaving only low income families behind. With little investment from outside, the remaining residents struggled to rebuild their community. This inability to rebuild and disinterest from outsiders who viewed the residents as rioters and thugs, sent Shaw downhill. Drugs and gangs took over the streets where cultural icons once stood. The residents held onto Shaw’s former glory, hoping desperately for the crime wave to pass so they could have their culture back once more. Washington, DC became known as the “Murder Capital of America,” with Shaw as the epicenter (Lewis). The early 2000s saw the crime rate fall, a sign of hope for a beleaguered neighborhood. Unfortunately, the past crime was the least of their worries. While residents occasionally had to worry about passing criminal activity, their streets were still a community where everyone knew each other. The new influx of specifically young, white residents destroyed Shaw more than the drug war ever could have. New business took hold in the area, as more investment poured in. This investment, however, wasn’t going to the African American residents who needed it the most, it was working against them. The rise of a new commercial and residential sector in Shaw transformed the community from cultural hub to hipster paradise. Many would see a decline in crime as a good thing, but few notice that the new development destroyed the community Shaw had fostered. Housing prices rose at incredible rates, with the story circulating of one man who purchased his townhouse for $60,000 and when it was sold, it went for seven times the original price (Schwartzman). The ghosts of the past haunt the streets; gone are the black men donned in tuxedos and the laughter of children playing on the sidewalks. The only remnants are confined to photographs or plaques in buildings. The murals of U Street station are eulogies to a long dead elegance (Abrams). Shaw, a neighborhood that grew out of the Civil War, was created from the dissolution of slavery and its prosperity ended with the death of a community’s icon that allowed them to finally be free. Shaw has gone through three phases throughout its existence. It began with the decadent African American culture that flourished throughout the early 20th Century. It was followed by a trough of drugs and crimes, but now it is desperately fighting for its culture and community. The neighborhood’s past is often downplayed by the the media and history books as a formerly violent place that has been cleaned up and fixed with new industry. This overlooks the communal aspects that Shaw had prior to its renovation in the late 1990s. The downfall of Shaw is generally attributed to the 1968 riots, where looting and destruction devastated much of the neighborhood (Franke-Ruta). This has deeper roots in the class divide among the African American residents who lived there. As DC and the entire country gradually desegregated, middle class African Americans moved to more affluent neighborhoods in the suburbs. While this was not a severe problem at first, it was the riots that eventually caused many families to move. Left in Shaw were the low income African Americans, who with little capital struggled to rebuild (Lewis) . This vulnerability opened up the community to the crime and manipulation that ensued in the following decades. The hub of Shaw for much of the early nineties is located at 618 S Street NW. It is a 126-year old townhouse in an up and coming area and while it isn’t the nicest place on the block by far, it doesn’t appear to be a terrible place to live. This was the house of the deceased Garnell A. Campbell (better known by his street name “Baldie”) that stands nestled between the New Community Church and the row of brick buildings that run up and down S Street. From a chair on his quaint porch, Baldie ran his crime empire that ran over most of Shaw (“Addiction Battled Reporter”). The fact that a chair still sits there gives the house an eerie feeling, as if Baldie’s presence is still there. The change from the violent crime that once controlled the area is easily visible today. As I stood outside the home of Baldie, a day care group in strollers went down the street. Little did they know that they were passing the former house of one of DC’s most famous druglords. Unfortunately, I was unable to gain access to the interior of Baldie’s home, but there some assumptions we can pull from the exterior and the area in general. The presence of crime bars on the windows means that the current resident is still worried about the possibility of crime on S Street. This might signify that the inhabitant was around during the troubled past of the block. Many of the weeds and moss on the porch is unkempt, which could indicate the interior is not well taken care of either. The shutters are do appear fairly modern and add a touch of friendliness to the building. Taking this into account, coupled with the price of the unit and the recent renovations of many neighboring buildings, we can deduce that the inside has most likely been redone to some extent (Areavibes). The center of many of Shaw’s past trouble is unknowingly past everyday. If Baldie were living in Shaw today, he would be astounded by the transformation of Shaw. 2006 was the last time his house was sold and it went for $380,000. Today, it is valued at around $856,300 with a high estimate being $984,745 (Homesnap). Baldie would see many of the local business and landmarks had been torn down and replaced. The park where his daughters likely played after school has been turned into office space. Many of his friends would have likely moved out knowing that they could make an enormous profit on their houses without having to resort to drug dealing. Baldie would be aghast at the number of young white people venturing into his streets contrasted to those in his time who came there only to buy drugs (“Addiction Battled Reporter”). He would find that all of the new places would be far more expensive than the African American businesses that stood there earlier. He may find a few holdouts familiar, such as Greg’s Barber Shop. If Baldie walked down 7th Street even nine years ago, he would see the familiar kids sitting on cars, boarded up windows, and old stores. There is none of that on 7th Street today. Instead he would observe trends he would never partake in. The drug kingpin would be the last person in all of the District to participate in the fitness trends at Solidcore Shaw or the cuisine at the oyster bar Eat the Rich. The cultural norms of his community have been swapped with something that must seem foreign. He would enjoy some of the renovation projects that promoted black culture. He would probably recognize the new Howard Theater as a scene out of his childhood, and gaze upon the ornate murals scattered throughout the neighborhood. Baldie would find the recent safety a comforting addition, especially for his daughter’s sake. This safety came at the price of his empire. At the end of this stroll, Baldie would return home and the only thing he would truly recognize is the New Community Church that still stands proudly next to his small brick home. Using the timeline feature on google maps, one can see just how much the neighborhood has changed in the last 10 years. In 2009, the area next to the metro was a small park with plenty of open space and a few benches. The massive United Negro College Fund building now stands where the park once occupied. The removal of this park was sure to have an affect on the neighborhood, but the fact that such a fancy modern building rose up in an area that used to be so violent so few years ago is shocking. Google maps also provides a view into the past just up the street. The Howard Theater was a place of community and gathering for the those men in tuxedos and women in gowns. In 2009 as well, the Howard Theater stood abandoned. It’s windows were all sealed with brick. It’s “Howard” sign had rusted out and the building along with the sidewalk was surrounded by a fence. The property was filled with trash and clutter. A revitalization project has gone underway however, and it is different from many of the others. The renovation restored the Howard Theater to all its cultural glory. The theater now stands with a beautiful white facade and bright pillars. Its iconic sign has been restored and flags once again fly above the community center. The sidewalk is clear of debris, and is now a brick footpath. Shaw has changed greatly since the days that Baldie ran the streets, and has changed even more since it’s pinnacle. The block of buildings with S Street running along the bottom, bordered by T Street on top and squeezed in by 6th and 7th Street on the sides presents one of the most up and coming parts of DC. As one steps out of the metro, they are greeted by the grand, glass building home to the United Negro College Fund and Teach for America. Peering into their lobby, it is decorated with ornate tiles, minimalist coffee tables, and every shred of modern art at their disposal. Along 7th Street NW, a series of new businesses have arisen and consist of every type of trendy establishment one could think of. Solidcore Shaw is one of these, fitted with blue neon lights and the hottest new forms of workout equipment. Snuggled between some of these enterprises is a luxury apartment complex. It’s door has electronic locks and contains a large, abstract-style lobby with fancy looking elevators. Further up the road, is Eat the Rich, a dimly lit, swanky oyster bar in the heart of a once impoverished neighborhood. Next door lies the Calabash Teahouse & Cafe covered in ornate Indian-style furniture and paintings. One interior, however, encapsulated much of the change Shaw has seen. The Right Proper Brewing Company is located on the corner of T & Wiltberger, situated directly beside the Howard Theater. The inside of the building is unique from some of the other businesses in the area because it has kept many pieces of the original interior. The inside is dimly lit, with low hanging lights and a small candle at each table. The tables and chairs are made crudely out of wood and metal; the smell of aging cheese from the cheese counter wafts through the air. The sound of lively conversation fills the building. A brief glimpse through the restaurant’s website gives a basic history of the building (Cheston). The Brewing Company was constructed on the remnants of Frank Holiday’s Pool Room, a spot once remarkably prominent to the neighborhood’s African-American community. This prominence has been confined to a colorful mural on the wall, all that remains of the former pool hall, stated in an almost condescending way online. The building is adorned in bizarre artwork, the only violence left on S Street being captured in the depiction of a fox shooting lasers out of its eyes with two pandas fighting in the background. The entire feel of the place seems like it is ignoring, if not mocking the history of the community much like the other businesses have popped up and destroyed the history and culture of the region. Shaw is a punching bag that has been worn out over the years. It was sleek and new in the early 1900s, and took one punch after another. In it’s heyday, Shaw was unique as unique could be. It produced the finest artists and rivaled the likes of Harlem as the capital of black culture. In 1968, it took a punch that knocked it off its chains, and went crashing to the ground. Shaw was hung back up again but it would never be the same. It hung loose and weak, each punch causing more damage than the previous one. As crime wore the neighborhood down, there was nothing the residents could do but watch. The seams and edges of the bag were defined across the years; it soon wore out and couldn’t take any more. Now it’s being replaced with an assembly line bag that’s just a cookie cutter of so many others. The story of Shaw is a tragedy in it’s truest definition. Once on a pedestal of glory, it’s flaws that it couldn’t see were internal. The class divide among the African American residents was overlooked until it came to a breaking point. Unable to see or fix this issue allowed outside actors to invade and take control of its future. From Baldie’s house to the last vestiges of a dying memory, the past, present, and future of Shaw haunt the neighborhood that is fading away into conformity. An audience of former residents, victims of violence, and cultural icons are in attendance. The Tragedy of Shaw, now playing at the Howard Theater.
Works Cited/Annotated Bibliography
Meyer, Eugene L. “Washington’s Shaw Neighborhood Is Remade for Young Urbanites.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2015.
Background – This source describes how the Shaw neighborhood has been redone for the new, young tenants moving to these areas. Especially in the S street neighborhood, many glass-clad coffee shops and bars have popped up at former residences of black businesses. These places all have similar interiors and can give us a small look into what has changed and what has remained the same.
Stacy, Christina Plerhoples et al. “Gentrification and Business Changes: A Lack of Data for Sound Policy.” Urban Institute, Urban Wire, 4 Aug. 2015.
Exhibit – This article provides graphs and statistical information regarding business changes in the Shaw/S street area. It maps the influx of new business in the area since the early 1990s and what types of businesses arrived. The total number of businesses has been on a steady rise. The number of full service restaurants has actually fallen. The most notable is the massive increase in limited service business, especially from 2003 to 2004. This is most likely due to the rise of coffee shops, for young urban dwellers arriving in the area, replacing older businesses.
Cheston, Thor. “Our Story.” Right Proper Brewing Company, 2013.
Background – This webpage belongs to the Right Proper Brewing Company. The page explains the history of the company and some of the features along with it. It goes into detail about the history of the building which has proven useful when comparing it to the historical building. It provides all of the information needed to get a full understanding of it’s changes.
Areavibes. “Shaw, Washington, DC Cost of Living.” Cost Of Living In Shaw, Washington, DC, Areavibes, 2015.
Exhibit – This website gives information on the cost of living and housing in Shaw. It provided basic statistics used in the paper to contrast how the area used to be. Along with this information, it lists interesting comparisons of basic amenities from milk and shampoo to transport and healthcare between DC and the rest of the United States.
“Addiction Battled Ambition For Reporter Caught In D.C.’s Crack Epidemic.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Argument – This source was a brief interview given by Castaneda about his time on S Street. It gives a description of the neighborhood and provides details on its atmosphere. It also talks about how Baldie respected the neighboring church and how he would take care of it like a home. It mentions how Baldie died in prison which could be an entry point for the discovery of a death certificate which may provide more information on how Baldie lived. One may be able to follow a path from his death to his life on S Street.
Classified ad 3 — no title. (1994, Jul 12). The Washington Post (1974-Current File),
Background – This record provided data on the seizure of Baldie’s home. It lists Garnell Campbell as one of the individuals whose property had been confiscated by the city due to his arrest. It lists the price of his residence at $304,000. This can be seen as an exhibit of facts for an argument about changes in housing prices.
@Homesnap. “618 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20001.” Homesnap. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Exhibit – This website provided information on the current value of Baldie’s house. The house, located at 618 S Street, is worth close to a million dollars now, which is crazy to think about if you go back just a few years. It isn’t just because the house was cleaned up, but because of the gentrification in the neighborhood which led to the rise of the area as the new, hip part of DC.
Schwartzman, Paul. “Amid Glittering Renewal, Violence Evokes a Neighborhood’s Bloody past.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Argument – This source is interesting as it was written by the same author nine years after the following article. They both share a similar concept, but in this article he describes the, “thicket of new gleaming towers, health clubs and hipster-happy cafes and restaurants” (Schwartzman 2015). This article is written after the full gentrification and transformation of the neighborhood has been completed. This is a fascinating glimpse into how any area can change so fast.
Schwartzman, Paul. “A Bittersweet Renaissance.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Feb. 2006. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Background/Exhibit – This article from the Washington Post provides an argument against the gentrification of the Shaw neighborhood and more specifically S Street. Since the days when Baldie lived on S Street, the area has changed a lot. Schwartzman documents the beginnings of this change in 2006 and discusses how the culture of the neighborhood was beginning to vanish.
“United States of America v. Garnell A. Campbell, Also Known As Baldie, Appellant, 72 F.3d 920 (D.C. Cir. 1995).” Justia Law. Justia, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Background – This citation provides background information on Baldie’s case. The source gives a brief description of the trial including the presiding judges and the evidence that was displayed on trial. Included in the evidence is a videotape from 1620 S Street NW, the house in which Baldie was arrested. This address allows one to start to trace a map of the activities on S Street, including not only Baldie’s home, but his “workplace” as well. The date of the trial and case identification could also prove useful, if in the future one needs to look up further information on either Baldie’s trial or use the information to provide a better description of the local, urban environment. The title of the case also allows one to further research the court hearing from there and potentially gather more information on some of the locations mentioned on S Street. This information can provide a deeper glimpse into the life of Baldie during his reign as kingpin of S Street.
Abrams, Amanda. “U Street Corridor: The Difference a Decade Makes.”UrbanTurf. N.p., 11 Sept. 2011. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
Argument – This article discusses the storied history of the U Street neighborhood. It provides a different viewpoint than many of the other sites, arguing that the revitalization project has been good for the neighborhood. It talks about the steady arrival of new business that lifted the area out of crime and poverty in the late 1990s.
Franke-Ruta, Garance. “The Politics of the Urban Comeback: Gentrification and Culture in D.C.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
Argument – This was an interesting article by The Atlantic about gentrification in Washington, DC. The article focuses mainly on Uptown DC. It discusses the history of the Shaw neighborhood and the revitalization efforts made by the city. The article provides census data to show gentrification over the years. It provides an interesting point of view from both sides, debating the benefits and problems caused by gentrification. This perspective argues that the blame of the gentrified communities should be placed not only on real estate developers and hipster businesses but middle class African Americans who fled the area following riots and the influx of drugs.
Lewis, Aidan. “Washington DC from Murder Capital to Boomtown.” BBC News, BBC, 6 Aug. 2014.
Method – This article by the BBC exhibits an outsider perspective to actions in the United States. It links to videos with eyewitness accounts of the riots, crime, and reconstruction that took place in parts of Shaw and the other minority neighborhoods of DC. Unfortunately, I was unable to embed the videos into the site, but following the link provided offers a fascinating view of the city during its time as the drug capital. These firsthand experiences all take a different view on the causes and actions that led to the evolution of the city.