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Near Southeast DC Past News Items: 37l
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4 Blog Posts Since 2003

I start with this photo of some recently posted signage, which I'm pretty sure debuted at the top of the list of Most Ignored Signs in Washington. (No one ever believes me when I tell them that riding bikes isn't officially allowed on the Navy Yard portion of the Anacostia Riverwalk.)
And now to a way-too-long pile of tidbits:
* PLAYOFFS: I doubt anyone at this point needs to tell me that the first of what will hopefully be numerous playoff games this October at Nats Park is tonight (Friday), when Game 1 vs the Cubs starts at 7:31 pm. They'll play again tomorrow at 5:38pm, and would return on Thursday Oct. 12 for the fifth game of the series, if necessary. Here's a rundown from the BID of playoff-related festivities and deals that might be of interest.
* WILLOW: I have been remiss in not passing along that DC-based clothing and gift shop Willow is going to be opening a second location in the ground floor of Arris, at 4th and Tingey in the Yards. As described in the BID newsletter, "The store brand adds a distinctive local twist with DC neighborhood-inspired gifts and clothes designed in-house by members of the Willow team."
* DOCKSIDE?: I have not confirmed this personally, but a reader reports being told by workers putting out tables on Thursday that the new Yards Park boardwalk kiosk outlet of Osteria Morini is expected to open this evening. UPDATE: Reader now says that no, it's Due South Dockside. But that's what I get for not reporting it out myself. {hangs head in shame}
* BYE BYE 37 L: Photographic evidence on Twitter of the demolition of the Empire/DC Flyer Cab company building, which is making way for a new residential building. It becomes the 175th entry in my Demolished Buildings Gallery (up a spot from its brief designation as #174, after a reader pointed out that I had neglected to add, of all things, the McDonald's, though I will give myself a break on that one, given the maelstrom in my life at the time).
* THIRD STREET CLOSURE UPDATE: Flashing signage north of 3rd and Virginia says that the four-month-ish-southbound closure is now scheduled to begin Oct. 11. (After the first two games of the playoffs, I might add.) I saw from the freeway yesterday that the huge reinforcing beams (more like tubes) that were installed across the footprint of the two tunnels are being removed between 2nd and 3rd Streets, and there's even now some small square footage where both tunnels are covered with dirt. (UPDATE: The sign was changed this morning to read "On or About Oct. 10," and now the latest VAT newsletter says "as soon as Oct. 9.")
* GARRETT TEA LEAVES: The building permits have been approved, and construction trailers arrived within the past few days at the staging lot on the former trash transfer site at 2nd and K, and so signs are pointing to work getting underway on The Garrett, the last of WC Smith's "Collective" troika. Joining siblings Park Chelsea and not-yet-open-but-newly-landscaped Agora, the Garrett will have about 375 rental units, and ground-floor retail. (No, I don't know when Whole Foods is opening.)
* PARC RIVERSIDE PHASE II: A reader who lives at Velocity says that management informed residents that work is expected to resume Any Second Now (or maybe already has) on the excavation for what will be the second phase of the Parc Riverside residential project, at Half and K.
* BOWER FLOOR PLANS: If you have been desperately awaiting the condo project known as the Bower to start selling, well, that hasn't happened yet, but floor plans are finally available on their web site. (h/t RMP)
 

A raze permit has been approved, fences have gone up, and the two-story building at 37 L Street SE that has been home to the Empire and DC Flyer cab companies for a number of years is apparently in its final hours/days/weeks.
The site was purchased last year by DBT Development for $6.7 million, with plans for an eleven-story 74-unit building that apparently will be condos. DBT was also the developer of the condo building at 1350 Maryland Ave., NE.
I had hoped to get some renderings, but decided to stop waiting and get this post up, in case people wonder why fences are now in place.
It is a small site--less than 8,000 square feet--and does not include the WMATA Navy Yard Metro station "chiller" operations immediately to its east, on the corner of Half and L, though that site is also expected to be a residential building, by MRP Realty, if that project is still happening.
It will be interesting to see if it is demolished before October 24, which will be the 40th anniversary of the Cinema Follies fire, when a ground-floor explosion and the resulting flames blocked the exit from the 50-seat x-rated gay movie theater on the second floor, killing nine people with thick toxic smoke.
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More posts: 37l, Development News, square 698
 

I'm going to try to get back into the tidbit biz to make up for my generally decreased output (except for the past few days!). We'll see how it goes, and it also means I have some catching up to do, so apologies if some of these are old news to you.
*I WORK, YOU WORK, WEWORK: Co-working provider WeWork has signed a 69,000-sf lease at 80 M St. SE. (Bisnow)
* NATS PARK DIGITAL SIGNS: This has been brewing for a number of weeks, and has been discussed in the comments threads, but some may still be unaware of the plans by the Nationals to install 10 large digital billboards on the ballpark's exterior. The Hill Rag wrote about it in detail in October, and last week ANC 6D's Andy Litsky offered this blistering testimony in opposition to the DC Council's Subcommittee on Urban Affairs. UPDATE: Oops, I guess the initial subcommittee vote was last week, a 4-1 approval. Washington City Paper has more on the controversy.
* COMMUNITY CENTER BACKSTORY: Capitol Hill Corner writes of how the new Capper Community Center had and then lost plans for an operator for the new building, and what it means for the center at this point.
* ANACOSTIA RIVER TRAIL EXTENSION: Back at the end of October, the stretch of the Anacostia River Trail from Benning Road to the DC/Maryland line officially opened, providing not only another five miles of trail offerings within DC but creating an all new gateway to the large Anacostia Tributary Trail System. (WashCycle)
* WSJ ON THE HOOD: If you have a Wall Street Journal subscription, here's their recent piece on the explosive growth of the neighborhood.
* CHANGING HANDS: I totally meant to mention back in July that the Empire Cab building at 37 L St. SE was sold for $6.7 million, according to WBJ (scroll down). This building, as I wrote a number of years ago, was the site in 1977 of a terrible fire where nine people died. In other changing-hands-news, a little birdie tells me that the land held by Akridge along 1st St. SE between K and L that was put on the market earlier this year is now under contract to a residential developer. I imagine we'll find out more when the sale closes in coming weeks.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
 

(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.
 




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