West Georgetown Was Once “Obsolete”

Photo courtesy of GGW.

Greater Greater Washington published a great article the other day that delved into the sad story of mid-century urban renewal. It focused on the conclusion that the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPPC) reached when it labeled huge swaths of central DC to be “obsolete” neighborhoods. And more interesting for GM, a large chunk of west Georgetown fell into that category.

The Commission identified neighborhoods as obsolete when over 50% of the dwellings needed major repairs and/or had no internal plumbing. And in its judgment, as of 1940 all the blocks west of 36th St. in Georgetown fell into that category (i.e. from P all the way down to Prospect between 36th and 37th).

This is a part of town whose poverty GM has discussed in the past. The scene was well captured by the photographer Carl Mydans: 

This is a shot within 3607 O St. Mydan’s notes with this picture state “Poor white hallway, Georgetown, D.C. Seldom do these people have even the desire to clear up rubbish, and the broom shown here seems to be out of place.”

Unlike more unfortunate neighborhoods like Southwest, this section of Georgetown was not leveled and rebuilt with modern apartment buildings. Why did it avoid this fate? The same year that the NCPCC was labeling neighborhoods as obsolete, Congress passed the Old Georgetown Act and set the neighborhood more or less in a permanent amber.

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4 Comments

Filed under History

4 responses to “West Georgetown Was Once “Obsolete”

  1. Dizzy

    “Once?” I have it on good authority from a certain Mr. Archer that West Georgetown has devolved into student ghetto 😉

    Also, that photo caption quote would totally fit into one of the Patch/Dish articles about GU’s trash pickup initiative, while describing students. “Seldom do these people have even the desire to clear up rubbish, and the broom shown here seems to be out of place.”

  2. “…and set the neighborhood more or less in a permanent amber.”

    And this is why Georgetown has become the internationally renowned heritage tourism destination that it is.

  3. Michael Radosevich

    Excellent.

    A nearly poetic story, an evocative photo, and two perceptive comments (one with fine homor).

    Best piece I’ve read anywhere on the web in months and months. Thank you.

  4. Michael Radosevich

    Edit. Should be “fine humor”.

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