Southwest Waterfront

Southwest Waterfront

Southwest Waterfront is a residential neighborhood in Southwest Washington, D.C.. By virtue of Southwest's being the smallest of Washington's four quadrants, Southwest Waterfront is in fact one of only two residential neighborhoods in the quadrant (the other being Bellevue, which, being east of the Anacostia River, is frequently, if mistakenly, regarded as being in Southeast). For that reason many residents of Southwest Waterfront will simply refer to themselves as living in "Southwest."

Southwest Waterfront is bounded by Interstate 395 to the north and northwest, the Potomac River to the south and southwest, and South Capitol Street to the east. Politically, Southwest Waterfront lies in Ward 6.


Southwest Waterfront is part of Pierre L'Enfant's original city plans and includes some of the oldest buildings in the city, including the Wheat Row block of townhouses, built in 1793, and Fort McNair, which was established in 1791 as "the U.S. Arsenal at Greenleaf Point."

After the Civil War, the Southwest Waterfront became a neighborhood for the poorer classes of Washingtonians. The neighborhood was divided in half by Fourth Street SW, then known as 4 1/2 Street; Scottish, Irish, German, and eastern European immigrants lived west of 4 1/2 Street, while freed blacks lived to the east. Each half was centered around religious establishments: St. Dominic's Catholic Church and Temple Beth Israel on the west, and Friendship Baptist Church on the east. (Also, each half of the neighborhood was the birthplace of a future American musical star — Al Jolson was born on 4 1/2 Street, and Marvin Gaye was born in a tenement on First Street.)

The Waterfront developed into a quite contradictory area: it had a thriving commercial district with grocery stores, shops, a movie theater, as well as a few large and elaborate houses (mostly owned by wealthy blacks). However, most of the neighborhood was a very poor shantytown of tenements, shacks, and even tents. These places, some of them in the shadow of the Capitol Building, were frequent subjects of photographs that were published with captions like, "The Washington that tourists never see."

In 1972, the Women's Titanic Memorial was moved to the Washington Channel, near Fort McNair in Southwest Waterfront.

In the 1950s, city planners working with the U.S. Congress decided that the entire Southwest quadrant should undergo a significant urban renewal — in this case, meaning that the city would declare eminent domain over all land south of the mall (except Bolling Air Force Base and Fort McNair); evict virtually all of its residents and businesses; destroy all streets, buildings, and landscapes; and start again from scratch. Only a few buildings were left intact, notably the Maine Avenue fish market, the Wheat Row townhouses, the Thomas Law House, and the St. Dominic's and Friendship churches. The Southeast/Southwest Freeway section of Interstate 395 was constructed where F Street, SW, had once been, separating the quadrant's business district from the residential Waterfront neighborhood.

The heart of the urban renewal of the Southwest Waterfront was Waterside Mall, a small shopping center/office complex mostly occupied by a Safeway grocery store and satellite offices for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The Arena Stage was built a block west of the Mall, and a number of hotels and restaurants were built on the riverfront to attract tourists. Southeastern University, a very small college that had been chartered in 1937, also established itself as an important institution in the area.

The residential aspect of the project began with a large apartment complex and park called Potomac Place, located on 4th Street between G and I Streets. When Nikita Khrushchev visited Washington in 1959, he pointed out to President Dwight D. Eisenhower the extremely poor dwellings that stood on the way from Bolling Air Force Base (where Khruschev had arrived in the city) to the downtown area; Eisenhower, in response, ordered their driver to pass by Potomac Place in order to show the Soviet Premier that the nation's capital was working to assist its poorer citizens.

The Washington Metro built the Waterfront-SEU Metro Station on its Green Line and opened it in 1991.

Present day

Starting around 2003, the Southwest Waterfront began gentrifying. H20, an enormously popular nightclub, opened on the riverfront, while a number of the decrepit and unattractive apartment buildings began extensive renovations and condominium conversions. Residential and commercial developers began to take a more serious interest in Southwest with the announcement in 2004 that the city would build the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium just across South Capitol Street from Southwest. The Southwest Waterfront has now been earmarked as the site of the next wave of cityside gentrification.

Current residents include former Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter. Hubert Humphrey lived there while serving as U.S. Vice President.

External links

* [ Southwest D.C. Community Website]
* [ Cultural Tourism DC: Southwest]
* [ Developments in SW DC (blog)]

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