On the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia there is the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. The past is still the present; there was a shooting down the street near the corner with Good Hope Road last Wednesday afternoon. But the future is now; 2228 MLK is just a memory while the long neglected 2234 is being stabilized.
This summer stabilization work finally began in earnest at the Big K site, owned by the Department of Community and Housing Development (DHCD) since the summer of 2010. Rotted, sagging, the front porch of 2234 MLK has been cleared away. Fresh 2x4 boards rest on the old red brick foundation in its place.
Two ladders relax against the home originally built by local business owner James Beall in the 1880s. A man is on top of the porch’s overhanging roof, which has been reinforced. Each stroke of red paint he applies subtly regenerates the home, forging the old and new spirits of the city’s first suburb. With its new cherry sheen, there’s a newfound expectation the home will be restored, one of more than 500 structures extant within the Anacostia Historic District.
As 2234 MLK is finally getting the structural reinforcement it has needed for decades, the wood frame home next door is just a memory. More than thirty years of neglect by the Kushner family, proprietors of the Big K Liquor Store (originally built in 1906 by grocer James Conway) did the home in. By the time the city bought the lot the house’s fate was sealed. 2228 MLK, formerly 442 Nichols Avenue; was demolished this summer.
It had most recently been a known squatter’s hotel, location to cut drugs, and a place for women of the night to bring their Johns. It is presently just another vacant lot in Historic Anacostia owned by the city.
Future of the Big K site depends on 2226 MLK
Even with an extended deadline, DHCD director Michael Kelly said at a community meeting last month, his agency only received two development proposals in response to the Big K site’s Solicitation for Offers. Two is better than one, which is better than zero, which is the likelihood any private development will move forward without Big K’s portfolio including the corner parcel of MLK and Mount View Place, historically a used-car dealership.
If you’re in the market to buy or sell, Dale “Bubba” Richardson of Astro Motors at 2226 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue is your man. Richardson followed his older brother to Washington from North Carolina. The elder Richardson first opened Astro Motors on a lot farther down MLK in the 1980s, and it has since become a neighborhood fixture.
Within the confines of Richardson’s small office, a game of checkers is usually going on. Meanwhile, Richardson, or his long-time assistant salesman Floyd Claybrook, is outside washing a new car or negotiating a deal with both new and familiar faces. Long-time Anacostians and friends of Richardson faithfully gather on Friday evenings for cook-outs on the charcoal-powered grille.
The city has approached the landlord of Astro Motors to sell his lot, but no deal has materialized, Richardson says. Although the Gray administration has continued policies started by Mayor Fenty to crack down on used car lots, Astro Motors is still in Anacostia, as it was nearly 30 years ago. Carriages were built and sold on the 400 block of Nichols Avenue more than a century ago. Maybe nothing does change but the weather.
Cross-town, commercial and residential development seemingly happens overnight but across the river, life still moves slowly enough that you can see the 19th century fade away before your own eyes.