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Neighborhood Narrative: Southwest Waterfront

Neighborhood Narrative: Southwest Waterfront

The residential neighborhood of Southwest Waterfront was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original plans for the city and today is home to some of the oldest structures in the city. Southwest Waterfront, or simply “Southwest” is its residents often call it, is the location of the Civil War fortitude, Fort McNair, established in 1791, and Wheat Row, a block of townhouses built in 1793.

After the Civil War, the neighborhood developed as a home to many European immigrants as well as freed black slaves. Although it had a vibrant commercial district and a few large houses, most of the neighborhood remained like a shantytown with tenements, shacks, and tents. In the 1950s, Congress, working with city planners, decided that the entirety of the Southwest quadrant (the smallest quadrant of Washington) needed to start again, from scratch. Despite opposition over concerns about affordable housing and displacement, the plans went through and only a few buildings were left intact. Today, the Wheat Row townhouses, the Thomas Law House, Maine Avenue Fish Market and the St. Dominic’s and Friendship churches remain.

Urban renewal and redevelopment are a part of the neighborhood’s history and continue to be today. In a city filled with historic buildings, Southwest Waterfront is home to rare examples of modern architecture in D.C. Most recently, the Wharf project, a $2 billion waterfront development plan set to construct four new blocks of buildings plus boat slips and piers, has begun.

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