Since January, 2003
            
 (a random before-and-after moment)
January 30, 2007
September 28, 2014
5th at M, Looking Southwest (see more)

(For someone who graduated from college with a degree in history, I have done a lousy job over the years of documenting the history of Near Southeast with anything approaching the zeal of my coverage of its present and future. I can offer no good excuses, but I'm going to begin to rectify this with a new series, "Sunday Rearview Mirror." I don't pretend to have the level of knowledge or experience of the pre-ballpark era as those who passed through Near Southeast during those years, but hopefully by taking the time every so often to highlight and describe events from the past I can help make sure that the new residents and workers who only recently heard of Near Southeast have some awareness of the people and events that came before them.)
It was in the 1970s that the western edge of Near Southeast became home to a new entertainment district for the city's gay residents, with its remoteness and lack of nearby residences allowing some measure of freedom for a culture that was only just beginning to step out of the closet. The area between South Capitol and First streets--with clubs like the Lost and Found, Club Baths II, Grand Central, Waaay off Broadway and Washington Square--became home not only to nightclubs with dancing and music but also but bathhouses, x-rated movie cinemas, and strip clubs. One of the new clubs was the Cinema Follies, which opened in 1975 at 37 L St., SE, showing x-rated gay films.
On Oct. 24, 1977, an explosion on the ground floor triggered by cleaning chemicals started a fire, with flames quickly consuming carpeting and wall hangings, blocking the exit for the patrons who had been in the 50-seat second floor theater. The fire never reached the second floor, but the smoke quickly became overpowering. However, a door that led to the roof was padlocked, and the windows had been replaced with cinderblocks. According to the Washington Post's account, "most of the victims were found in the orange-and-black theater seats [...] and may have been overcome by the smoke before they realized what was happening."
Nine people died as a result of the fire, making it the deadliest fire in Washington DC up to that time, a mark that stood until a fire at an unlicensed group home on Lamont Street, NW, killed 10 in April 1979. Identification of those who died at the Follies was hampered by the fact that, as the Post reported, "Many homosexuals do not carry identification when they visit homosexual gathering places," being "wary about the possibility of jeopardizing jobs or social position by having nonhomosexuals learn of their sexual orientation" in case their presence at club might be made public "through a police raid or other event."
(An interesting sidelight to the issue of identification was a column by Post ombudsman Charles Seib soon after the fire, questioning the Post's decision to not use the full names of some of those who died and no names at all of the injured. The column quoted then-Managing Editor Howard Simon as saying that the paper's main motivation was "compassion for the wives and children" [since some of the victims were married] but Seib went on to ask whether this approach had the effect of "underscoring the stigma of homosexuality, of shoving it back in the closet at a time when efforts are being made to bring it out and address it as a social fact?" This is an issue that papers still clearly struggle with, even today.)
William Oates, the manager of the club, was eventually fined $650 in 1979 for violating four building codes, though city officials stated that Oates "did everything possible" to try to comply with the laws, but poor city record keeping and poorly written codes made it difficult. (The city did work to strengthen its codes in the wake of the fire.) However, nearly eight years after the fire, in September of 1985, families of four of the victims were awarded more than $1.5 million in a civil suit against the club's owners.
Within a year or the fire, Oates opened "The Follies" at its new location at 24 O St., SE, where it operated until it was demolished with many other gay nightclubs in May 2006 to make way for Nationals Park. Somewhat amazingly, the building where the Cinema Follies fire took place, which was not all that heavily damaged, still stands today, on L Street directly across from the under-construction 1015 Half office building. It's currently home to a cab company.
I plan to write more Rear-View Mirror entries in the future about the neighborhood's past as a nightclub district, but until then, this 2003 pamphlet by the Rainbow History Project gives a great overview of the clubs that used to be such an integral part of Washington's gay culture. Hard to believe that, when the pamphlet was written, the authors had no idea how little time the existing clubs had left.
Comments (10)
   
 
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Comments

IMGoph says: (6/6/10 5:55 PM)
now THIS is what a good neighborhood blog is all about. bravo, JD!


Spoofy says: (6/6/10 10:08 PM)
VERY interesting! Please keep up the good work and excellent writing.


DG says: (6/6/10 10:35 PM)
Thanks JD! Very interesting!


MJM says: (6/7/10 7:59 AM)
Yes, very interesting article!! Just always thought that building was taxi cab related. Looking forward to next Sunday's piece.


JD says: (6/7/10 9:22 AM)
Thanks, everyone. I'm not sure the Rear-View Mirror posts will be *every* Sunday, maybe every other week or so. Don't want to blow through all the content too quickly! :-)


Michael says: (6/8/10 5:58 PM)
On the day that the fire happened, I was there at 5:00pm, noted that there was not "much action," and left to do some bar hopping. I got home at 10:00pm that evening, in time for the news, and heard that the fire had started around 5:30pm. Since then, I have met people who were even luckier than I was. One gentleman that I talked with told me that he heard the explosion right after he left the building. The next day, at my job at the Pentagon, there were lots of "jokes" about the fire. I was so angry at the insensitivity of people!!! This was so sad!!!


JD says: (6/8/10 10:49 PM)
Thanks for posting, Michael. I was wondering whether anyone who was there or who had first-hand knowledge of it might be reading.


Kevin says: (6/9/10 3:05 PM)
Thanks JD! I worked at those clubs... (tee hee!) and that is some very important history. 1975 - who knew gays existed back THEN! LOL. ;-)


andy says: (6/14/10 6:02 PM)
When talking about the clubs in the area at the time - gotta give a big shoutout to the PIER ONE - I spent much of my formative years there


In my day says: (6/17/10 4:45 PM)
Fascicnating.. Thanks so much !!

I think it is so important to understand that Marion Barry was very much behind the developement of the Gay Scene in those days. It pains me now to hear the ongoing 'West Hollywoodisms' attributed to Fenty and the current council when Barry deserves more 'credit' than anyone. It was never about race then. I guess grandstanding then it no different than grandstanding now.

Thanks Again for this

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City Government Data for Near Southeast Records added or updated recently displayed here; click the "archive" links to see additional detail and older records. All data from DC Government databases and RSS feeds. JDLand takes no responsibility for errors, omissions, etc. (read CapStat disclaimer). Data is retrieved daily.

Recent Crime Incidents Archive  
UNIT B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 03/11/19
200 B/O L ST SE   THEFT FROM AUTO
Theft First Degree (theft From Motor Vehicle)
 03/08/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 03/07/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft First Degree (theft From Building)
 03/06/19
1100 B/O NEW JERSEY AVE SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 03/05/19
300 B/O TINGEY ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 02/28/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Shoplifting
 02/26/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (theft From Building)
 02/25/19
1100 HALF ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (theft From Building)
 02/24/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Shoplifting
 02/23/19
1100 B/O NEW JERSEY AVE SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 02/22/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (theft From Building)
 02/22/19
1300 B/O WATER ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 02/18/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 02/17/19
400 B/O 2ND ST SE   THEFT FROM AUTO
Theft (theft From Motor Vehicle)
 02/16/19
70 B/O I ST SE   ASSAULT WITH A DANGEROUS WEAPON  02/15/19
500 B/O L ST SE   ROBBERY  02/14/19

Recent Issued Building Permits Archive  
1017 3RD PL SE   
03/14/19 
JAUVON M GILLIAM / null
PP1902068 / POST CARD
1331 4TH ST SE CU   
02/22/19 
FC 1331 LLC / null
P1904018 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
03/13/19 
FC 1331 LLC / null
E1905237 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1346 4TH ST SE   
03/04/19 
FC 1346 LLC / BOB BIROONAK; N/A
SG1900084 / CONSTRUCTION
One illuminated building sign and one double face illuminated blade sign
2 EYE ST SE   
03/12/19 
null / MIKE BOONE
AH1900650 / CONSTRUCTION
PEPCO-ALLEN-CREWS NEED TO REPLACE CABLE AT #2-EYE ST SE. 11PM-5AM 3 / 14 / 19-3 / 15 / 19
2 I ST SE   
02/22/19 
MCDONALDS CORPORATION / null
P1904020 / SUPPLEMENTAL
150 I ST SE   
02/19/19 
SQUARE 737 LLC / DANIEL R. RUDE
P1903909 / SUPPLEMENTAL
(4) Fire pits (1) Water Coolers (4) Rooftop units Sanitary piping, Storm piping
   
02/21/19 
WILLIAM C SMITH CO / null
E1904635 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
03/15/19 
SQUARE 737 LLC / WILLIAM MOORE
AH1900647 / CONSTRUCTION
afterhours to take down tower crane with mobile crrane saturday 3 / 16 / 2019 and sunday 3 / 17 / 2019 from 4am tp 1159 pm
328 I ST SE   
02/22/19 
BRIAN HUSEMAN / MATTHEW MALASKA
P1904003 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
03/06/19 
BRIAN HUSEMAN / JAMES W MONTGOMERY
E1905028 / SUPPLEMENTAL
212 M ST SE   
03/04/19 
SQUARE 769 LLC / BRIAN WARNER
UT1900015 / CONSTRUCTION
Remove an unknown number of USTs as they are encountered during construction activities.
250 M ST SE   
02/21/19 
SQUARE 769 LLC / BRIAN C STROTT
B1813732 / CONSTRUCTION
9 story office building with 3 levels below grade. 188,000 gross sqft
300 M ST SE   
03/08/19 
FEDERAL CENTER LP / SAM HOLLEN
B1906302 / CONSTRUCTION
INSTALL NEW FIRST FLOOR SUITE ENTRY DOOR WITH CARD READER TO VACANT TENANT SPACE. INSTALL INTERIOR CONCRETE RAMP WITH 4 INCH ELEVATION CHANGE. PROVIDE EXIT LIGHT AND EXTERIOR LIGHT FIXTURE. 100 SQUARE FEET.
861 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
03/11/19 
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION / JOHN WYCKOFF
SB1900174 / CONSTRUCTION
An environmental assessment will be conducted at the parcel located 861 NJ Ave., SE involving installing 10 soil borings, 7 soil borings will be drilled to a depth of approimately 20 feet bgs and hree soil borings will be drilled to a depth of approximately 50 feet bgs. The soil borings will be drilled and the soil sampled using direct push technology (DPT) dual tube tooling 3.75. All cuttings ...
880 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
02/21/19 
880 NEW JERSEY AVENUE LLC / CLYDE HURST; CHRISTOPHER P COWIE
B1901729 / CONSTRUCTION
alterations to an existing 688 SF vacant space to add mechanical, plumbing and electrical fixtures to accommodate a future tenant. Future tenant fit out will be provided under a separate permit. This permit is for the landlord work only. The existing space is recently constructed building shell that has not been occupied by a previous tenant.
1299 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
03/01/19 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / MAHMOUD KHACHAN
SB1900167 / CONSTRUCTION
Temporary Geotechnical Soil Borings Number of Borings: 2 Diameter of Boreholes: 6 inches Depth of Borings: 55 ft Drilling Method: Mud Rotary Abandonment Method: Tremie Grouting with Bentonite grout
79 POTOMAC AVE SE   
03/11/19 
RIVERFRONT HOLDINGS I LLC / null
E1905174 / SUPPLEMENTAL
227 TINGEY ST SE L1   
02/28/19 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / JOHN MCDONALD
P1904187 / SUPPLEMENTAL
AH = After Hours; B = Alteration & Repair; D = Demolition; E = Electrical; FB = Boiler; M = Mechanical; P = Plumbing and Gas; PC = Post Card; R = Raze; SG = Sign; TL = Tenant Layout; TN = Tent; RW = Retaining Wall;

Real Property Sales Archive  
No commercial transaction records added or modified in the past two weeks.


Project Directory
Completed
New DC Water HQ ('19)
Yards/Bower Condos ('19)
Virginia Ave. Tunnel ('19)
99 M ('18)
Agora ('18)
1221 Van ('18)
District Winery ('17)
Insignia on M ('17)
F1rst/Residence Inn ('17)
One Hill South ('17)
Homewood Suites ('16)
ORE 82 ('16)
The Bixby ('16)
Dock 79 ('16)
Community Center ('16)
The Brig ('16)
Park Chelsea ('16)
Yards/Arris ('16)
Hampton Inn ('15)
Southeast Blvd. ('15)
11th St. Bridges ('15)
Parc Riverside ('14)
Twelve12/Yards ('14)
Lumber Shed ('13)
Boilermaker Shops ('13)
Camden South Cap. ('13)
Canal Park ('12)
Capitol Quarter ('12)
225 Virginia/200 I ('12)
Foundry Lofts ('12)
1015 Half Street ('10)
Yards Park ('10)
Velocity Condos ('09)
Teague Park ('09)
909 New Jersey Ave. ('09)
55 M ('09)
100 M ('08)
Onyx ('08)
70/100 I ('08)
Nationals Park ('08)
Seniors Bldg Demo ('07)
400 M ('07)
Douglass Bridge Fix ('07)
US DOT HQ ('07)
20 M ('07)
Capper Seniors 1 ('06)
Capitol Hill Tower ('06)
Courtyard/Marriott ('06)
Marine Barracks ('04)


Overviews
Capper/Carrollsburg
Anacostia Riverwalk
New Jersey Avenue
M Street
South Capitol Street
The Yards
Lower 8th Street
East M Street
Boathouse Row





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