Door To Door: Logan Circle And Benning Heights, D.C. | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Door To Door: Logan Circle And Benning Heights, D.C.

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Benjamin E. Thomas, Sr., 92, moved to Benning Heights in 1958 when the neighborhood was a great spot for families looking to buy a home.
Lauren Landau
Benjamin E. Thomas, Sr., 92, moved to Benning Heights in 1958 when the neighborhood was a great spot for families looking to buy a home.

Logan Circle

Tim Christensen, 56, moved to Logan Circle in 1989 when he and his partner were looking to buy a home.

"We didn't know which way the trajectory would go," Christensen says. "Luckily for us it went up, and it's now one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Washington, D.C."

Christensen says Logan Circle has changed quite a bit over the years.

"Logan Circle was basically farmland until the Civil War," he says. "It began to grow in the 1870s when Boss Shepard was the city manager, and he put in the infrastructure that led to sewage systems, street lights, and electricity and made construction possible, and people started flocking to this neighborhood because it was almost like a suburb of downtown Washington, D.C."

After the Civil War, many freed slaves moved to the District, including the Logan Circle neighborhood. "We've always had an interesting mixture of race and ethnicity, and depending on when you visit throughout our history it may be primarily black or predominantly white, but there's a nice balance here," Christensen says.

He estimated the population of the neighborhood to be about 25,000, and says the key word to the demographics of Logan Circle is "diversity." Christensen says that in addition to a recent influx of young professionals, there are also empty-nesters, elderly folks, and young couples who are just starting their families. Logan Circle also has a considerable LGBT population.

"It's a very welcoming community, and we all live peacefully side-by-side," he says.

Neighbors enjoy events and landmarks in the town, such as the neighborhood's distinctive architecture and park. "One of the most stunning characteristics of the Logan Circle neighborhood is its beauty," he says. "We have, of course, our stunning Victorian architecture, the residential architecture. We also have some pretty amazing contemporary condominium developments, and then if you just look up the street at Logan Circle Park, it was refurbished by the National Park Service not too many years ago."

One of the most notable icons is the statue of Gen. John Logan, which stands in the center of Logan Circle Park. Christensen says the circle was called 'Iowa Circle' until 1930, when the name was changed in honor of the general who briefly lived in the area.

"Another icon in Logan Circle neighborhood is, of course, the fabulous Studio Theatre, which is part of the bedrock of this community," Christensen says. "We have great collaborations between the community and studio."

He says another attraction is the Logan Circle Holiday House Tour, which the Logan Circle Community Association hosts on the first Sunday of every year. Visitors can check out the neighborhood's trademark Victorian homes, and more recently, some of the area's contemporary condominiums that have sprung up in recent years.

Christensen says that the current hot topic in Logan Circle is the growing development along the 14th Street corridor. "We have hundreds and hundreds of residential units coming on line every year, and I don't see an end to that any time soon. We're also very protective of our small businesses, and we are certainly hoping that we can keep our small business in the neighborhood and not make them victims of their own success."

Christensen currently serves as president of the Logan Circle Community Association, which he says has worked tirelessly to improve and serve the neighborhood.

"The Logan Circle Community Association was founded in the 1970s to deal with a couple of very, very difficult problems, and that was prostitution and drug dealing. People rallied around that cause, and from almost the very beginning, the Logan Circle Community Association was very strong. Times have changed; the issues are different. People talk more about parking now than they talk about prostitution, but there are still issues that need to be dealt with, and they do draw the community together."

He says that the era following 1968, and continuing through the crack epidemic of the 1980s and '90s was rough for Logan Circle. But after the '90s, residents worked to reclaim the neighborhood by rebuilding homes and attracting new businesses.

"Everything that happens in Logan Circle happens because of the efforts of a very tenacious, small group of people," says Christensen.

He says he hopes that in spring 2013, Logan Circle will join the network of D.C. Heritage Trails. "The itinerary will include 15 stops along the route through the neighborhood, telling a lot about the intellectual and social history of the neighborhood, and a lot of it is black history.

"What I like best about Logan Circle is that everything I need is within a few blocks of my front door," he says. "Whether it's shopping, dry cleaning, hardware store, great dining, terrific theater, terrific bars, everything is right here."

Benning Heights

Benjamin Earl Thomas, Sr., 92, has lived in Benning Heights in Southeast D.C. since 1958.

He says that the neighborhood has changed significantly since he moved in, and when he first bought his home, there was a small minority of black residents, but now the neighborhood is predominantly black. Thomas also says that when he arrived, there were mainly young families and people looking to buy homes.

"Until about five or six years ago, most of them were homeowners that lived there, but a lot of the homeowners have passed now and the children rented the houses out, so there are a lot of rentals in the area now."

Thomas says residents used to be more connected, and acted "like family." But the kids grew up, moved out, and never came back, which created a major difference. He says that currently, most of Benning Heights' residents are senior citizens.

The neighborhood has a swimming pool and is right near Fort Dupont Park, but Thomas says that shopping can be difficult. There isn't much in the area aside from a few corner stores. "The nearest grocery store is down on Minnesota Avenue, which is probably, I'd say three or four miles from my house."

Thomas says he enjoys sitting out on his porch, but that he is one of the few who does so. He says this is due to a recent spike in crime that has made the neighborhood's many elderly wary about coming outside. Thomas says some of the people who bike or drive through the area will do anything to seniors if given the opportunity.

It doesn't help that there is little protection for the neighborhood's vulnerable, elderly population. "We don't have the police service that we used to have," Thomas says. "I can drive around for two hours, and I can't find a policeman within a mile or two mile radius of my home."

He says that's frightening, because the young people committing crimes see the same scene he does. "If they don't see any policemen, they don't expect to see any and it's easy for them to walk up to somebody and snatch a cell phone or snatch a lady's purse."

Once, Thomas was driving an elderly lady to a funeral when she recounted a story about being robbed while waiting at a bus stop. "She said she was standing at a bus stop on Benning Road, and a young man came up and snatched her purse. He said, 'go ahead and call the police. They ain't coming no how,' and he just casually walked away with her purse, because he knew that the police wasn't going to come."

Thomas says that the biggest problems facing Benning Heights are robberies and the minimal police presence. But Thomas enjoys the little things. "What I really like about it is it's still a quiet neighborhood. I can sleep at night, and I can sit on my porch when I want to."


[Music: "No, Girl" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "Tradition" by New Orleans Klezmer All Stars from Knitting on the Roof]

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