Logan Circle Community – Washington DC

When approaching Logan Circle, one can’t help but notice the double house, which is designed in the Second Empire style. It begs for attention and stands out amongst its neighbors.

Built in 1880, Nos. 1 & 2 Logan Circle occupies the most prominent position on the Circle. This residence was part of a scheme authorized by then Mayor Alexander Shepherd, who encouraged full development of the city.

Iowa Circle, as it was called then, was a sleepy enclave of Washington. While, during the Civil War, the area was home to Camp Barker, a former barracks that was later converted into a refugee camp for freed slaves of Maryland and Virginia, the pace of Iowa remained fairly still. Shepherd saw the opportunities that could arise and the neighborhood that could exist with proper backing. In the 1870’s, the area began to transform and soon buzzed with activity.

Throughout the last two decades of the 19th century, many of the townhomes that currently occupy Logan’s neighborhood streets were built. Blocks of Victorian townhouses were marketed to upper middle class residents of the District. Many of the larger homes came complete with carriage houses and servant’s quarters. Soon, it became chic to live in the Iowa Circle neighborhood of Washington and the neighborhood would remain a fixture on the District’s scene.

During the early part of the 20th century, Logan Circle became one of the most prominent areas of Washington. Beautiful, middle and upper middle class residences created both a visually charming and sophisticated neighborhood. Shops and restaurants opened to satisfy the neighborhood’s needs. Parks dotted the landscape. But, what distinguished the neighborhood was its reputation as being the main shopping district for black and white Washingtonians alike. Here, all races shopped in the variety of stores that Logan had on offer.

A bit north of the neighborhood, at 14th and V Streets, a large African-American community developed. Known as Shaw, it encompassed parts of Logan Circle and U Street to the north and 16th Street became the line of division. With segregation, the Logan Circle neighborhood found itself sandwiched into the boundaries, with some of its original townhouses being sold and subdivided into apartments, boarding houses and hostels. At the end of segregation, Logan Circle experienced a period of middle class flight out of the neighborhood. This was further magnified by the riots of 1968, which completely devastated the 14th Street commercial corridor.

Logan Circle stagnated throughout the following two decades. However, it hit its bottom during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although, the beautiful residences of the neighborhood were relatively untouched during the riots, drug lairs and prostitution had taken over. It became the Red Light District of Washington and was generally unsafe. However, slowly, new residents came into the area.

First were the theater companies that gambled on Logan’s spaces. Theaters, such as Dantes, opened to solid public approval. New restaurants moved into the area, taking advantage of the low rental rates. By the early 2000’s, Logan Circle was placed at the top of the line for gentrification. And, it worked. Derelict buildings were torn down. Illegal activities were cracked down upon and removed. 14th Street underwent a significant commercial revitalization and soon became home to new retailers, art galleries, restaurants and nightlife. A Whole Foods moved into the neighborhood, attracting residents not just from Logan but surrounding Dupont as well. And, middle and upper middle class residents once again occupied the stately homes built in the late 19th century. The demographics of Logan Circle took a seismic shift.

Today, Logan Circle is considered one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. in which to live. The monument of John A. Logan stands sentinel in the Circle’s center. Incidentally, in 1901, the monument was dedicated by President William McKinley. Logan who lived at 4 Iowa Circle, was Commander of the Army of Tennessee during the Civil War and went on to serve as a Senator from Illinois at war’s end. And, in 1930, Congress officially changed the name from Iowa to Logan Circle in honor of him.

The neighborhood is full of diverse and interesting shops and restaurants. The theaters and Whole Foods, which began Logan’s rebirth, are landmarks of the area. A proliferation of art galleries, such as Hemphill Fine Arts and Mom and Pop shops, such as Logan Hardware intermingle with national chains, such as Aveda, Lululemon and Starbucks, all vying for the well-heeled customers that cruise the local sidewalks. A plethora of restaurants are right outside of the old Victorian’s doors, offering myriad choices in dining. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Posto, Rice and Birch and Barley are to name but a few. And, historical attributes cannot be overlooked.

On November 9, 1994, the Logan Circle Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The 765 contributing properties are considered historically significant because they represent both residential and commercial development. This development was the result of one of the first streetcar lines in Washington, D.C. – The 14th Street line – which was installed by the Capital Traction Company in the 1880’s. Logan Circle is the home of Mary McLeod Bethune, an African-American educator, author and civil rights leader who founded the National Council of Negro Women at 1318 Vermont Avenue (one block south of the Circle.) It was also the home of Ella Watson. Watson was a cleaning woman and the subject of Gordon Park’s famous photograph American Gothic (1942), which parodized the American iconic painting of the same name by Grant Wood. The neighborhood is also the setting for the book The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, a novel by Dinaw Mengestu, that depicts an Ethopian American’s struggle to start a new life in Washington, D.C.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Logan Circle neighborhood is the buildings and townhouses themselves. They, individually and in groups, occupy irregularly shaped lots and frontages created by the system of streets and alleyways that do not form a grid. It is their seamless unity that emphasize the time and scale in and of which they were built. They are timeless – as is Logan Circle. Through its nascent prominence, brief fall downwards and skyward rise back to the top of the District’s neighborhoods, the Circle has always been an important and vital community in Washington D.C.


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