Two blocks from the White House, three blocks from the DC Council's Wilson Building, in the center of the downtown, there is a half block of vacant property, and it's not a pretty sight. Welcome to 14th and G Streets N.W.
Those of us working nearby have wondered why, it has stood like this for nearly a decade. "It's just bizarre," said a co-worker who caught me snapping photos.
The largest and most notable of the properties is the National Bank of Washington, which doubles as "Washington's Oldest Bank" and possibly downtown's longest eyesore. The bank, which is a designated historic landmark, includes Hahn Shoes at the ground level, which wraps around 14th Street onto the G Street side. The windows are held together by clear tape. The entryways are boarded up.
It's 24 degrees this morning and there's a homeless man bundled up so tight at the corner of the building that you can see nothing but his blue gloves slightly protruding from the blankets and tarps.
The Washington Post did a feature on the shoe store as part of a series of places that have disappeared from the DC area, in October 2008.
Just around the corner on the G Street side is a half block that is frozen in time. It harks back to the days when small independent businesses were able to exist downtown.
There's the ruins of a large office building that continues to have a sign for Shelton's Salon & Day Spa at the ground level, which was apparently operating into 2004. In front, there is one of the largest homeless encampments I've ever seen. Fort G. Back in the 1930s, the Olmstead Grill was located here. (1336 G Street NW)
Next, is Clement's Pastry Shop, which moved to Hyattsville, Maryland in 2000 after 35 years at that location. A decal still hangs in the inside window noting its membership in the National Restaurant Association - 1995. (1338 G Street NW)
Then there is the nail salon and tattoo parlor, which still has a website in its old address.
There's also a newsstand, which had moved to 1004 F Street, in case you arrive back in town after moving in the 1990s and you're looking for the latest edition of The Common Denominator. At some point, the building had an Italian restaurant, though it's sign is partially covered by a "Lease Office" sign. The space is clearly not for lease, but there it sits. (1340 G Street NW)
The strip wouldn't be complete without the building that included the Dragon Exotic Massage Parlor and a brewing company upstairs. The first floor continues to have a window display composed of sea shells and candles. That soothing feeling is interrupted by crime scene tape that has cordoned off the entry way for at least the past month. (1342 G Street NW, 5th photo below)
Finally, between the strip of buildings and the bank is a vacant lot. There's a weed as tall as a tree growing there. In the summer, passers by can see it peaking over the wall. For now, tourists receive an education message, noting how the District has greater population and more registered voters than Wyoming, but doesn't have a vote in Congress. (1344 G Street NW)
The properties, all of them, were purchased one by one by the Armenian Genocide Museum between 2001 and 2003. According to D.C. records, the museum spent $21.5 million in total to acquire the area. The total proposed assessed value of the properties for 2009 is $32.9 million.
The museum plans to open "before 2011." It appears the museum has recently made progress. In March 2008, the museum sought and obtained approval of their plans from the Historic Preservation Review Board. You can view its plans online.
The wait has not been without cost to the museum. Since 2005 (as far as online records go), the museum has paid $1,676,314.98 in DC property taxes. It has apparently been spared paying at the significantly higher vacant property tax rate, however. The museum pays about $12,000 to the downtown Business Improvement District each year.
Let's hope that the Museum of Urban Decay's exhibit on "Downtown, DC in the 1990s, the Pre-Anthony Williams Years," is replaced soon.