Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Memories of 16th & T

Photo courtesy of Joel Lawson

The house at 1841 T Street NW has been making a lot of news lately. This is, or was, a gorgeous corner unit at 16th and T Streets NW near Dupont Circle, which had been allowed to deteriorate to the point that bricks and plaster were literally falling into the house.

I am not going to rail against the owners for their illegal and irresponsible management of this house as a rental, or comment on the fight to save the place from destruction, or tenant's rights. There's plenty about that already. Rather, I would like to reminsce about this place, because I have a personal connection to it. My first year in DC, from the summer of 1991 through the summer of 1992, two close friends lived in this house with four other people. I had made the horrible mistake of leasing an apartment in Crystal City when I first moved to DC, a mistake I corrected at the first legal opportunity. But as a result of living in a soulless, lifeless apartment in a concrete jungle, I spent a great deal of my spare time at this house.

We all had some incredible times in this place. We partied all night long, made lifelong friends, annoyed the neighbors, and amassed more stories than I can count in that year. I am sure I have pictures from inside this place that I'll try to dig up, but for now, I just wanted to throw out some memories.

... the ridiculous party that spilled onto the street on both sides of the house. After the kegs were gong (two or three of them), still early in the night, the masses descended on the New Hampshire mart across the street. I remember going back there again for beer just before midnight. It had been completely sold out. They had no more beer.

... Splinter, the giant rat who cohabitated with the tenants. Sure, he shat on the drum set and generally freaked out people, but Cosmo, the racist black lab usually kept him in check pretty well. He never was caught.

... My friend going to her bedroom to escape from one party, only to find it was occupied by a large number of people sitting in a circle drumming and smoking weed. They appeared to be gnomes or leprechauns performing an ancient pagan ritual. She was afraid to enter her own room.

... Mrs. Eckles, the busybody neighbor who of course hated the renters. If she's still alive today, she must be at least a hundred years old. The house has a driveway that you can kind of see in the picture above. Two cars could park there without blocking the sidewalk. But technically, since the driveway is city-owned property, it was illegal to park there. Ms. Eckles, aware of this fact, called the police every day to have the tenants' cars ticketed. Even the police would sigh as they dutifully wrote tickets. In conversations with them they said they would never ticket a car there, but because someone called, they had to. We had many ideas for retaliation, but usually limited ourselves to letting the dog shit in her front garden with the "keep your dog off" sign.

... the 16th and T Street Band, which formed organically at this house from a group of strays. The name persisted for at least a decade, through various members. They performed at too many house parties to count, including a wedding celebration for one of the former residents years later, and at at least a couple actual gigs at local bars. They were awesome. I taped a number of their performances and still have the recordings.

I certainly hope that the house is spared the wrecking ball and the deadbeat owners don't get the easy way out after years of slumlord renting an unsafe house. It would be a shame to lose this beautiful structure and a further shame to let them get away with the blatant negelect and imperiling of their tenants. But whatever happens, I will always have fond memories of that glorious rat-infested dump.

Intowner article from June 14, 2008 about collapsing walls

Pictures of the collapsing walls inside

Owners try to get permit to demolish but are denied, from July 31, 2008

Article on Prince of Petworth from June 15, 2009

Protest in front of 1841 T Street to save it from demoltion - June 2009 (Washington Business Journal)


Malnurtured Snay said...

I saw this on Prince of Petworth yesterday, and it's a shame, because that is a gorgeous house.

HP said...

I've heard stories about this place. Apart from that, I can totally relate. It sucks to lose structures that once contained so much life and played host to memorable events. A few years ago, my roommates and I were displaced from our very cheap, very grungy Dupont Circle group house so it could be made into luxury condos. I work around the corner from it now and I still feel sad whenever I have to walk by it.

Shaun said...

I am actually creating an interactive portal of DC vacant houses.

prebeta release will be soon!


Anonymous said...

I lived across the street from that house for years (don't think the same time frame you were there). Everyone who lived across the street hated it -- I can't tell you how many times we called 311 on that place. It was referred to as the "frat house" because the residents were drunk and flat-out ignorant children. Loud, inconsiderate, and tons of trash in the yard. There was the week the residents were throwing tin pie pans from the roof toward the cars driving by below. Oh, and the night the residents were lighting firecrackers on the shoddily-maintained shingle roof was the apex of ignorance -- there's nothing like risking setting the entire block on fire. I'm so glad the place is finally getting some attention. You can tell it used to be a lovely building, once upon a time. Just needs some TLC.