MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll head now about four miles south of the McMillan site to the Capitol Riverfront in Southeast D.C. The Front, as developers and business types call it, now has condos, offices, restaurants, not to mention Nationals Park. Lauren Ober visited The Front to learn more about the neighborhood's future, and what's being done to put a fresh face on a very old part of the city.
MS. LAUREN OBER
It's a weekday afternoon, and Yards Park in Southeast D.C. is filled with young parents pushing baby strollers and retirees walking little dogs. Then, there's Yoshi Tanenbaum. He's a 19 year-old skateboarder from Silver Spring, and he's come to this five-and-a-half-acre park in Capitol Riverfront to shred.
MR. YOSHI TANENBAUM
You see the transitions.
He's talking about the curved wooden benches right on the river front. Benches that are perfect for launching skateboards.
It's just a cool scenic spot for people to come. It's not a skate park where it's crowded. It's just cool. It's a cool spot.
It's taken a while for Capitol Riverfront to become a cool spot. For years, it was notable mostly for dust and jackhammering and construction traffic. But now, Capitol Riverfront is materializing from the rubble and grit as a place that kind of looks like a real neighborhood.
MR. MICHAEL STEVENS
We've often been described as an emerging neighborhood. We think we've arrived, and we're firmly established.
That's Michael Stevens. He's the President of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. And the community's chief cheerleader. You won't find a person more enthusiastic about Capitol Riverfront than Stevens.
We're this new growth community, and I think people are beginning to realize we're very accessible and proximate. You know, we have water frontage. We also are five blocks south of the US Capitol. We have great transportation accessibility, so I think those are the things that really define us. Additionally, I think what is now defining us is we're an urban residential community. That has been one of our biggest successes.
But before we can look at what Stevens sees as Capitol Riverfront's selling points, we have to give some love to what the area used to be. Here's a quick history lesson. Around the time of Washington's founding, the late 1700s, three main enclaves cropped up in the new city. Jane Freundel Levy, a historian with Cultural Tourism D.C., says one of those areas was the Anacostia River waterfront, where the Navy Yard now sits.
MS. JANE FREUNDEL LEVY
The Navy Yard was one of our first installations to come to Washington, D.C. Right at the very beginning. And it was a ship building facility as well as a defense for the capital. So, the Navy Yard developed one of the first actual neighborhoods in Washington, because like in any city, if you have a center of employment, people will come and they'll want to live near it, especially in the 19th century, when everybody walked everywhere.
The Navy Yard churned out ships and munitions at a steady clip through World War 2. Then, as the need for weapons petered out, the Navy Yard's importance diminished. People who could afford to do so moved out of the neighborhood and into the suburbs, taking their money with them. It was a double blow to the neighborhood. Over the years, the area around the Navy Yard became populated with bus depots and mechanic shops, noisy, dirty enterprises. Then, in the 1960's...
The Navy Yard area became known as a gay-friendly area with lots of nightclubs and places where people, frankly, at that time, wanted to go and have a good time and not be seen going in the door. So, that's where they went.
Then, in 1995, the federal government announced the decision to consolidate the NAVSEA naval operations to the Navy Yard. Developers eyeballed the area and began building offices to accommodate the expected growth. By the mid-2000s, "the Front" was born. That's the nickname and developers gave to the 500 acre parcel hugging the banks of the Anacostia.
But the area scored its biggest coup when the Washington Nationals decided to build their new stadium in Capitol Riverfront. Michael Stevens says everything changed then.
The ballpark has really branded us and mentally mapped us in a region of six and a half million people, and that was a great marketing campaign for us, that 2.8 million people came last year, emerged from the Metro and go, holy cow, they've built a lot of stuff here.
Indeed, a lot of stuff has been built in the mixed-use community. The US Department of Transportation located its shiny new HQ here and big defense contractors like Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics also set up shop in the Front. And there's a river walk and inviting parks and lots of new restaurants. One of those dining options is the Arsenal at Bluejacket Brewery. The much-hyped spot from the folks behind Birch and Barley and Churchkey occupies part of what used to be the Navy Yard's boilermaker facility. The industrial building turned brewery is a soaring, airy space built in 1918.
MR. GREG ENGERT
The height was really what blew us away, because it goes up nearly 55 feet in the center.
That's Bluejacket's beer director, Greg Engert.
The other cool thing was just the industrial nature of this area. You know, we were excited by the possibility of adding a new chapter to the industry, coming out of Navy Yard.
It's no surprise that the cache of the Riverfront's military history drew the craft brewery to the area. It speaks of authenticity and industry and nostalgia, things that developers and marketers seek and many residents, especially younger ones, crave. Of course, a sense of place can be tough to maintain in a neighborhood, a meticulously planned, mixed-use neighborhood, that's changing as dramatically as this one. But Jane Freundel Levy says in an ideal world, developers and the city will engage with the remnants of the area so that the spirit of the place is preserved and honored.
It takes a conversation between the developers, and, with any luck, the remnants of the existing community, if someplace is being redeveloped, to come to a better future for everybody.
I'm Lauren Ober.
Wanna take a virtual tour of "The Front?" We have photos at our website, metroconnection.org.
After the break…
MR. MARK FURSTENBERG
75-year-old don't generally start businesses. 75-year-old people, generally, are in Palm Beach or Palm Springs. Or some Palm.
We'll meet a D.C. baker who proves it's never too late to whip up a new career. That story and more coming your way in just a minute here on Metro Connection, here on WAMU 88.5.
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