By Frank Leone
Where and what is the “West End?” The “New West End” is approximately north of Foggy Bottom (K Street), south of Dupont Circle (N Street), east of Rock Creek, and west of Downtown (New Hampshire Ave.). It now features apartments (some quite upscale), offices, hotels, and restaurants. It also contains historic sites including row houses (e.g., the recently renovated into condos Mullet (2525 Penn.), Cooper (2525 K), and T.F. Schneider (22nd & Wash. Cir.) houses), the former Columbia Hospital for Women (2401 L), Stevens Elementary School (1015 21st), St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church (2436 Penn.), the Spanish Embassy (2357 Penn.), Duke Ellington’s birthplace (2121 Ward Pl.), and the Christian Heurich House (1307 N.H.). It is also home to the One Washington Circle Hotel (being renovated), D.C.’s first Trader Joes, the West End Library (and V.P. Kamala Harris’ former apartment), Francis Field, and “the P Street Beach.”
The first recorded use of the term “West End” (1817) predates “Foggy Bottom” (1867). The West End initially referred generally to the area west of the White House from 17th to 23rd Streets, which had more upscale residences than the 23rd Street to the Potomac part of Foggy Bottom. Such upscale houses in this “Old West End” (term first recorded in 1919) include the GWU President’s House and the Underwood House. The area is now occupied by George Washington University, which preserved some of the neighborhood as part of the George Washington University/Old West End Historic District.
In the New West End, row houses were built in the late 1800s, many larger than the modest row houses in the Foggy Bottom Historic District. By 1930, the neighborhood contained a sizable number of working and middle class black families with churches, stores, and the Blue Mouse movie theater (26th and M Sts.). In our interview with Colbert King, he described growing up in the 1940s on 24th and L Streets.
In 1940s and 1950s much of the area (especially the northern part) was developed for light industrial use. It was “once the automobile business center of the city” (Wash Post 5/27/1978). These businesses, most of which closed between the 1950s to 1970s, included Sealtest Chestnut Farms Dairy (26th and Penn. Ave., closed in the 1960s, replaced by the Westbridge condominium in 1979); Capital Cadillac (1935-1978), Call Carl Auto Service (24th St.), B&W Garage (whose owner Philip Brown sued Oliver Carr for years to limit area redevelopment); Printing Companies; Ironworks (24th St.), Lewis Hotel-Motel Training School (Washington Circle, 1920-1963); U.S. Weather Bureau (24th and M Sts., 1889-1950), Rosenblatt’s Market (1000 25th); the new Western Market (21st & K Sts., 1873-1967); Blackie’s House of Beef (22nd & M, 1952-2005) and Washington Theater Club (originally at the location of the Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church, 23rd & L, 1957-1974).
In the 1950s and 60s, as with the redevelopment of Foggy Bottom, developers assembled large parcels of land, tore down existing houses, and replaced them with (temporary) parking lots. By the 1970s, the New West End was “an underutilized area of dreariness and decay … a bypassed area of deteriorated houses, obsolete industrial and commercial buildings, and above all, parking lots.”
In April 1972, D.C. planned “A New Town for the West End.” Surrounded by Downtown, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and Foggy Bottom “[t]he West End is like a hole in the donut.” The city report concluded that: “The area is clearly ready for large scale rebuilding.” The city wanted high density residential to address housing shortages and to avoid extension of offices buildings from Downtown to the River.
Developers, led by Oliver T. Carr, wanted to develop condominiums and offices. In Dec. 1974, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved re-zoning creating a new zoning category (CR) that included both commercial office and residential (including hotel) uses.
Some of the remaining row houses were preserved, but most of the area’s residents were forced out. The 1972 D.C. Plan stated that: “Some moderate income housing would be needed to protect the rights of the present lower income residents and to provide a desired mixed income population. Indeed, the West End would be an ideal location for a large component of subsidized housing.” Ultimately, no low priced housing was built. In the end, developers got new buildings, the city got residential high rises, but “the existing neighborhood, which was being systematically dismantled, got pretty much blown away in the process.” (Wash. Post, 1/21/84)
The New West End is still a neighborhood in transition, but it contains an attractive mix of residential and commercial, with an increasing number of restaurants. Some Foggy Bottom residents have relocated to the West End when it was time for high rise living. We are glad to have the area included as part of the Foggy Bottom Association.
Sources: New Town for the West End, D.C. Office of Planning and Management, 1972; Oliver Carr Companies, The West End Washington D.C., 1973; “Historic Usage of place names: West End, Foggy Bottom, and Old West End as gleaned from selected newspapers, 1817-1972,” D.C. Historic Preservation Office, 2014; LaBarbara Bowman, “D.C. Rezones West End for High-Rises: Lame Duck D.C. Zoning Commission Approves West End Plan,” Washington Post, Dec. 13, 1974; LaBarbara Bowman, “Ex-Resident Finds Old Building Gone; West End’s Black Residents Pressed by Redevelopment,” Washington Post, Mar. 27, 1977; Kingsley Hammett and Bruce James, “New Urban Renewal Hits Home: West End’s New Urban Renewal Filling the West End Hole,” Washington Post, May 6, 1978; Mireya Navarro and Doug Podolsky Paul Bedard and Sue Silver, “An Enclave for the Affluent,” Washington Post, May 27, 1978; Ann H. Oman, “Footloose Cruising in the Charming Old West End,” Washington Post, May 21, 1982; Benjamin Forgey, “West End Story: Striving for a Sense of Neighborhood Amid the Pains of Building Changing Face of the West End,” Washington Post, Jan. 21, 1984; https://www.foggybottomassociation.org/history-project.