By Frank Leone
The 1950s transformed Foggy Bottom through renovation of historic buildings, new apartment construction, urban renewal pans, highway construction, George Washington University expansion, and the resulting displacement of Foggy Bottom’s significant African American Community.
On March 10, 1955, a small group of owners of renovated row houses in the Historic District met at 21 Snows Court to form the Foggy Bottom Restoration Association (FBRA) “to promote the restoration and rehabilitation of Foggy Bottom and to further the civic, cultural, social, and economic welfare of the community.” The FBRA was formally incorporated in 1959, became the Foggy Bottom Association in 1965, and has since worked to improve not only the Historic District, but all of Foggy Bottom/West End.
Many of the FBRA founders first joined together to fight a city ban on alley dwellings that was to take effect in 1955. The ban had been enacted in 1918 and 1934, but its implementation was postponed by two World Wars and the Great Depression. Alley-dwellers in Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and Capitol Hill joined together to convince the D.C. Board of Commissioners to have Congress repeal the ban in 1954.
The FBRA then fought to have seven blocks southwest of Washington Circle designated as an urban renewal area. Not bull-dozing urban renewal (as in Southwest DC), but to plan for parks “and other facilities necessary for a well-balanced neighborhood.” Such designation may have facilitated alternative housing for displaced residents. Developers opposed the designation and in the end the argument that Foggy Bottom had already been “renewed” kept it from being eligible for the federal program.
Neighborhood preservation also meant fighting the routing of the Potomac Freeway/Inner Loop beltway down 25th Street and through the center of what is now the Historic District. The highway was moved to the west, sparing 25th Street, but destroying the neighborhood between 26th Street and the Potomac, and its row houses (including recently renovated Green’s Court), recreation areas, churches, and a school. See https://www.foggybottomassociation.org/post/funkstown-the-highway-that-ate-foggy-bottom.
The FBRA was D.C.’s first integrated community association and attempted to maintain the diversity of the neighborhood. It later became the first majority white Civic Association to join the majority African American D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. But diversity efforts met with limited success, as the non-white population fell from over 90% in 1940 to less than 20% in 1960 (and less than 10% in 1970). See Mapping Segregation. We are not aware of efforts to provide alternative housing for the displaced Foggy Bottom population.
Sources: Draft FBRA Constitution (1955) and Questions and Answers Prepared by the Foggy Bottom Restoration Association (Feb 1956), GWU Gelman Library, FBRA records; Robert C. Albrook, “Group Organizes in Renewal Fight,” Wash. Post (May 25, 1955); Rick Churchill, “The FBA – The 1950s, The Early Years,” Foggy Bottom News (Mar. 1999); Prologue DC, Mapping Segregation in Washington DC, https://www.mappingsegregationdc.org/; Funkstown, “Colbert King Remembers Foggy Bottom,” https://www.foggybottomassociation.org/post/funkstown-colbert-king-remembers-foggy-bottom; FBA History Project, https://www.foggybottomassociation.org/history-project.