Since January, 2003
            
 (a random before-and-after moment)
August 12, 2006
June 10, 2012
3rd Place at I, Looking South (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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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  
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Shoplifting
 02/21/18
UNIT B/O K ST SE   THEFT FROM AUTO
Theft (theft From Motor Vehicle)
 02/19/18
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 02/15/18
1000 B/O 3RD ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 02/07/18

Recent Issued Building Permits Archive  
1331 2ND ST SE 20003   
01/29/18 
DC WATER / DAVE LEVINE
AH1800505 / CONSTRUCTION
After hours work for structure exaction and support for B1311474 DC Water. Corman Construction 202-863-0052.
1016 3RD ST SE   
02/01/18 
ANAMARIA R MOTTOLA / DAVID L. HAHN
P1803348 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1346 4TH ST SE   
02/06/18 
ALAN OWINGS / ROBERT SEV HENRY
AH1800541 / CONSTRUCTION
After Hours Permit for 2 / 19 / 18 from 7AM to 7PM to perform concrete, framing, and utility operations.
   
02/06/18 
FC 1346 LLC / RICHARD V CAREY
P1803428 / SUPPLEMENTAL
150 I ST SE   
02/05/18 
WC SMITH / null
P1803402 / SUPPLEMENTAL
140 M ST SE   
02/07/18 
SPAULDING & SLYE/STE100 / null
E1803798 / SUPPLEMENTAL
110 M ST SE   
01/29/18 
GALLERY CAPITOL RIVERFRONT PROPERTY LLC / JAMES WEAVER
E1803534 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
02/02/18 
GALLERY CAPITOL RIVERFRONT PROPERTY LLC / null
P1803361 / SUPPLEMENTAL
140 M ST SE 20032   
02/14/18 
SYLVIA LINDSEY / null
P1803641 / SUPPLEMENTAL
202 M ST SE   
01/29/18 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / NURI EROL
D1800281 / CONSTRUCTION
Remove Existing flooring. Remove some of the furnitures, equipment.
300 M ST SE 53533   
02/08/18 
FEDERAL CENTER LP / SPENCER TEEL
BP1801893 / POST CARD
300 M ST SE   
02/16/18 
FEDERAL CENTER LP / STEVEN MERCHANT
B1803279 / CONSTRUCTION
New Sprint store sustainable design tenant build-out in an existing building, partical first floor. Work will consist of building a new sales floor and back of the house. New work sill consist of display fixtures, ceiling, plumbing fixtures, mechanical ductwork to diffusers, interior partitions, floor finishes, outlets and new locations of electrical panels. **CHANGE IN USE, LEVEL 2 ALTERATION
401 M ST SE   
01/30/18 
DOEE C/O DEV MURALI / JESSICA REICHARD
AH1800507 / CONSTRUCTION
After hours permit to preform manhole inspections during off peak hours 7pm - 7am for all Manhole Locations covered under permit # PA10374319-R1 for DOEE Anacostia river sediment project.
861 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
01/31/18 
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION / NA CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC.
AH1800467 / CONSTRUCTION
Work in public ROW within the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction Project LOD for utility, demolition, and concrete structure construction activities.***TO EXCLUDE LEGAL HOLIDAYS**
1100 NEW JERSEY AVE SE 2ND FL   
02/09/18 
SQUARE 742 LLC / null
P1803534 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
02/14/18 
SQUARE 742 LLC / null
P1803681 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1100 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
02/15/18 
SQUARE 742 LLC / null
E1804057 / SUPPLEMENTAL
640 SOUTH CAPITOL ST SE   
02/05/18 
JIM LATISIS ZAYO GROUP
B1707197 / CONSTRUCTION
Addition to existing concrete telecom building.
401 TINGEY ST SE   
01/30/18 
PEPCO / BARBARA ANN STEDMAN
AH1800520 / CONSTRUCTION
UG TRANSFORMER WORK TO BE PERFORMED ON THE 400 BLK OF TINGEY ST SE. MANHOLE ACCESS. WORK TO BE PERFORMED BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 7:30AM AND MIGHTNIGHT ON 1 / 30 / 18 AND 1 / 31 / 18.
227 TINGEY ST SE   
01/29/18 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / ERICKA CLARK
TC1800021 / CONSTRUCTION
2 tower cranes
   
01/30/18 
FOREST CITY WASHINGTON / MELISSA DIAZ
B1802750 / CONSTRUCTION
Revision to Permit SH1700028. Sheeting and shoring for Yards Parcel L-2 project. Revision includes 10-foot precut excavation and layback on Water Street, 3rd Street and northern L-1 elevations, and removal of upper tier of rakers at L-1 elevation and upper tier of tiebacks at the Water Street and 3rd Street elevations.
   
02/20/18 
FOREST CITY WASHINGTON / FOREST CITY WASHINGTON; DFM DEVELOPMENT SERVICES
FD1700057 / CONSTRUCTION
Yards parcel L-2. Construction of foundation and underground parking garage for new 11 story multi-family mixed used residential building at 227 Tingey Street SE as part of development of Parcel L at the Yards
325 VIRGINIA AVE SE 20003   
02/14/18 
JASON W GOLDSMITH / null
E1804039 / SUPPLEMENTAL
325 VIRGINIA AVE SE   
02/06/18 
JASON W GOLDSMITH / CRAIG HARTSOCK
B1804721 / CONSTRUCTION
Remove two non-structural walls on ground level of townhouse and re-frame in new configuration to create a full bathroom on ground floor.
   
02/07/18 
JASON W GOLDSMITH / MORIS O. OCHOA PINEDA
P1803462 / 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  
1001 NEW JERSEY AV SE   12/28/17
$ 687,365
WHATS ON SECOND PROPERTIES LLC
 


Project Directory
Completed
Agora ('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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