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Let the accelerating collapse of the Shaw Historic Slum (“Rise and Fall,” 8/26) be a lesson to Brookland residents contemplating historic preservation status. I testified on behalf of Alejandro Soriano’s efforts to build a home for his family across the street from me on 9th and Q and agonized with him over the ceaseless, arbitrary, and contradictory demands of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). All around us stand the dozen hulks of the Shiloh Baptist Church’s half-century of neglected, vacant town houses, while the city demanded that Soriano spend over a year jumping through burning bureaucratic hoops and be forced to preserve the façade of a structurally compromised storefront (once occupied by generations of Jewish tailors and a charismatic church). Only superhuman efforts could have saved that crumbling pile of unadorned bricks. Now all we have is a mosquito-infested water-filled pit the neighbors call Lake Woodson (in honor of the crumbling Carter G. Woodson house across the street).
North of U Street and east of 7th Street, outside of the historic district, construction is booming and exciting, interesting housing is popping up in every empty lot, while Alex Padro’s Shaw Main Streets and the D.C. Planning Office dilly-dally over who may open businesses north of the convention center and what kind of street lamps may be installed with invisible money. The DCRA and the HPRB impede legitimate construction while the architecturally significant O Street Market collapses and the 9th and R site where Duke Ellington performed is summarily demolished as they bungle paperwork.
Historic-preservation status was imposed on our slum by social planners and activists. Residents were not party to the decision. Amid the decay at 9th and Q, one has to ask: What history is being preserved? The residences of our few neighborhood notables rot before our eyes. Is the city preserving the remaining empty ruins simply to serve as a permanent reminder of the vengeful arson and looting that wiped out half of the housing and most of the businesses here during D.C.’s 1968 Kristallnacht?