This Saturday saw two celebrations of historic buildings.
One was the Old Naval Hospital on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, gut renovated to the most exacting historic standards, financed through a pastiche of tax credits, local and federal and funds, and private donations. It took long enough, but is now all set to become a pulsing community hub.
Another was the crumbling Crummell School in Ivy City, celebrating its 100th birthday—-it was dedicated on November 23, 2011. For this one, the outlook was much less rosy. Nobody responded to the request for offers to charter schools. The income levels in the community are too low to sustain a fundraising drive. The location doesn’t present a business case for swanky events like those that will sustain the new Hill Center. A brand new recreation center just opened in neighboring Trinidad; in the eyes of the city, Ivy City’s been served. And so far, the political will and organizational capacity hasn’t existed to pull together the various funding streams that may be available for renovating the landmarked building.
Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong desire for something to happen there. At Saturday’s anniversary celebration at Trinity Baptist Church, Ivy City residents who’d attended Crummell Elementary before it closed in the 1970s gathered to watch a rough cut of a documentary put together by community organizers from Empower D.C., which has been collecting oral histories of the neighborhood for half a decade now. Person after person asked for the school to be returned to the community in one form or another—-including Romaine Thomas, mother of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas.
Even the councilmember’s power is limited in this situation. Speaking to the gathering, Thomas said the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development was considering using the old school for storage. And as far as I know, using it as a bus parking lot is still on the table as well. All Thomas could offer is words of encouragement.
“There are a lot of forces to make Crummell something else. And I tell them, over my dead body,” he said. And then, something strange: “It’s not about money. It’s about investing in this community, and making sure the sweat equity is recognized.”
Well, it is about money, ultimately. Empower D.C.’s Parisa Narouzi says she knows of a couple workforce development organizations that may be interested in partnering to make the building usable again, so that could be a start. There’s an energetic new civic association that could start powering change. Developers like Douglas Jemal are increasingly bullish on New York Avenue NE, which means they could take an interest in such community facilities. And over the last couple years, a number of non-profits have been building new housing that could inject some new energy into the neighborhood.
But barring some windfall donation, it’s going to take even more muscle than what the Hill Center had—-and time.