The recent historic designation of a neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., has caused disputes between residents and the Historic Preservation Review Board.
Bloomingdale is one of the earliest suburban developments in D.C. Following the Civil War, the neighborhood began to experience the results of segregation as more African American residents moved into the area.
The Preservation Board designated Bloomingdale as a historic landmark through the Mayor’s approval. The Board is in charge of implementing federal historic preservation programs within the neighborhood.
Residents of Bloomingdale have both supported and opposed the desire to recognize the area’s history. Kit Young, who lives in the community, said the costs of making renovations to the neighborhood has created housing affordability concerns.
“Some people opposed the designation because of expenses,” Young said. “People were afraid to renovate their houses in order to maintain the district’s historic preservation.”
Scott Roberts, another Bloomingdale resident, has been a part of the community for the past 25 years. Roberts said he was apart of the Historic Preservation group that made Bloomingdale a landmark in D.C.
“It is very easy to lose track of a neighborhoods’ history,” Roberts said.
When Roberts realized new developments were coming to the neighborhood, he fought to keep the historic landmarks in the community.
Roberts said the way of honoring the neighborhood’s history is through preservation.
“There’s social and architectural history that comes with the landscape of Bloomingdale,” Roberts said.
Paul Cerruti, a Bloomingdale resident, gives occasional tours of the neighborhood. On a recent November weekend, he pointed out a house at 116 Bryant Street — a historic home still standing today after breaking community barriers as part of the U.S. Supreme Court Case Hurd v Hodge.
In the early 1900s, houses in this area, including those on Bryant Street, were sold with restrictive covenants which prohibited their future sale to African Americans. Restrictive covenants in other neighborhoods targeted Jewish, Mexican, Native Americans, Persian, Armenian and Syrian people. Covenants were put in place to keep blocks all-white, according to Prologue DC.
But, in 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that racially-restrictive covenants on real estate deeds were unconstitutional. The court’s decision lifted all racial and religious deed covenants at the time.
McMillian Park battles another round in court
In the early 1900s, a grassy site with large ivy-covered silos, at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue NW, was previously used as a water filtration plant.
The park was purchased by the city in 1987 and has been closed off from the public for years according to city officials.
In October, the Bloomingdale residents looking to save McMillian Park encountered the District’s decision to demolish the park this year.
“There are too many historic resources that are being destroyed for the supportive developments,” Roberts said.
Carole Anderson, an advocate for McMillan Park, said that the park should be open for all people.
“On the weekends families could enjoy being outdoors and playing sports at the park,” Anderson said.
The District had plans to redevelop McMillan Park but encountered several disputes from the community.
“The plans that the city has came up with are pretty unacceptable,” Anderson said.
The District wants to use the space for creating high rise complexes, stores and businesses, but the Zoning Commission approval was rejected by the District Court Appeals.
The court’s decision highlighted the District’s failure to consider the alternative designs that would impact the public benefit. The project could potentially create over 6,000 jobs and nearly 600 housing units, according to city officials.
Some locals worry that the new developments would bring more traffic congestion into the area.
“McMillan Park is the most famous Washington, D.C., park,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she looks forward to the future of the park.
A group of activists, Friends of McMillan, continue to fight to preserve the history and its original structure.
They will have an oral argument to challenge the D.C. Zoning commission approval to demolish the park in January 2019.