The reputation of DC's charmingly-named Swampoodle neighborhood was for its tough Irish street brawlers. Both the Irish toughs and their swampy ground are now gone, but one immense institution has remained there through it all, the Government Printing Office at H and North Capitol Streets, NW. The printing office—nicknamed "The Swamp" in its early days—has been one of Washington's most contradictory institutions. Once a grimy factory of hard-working laborers culled largely from the surrounding rough-and-tumble neighborhood, for 150 years it's also been an elite producer of elegant government documents, including extraordinary hand-bound volumes of the nation's most precious records.
GPO's 1903 building (postcard from the author's collection).
The 1903 GPO building today (photo by the author).
On the northeast corner of 11th and K Streets NW stands the last dilapidated vestiges of what K Street was once all about—large, elegant Victorian mansions that were the homes of the city's most powerful and influential citizens. For the last seven years, the mansion at 1017 K has been quietly crumbling behind the humiliating wrap of a massive fabric billboard. It's a mystery why the city allowed such an obnoxious misuse of the structure, but saner actions have been taken more recently. According to Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis, after she contacted the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in March, the city raised the tax rate on the property in consideration of its blighted condition. Rather than undertaking repairs that would remove it from blighted status, owner Douglas Development Corporation recently filed for a raze permit. The building's interior is apparently in poor condition, having been neglected for many years, and some floors are reported to be partially collapsed. Reclaiming it won't be easy. Yet however much the structure has suffered, we owe it to ourselves to save this fine old mansion.