‘Alex on Her Old House’ by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.

Today, People’s District tells the story of a house in Mt. Pleasant through two woman. Alex’s story below talks about growing up on 19th and Kenyon in the 80′s and 90′s. You can read about Tamara, the woman raising her family there now on People’s District. The two families have an amazing set of things in common, and talk about a changing neighborhood through the lens of a beautiful old house.

“I always regret that we sold the house in Mt. Pleasant where I was born and raised. You know, the place was falling apart and the foundation was going, but it was our home. After my parents got married in Afghanistan and then tried living in San Francisco, they decided to come to D.C. in the 1970’s. They were do gooders who traveled the world and helped women in third world countries open their own businesses. So, D.C. was a nice fit for them and they found a place on 19th and Kenyon St. and raised me and my sister there.

“The neighborhood was incredible and had such a rich culture, but if people think that Washington is bad now, you should have been in Mt. Pleasant back then. My Dad, sister and I got held up at gun point when I was eight years old. Our car got stolen four times and who knows how many times our house got broken into. A woman was shot in the back of the head on our street. Then, the riots of the 90’s happened in Mt. Pleasant, and things started to get even worse. I remember being at home, watching the riots on TV with my Dad. I couldn’t believe it was real until I saw on TV that they burned the KFC that used to be on the corner of Kenyon and Mt. Pleasant St.

“While it was rough, my parents still wanted me and my sister to live our lives and have fun. They knew that the more restrictions you put on a child, the more they are going to rebel. Instead, they put trust in us, and taught us how to take care of ourselves in the neighborhood. My parents never condoned carrying any kind of weapon, but they always taught us to always look behind you and be aware of your surroundings.

Continues after the jump.

“After all of the violence and crime we witnessed, my parents stayed in the neighborhood because they loved the rich culture and the wonderful neighbors. We had a really close community and we were really good friends with everyone around us. Also, where else will you hear the sounds of lions and monkeys from the zoo in the city? When things got bad, they didn’t want to give that up. Now, as a soon to be Mom, I wouldn’t want to give that up either if I had that. You will find violence wherever you go. You just have to teach your kids how to handle it.

“We left Mt. Pleasant when I went to college in California. My sister and Mom eventually joined me out there. My Mom decided to sell the house and the family who now lives there that has so many incredible similarities to our family. The couple spent time in Afghanistan and San Francisco before moving to D.C. I guess it was meant to be that they live there now with their two children.

“Like my parents, I realized that California wasn’t for me, and I came back to D.C. a few years ago. Coming back, I was shocked by how much this city, especially Mt. Pleasant, had changed. When we were growing up, there were almost no white families or families with kids on our block, now there must be at least 15. I am grateful for some of the changes, but I hope that people who come in there now know and care about the people who were there before them. Just like you need to know that you walk on the left and stand on the right of our escalators, people should take the time to learn about where they live.

“Now, I live in Brookland and really love it. We have awesome neighbors and it reminds me of being back in Mt. Pleasant where people want to be a part of your life and build a sense of community where they live.”

Read Tamara’s story.

25 Comment

  • I can’t imagine staying in a neighborhood where your car gets stolen 4 times and your house gets broken into more than 4 times and your whole family (including young children) gets held up at gunpoint.

    What rich culture is worth putting up with that? I can’t honestly imagine. Can’t you maintain friendships with your neighbors without living next to them?

    • try to imagine that the things you place a high value on, personal property for instance, is not what everyone places high value on. sometimes other things are more important to other people.

      • “try to imagine that the things you place a high value on, personal property for instance, is not what everyone places high value on. sometimes other things are more important to other people.”

        I place the highest value on the safety of my children…

        Your comment is idiotic. Not all of us who want safe streets are consumerist yuppies. Only a fool would pine for violent DC of the past.

        • Personally, I place high value on not having to file police reports and insurance claims.

        • did i say consumerist yuppie? i missed that part.
          i just said that people have different priorities.

          if everyone who was the victim of crime just ran away, only criminals would be left.

      • +1

    • Yes, it seems to me that you could live in a safer neighborhood, even if it has to be the surburbs, and just take a lot of trips into the rougher neighborhoods (maybe doing volunteer work). You and your kids would get the culture and perspective without all the headaches that come with being a resident there.

      Nevertheless, I admire what these parents were trying to do and I wish mine were more open-minded like them. If they could afford to travel, I’ll bet they took those kids on some amazing trips too.

    • You’ve obviously never had your house broken into. What makes it a horrible experience is not that your stuff was stolen, but that someone, probably armed with a weapon, bypassed all the locks and grates and alarms and was in your personal space tearing through your personal things. It took us over a week to clean up the mess they made of the house, the better part of a workday to wait for the police to come and file the report, and a considerable amount of time filing the insurance claim and taking steps to ensure I would not become the victim of identity theft (since they had stolen my laptop and went though files containing my personal documents. Materialistic or not, who wants to go through all that?

  • I place a high value on the personal safety of myself and my children. Fuck the car, but when your family gets held up at gunpoint? Um. Time to go if you have the option, and it sounds like they did. San Francisco may not be for everyone, but as a Californian I would be willing to bet that wasn’t happening in the neighborhood they were living in out there.

    • I bet they went from Mt. P to the tenderloin, the haight, hunter’s point, or some other hole so they could be cool…

      I grew up in a shitty hood, because I had no choice. The minute I could, I bolted.

      I have always found it weird that some white people (I’m Hispanic)think it’s “cool” or “progressive” to purposefully move into ghetto hoods… I especially love those that move to the ghetto and then complain about gentrification.

      I live in CH because it’s what I can afford without having a crazy commute. The minute I have enough cash, I’m out to someplace better.

  • I almost find it hard to imagine a time when Mount Pleasant was that bad. Looking at it today, it seems the paragon of a diverse and redeveloped urban neighborhood, especially compared to the neighborhoods bordering it.

    Then again, being raised a New Yorker, I have only the haziest memories of when Times Square and 42nd Street were two of the most dangerous places in NYC. Nothing but dope dealers and hookers for most of the 70s and 80s.

    • I have to wonder if they were the targets of anti-gentrifiers. What are the odds that your car happens to get stolen four times? Sounds to me like someone wanted them out.

    • saf

      I lived in Mt P in those days. It was not all that different then than now.

  • Mt. P in the 90’s was the end of a golden era. If you were there you know that, if not snark away.

    • I have heard something like this, but find it hard to see it as consistent with what has been said about the riots and crime. In what way was it a golden era? People were just more friendly to each other (aside from the ones committing crimes)?

  • People who grew up differently appreciate different things. If you grew up in a cookie cutter, white picket fence neighborhood you might crave a little more diversity and character even if it means some trade-offs like crime.

    Most neighborhoods will see the cycle of poverty to gentrification to higher income and all the colors in between. While some neighborhoods are immune to this, change is generally inherent and you have to find whatever niche you like within the city.

    If you grow up in a rough neighborhood its no surprise you probably crave a safer place to live, but if you grew up in the burbs a lot of times you want noise and crammed spaces despite the jerk yelling at you from across the street.

  • Interesting reading Alex’s story – I knew her mother (and their little white dog Lucy).

    The aftermath of the 1991 riots in Mt Pleasant lead to some positive changes including hiring more bilingual police officers and the organizing of the annual Celebrate Mt Pleasant Festival. I think there was a greater community spirit and neighborhood pride back then – something that seems to have diminished in recent years.

  • georgetown was once considered a slum. not very long ago either. it’s remarkable how much things that seem eternal somehow manage to evolve.

  • I find it very interesting to hear about what neighborhoods in Washington were like back in the day…I think it’s hard for people new to DC to grasp the scale of change that’s gone on.

    We have family friends who were living in Mt. Pleasant in the 1990s with their young daughter and left after the Shotgun Stalker [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Swann and http://www.dcjack.org/shotgun%20stalker.html%5D shot and killed one of their neighbors while she was walking her dogs. They ended up moving to Arlington VA because it was so affordable (seriously…it once was)and safe and and bought a house in shabby but up-and-coming Clarendon.

  • If you didn’t live here in the 80s and 90s you have no idea what it was like. Moving to a neighborhood without crime? There weren’t many. Georgetown was a seriously shady place up until the mid-90s.

    I grew up in Takoma, DC off of Georgia Ave. Our house was broken into half a dozen times, our car was stolen six times (we got it back every time) and, while I wasn’t mugged in my neighborhood, I was witness to enough ridiculous crime and violence. (I was actually mugged at gunpoint in the late-90s behind Sidwell Friends, which goes to show that this shit can be insanely random.)

    DC back in the day was fucked up. I’m happy to be able to live and go to neighborhoods that we could only drive through before. I’m especially happy to see actual stores dotting Georgia Ave, as opposed to the burnt out husks of buildings burned down in the ’68 riots.

  • Man I was born in ’89, and lived in Deanwood from then until just recently. MY earliest memory is 1993, and from I’ve seen and experienced D.C. in the 90’s was worse than New Jack city.

Comments are closed.