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Adorned with timeworn stars of David and located a stone’s throw from the crush of new restaurants and bars on 11th Street NW, the hulking, abandoned old Hebrew Home for the Aged looks out of place at 1125 Spring Road NW, on the Petworth-Columbia Heights border. Closer inspection doesn’t yield many clues: The front doors are locked, but a number of lights are always on, and window air conditioning units hum and drip.
I’d been puzzled by the building since I moved to the neighborhood. Research yielded only a bit of history. Retired Jewish residents, of whom there were apparently quite a few in the area a century ago, occupied the building from 1925 to 1969. But the facility became overcrowded, and the Hebrew Home moved to bigger digs in Rockville, after the city purchased the building in December 1968. At some point thereafter, the building was used as a mental health facility for the homeless. It closed down in 2009 and was considered, but ultimately rejected in 2010, as a possible homeless shelter. It now stands abandoned, but remains under the purview of the Department of Mental Health Services.
I inquired into the current status of the building, and here’s the response from Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser‘s office:
The building is indeed vacant now. The District owns the building and although it has always had great potential given its character and location, the capital markets were such in recent years that private development wasn’t a great option. It seems like a good time now for the District to focus its energies on developing an RFP that will serve the community and use the building to its highest use. In fact, CM Bowser has asked frequently about the Department of General Service’s plans for the site and it appears that recently developers have expressed some interest. As far as I know there are no specific plans for the building—either how it will be used or what form of property interest will be conveyed—but we are encouraged that occupancy is on the horizon.
So why are the lights and AC always on? That remained a mystery, behind locked doors—-until one day, without explanation, one of the doors was slightly ajar.
And so I walked in. The building seemed frozen in time: The sign-in sheets at what was once the reception desk were from 2009, as were the calendars. Patients’ records from last decade were strewn about. A dead bird lay decaying in a corner. But there were also signs of more recent life: a newspaper from this summer, and of course the lights and AC (some of which I, as a conscientious environmentalist, turned off).
Click on the photo below to join me on a tour of the abandoned building:
Photos by Aaron Wiener