The Southwest Neighborhood Assembly has undertaken an effort to engage in the research, study, outreach, and preparation of a potential nomination for a historic district in the area we are referring to as “Old Southwest”. This is a portion of the neighborhood roughly bounded by South Capitol, M, 2nd, and Q streets, containing a comprehensive stock of historic workers housing and related structures which primarily predate the Urban Renewal period.

This effort was brought to SWNA by concerned residents of the area under consideration, requesting that we undertake the initial work towards a historic district nomination. The research and preparation of a potential nomination are being done under the SWNA History Task Force who has hired a consultant from the firm JMT, paid for through a grant provided by the DC Preservation League.

The Old Southwest neighborhood embodies the developmental patterns of the Southwest quadrant of Washington and the city as a whole. The area contains the only intact examples of working-class dwellings that characterized Southwest Washington before the urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s. The Old Southwest provides an insight into the evolution of Southwest Washington, including the rapid development of alley housing, the post-Civil War growth of the African American population, and the effects of increasing municipal and congressional regulation regarding the implementation of building codes and restrictions on alley housing after 1892. Additionally, the commercial, retail, warehouse, and workshop buildings within the area represent Southwest’s economic and social evolution. They reflect the prominence of transportation-related businesses and small neighborhood-level workshops, which were essential to the economic life of the community.

Below are documents relating to the research that has already been done, as well as information regarding historic districts and their impact and role in the District. Additionally there is a brief Q&A section to address topics that have been brought up by community members, and answered with assistance from our partners in this effort.

Please fill out this form to help us better assess community interest: Old Southwest Survey

For more information, comments, or questions contact the History Task Force at

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does this relate to the existing application of the South Capital/N street rowhouses?
    • This is a separate project from the South Capitol/ N street rowhouses. That application is a landmark application to designate the two rows of dwellings and has been submitted to the Historic Preservation Office by the D.C. Preservation League.
    • What is the status of that application?
      • The application is pending a hearing before the Historic Preservation Review Board
  • What specifically are the benefits to the homeowners for such a designation?
  • What are likely impacts to property value?
    • No recent study has been done in D.C. regarding property values.  However, nationwide studies that include D.C. and can be found on the web, have determined that on the whole, those properties within historic districts either maintain their property values, or increase in value over time.
  • What are likely impacts to ability to sell?
    • Property owners looking to sell to developers who want to significantly enlarge and alter buildings from single-family dwellings to multi-family units may find a more limited market. Developers/builders will still buy properties in historic districts, but their ability to demolish or enlarge would be curtailed by historic preservation regulations.
  • How are historic districts impacted by recent changes to DC residential zoning (re: pop-ups and the like)?
    • Recent zoning changes definitely have reduced the level of impact that rooftop and rear additions can have on a neighborhood.  However, those regulations are still not as strong as historic district designation.  With the new zoning, for instance, a rooftop addition can be added up to 35 feet, so long as it does not compromise roof features and is set back from the façade.  Under Historic District designation, rooftop additions are only permissible if they can’t be seen from the street.  If they can be seen from the street, they are not allowed.
  • What other methods of historic documentation have been explored or considered in lieu of historic district? Hasn’t this work been done before?
    • While there have been a number of studies and reports conducted on the neighborhood, no formal historic district application for Old Southwest has been prepared or submitted to the DC HPO. Unfortunately, DC offers no alternative historic district designation mechanism. Individual landmarks could be proposed, and some may warrant it, but others only contribute to a historic district and do not stand alone as landmarks. The neighborhood has been researched and documented before, many of these resources can be found on the History Task Force page.

History of Old SW

Historic Preservation in Washington DC

DC HPO Preservation FAQs

HP Review Process for Property Owners