What better way to experience the history of our wonderful neighborhood in a single afternoon than a stroll along the Mt. Pleasant Heritage Trail, huh? Well, since it was about ten million degrees out on Saturday, I’m going to have to complete the second half of the trail on another day, but allow me to welcome you to the first of what will be a multi-part post on the stops along the way.
Before I went along my merry way, I picked up a trail booklet at Pfieffer’s Hardware. You can find out where else to get one, or download it from the web here. I spent a little time reading through and learned quite a bit of interesting information about good old Mt. P. Did you know that Mt. Pleasant originally extended as far east as 7th Street? Me neither! It wasn’t until 1903, about 40 years after Mt. Pleasant came to be, that electric street cars began running on Mt. Pleasant Street, businesses started sprouting up, developers started building houses and apartment buildings and Mt. Pleasant began to morph into the neighborhood I know and love today.
Moving along…The trail starts at 16th and Mt. Pleasant Streets and runs north along 16th to Newton, then west on Newton and down 19th Street all the way to Adams Mill Road, back east on Park Road and south on Mt. Pleasant Street, back to where you started from, all with 17 stops along the way. I had originally envisioned this as a 17 part series with a post about each stop, but as I made my way along I realized that might not be too interesting. Who knows if I’ll be able to hold your attention better this way – but I’ve decided to tackle this 3-4 stops at a time and highlight one or two of my choosing. So, here we go… Post continues after the jump with more photos.
Stop number one focuses on “fashionable 16th Street.” As a newly minted 16th Street resident, I’ve gotta say it is indeed fashionable with all of its grand apartment buildings and embassies, and I’m happy to live on such a pretty and historic major city artery. At stop number two we take a look at “upheaval and activism.” Dating back to the late 1950s with the Mt. Pleasant Neighbors Association, neighborhood advocacy and activism is still alive and well today. In addition to social service agencies like Neighbors Consejo, there are groups like Hear Mt. Pleasant who lobby for the revival of live music in the bars and restaurants, and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission who lobby for pretty much everything else. And what more important an issue for the ANC to advise on than the Mt. Pleasant Library (stop number 3) redesign project?
This brings me to the main focus on this week’s post (I promise next time won’t be quite as verbose!) Last night I attended the Mt. Pleasant Library Community Design meeting, the second in a series of meetings seeking input from the community about the library redesign and construction project. Shame on me, I never actually visited the Mt. Pleasant library until about two months ago. But, let me tell you, it’s a beaut!
The Library sits at the corner of 16th and Mt. Pleasant Street, where it’s been since 1925 when it was constructed by Edward L. Tilton, noted architect of Carnegie Libraries nationwide. The Carnegie Corporation even spent a little extra on this branch so that it would fit right in with the rest of fashionable 16th Street.
This was the first civic meeting I’ve ever attended – and it turned out to be pretty much as I imagined. Held in the beautifully decorated children’s room of the library, complete with paintings done by Aurelis Battaglia – local artist and famed illustrator of Disney Studios’ Dumbo and Pinnochio, there were about 30 people in attendance, 20 of whom were DCPL staff and ANC members. Right before the meeting started I met a lovely woman who works for the DC Library Renaissance Group. Over the past couple of years there have been a number of Library redesigns in DC and she’s been to lots and lots of community meetings. She told me that although this meeting may not have been the most heavily attended, it was one of the most frank discussions she has been a part of.
The architects gave a presentation on two very well thought out, carefully constructed concepts which are sensitive to historic preservation. They plan to keep as much of the original woodwork and features as possible, and will be upgrading from the current 17,600 square feet to about 21,100. The primary focus will be on creating a more fluid space and bringing the building up to code. The most significant modification, and the one that drew the greatest response, is the plan to redesign the entry way and possibly remove the outdoor steps. The entire project will put the library out of commission for about a year to 18 months, but they are currently seeking an interim location.
Following the presentation the floor was opened for discussion, and there were a handful of participants, notably ANC Chairman Gregg Edwards, who could not wait for a chance to pipe up. I have to admit that at first I was getting irritated with him, as he was being argumentative and accusatory and didn’t seem to take issue with the design being presented but rather the fact that community feedback was not appropriately sought out. I kind of wanted him to be quiet, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was kind of making a good point, albeit in a slightly counterproductive manner.
The Head Librarian, Ginnie Cooper, explained that postcards were mailed to all addresses within a half mile radius and they posted on community message boards (that’s how I found out) but although the library has email addresses on file for almost all card carrying members, they did not send an e-mail blast, for issues of privacy. I feel like the people who really care about this kind of stuff will seek it out, but I do think they could have done a better job of reaching out. At any rate – whether it’s the fault of the library or not – the meeting was poorly attended, and there MUST be more than 30 people out there who care about and use the library.
When all is said and done, I think the redesign is a good thing. I am hopeful and optimistic that the changes made will help the library better meet the needs of its users, but Mr. Edwards is right that that can’t happen unless those users make their voices heard. So, if you care about the library, make it a point to get yourself to the next meeting. The date has not been secured yet, but I will be sure to let you all know when it is. Or you can check in to the DCPL website for updates. There’s a survey posted there too – where you can let the library know what you think!
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