Bloomingdale’s Secret: Crispus Attucks Park

by Andrew Siddons

Entrance to Crispus Attucks Park from North Capitol Street.

Among the Bloomingdale neighborhood’s many charms is one that is hidden away among its stately turreted row houses. Crispus Attucks Park is a patch of green space in the middle of the alley surrounded by First Street, U Street, North Capitol Street and V Street NW.

“People who live just a block away don’t know that it’s here,” Molly Scott, who lives on U Street, told UrbanTurf. “Generally, you don’t go into an alley unless you live near it.”

In a way, the park — which is named for the freed slave who was killed during the opening shots on the Revolutionary War — is a symbol of Bloomingdale’s own transition. Once a place notorious for drug deals and people living in abandoned cars, the alleyway park’s most pressing issue is now whether or not dogs should be allowed off their leashes.

A quick history: In the early 20th century, the 1.36-acre site was the location of a cable yard and a building that housed a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company switching station. Operations there ceased in the late 1960s, and in 1977, neighbors lobbied the telephone company to let the community use the abandoned building as a community center. For a time, the center and its green space were funded by the city, but in 1987, the DC’s Parks & Recreation budget was cut, and the site was once more left idle. In 1995, neighbors took action again to clean up the park, but three years later, the city foreclosed on it, due to unpaid taxes. Eventually the debt was forgiven, and the city council passed a law that gave control of the park to the Crispus Attucks Development Corporation (CADC). The CADC does not pay taxes to the city, nor does it receive city funds, except through the occasional grant.

“The CADC is a non-profit, all volunteer organization that actually owns the land on behalf of the community,” said John Corea, an area resident who served as the head of the CADC for seven years. (More about the park history is available here.)

Three quarters of the corporation’s 15-person board must reside in the houses surrounding the park. The other quarter is made up of neighborhood residents. The board is tasked with making decisions related to the park’s landscaping and upkeep.

While board members pay dues of $200 a year, those who simply wish to be members of the corporation pay lower dues with the idea that they will give up some of their free time to help maintain the park’s appearance.

Neighbors take their dogs out on the 1st Street side of the park

For example, Molly Scott is a professional landscape architect, so she volunteers as the board’s operation manager, overseeing things like the installation of an irrigation system, or consulting neighbors on planting. She admits that it can be tough to get people involved to help with park maintenance.

“Usually somebody gets fed up, and is like, ‘Fine, I’ll mow it,’ and they just come out and do it,” Scott said about the park’s grass.

“The overall principle is that people who use should help maintain it,” Corea said. “If you want to use the park, but don’t want to pay for it, you can do that. It happens. So we try and use moral persuasion to get people to contribute.”

Improvements to the park have been concurrent with the rise of Bloomingdale’s desirability for potential homeowners. While homes on the blocks surrounding the park have not been priced much differently from other Bloomingdale properties, according to area realtor Suzanne Des Marais, she did describe Crispus Attucks as a “huge” selling point.

“Now that the park is a community asset, rather than a liability, it’s a challenge to find an available home on the park and you’re likely to be competing with other buyers for it,” she explained.

Newcomers to the neighborhood realize the park’s value, as well. Yohana Dukhan moved to the corner of V Street and North Capitol Street as a renter in early April. Her friend had found an area rental on Craigslist, and at first she was reluctant because of Bloomingdale’s lack of Metro station. “Without even seeing the place, I said no,” Dukhan remembers.

But when her friend insisted on checking out the house, she changed her mind. “When I saw the park and the house, I was like ‘I will live there.’”

If you ask John Corea, reactions like that are no coincidence. “It’s more of a park now than it’s ever been before, so there’s more interest,” he said.

Those looking for an excuse to visit Crispus Attucks Park will have one in a few weeks. On Saturday, May 21st, the CADC is hosting its annual fundraising yard sale, which accounts for a significant portion of the park’s budget.

See other articles related to: dclofts, crispus attucks park, bloomingdale

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/bloomingdales_secret_crispus_attucks_park/3419

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