Urban Combat: A Bloody History and the Changing Future of S Street


“1968 Riots” [1]

The cozy brick townhouses encapsulate the street.  Freshly planted trees and small patches of grass line the narrow sidewalks.  The air smells clean, as clean as an urban environment can smell at least.  People walking up and down with smiles on their faces as they continue on with their day.  Little do many of these people know that their friendly little neighborhood was a warzone little over a decade ago.  And even fewer know about the headquarters at the center of it all as they stroll past it.

“S Street Bust” [2]

The house of the deceased Garnell A. Campbell stands nestled between the New Community Church and the row of brick buildings that run up and down S Street.  It isn’t the nicest place on the block by far, but it doesn’t appear to be a terrible place to live.  After all it is a cozy 126-year old townhouse in an up and coming area.  However, I’m sure any potential buyer of 618 S Street NW would be turned off by the activities that occurred there.  That address was the residence of the aforementioned Garnell A. Campbell, but was better known by his street name: “Baldie”.  The quaint porch out front is where Baldie sat on an almost daily basis and looked out over “his” street.  The fact that a chair still sits there gives the house an eerie feeling, as if Baldie’s presence is still there.  The area is far different from how Baldie left it when he was dragged out in handcuffs in the early nineties.  


This is the former residence of Garnell “Baldie” Campbell. It’s located next door to the New Community Church as described in S Street Rising by Ruben Castaneda. Aside from the security bars on the windows (which were most likely there when Baldie was around, either that or no one dared to mess with him) it doesn’t look like a former drug den. The tight brickwork is similar to many other houses in the neighborhood, but this and a few of the neighboring houses don’t look as nice as some of the renovated houses on the street. The porch out front is where Baldie spent his days looking out over his empire.

The sounds of gunfire have since left S Street.  Replacing them are the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and to most people this is viewed as good thing.  However, there are deeper issues rooted in the “beautification” of the area.  Much of the area close to 14th Street, specifically the Shaw neighborhood of which S Street was a part of, was once a vibrant, black community.  This block of streets was the cultural capital of the African-American community; some claiming it could give even Harlem a run for its money.  That was until the DC riots of 1968 in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.  Washington was on the fire and the black community suffered the most, leading to many neighborhoods never recovering.  S Street was one of those neighborhoods, and over the years violence, crime, and drugs crawled in.  By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the street really did look like a warzone.  Following the war on drugs, much of the area was thoroughly combed through.  This affected primarily the black community in the neighborhood.



This archive is information on the value of Baldie’s house from homesnap.com. It’s shocking to see the estimated value of the home to be $856,300 on S Street of all places. The value of the townhouse shows one how drastically the neighborhood has changed. This transformation can be seen in even greater detail when looking at the last sale price of $380,000 in 2006. The area has been renovated to incredible levels, and this rise of prices easily explains the gentrification of the area over the past few years.


This is a clipping from the classifieds section of the July 12, 1994 Washington Post. Here one can see the name Garnell Campbell, also known as Baldie. The date of its appearance coincides with the general timeframe in which he was arrested. Due to his arrest the city would have seized his house which is evident here. It’s also interesting to note the price it was being sold at ($394,000). Much like the previous record, there is a large jump in value in the late 2000s, the value only increasing by $76,000 between 1994 and 2006. This can put the rate of gentrification into perspective.

It’s amazing to see the contrast of the impoverished, predominately black area and the upscale, far whiter neighborhood of today.  Safety has increased, which was proven in what I saw when I visited.  As I stood outside the home of Baldie a day care group in strollers went down the street.  I was amazed to think this was the same street that twenty years ago had been one of the most dangerous places in America.  To further add to that irony was that the children were passing by the house of one of the most infamous drug lords of the city.  Just up the street from Baldie’s house lies the Shaw-Howard metro stop.  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.  By 2011, it was a construction zone and by 2014, a massive, glass building had taken its place.  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.  


This is an example of how S Street has changed in the past few years. Two decades ago, walking a group of day care children down this street would have been unthinkable due to the amount of violence that took place there. Not only that, but they walked right past Baldies house and probably had no idea who once lived there. It was an amazing contrast to the condition of the neighborhood during the time of S Street Rising.


This large, glass building stands next to the Shaw-Howard metro stop. A building such as this would have been unthinkable to construct on S Street in the past. The construction replaced a park in the area in the early 2010s. Inside houses the United Negro College Fund and Teach for America. It’s ironic that a building for helping black youth probably gentrified an area to be built. This is yet another stark contrast to the S Street of before.

Baldie’s house was the epicenter for drug activity on S Street, but now it doesn’t look the part.  Currently, it fits in nice and snug with the rest of the newly developed street in stark contrast to what it used to be.  The neighborhood has changed, but the history that still rests there is a reminder of a gruesome past.  The outwards appearance of a place can tell a lot about it, but sometimes it requires a little digging to discover it’s true past.


Annotated Bibliography

“Addiction Battled Ambition For Reporter Caught In D.C.’s Crack Epidemic.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.

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)

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.

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.

This source is interesting as it was written by the same author nine years after the previous 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.

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.

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.


[1] http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2774284/original.jpg

[2] http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2014/07/02/raid_wide-375d2ae8524c4e63fdd1822695bb1f1f96cb4b30-s900-c85.jpg