Hill East neighbor and friend John Cochran has been chronicling his changing block for a few years. The area around 15th Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE has seen massive transformation within the last five years: one which some might say is overdue, while others may wonder just how much a neighborhood can change while still serving the needs of the community as a whole. Just to set the stage, here is a map of the general area:
At my request, John kindly selected some of the photos he’s shared over his social media channels in the past. His photos document how this gap-toothed block became one of the latest hubs for development. (You can see these and more of John’s photos on Flickr.) Along the way, the area gained a whole lot of new neighbors and lost a coin-operated laundry. The loss of this laundromat is significant, as neighbors who do not have access to private laundry facilities have to go much farther to get this chore done. The nearest laundromat to this area of the Hill is Neighbors Cleaners, 300 11th Street SE, three-quarters of a mile away. While the block has undergone a dramatic transformation where empty spaces have been built up, an essential business is gone.
The empty lot, which had remained undeveloped for about 70 years, was a small garden. The wall adjoining Wisdom, 1432 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, had a dynamic, fresh mural by artist Alicia “DECOY” Cosnahan titled “Sousa”, which is now completely gone.
Of course, the additions to that part of the neighborhood have not ended: 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, formerly the site of New York Pizza, will be developed into a new retail project with 174 residential units. The benefits to the community will be palpable –tree canopy and Metro improvements among them– but it makes me wonder what will be lost? Maybe it will be all positive; maybe we will get even more Petcos and Starbucks. The truth is perhaps to be found somewhere in the middle.
Is The Hill is Home really lamenting the loss of an: (1) abandoned lot; (2) KFC with attached surface parking lot; (3) dominoes pizza with attached surface parking lot; (4) a laundromat; and (5) the NY Pizza (formally a Pizza Hut) with attached surface parking lot? Because you can still find all that parking with attached chain restaurants right across the border in Maryland.
Speaking for me, as a resident of the block for 14 years: The laundry was absolutely a loss. The new building that replaced it has brought terrific new neighbors onto the block, and I wouldn’t want to turn the clock back on that aspect of it. But at the same time, this neighborhood does need a coin-op laundry. It’s a burden for those neighbors without other good options to have to travel farther now to find one. The changes overall have been positive: The new house on the formerly vacant lot is very well done and also has brought more good neighbors to the block. The increased density close to the Metro makes very good sense from a planning perspective. But some good things have also been lost along the way, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that as you think back on the changes we’ve seen: Even the vacant lot had its positives. I’m pleased with the new house, and again, I don’t want to turn the clock back on that. But I also have good memories of the vegetable garden that neighbors grew there … and of the time that my kids and their friends spent playing in that space. Likewise, I miss the mural on the old KFC site. John Cochran