One vision for a Southwest DC that could have been

Arthur Goodwillie’s proposal for retaining the rowhouse fabric and infilling block interiors with courtyard apartments was rejected, not really due to cost but primarily due to complexity. Instead, the federal government built garden apartments in places like Arlington (WAMU story; NR nomination [PDF])

Goodwillie Plan for SW: contrast existing and proposed

[More images: closer look at redevelopment scheme | closer look at existing conditions survey | existing structures for entire Southwest neighborhood | historical material about the Capitol Park redevelopment project subsequently built on the site in question, courtesy CP II Condominium Association]

The following excerpts are from “The rehabilitation of Southwest Washington as a war housing measure : a memorandum to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board,” by Arthur Goodwillie, January 2, 1942 [LOC catalog record], a never-implemented plan for selective demolition and infill in the area subsequently cleared and redeveloped as Capitol Park. For further background, I recommend Christian James’ website about the redevelopment and Studio 27’s presentation (& book).

(Pg. 7.) The war effort should be so organized as to avoid unnecessary damage to the important peace-time values which in part — it must be remembered — we are seeking to defend. If it can be carried forward so that subordinate but highly important economic and social values will also flow from it — as by-products — then failure so to develop it is both shortsighted and indefensible.

The production of standard war housing in areas where only obsolete structures and vacant city lots now exist, as recommended in this memorandum, will also (a) eliminate — without direct cost — large slum and blighted areas; (b) restore value to much substandard Class “B” residential real estate; (c) lessen the post-war impact of new war housing on Class “B” property value and mortgage security; (d) reduce the volume of uneconomic suburban development and the costly duplication of schools, streets, utilities, etc.; (e) help stabilize the declining municipal tax base and put to productive use much unproductive, municipally owned real estate, acquired through the enforcement of tax liens; (f) provide local housing authorities with many units to offer as “equivalent elimination”; and (g) set up a large reserve of standard but low cost housing, for post-war rental to low income families, at rent levels that will reflect little or no subsidy.

(Pg. 16-19.) The population is relatively stable. A study made some years ago among white residents of Southwest Washington developed the fact that of the 10,658 persons interviewed, 9981 wanted to continue living there. The recently completed nine block Bank Board survey, on which the following report is based, showed that about 80% of the negro population has lived in the district for 5 or more years.

Present construction within the Area consists largely of two story, brick, row houses, two and three rooms deep, among which is interspersed a smaller number of frame structures of the same general type.

Although it extends to within three blocks of the Capitol of the United States, structural, economic and social conditions in the Area are shameful. Though basically sound, the brick structures of the post Civil War period are almost uniformly substandard… Interspersed among these brick dwellings is a considerable number of older frame houses. The latter are in a lamentable state of repair, dangerous, unhealthful, vermin and rat infested. They constitute a serious fire, safety and health hazard and should be demolished, as a slum clearance measure, at an early date.

Block interiors contain over 300 substandard alley dwellings, or are used as storage spaces for the miscellaneous accumulations of an indigent population. Moral and health conditions in many of these insanitary, unheated houses are deplorable. Fortunately, their use for residential purposes after 1944 is prohibited by law.

The Area, however, has many valuable assets. Were modern housing available, it would be an ideal residential location for the tens of thousands of persons who are employed in adjacent governmental Establishments, Departments and Agencies.

Streets are wide and well shaded. Water, light and sewer mains, sidewalks and pavements are in place, paid for and well maintained. Side by side with decrepit frame structures are some 2900 substandard but basically sound brick buildings, usually in rows, virtually all of which can be saved and are well worth saving. Vacant perimeter lots, vacant block interiors and land on which now stand decrepit frame structures, which should be demolished as a slum clearance measure, provide sites for an additional 5000 dwelling units. This is a total of about 8000 units for the Area, without over-crowding.*

Block interiors are unusually large and offer a unique opportunity for development as open green commons and play spaces, abutting on the new construction referred to above. Along the entire western margin of Southwest Washington is the recently developed Washington Channel waterfront. [Adequate schools, settlement houses, and churches.]

An exceedingly difficult questions which now confronts most established residential communities — whether they are depressed or not — is how to supply necessary large additions to available neighborhood recreation spaces. Adequate park provisions is not a problem in Southwest Washington, since the “Canal Reservation,” a public park which will provide ample playground facilities for the adjacent residential section, lies along the entire eastern border of the Area. Because it occupies a wedge-shaped tract between the Pennsylvania Railroad and Washington Channel, through traffic problems are also virtually non-existent.

The statement that there is a dangerously increasing housing shortage in Washington will be accepted without debate…

Pg. 53. The considerable saving in site cost [due to the low cost of land in Project block interiors] has all been allocated to new construction. If, as seems equitable, it were prorated between (a) the cost of projected new dwelling units and (b) the cost of rehabilitated units — the the over-all cost for reconditioned structures would be reduced to $725 per room** or to about 54% of that for new construction in similar areas elsewhere.

* In 2000, the Census counted 7,487 dwelling units in a comparable area, post-redevelopment, although with more office employment areas.
** emphasis in original

N & Union Streets