Glass Fortresses: The Wavering Face of Shaw


“Shaw Metro Stop”” [1]

No more are the brick rowhouses and the green parks.  S Street and the Shaw neighborhood have transformed greatly since the redevelopment began.  Walking around the area presents the pedestrian with glass building followed by glass building.  While the exteriors are vastly different from the older buildings, it’s the interiors that are truly unique.  When one thinks of the interior of an S Street building, it’s probably something along the lines of old shag carpet with a musty smell and worn furniture.  This is no longer the case for many, as they have been reconstructed from the ground up for a modern, more trendy audience.  Baldie’s house stands as a reminder of the past architecture, much like it stands as a reminder of the former murder capital of the nation.

This block is home to many of Shaw’s newest businesses and residences. Baldie’s house is circled in red, just to the left of the New Community Church.

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.  Sitting directly across from Baldie’s house and the New Community Church, it is an intriguing contrast to the history of the area.  Walking along the streets allows one to easily see the modern and lavish accommodations.  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.  Just up the road is a gym called Solidcore Shaw.  At first sight, this business is probably the greatest variation from the former Shaw.  It’s sizable windows allow one to see the blue neon lights and the hottest new forms of workout equipment.  Moving on, one will come across an establishment by the name of Eat the Rich.  This is 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.  None of these enterprises would have been around during the earlier years of Shaw.

This is the interior of the Teach for America building consisting of abstract furniture and modern amenities. The walls are a mix of misshapen glass and chic wood paneling. The doors appear to be double locked and this building houses a small muffin shop along with it’s main purpose. The outward appearance adds to the contrast this interior has with the other parts of S Street.

“Right Proper Brewing Company” [2]

The one business I was able to spend an extended amount of time in was the Right Proper Brewing Company located on the corner of T & Wiltberger, situated directly beside the Howard Theater.  The interior 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.  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.  

This image is of the “Cheese” menu at the Brewing Company. It offers a variety of high quality cheeses, none of which could be afforded by Shaw’s previous residents. On the reverse side is the menu which includes craft beers and items such as, “Autumn Time for Hipsters.” The restaurant isn’t priced high for DC, but it would be considered a luxury by many of the poorer earlier tenants.

This is the mural located on the wall of the Right Proper Brewing Company. It depicts an abstract commemoration of the African-American jazz culture. The mural is painted on to the only remaining wall of Frank Holiday’s Pool Room which came to inspire musical icon Duke Ellington. It is the only area of the restaurant devoted to this culture, the rest being reserved for bizarre landscape paintings.

“Duke Ellington” [3]

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.  The home of the former drug dealer has most definitely changed from the days when Baldie was alive.

This is the lobby of an apartment complex located near the Teach for America building. The door has an electronic lock and a hall that leads to an ornate interior. The furniture can be described as abstract with a wide palette of colors. It is akin to a luxury hotel, which would’ve been unimaginable in the earlier days of the neighborhood.

This is the atmosphere of the restaurant. It is built with exposed brick columns and ventilation. The water is served in purposely eroded bottles for an aesthetic feel. The tables are lit with these small candles. The tables and chairs are reminiscent of an old time pub with hard, metal legs and carefully carved wood.

Shaw has changed.  The once vibrant neighborhood was ravaged by the 1968 riots which left the community susceptible to takeover.  As the world changed around them, the residents were pushed out by massive increases in rent price and the high cost of living.  In fact the cost of housing in Shaw is 161% higher than the national average with the cost of living being 51% higher.  The massive changes the area has seen over the past two decades is shocking.   With the people gone, the legacy of a proud community has been relinquished to the walls of the buildings where they once stood.


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,

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,

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,

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,

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.