Since January, 2003
            
 (a random before-and-after moment)
February 16, 2006
March 17, 2019
1st at L, Looking West-Northwest (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)
   
 
 More About square 698

JDLand.com Home

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

Add a Comment:

Comments are closed for this post.

JDLand Comments RSS Feed


 More News


See All Current News Items | Full Blog Archive

 
 Recent Posts
  

RMP on Tidbits: @CJBabyDaddy it feels like a treat these days to get to use the crosswalk in fro...
CJBabyDaddy on Tidbits: @RMP: Brookfield retains control of some blocks that have yet to be turned over...
RMP on Tidbits: Who is responsible for the new block of Water between 4th and 5th? DDOT? Brookfi...
jdc on Tidbits: With build out around Yards Park nearing completion, I wonder if attention will ...
202_cyclist on Tidbits: Here are some photos of the new public space/park at the end of 4th Street that ...
202_cyclist on Tidbits: When we were walking along the river today we must have seen two dozen turtles a...
Get JDLand Updates In Your Inbox!



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 I ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/21/19
400 B/O M ST SE   MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT
Theft First Degree (Stolen Auto)
 04/19/19
70 B/O I ST SE   ROBBERY  04/16/19
1100 B/O NEW JERSEY AVE SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/15/19
1500 B/O SOUTH CAPITOL ST   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/13/19
800 B/O L ST SE   THEFT FROM AUTO
Theft (theft From Motor Vehicle)
 04/12/19
400 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/05/19
1100 B/O NEW JERSEY AVE SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/05/19
1500 B/O SOUTH CAPITOL ST   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/03/19
200 B/O I ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/02/19
200 B/O M ST SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 04/02/19
1100 B/O NEW JERSEY AVE SE   THEFT
Theft 2nd Degree (all Other Larceny)
 03/30/19
1200 B/O VAN ST SE   BURGLARY
Burglary Two
 03/25/19
800 B/O 3RD ST SE   ASSAULT WITH A DANGEROUS WEAPON  03/25/19

Recent Issued Building Permits Archive  
1100 2ND PL SE   
04/10/19 
SQUARE 769N OWNER LLC / FRANK CAVANAGH; X
SG1900275 / CONSTRUCTION
Install one building sign
1331 4TH ST SE CU   
04/01/19 
FC 1331 LLC / null
P1905037 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1000 5TH ST SE   
04/09/19 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / TANYA HILL
B1906864 / CONSTRUCTION
***DGS REPLACEMENT OF EXISTING SINKS WITH NEW SINKS AND CABINETS AT THE DAYCARE SPACES. REVISION OF EXISTING WATER SUPPLY AND WASTE PIPES FOR NEW SINKS.
   
04/13/19 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / null
E1906382 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
04/17/19 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / FRANKLIN T GAINES
P1905523 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1003 5TH ST SE   
04/19/19 
MICHIKO BONAWITZ / DOUGLAS IAN BONAWITZ
F1900293 / CONSTRUCTION
Put in an iron fence 3feet high and gate by R & F Metals.
150 I ST SE BASE   
04/09/19 
null
E1906206 / SUPPLEMENTAL
150 I ST SE   
04/01/19 
PEPCO UTILITY WORK / MIKE BOONE
AH1900707 / CONSTRUCTION
PEPCO-WR#3518247-ALLEN / POWER COMM-CREWS TO INSTALL TRANSFORMER / CABLE MON-SAT.
250 M ST SE   
04/15/19 
SQUARE 769 LLC / STEVEN CHEN
AH1900779 / CONSTRUCTION
Work Onsite Only - Emancipation Day
   
04/18/19 
BAKER DC LLC / CHRISTINE LONG
TC1900019 / CONSTRUCTION
Permit for Baker DC LLC to temp erect tower crane on private property
300 M ST SE   
04/01/19 
FEDERAL CENTER, LP / SAM HOLLEN
B1907517 / CONSTRUCTION
INTERIOR RENOVATION TO 2ND FLOOR OFFICE SPACE.  PARTITIONS, FURNITURE, MECHANICAL, ELECTRICAL AND LIFE SAFETY.  980 SQUARE FEET. ICI SERVICES
   
04/02/19 
FEDERAL CENTER, LP / SAM HOLLEN
B1907519 / CONSTRUCTION
INTERIOR RENOVATION TO 8TH FLOOR OFFICE SPACE.  PARTITIONS, FURNITURE, MEP AND LIFE SAFETY.  990 SQUARE FEET. ICI SERVICES
880 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
04/19/19 
880 NEW JERSEY AVE LLC / JAMES W LASHER
E1906502 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1200 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
04/15/19 
EARL MITCHELL / null
E1906389 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1100 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
04/09/19 
SQUARE 742 LLC / MICHAEL ZEARING
AN1900118 / CONSTRUCTION
Remove (3) (E) 2.5GHz RFS (APXVTM14-C-120) Panel Antennas with Associated Cabling Remove (3) (E) 2.5GHz Alcatel Lucent (TD-RRH8x20-2500) RRH's with associated cabling Contractor to verify existing mount and if necessary replace with 3.5" OD x 8' SCH. 40 Pipe per Sprint standards Install (3) (N) 2.5GHz Nokia Airscale MAA 64T64R 128AE B41 120 AAHC MIMO Antennas Install (3) (N) MIMO Mounting Br...
125 O ST SE   
04/18/19 
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA / BILL SAUNDERS; TBD
B1908317 / CONSTRUCTION
ADD 1 RESERVE TANK TO CLEAN AGENT FIRE SYSTEM.
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





                  © Copyright 2019 JD.