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Anacostia gained a coffee shop last week just as Shaw lost one. Well, kind of. Cafe Putain qui pue, a painting on a vacant building at 9th and Q Streets NW that declared Shaw “Le Slum Historique,” was painted over last week.
Michael Sendar, the building’s owner, did not respond to a request for comment, but the mural’s painter has an idea why it’s gone:
“He’s doing it for his tax [return],” said Ray Milefsky, who lives next door to the building. Milefsky painted the cafe exterior in 2002 to keep away prostitutes operating out of the building. Later, he named it Cafe Putain qui pue (the Stinky Whore Cafe) to protest the lack of development in Shaw and Sendar’s inability to find a tenant.
Under new rules for vacant property adopted last September, blighted buildings with graffiti and boards over entrances can be taxed at 10 percent of their value, while the normal commercial tax for the property would be 1.65 percent. With Milefsky’s “graffiti” gone and the boards painted over, Sendar could save more than $63,000 in taxes on a property assessed at $756,600 in 2010.
Milefsky suggests that that’s the sort of incentives that motivate Sendar. “The bastard’s just so damn greedy,” he said.
Milefsky’s cafe wasn’t the only work covered up last week. Volunteers working with ANC 2C commissioner Alex Padro once painted portraits of Robert Gould Shaw and Duke Ellington. Earlier, a Nubian-Islamic-Hebrew cult that lived in the building adorned its Rhode Island Street side with Egyptian gods.
Ralph Brabham, the writer of Renew Shaw, originally named his blog Le Slum Historique, after a phrase Milefsky painted on the building. Still, he’s glad to see the paintings gone.
“The building looks cleaner and (slightly less) neglected with a fresh paint job,” Brabham wrote in an e-mail to City Desk. He worries, though, that the new paint will become a target for taggers.
As for the cafe’s founder, he’s happy his work’s gone if it means Sendar will find occupants for the building.
“I can only say thank you,” Milefsky said. “It’s only taken you 15 years.”
Photograph by wageslaves, Creative Commons Attribution License