Residents Protest Streetcar ‘Barn’


Spingarn High School opened to fanfare among Washington Blacks in 1952. Named for Joel Elias Spingarn, the educator for whom the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal is named, the school boasts among its graduates NBA greats Elgin Baylor, who went on to serve 22 years as general manager of the L.A. Clippers, and Dave Bing, now mayor of Detroit; former Metro general manager John B. Catoe; and John Kinard, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum.

In Black Washington and especially in the Carver Langston neighborhood where it is located, the school’s history is held in high esteem. That is why some local residents have worked to get Spingarn designated as a historic landmark and why many oppose a plan to construct a barn to house cars for the upcoming trolley line on its grounds.

Officials of the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) held a meeting on the progress of the H Street/Benning Road Streetcar project at Miner Elementary School on Feb. 26. Nearly 200 residents and local leaders piled into the school to get updates on the coming transit line and the proposed Car Barn Training Center, which the city plans to erect next to Spingarn. The facility is expected to house trolley cars needing maintenance and light repairs. Developers said they plan to use the location as an educational and training facility for local high school and college students interested in learning about trolley maintenance.

Spingarn, which is located near the intersection of Benning Road and 26th Street NE, was recently designated a National Historic Site by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board in response to a request from the Kingman Park Civic Association. This was the latest move to protect Spingarn from becoming the proposed site for the car barn, leaders said.

Jackie Manning, the former chair of ANC 5B, which included Spingarn, now chair of ANC 5C, said local residents are seeking to have the entire campus, which includes Phelps Vocational School, Brown Middle School and the now-closed Charles Young Elementary School, included in the historic site.

“Proper research was not done on data to keep these schools open,” Manning said. “These schools are sitting on major real estate, on a prime location that made it attractive for developers and city officials are handing our community over to them.”

Local leaders believe the historical significance of the Spingarn location will be jeopardized by the planned construction.

“Now Spingarn is on the historic register and they would never do that to the Lincoln Memorial or to the Jefferson Memorial,” said Frazer Walton, president of the Kingman Park Civic Association and a life-long resident of the area. “We’re asking them to think about an historic African-American memorial that’s sitting there and not to put a garage in front of it or alongside it.”

Local leaders want DDOT to explore other options for the car barn, such as placing it at a nearby Pepco facility on Benning Road NE.

DDOT officials said, however, that they are moving forward with their development plans for the Spingarn site.

“That is the location that we are proceeding with,” said Dara Ward, spokesperson for DC Streetcar. “The process now is for DDOT to build on that location, go through the [D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board] and they have final say over the plans for the facility to make sure that it fits within the historic context of the area.”

A representative with HDR Engineering, which is managing the streetcar project, told the {AFRO} that representatives from the preservation review board were slated to attend the meeting, but later said they could not attend. No reason was giving for the cancellation.

“This school was made a historic landmark so whatever goes here must be respective of that historic landmark,” said Steve Carroll, program manager for HDR Engineering. “This facility has to fit in with the character and architectural context of this school.”

While plans for the Spingarn site continue to progress, local leaders criticized DDOT for ignoring community concerns.

“We do not support this haphazard decision to locate the car barn on Spingarn’s campus,” said Kathy Henderson, chair for ANC 5D. “We want to enjoy our historic fabric just as our neighbors on Capitol Hill, Cleveland Park, Foggy Bottom [and] Foxhall Village [do]. Why DDOT continues to ignore our vociferous objections is beyond belief.”

Veronica Raglin, 63, has lived on 21st NE all her life and remembers when streetcars were a fixture. She is concerned about the resurgence of the streetcar and the location of the car barn.

“The mayor is insisting that he’s going to put a training center on the parking lot. That’s all wrong. You destroy the sight line to the Anacostia River,” Raglin said. “You put a training center there, you’re talking about a 24-hour operation. They’re going to be clanging, banging and making noise. Why would you put that in a neighborhood?”

DDOT’s next meeting, to address development of the car barn, is scheduled for March 28. 

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Residents Protest Streetcar 'Barn'

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