Capitol Hill Historic District
Roughly bounded by the Capitol precinct on the west, F Street NE on the north, 13th and 14th Streets on the east, and the Southeast Freeway on the south, with an expansion area south of the Southeast Freeway bounded by 7th, M, 10th, and 11th Streets SE.
One of the oldest and most architecturally diverse communities in the city, Capitol Hill reflects the social diversity and economic growth of the early capital. It includes early residential development clustered near the Capitol and Navy Yard, and much late-19th and early-20th century housing for mostly middle-class workers.
There is great variety of housing types, with elaborate ornamental pressed-brick structures adjacent to simple, unadorned frame buildings and small apartment houses. Many row houses were built either in long uninterrupted blocks or in small groups whose imaginative facades reflect the aspirations of the builders and residents. There are many fine commercial buildings, particularly along 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and notable religious and institutional structures. The predominant architectural styles include Federal, Italianate, Second Empire, Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Classical Revival. There are approximately 8,000 primary contributing buildings dating from circa 1791-1945.
A Series of Historical Vignettes by Nancy Metzger
One of the parochial schools that became a public charter school this summer is the Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian School at East Capitol and 14th Streets, SE. Perhaps some Capitol Hill residents were puzzled by the name ‘St. Cyprian,’ since both the church and the school were torn down in the 1960s when the Catholic Diocese combined the congregation with that of Holy Comforter Church and sold both buildings to developer Barrett Linde, who constructed rowhouses on the sites.
When institutions are merged and properties demolished, it is sometimes difficult to find a trace of their former existence except for perhaps a plaque marking the spot, some photographs, and individual memories and stories. Indeed there is a plaque in a small triangular park in front of where the handsome stone church once stood at 12th and C Streets, SE. There are undoubtedly many photos of the church, but one of the best—a 1949 photograph of the choir boys in their robes entering the church—is in the Wymer collection at the Washington Historical Society. And many Capitol Hill residents have their own memories of the church, which began in 1893 as an all-black congregation for those who felt less-than-wholly accepted at other neighborhood parishes.
St. Cyprian’s School and Convent stood four blocks west of the church, at Eighth and C Streets, SE, across from the Hine School playground. The Atkins family, long associated with St. Cyprian’s Church, gave that land for a Catholic School for black children. There is no plaque marking the school’s existence, but a magnificent oak tree protected by a low stone wall remains in the alley, behind the 1960s rowhouses, an amazing survivor that sheltered the school and convent.
The photographs shown here were taken by Sylvia Cotter, a former Capitol Hill resident, when the building was being demolished in the 1960s.
The memories come from Helen Ogle Atkins, who married into the Atkins family in 1935 and lived at 823 C Street, SE, one of a series of houses owned by her mother-in-law, Marion Atkins. Helen Atkins’s husband worked in the Post Office at night and in real estate during the day, and his parents had a stall at Eastern Market. In a 2005 interview for the Overbeck Oral History Project, Helen Atkins, then 97, talked with Pat Driscoll about her life on Capitol Hill, her love of theater, the difficulties of living in segregated Washington, and her career teaching in DC public schools:
ATKINS: You know about St. Cyprian’s? … It was a lovely church at night. My mother-in-law. She was a big worker in that …the Atkins people did a lot, they put in a lot of money. They gave all to the Blessed Virgin and they gave property for the school. …The Atkins family gave the land for a school for colored children, that didn’t have any, a Catholic school for colored children. They gave the land with their family homestead on it.
DRISCOLL: When did they homestead?
ATKINS: I don’t know. It was before my time. …When I got there, they had already given it, you know. …
DRISCOLL: How did the family feel then when the Archdiocese sold it?
ATKINS: [The Bishop] came in and told her that he was going to sell it. Was nothing that she could say or do. …I think she was hurt. …
DRISCOLL: I sure would be…. And there was a wonderful old tree. I don’t know what kind of tree it was, but it was a great big tree in the St. Cyprian courtyard, in back.
The complete interview with Helen Atkins can be found at www.capitolhillhistory.org. An interview with Georgiana Barnes by Sharon House, on the same website, tells more of the story of St. Cyprian’s School.
Except for the most routine maintenance and repair, you need to GET A BUILDING PERMIT for any work that is done on the exterior of your building within the Historic District.
When You are Thinking About Exterior Modifications:
The Historic Preservation Office has also developed a series of short handouts relating to repair and replacement of historic property elements. Clicking on a link below will open a PDF of the document in a new window.
In addition to these handouts, the HPO web site posts Historic Preservation Design Guidelines. These Guidelines provide useful guidance on many maintenance and repair problems encountered in historic buildings.
For more information go to the DC Historic Preservation Office web site.
Preservation Briefs include such subjects as repairing historic windows, historic masonry, and historic roofs. They are produced by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and are available at the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, 614 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, or for sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.
A subscription to The Old House Journal is a worthwhile investment (The Old House Journal, P.O. Box 50214, Boulder, California, 80321-0214). It is also available at the District of Columbia Public Library, Martin Luther King Branch.
Also see the Capitol Hill Restoration Society Guidelines, available on a variety of topics.
If you want to install a fence, make any changes to the porch, garage, or exterior of your building, or even install sculpture in your front yard, you must get a building permit.
Getting the building permit is the owner’s responsibility, not the contractor’s; you are the one liable for a $500 fine for doing work without it. Without warning, a building inspector may walk up to your premises and issue you a civil infractions ticket.
All proposed work to building exteriors within the Historic District must be reviewed by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. The process requires submission of design drawings and photographs of the property and surrounding area. The review process can take four to eight weeks, since the Review Board meets only once a month.
Your building permit must be displayed in a window or another clearly visible place while the work is going on.
BEFORE YOU APPLY FOR A BUILDING PERMIT, PLEASE:
The Homeowners Center in the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs provides prompt and expert help to DC homeowners who need building permits for their home improvement projects. Start here.
Hill History &
© Copyright 2001-2009, Capitol Hill Restoration Society. All rights reserved. Last updated March 1, 2008.
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