My friend Ben and I decided to do a photowalk by the waterfront in DC called The Wharf, which is the Southwest Waterfront of the city as part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original city plans and includes some of the oldest buildings in the city, including the Wheat Row block of townhouses, built in 1793, the Thomas Law House, built in 1796, and Fort McNair, which was established in 1791 as “the U.S. Arsenal at Greenleaf Point.”
The Waterfront developed into a quite contradictory area: it had a thriving commercial district with grocery stores, shops, a movie theater, as well as a few large and elaborate houses (mostly owned by wealthy black people). However, most of the neighborhood was a very poor shantytown of tenements, shacks, and even tents. These places, some of them in the shadow of the Capitol, were frequent subjects of photographs that were published with captions like, “The Washington that tourists never see.”
In the 1950s, city planners working with Congress decided that the entire Southwest quadrant should undergo significant urban renewal — in this case, meaning that the city would acquire nearly all land south of the National Mall (except Bolling Air Force Base and Fort McNair), either through voluntary purchases or through the use of eminent domain; evict virtually all of its residents and businesses; destroy many of its streets, and all of its buildings and landscapes; and start again from scratch.
During the urban renewal project, only a few buildings were left intact, notably the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the Wheat Row townhouses, the Thomas Law House, and the St. Dominic’s and Friendship churches. The Southeast/Southwest Freeway section of Interstate 395 was constructed where F Street, SW, had once been, separating the quadrant’s business district from the residential Waterfront neighborhood.
The residential aspect of the project began with a large apartment complex and park called Potomac Place, located on 4th Street between G and I Streets. When Nikita Khrushchev visited Washington in 1959, he pointed out to President Dwight D. Eisenhower the extremely poor dwellings that stood on the way from Bolling Air Force Base (where Khruschev had arrived in the city) to the downtown area; Eisenhower, in response, ordered their driver to pass by Potomac Place in order to show the Soviet Premier that the nation’s capital was working to assist its poorer citizens.
Starting around 2003, the Southwest Waterfront began to go through a large redevelopment. A number of the neighborhood’s apartment buildings began extensive renovations and condominium conversions. Residential and commercial developers began to take a more serious interest in Southwest with the announcement in 2004 that the city would build the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium just across South Capitol Street from Southwest.
The Southwest Waterfront has been targeted as a site for the next wave of DC redevelopment. Large development projects include a mixed retail-commercial-residential development at Fourth & M Streets SW (Waterfront Station); the expansion and redesign of Arena Stage; and the redesign and overhaul of the waterfront itself, to include residences, office space, hotels, and retail establishments.
Stretching across 24 acres of land and more than 50 acres of water from the Municipal Fish Market to Fort McNair, The Wharf, when complete, will feature more than three million square feet of residential, office, hotel, retail, cultural, and public uses including waterfront parks, promenades, piers and docks.
I can only imagine what the place will look like once the expansion is completed.
The background of the Wharf was copied and pasted from a Wikipedia page since I was not familiar with the history of the new development here.
Images taken with the Leica M9 + Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5