Transcripts

Something Old, Something New: Inside The Hill Center

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And as we continue our coming together theme, up next, we'll meet two people who are coming together at a place where a bunch of other people are coming together, thanks to the efforts of some other people who already have come together to make the rest of the coming together-ness possible to begin with. Okay, maybe we should back up a bit.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:35
We'll start with those first two people I mentioned. They're actually two friends of mine. Natalia Machuca...

MS. NATALIA MACHUCA

00:00:40
Ms. Rebecca's here.

SHEIR

00:00:41
That'd be me. You guys home?

MACHUCA

00:00:44
Come up all the way to the 4th floor.

SHEIR

00:00:45
Okay, I'll be there. And Alexander Strain. Hello.

MR. ALEXANDER STRAIN

00:00:49
How's it going?

SHEIR

00:00:50
It's good. How are you?

STRAIN

00:00:51
Doing very well.

SHEIR

00:00:51
Natalia and Alexander have been together, what, seven years now and have been living in this Capitol Hill apartment for about five and a half. You said it was going to be messy. It's not really that messy.

STRAIN

00:01:00
It's pretty cluttered because we're in preparation.

SHEIR

00:01:04
Big preparation, as it happens, since next week is their wedding.

STRAIN

00:01:09
That is very true, finally.

MACHUCA

00:01:13
It's taken us a while.

SHEIR

00:01:15
Natalia and Alexander have done all the planning themselves, from the invitations to the food to...

STRAIN

00:01:20
This is all of our stuff.

SHEIR

00:01:22
...the decorations. There's like a vintage typewriter. How cool is that? And...

MACHUCA

00:01:27
This is a prototype for the centerpieces, colored vintage bottle with a pinwheel, paper hearts and imitation vintage buttons. I don't think they're vintage.

SHEIR

00:01:39
(word?) aren't circa 1900. Obviously, they're going for an old time-y vintage theme.

STRAIN

00:01:47
So we didn't really set out -- I mean, our plan wasn't this. You know, we really sort of found the building, found the space and then felt, you know, we should honor sort of the mood of the space. And so all of this sort of fits in with the mood of the building.

SHEIR

00:02:01
The building Alexander's talking about, the wedding venue stands at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. Any Capitol Hill folks out there might be familiar with this stately brick structure, though not necessarily as a hot spot for weddings.

MS. NICKY CYMROT

00:02:15
President Lincoln commissioned this building. It was the first land-based naval hospital in the Washington region.

SHEIR

00:02:22
And, says long time Capitol Hill resident Nicky Cymrot, the old naval hospital was completed in 1866. It became an old soldiers' home in 1922 and then in the 1960s, after the federal government transferred control of the building to the District of Columbia, several social service organizations moved in. But here's the thing, by 1998...

CYMROT

00:02:43
We should just think of it as kind of a haunted building sitting up here.

SHEIR

00:02:46
That stately brick structure at 9th and Pennsylvania was pretty much vacant.

CYMROT

00:02:52
There was a lot of trash and a lot of debris that had been left around over the years. The roof was leaking, a lot of plaster damage. So it was a scary place.

SHEIR

00:03:01
But much to Cymrot's delight...

CYMROT

00:03:03
Look at these beautiful pine floors.

SHEIR

00:03:05
...it isn't so scary anymore.

CYMROT

00:03:07
We were surprised, all of us, when they were refinished and looked so beautiful.

SHEIR

00:03:11
Cymrot is president of the Old Naval Hospital Foundation, a coalition of Capitol Hill residents who fought to save the landmark and turn it into a local resource. She's happy to report their efforts paid off and now $12 million later...

CYMROT

00:03:24
The District of Columbia has contributed close to $6 million. We have secured a federal grant for $2 million and the rest of it has been raised locally in Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

00:03:34
The old naval hospital has become the Hill Center at Old Naval Hospital, a fully restored 16,000 square foot community center.

CYMROT

00:03:43
We've made very few changes to the walls and the building. That's the beauty of it. Almost everything is just as it was. The rooms are as they were, put to modern use with all new systems.

SHEIR

00:03:53
With golden yellow walls and airy windows trimmed in burgundy...

CYMROT

00:03:57
(unintelligible) 14-foot ceilings here.

SHEIR

00:04:00
...the rooms are all named after historical figures who were active in Capitol Hill during the hospital's hay days. So you've got the Walt Whitman art classroom.

CYMROT

00:04:07
Walt Whitman, as you know, was a writer-poet and he was active as a nurse during the Civil War.

SHEIR

00:04:13
The Constantino Brumidi gallery.

CYMROT

00:04:15
Constantino Brumidi was the artist who did the murals and much of the decoration in the U.S. Capital.

SHEIR

00:04:21
The Harriet Jacobs room.

CYMROT

00:04:23
Harriet Jacobs was an activist interested in the rights for African-American citizens so she was advocating for the freed slaves.

SHEIR

00:04:31
And all the rooms will be used for a bunch of different things. The Harriet Jacobs room, for instance...

CYMROT

00:04:35
This might be a knitting class, it might be a Latin class, it might be a history seminar, it might be a small meeting, it might be a small yoga class.

SHEIR

00:04:44
Other spaces might hold film screenings, book readings or special events like Natalia and Alexander's wedding, the very first wedding, by the way, to be held at the center, up in the spacious Abraham Lincoln hall.

CYMROT

00:04:55
This is a wonderful transformation from a derelict building into something that the community and the city is going to enjoy for many years to come.

SHEIR

00:05:03
And back in that somewhat cluttered, but not too messy, Capitol Hill apartment, the groom-to-be agrees.

STRAIN

00:05:09
I mean, I think there's just enormous potential for it, to be this sort of local community center near Easton Market which, you know, there's nothing like that at the moment and it is just such a beautiful space and lots of light and just feels very welcoming.

SHEIR

00:05:23
Not to mention how much he and his intended groove on that historical, authentically vintage vibe.

STRAIN

00:05:29
You know, having somewhere local that also has a story behind it that isn't just an impersonal, you know, generic room. There's actually history and a feeling to the place before you've even entered.

SHEIR

00:05:43
In other words, an ideal place for bringing together the old and new, if not the borrowed and blue and saying I do.

SHEIR

00:06:05
The Hill Center at old naval hospital will hold a flag-raising and open house on November 19th. To read more about the center and to see photos of 921 Pennsylvania Avenue back in the 1800s and today, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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