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For close to a decade, City Paper has dedicated one issue a year to the situations that really puzzle our readers, be they strange structures, stories from the past, or odd governmental policies. The Answers Issue is your chance to, in some small way, direct what we cover. And while this year, a few too many questions focused on quibbles readers had with City Paper’s way of doing things—no, we’re still not making a dedicated Answers Issue email account—your queries did get us out of our routines to consider the street art, sidewalks, and enormous estates we may have missed in the past.
As always, this issue is a learning experience, both for the staff who put it together, and, we hope, for those reading it. So pour yourself a drink (in a squeeze bottle, perhaps?), crank up some music (we recommend Rare Essence’s cover of “Pieces of Me”), and settle in to discover something new about the District. —Caroline Jones
There is an epic driveway on Park Road NW when you are heading from Mount Pleasant to Tilden St. NW. It’s the only residential driveway on that stretch. The house belongs to someone up in Crestwood, I believe. Who the heck lives there? And how the heck did they get approval to create that epic driveway? Separate bonus question—what’s up with the tennis courts across from that driveway?
The property you are referring to belongs to former West Virginia Senator John Davison “Jay” Rockefeller IV. Yes, he hails from those Rockefellers—his great-grandfather founded Standard Oil.
The mansion isn’t merely a house, but a 16-acre estate with two mailing addresses known locally as “The Rocks.” The estate is worth an estimated $18 million.
New York Times reporter Michael Powell was able to visit the property while attending a fundraiser Rockefeller hosted for Barack Obama in July 2008. Here’s what it looks like from the inside: “There are oaks and Chestnut trees and vines and the occasional wayward deer, and then you spot the three-story house, with four Ionic columns and a slate roof and 17 windows across the front, and it rapidly becomes apparent that these Rockefellers suffer no critical shortage of guest bedrooms.”
After being elected to the Senate in 1984, Rockefeller purchased the property for $6.5 million. He eventually remodeled the property, adding a tennis court and detached pool house.
The house was built in 1926 for a Mrs. M.B. Gaillard, according to a permit application with the Office of Planning. Unfortunately, no one could explain how anyone was able to build a driveway of that magnitude that cuts through a national park. (Rock Creek Park has been federally managed since 1890.) City Paper reached out to Rockefeller himself to see if he has any insight and will report back if he replies. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
What ever happened to BORF?
For those who don’t remember, BORF was the briefly anonymous teenage graffiti artist who splattered his work across D.C. in 2004 and ’05. The tagging spree landed the Northern Virginia native, whose real name is John Tsombikos, a brief stint in the D.C. Jail, along with a $12,000 fine and hundreds of hours of community service. His graffiti was inspired by a friend’s suicide.
Following his days coating District property in paint, Tsombikos has displayed his work in galleries around the world, including Lazarides Rathbone in London.
He has since moved to New York City, according to a 2015 Washington Post profile, where he has continued producing art. In 2018 Tsombikos’ collaborated with the still-anonymous graffiti artist Banksy on a mural honoring Turkish artist and journalist Zehra Dogan, who was imprisoned for her painting of Nusaybin, a town destroyed by fighting between Kurdish militants and the Turkish military. And in 2019, his work was featured in the art exhibition BEYOND THE STREETS in Brooklyn.
As for his exact whereabouts these days? Tsombikos has proven to be a fairly elusive subject. In response to an email, the artist sent over some images of his work and writes: “I will be showing some large-scale drawings in New York before the end of the year.” —Mitch Ryals
The Washington Post article on John Wall from several years back said he lived in a condo in Chinatown but had never heard of Dupont Circle. Is that still the case?
The Post published the article in question, entitled, “For Wizards rookie John Wall, growth not limited to the basketball court,” on Jan. 28, 2011. Michael Lee, now of the Athletic, wrote about how the then 20-year-old Wall had plenty to learn about things ranging from his diet to playing in the NBA to the geography of his new city.
At one point, Lee asked Wall if he had visited Dupont Circle. “What’s that?” Wall responded.
A lot has changed since then. Wall, 29, is now a father and an NBA veteran. He switched over to a keto diet while recovering from his ruptured Achilles tendon. He doesn’t live in a luxury condo in Chinatown anymore, having bought a 17,350 square foot, $4.9 million mansion in Potomac in 2013. (In 2017, Wall agreed to sign a four-year, $170 million contract extension with the Wizards that kicked in this season.)
And Wall is most certainly familiar with the Dupont area. He visited Rosebar Lounge, located just 0.3 miles from the center of Dupont Circle, so frequently that it led to the feud with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who criticized Wall for his off-court habits.
“I do go to Rosebar on Saturdays,” Wall said in an Instagram Live video in 2018. “What, not supposed to party once in a blue while? The fuck? Where you be at, Opera? Living Room?” —Kelyn Soong
What is the story behind Dan’s Cafe? Their style of serving is so unique, it must be due to some legal workaround. What’s the deal?
You’re referring to the unique way Dan’s Cafe presents some of its drinks. Owner Clinnie Dickens has been serving liquor and a mixer inside condiment-style squirt bottles for decades.
Back in 2015, Dickens sat before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for a hearing on an unrelated issue. The board used the opportunity to inquire about the squirt bottles since inspectors observed patrons drinking from them on visits to the beloved but quirky Adams Morgan bar. Dickens explained that he pours 4.6 ounces of liquor into the squirt bottles; this method, he said, allows him to serve customers chilled drinks more quickly.
“I was in one of these discount places that have some wine glasses, I happened to see these squirt bottles with caps on them,” he told the board, noting that this was in the 1980s. “I bought a bunch of them … And it has caught on to everybody. I’ve never had a complaint in almost 30 years. Everybody comes in. This is what they want.”
Dickens told the board he believes his patrons consume less alcohol from his squirt bottles than they would if they ordered a Long Island Iced Tea or a Singapore Sling. “Some of those are in pint jars, and they have about five or six different kinds of alcohol,” he said.
The hearing ended without the board asking Dickens to change his signature squirt bottle style. The Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration confirms to City Paper that they do not regulate what types of containers bars and restaurants use to serve alcoholic beverages to their customers. —Laura Hayes
DCRA issues permits to work from home. Are people who telework without a DCRA permit operating illegally?
The short answer: nope! The region’s many telecommuters—35 percent of the region’s commuters telework occasionally, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s 2019 “State of the Commute” report—are all breathing a heavy sigh of relief, we’re sure.
While the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs does issue “home occupation permits,” they’re intended for “a business, profession, or other economic activity” that’s run part- or full-time out of the business person’s home. The DCRA website lists examples like computer programming, cosmetology, tutoring (of no more than five students at once), and office use. The business can’t take up more than a quarter of the home (or more than 250 square feet), and you can only employ one person who doesn’t actually live there. If there’s heavy foot traffic in your home office (more than eight visits by customers or delivery people a day or over eight clients present in an hour), your business is ineligible. You also need one single exterior sign, no bigger than 144 square inches. But if you’re just working for your regular employer while inside your home, that’s outside DCRA’s jurisdiction. Carry on, reader. The District government does not care if you Slack your boss from bed. —Emma Sarappo
When young Peter Newsham was found passed out drunk with his service weapon and suspended afterwards, what really happened?
This question asker slightly misstates what exists in the public record.
Details about an investigation into then-Officer Peter Newsham’s armed public intoxication surfaced during his confirmation process for chief of police in 2017. At first, when asked in a questionnaire whether he’d ever been investigated or disciplined, Newsham answered “No.”
He revised his answer about a week later and listed three incidents, including one in July 1993 when “as an Officer, I was investigated for possession of an unauthorized weapon while off-duty and under the influence of alcohol,” Newsham wrote. “No discipline was assessed.”
(The other two incidents involve a fender bender in a department vehicle that he says wasn’t his fault, and an investigation for using an expletive in a government meeting. He wasn’t disciplined for those incidents either.)
Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen asked Newsham about all three admissions during his confirmation hearing in March 2017.
“Yeah, it did happen,” Newsham said of the July 1993 incident. “It happened when I was in my 20s. I went out, probably had too much to drink. Somebody saw my firearm was exposed, and a supervisor was called and intervened.”
Newsham said he “was in jeopardy of being disciplined, but it didn’t occur because of the 45-day rule,” which requires the Metropolitan Police Department to discipline its officers within 45 days of an incident. (The discipline period is now 90 days.)
Asked for clarification on the incident, an MPD spokesperson says via email that “Chief Newsham has never been suspended in his over 30 years of police service to the District.” —Mitch Ryals
Why do a handful of City Paper newspaper boxes have stickers from Whisked! cookies on them? (One, for example, on Adams Mill by the former Southern Hospitality?) Is this some kind of KGB dead drop signal? I’ve seen a handful of newspaper boxes with these cookie bag stickers stuck on top, but usually they are City Paper boxes.
Nothing sinister or sexy is happening here. Whisked! founder Jenna Huntsberger tells City Paper she’s seen the stickers on various City Paper boxes and has been curious like you, dear reader, as to who put them there. “It’s not anyone who works for us—I asked our staff, and they haven’t been putting them out. We also don’t encourage customers to randomly sticker City Paper boxes or other public property,” she says. “In fact, I don’t even know how these people got the stickers. They’re pretty tough to pry off our individual cookie bags intact, and because we package all our stuff in-house, we don’t hand out stickers to customers or clients.” Washington City Paper holds no hard feelings toward the sticker poster(s). Some of our boxes are admittedly a little boring. —Laura Hayes
Is Mayor Bowser doing a good job?
Mayor Muriel Bowser definitely looks like a good mayor. She’s constantly in the community cutting ribbons (and steaks), making speeches, breaking ground, smiling, and shaking hands.
She is assertive, confident, and eloquent (except during a recent chat with the New Yorker). She has so far avoided the major scandals that dogged some of D.C.’s past mayors, though her opinion on mumbo sauce and tacit support for disgraced former Councilmember Jack Evans are marks against her.
Bowser devotes a lot of the city’s money to affordable housing, one of her top priorities, even if advocates and the Council disagree with her on exactly how much to spend and how to spend it. While a recent Washington Post poll found that she has a 67 percent approval rating overall, on creating and maintaining affordable housing, 64 percent of polled residents give her a “not-so-good/poor” rating.
And despite D.C.’s growing prosperity, black residents are not benefiting as much as white residents. Public schools are improving by some measures, but achievement gaps still persist, especially for students of color in low-income areas. The Post poll shows that residents think Bowser is doing a pretty good job on education (59 percent say “good/excellent”), though there is some question as to whether the progress is a result of her administration’s work or the work of her predecessors.
Although violent crime is trending down overall, the number of homicides have increased every year since Bowser took office in 2015.
Herroner is doing a good job signing her name in support of the politically popular bill making go-go D.C.’s official music. But she’s less successful signing in opposition to bills. Bowser is only batting one for three on vetoes halfway through her second term. The veto losses are indicative of a disconnect between Bowser and the Council, where her allies are dwindling.
She’s also doing a good job supporting billionaire former Republican Mike Bloomberg despite his record of disparaging women and people of color. But that’s only if the “good” job you’re looking for is a regurgitation of his misleading talking points on his racist stop and frisk policing policy—a disqualifier for many voters.
So is the mayor doing a good job? For middle class and wealthy residents, absolutely. For low-income, minority residents? Not so much. —Mitch Ryals
Why did the D.C. reading scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress improve for only one group (largely Hispanic) and only at DCPS?
By way of background, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated program administered by the U.S. Department of Education, tests fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading every other year. The project got its start in 1969 and intends to offer a national snapshot of what students do and do not know over time. These highly anticipated results are published in what’s called “The Nation’s Report Card.”
The District got praise for its 2019 results. While the nation’s test results were lackluster—overall, reading scores dropped for students and disparities between high- and low-achieving students widened—D.C. made significant gains. D.C., along with Mississippi, was the outlier.
To return to the question, results come from both traditional and charter public schools. NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment, which samples students in select urban districts from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to D.C., only tests traditional schools. D.C. was the only jurisdiction to see eighth-grader reading scores jump by three points, from 247 to 250 points, although D.C. is still below the national average of 262. It’s true Hispanic students saw significant gains, with an eight-point increase to 250 points. Meanwhile, black eighth-grade students increased by one point to 241 and white students decreased by one point to 299.
So why did Hispanic eighth graders see the highest gains overall?
“The data tells us the ‘what’ not the ‘why,’” says DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s education expert, Qubilah Huddleston. But after researching this, Huddleston noticed the Deputy Mayor for Education also reported that English-language learners have been excelling, noticeably in their scores on PARCC, the standardized test D.C. administers to test students’ proficiency in math and literacy. (While Hispanics don’t account for every English-language learner, they make up a significant portion of the group.) Targeted investments in English-language learners may be materializing in testing. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Why are some sidewalks concrete, others brick, others stone, others asphalt?
The difference in material depends on where the sidewalks are in the city. For example, historic districts like Georgetown get brick sidewalks while the sidewalks along 14th Street NW in Columbia Heights are Mesa Bluff, a yellow-ish brick specific to that corridor, according to District Department of Transportation director Jeff Marootian.
Concrete is by far the most common material, taking up 1,172.79 miles in the city, followed by brick (126.25 miles), and asphalt (7.42 miles). 3.16 miles of D.C. sidewalks are made of a material labeled “other.” Paving materials with specifications approved by DDOT, which are listed in its Public Realm Design Manual, include red brick, Portland cement concrete, London pavers, exposed aggregate concrete, pressed concrete pavers, and Chinatown decorative pavers.
A formal process to request one type over another does not exist, according to DDOT, but alternate paving materials may be approved on a case by case basis.
“DDOT repairs and replaces sidewalks in the District with the same material that is currently used on the sidewalks,” Marootian says. “DDOT determines which material is used, in accordance with the Public Realm Design Manual.”
And while DDOT gets the final say on which material is used, residents have pushed for a certain type in the past. A 1983 Washington Post article reported that Georgetown residents told city officials “they believed the brick enhanced the charm of their neighborhoods.” —Kelyn Soong
Why does Metro advertise for itself on its own ads inside stations? People there are already taking Metro!
A train system exists in D.C. It is sometimes on fire. It is sometimes very late, making you very late. We know these truths to be self-evident. But it takes a little more than lore and word of mouth to get the message out about safety features, changes to policies, and the inexplicable existence of a WMATA merch store.
“Metro in-system ad campaigns are about telling Metro riders about something Metro related in the best place to do it: on Metro!” says Ian Jannetta, a WMATA media relations manager. “It’s also one of the most cost effective ways for us to reach our customers, compared to any other type of advertising.”
Most of the ads you see on Metro are about specific programs like the commuter transit program SmartBenefits, safety messages (remember the cartoons A Lert and A Loof? They still haunt my dreams), and reminders, like the current Metro Manners campaign.
Don’t forget the tourists and other out-of-towners. Visitors may not know about unlimited passes or that it’s not cool to stand in front of the train doors, lean against handrails, or take up two seats with their baggage, emotional or otherwise. —Elizabeth Tuten
Only 5 percent of kids in D.C. who had a specific learning disability were proficient in the PARCC, but national standards say 80 to 90 percent of kids with SLD can perform at grade level. Why is there such a huge gap?
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is the District’s own standardized test of mathematics and English language arts/literacy. Students start PARCC testing when they reach third grade. The score ranges between one and five, with scores of four or above considered proficient.
D.C. saw score improvements from 2018 to 2019 for students with disabilities. The percentage of students scoring at a four or above increased from 5.7 percent in 2018 to 7.9 percent in 2019 for ELA and from 6.4 percent to 7.2 percent in math.
“I don’t think D.C. is unique in its PARCC outcomes for students with disabilities,” says Qubilah Huddleston of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “I think a lot of states see these large gaps.”
Students with disabilities in Maryland, for example, scored comparable, with pass rates in the single digits albeit slightly higher.
“I think the reality is that PARCC, for one, is just a really difficult exam for a lot of students,” says Huddleston. “So when we think about students who are facing challenges, they especially need support to do well.”
A report from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education says 85 to 90 percent of all students with disabilities can be expected to achieve grade-level achievement but only when they are “provided with the best instruction, supports, and accommodations.” That isn’t necessarily happening right now. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Why are Metro floor tiles hexagons?
Metro architect Harry Weese, who died in 1998, chose hexagon quarry tiles as part of his original design for Metro. They’re the one design element that can be found at all of the original stations. “Weese’s rationale for choosing hexagons isn’t entirely clear, but it is thought that the shape conveys a sense of movement, as opposed to the straight lines and hard angles of squares or rectangles,” says WMATA media relations manager Ian Jannetta. “In addition, hexagons may have reduced the need for tile-cutting by allowing builders to address curves and non-90-degree turns.” This may be speculation, but it tracks. —Elizabeth Tuten
Why are D.C. fire hydrants painted green? Shouldn’t they be red or yellow for visibility?
At City Paper, we stand on the shoulders of giants. A reader asked this paper a similar question in 2006, and the then-director of District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, Louis Jarvis, said the District’s fire hydrants have been green for over 100 years. He conceded that green is not the most visible color, but said that it is aesthetically pleasing.
Vince Morris, a spokesman for DC Water, said pretty much the same thing when I contacted him in 2020. “For as long as anyone here can remember, they’ve been green.” Green is an aesthetically pleasing color, the logic goes, and while visibility is important, the fire department has maps of where all the hydrants are.
While we’re on the subject of fire hydrant colors, those reflective bands you see on hydrants indicate a particular hydrant’s pressure level. A blue band tells the fire department that a hydrant has “slightly higher pressure,” but rest assured: All the District’s operational hydrants have enough pressure to get the job done. —Will Warren
What are the boundaries to be considered Northern Virginia? Where does NoVa end? At Quantico? Fredericksburg? Kings Dominion?
To determine the answer to this question, I reached out to the Library of Virginia, the library agency of the Commonwealth, with a collection that, according to its website, “is the most comprehensive resource in the world for the study of Virginia history, culture, and government.”
Its communications manager, Ann Henderson, shared the question with colleagues and came back with this:
“There is a Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which lists its members,” she says. The member localities are listed as Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, and the incorporated towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg, and Vienna. The commission also illustrates these boundaries with a map.
Henderson continues: “Wikipedia’s entry on NoVa lists a lot more localities. Some people might go by the counties that are part of the federal government’s Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Statistical Area.” The Northern Virginia Regional Commission defines NoVa by essentially drawing the boundaries using the Loudon, Fairfax, and Prince William County lines, she says, but they add a physiographic element, saying that it lies within the Potomac Watershed. Within the library, “our director of public services and outreach says he doesn’t know of any formal definition used by state government,” Henderson says.
To fully answer your question, according to the commission, Quantico, based on its location in Prince William County, is technically in Northern Virginia. Fredericksburg and Kings Dominion fall outside the limits of NoVa. —Kayla Randall
Go-go is famous for covers of non-go-go popular songs. Adele’s “Hello” is maybe the most popular, but there’s also “Royals,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Single Ladies,” “In the Air Tonight,” “Pretty Girl Rock,” etc. How do these covers come about? Do band members start with deciding on a song, then work it up? Or are they listening to the original song and all of a sudden, they can just hear it with a go-go beat?
For as long as there have been go-go bands, go-go adaptations of songs outside the genre have been a part of their live shows. Go-Go artists have chosen songs that are somewhat obscure—say, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searcher’s go-go remake of the 1957 calypso hit “Run Joe”—but also melodies that seem ubiquitous, like Backyard Band’s take on Adele’s “Hello,” surely the most acclaimed go-go cover in recent history, and one of the genre’s biggest crossover hits.
Folks can argue about this ’til the cows come home, but in many cases, the go-go cover sounds even better than the original song. Rare Essence improbably improved The Bar-Kays’ funk masterpiece “Holy Ghost,” and Backyard’s “Hello” dumped the original’s mawkish moping, opting instead for a soulful crank sound.
I asked go-go artist Michelle Blackwell how she goes about choosing what material she may cover. “There are a few ways I pick songs to cover,” she says. “Many times it comes from fans who inbox me or see me at a show and ask me to hit a song they like. Sometimes I may hear a song on the radio that sounds like an ideal song to remix based on a party theme or its ability to fuse well with go-go rhythms.”
“More often than not, though, I like to look for songs that aren’t on the Hot 100 or b-side songs off the beaten path so that I’m not covering the same songs as other bands,” she adds. “It’s tricky though, because sometimes a band will play a song I cover only after hearing us doing it. Then I’m forced to move on to something else.” —Alona Wartofsky