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.
Concerned residents of the area under consideration requested that SWNA look into ways to do the research and investigation of a potential historic district. The SWNA History Task Force hired a consultant from the firm JMT who specializes in Historic Preservation to undertake the research and preparation of this nomination, paid for with a $10,000 grant from the DC Preservation League which SWNA applied for and received in 2017.
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.
After you have a chance to review the information below,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Initial Draft Boundary & Statement of Significance
Full Text: Draft Historic District Nomination
Verbal Boundary Description:
The boundaries of the Old Southwest Historic District are shown on the accompanying map. Contributing and non- contributing properties are identified, based on their level of integrity and whether they were constructed within the period of significance, spanning 1892-1958. Starting at the intersection of M Street SW and 1st Street SW, the boundary generally extends southward along the east side of 1st Street SW, Canal Street SW, and 2nd Street SW. At Q Street the boundary extends eastward to encompass properties on both sides of the street until it reaches Half Street SW, where it turns northward to include properties along the west side of Half Street SW. At the intersection of Half Street SW and O Street SW, the boundary turns eastward and stretches to the intersection of O Street SW and South Capitol Street, where it turns northward to encompass the properties along the west side of South Capitol Street between O Street SW and M Street SW. At M Street SW, the boundary turns westward and includes the properties along the south side of M Street SW until it reaches the point of origin.
Map: Draft District Boundary (pdf)
Summary Statement of Significance:
The Old Southwest Historic District 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 neighborhood provides 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.
The Old Southwest Historic District is significant under National Register Criterion A in community planning and development, and under Criterion C for architecture. The Period of Significance spans the years 1892 to 1958. The beginning date of 1892 is the construction date of the 19th Century Rowhouses on South Capitol Street. These rowhouses are the oldest remaining examples of working-class housing in Old Southwest. The end date of 1958 correlates to the construction of Syphax Gardens Public Housing, which was the last housing project constructed in the Old Southwest neighborhood. At the same time, the rest of the Southwest quadrant was in the middle of large-scale urban renewal programs which lasted through the 1960s, creating a modernist neighborhood dominated by middle-class housing and an urban waterfront focused on recreation subsequently changing the face of the quadrant.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How does this relate to the existing application of the South Capital/N street rowhouses?
- This is a distinct nomination from the South Capitol/ N street rowhouses. That application is a landmark nomination to designate the two rows of dwellings, prepared with the aid of local volunteer historians and submitted to the DC Historic Preservation Office by SWNA.
- What is the status of that application?
- The application is pending a hearing before the Historic Preservation Review Board, date to be determined.
- What specifically are the benefits to the homeowners for such a designation?
- See HPO materials below and on the DC Historic Preservation Office website
- “Historic preservation maintains neighborhood character by encouraging controlled growth and helps foster a sense of pride and togetherness among residents. It also makes good economic sense. Rehabilitation of historic buildings is often less expensive than new construction and reinvests more money into the community by utilizing local labor. The protection of community landmarks and historic neighborhoods also preserves tangible representations of local history for future generations.” – DC HPO
- If the City Council adds the Old Southwest Historic District in the list of eligible historic districts, homeowners would be eligible for the city’s Homeowner Grant Fund in the future. The request to extend the law to include the new district would come from the ANC and your Council member. “The amendment to include it may take a year or more.” – DC HPO
- The district designation will provide long term stability for the community and retain a unique housing stock that has for decades served a diverse community of Washingtonians, including those residing in publicly owned housing that contributes to the story and character of the neighborhood.
- 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. have determined that generally speaking properties located within historic districts tend to maintain or increase in value over time.
- Here are a couple of summaries found online of studies on the impact of historic designation on property values:
- While property values are affected by a wide range of factors, many of which are subjective, there are few examples in which historic designation has not been accompanied by property value increases. In part because designation tends to encourage maintenance of properties and stability in land use, and can add value and sale-ability through sense of desirability for the style and historic significance.
- What are likely impacts to ability to sell?
- Property owners looking to sell to developers who want to significantly enlarge or 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 could be curtailed by historic preservation regulations.
- Sales between private owners should notifying buyers that they are purchasing a property in a historic district. Some buyers may prefer the notion of owning a historic property or the stability of knowing less large scale change is likely to occur to a historically designated neighborhood, others may be concerned by perceived additional constraints.
- 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/third-story 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 cannot be seen from the street. If they can be seen from the street, they are typically 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 at this time. Individual landmarks could be proposed, and some may warrant it, but other sites may only contribute to a historic district and not stand alone as landmarks. The neighborhood has been researched and documented before to varying degrees, many of these resources can be found on the SWNA History Task Force page.
- Define the process of this effort?
- The current effort was to utilize the grant funds for historical research and to draft a nomination, should a nomination be justified by the research.
- SWNA has held two community meetings with residents of the impacted area, and a third is planned – currently this meeting is planned for October 11th, 7pm at Arena Stage. These meetings have run concurrent with milestones during the consultants’ research to discuss the findings they discovered. This web page has also been created to present information as it becomes available.
- The next steps will be for the SWNA Board to review all of the comments and feedback submitted throughout this process, and determine if submission of the nomination seems in the best interest of the residents of this area and the larger SW neighborhood.
- Should the board decide to submit the nomination, the nomination would then follow the DC HPO/HPRB process defined on their website: https://planning.dc.gov/node/883602
Examples of existing district guidelines: https://planning.dc.gov/page/historic-district-guidelines
Information on original construction dates for buildings can be found on HistoryQuest DC
Supplemental Q&A Handout