Crime & Punishment, The District, The Features, WTF?!

Learning About St. Elizabeth’s Hospital

Photo courtesy of

‘St Elisabeth’s Hospital – Autopsy is also a spectator sport’
courtesy of ‘spiggycat’

While poking around through the We Love DC Flickr pool this morning, I ran across spiggycat’s set of photos from a recent tour of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Anacostia. Since that was the second time in the space of a week someone mentioned touring St. Elizabeth’s, and since I know pretty much nothing about it, AND since my day job is into its 2nd straight day of technical issues that are preventing me from accomplishing anything, it seemed like a good time for self-education-by-Google.

St. Elizabeth’s was founded in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, headed by Dorthea Dix, and intended to care for patients from the Army, Navy, and District of Columbia. But the Civil War soldiers in treatment there didn’t like telling people they were in a hospital for the insane, so they referred to it by the old colonial name of the land the hospital sat on, St. Elizabeth’s. It wasn’t until 1916 that Congress got with the program and renamed the hospital officially.

Continue reading
Food and Drink, Fun & Games, Life in the Capital, Special Events, The Daily Feed, The Great Outdoors

Saloon Flea Market

Photo courtesy of
‘The Saloon, U Street’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

Commy, owner of the Saloon, is hosting a flea market this Sunday at his famed, U St. pub.  He promises to offer “many unique items” for sale, the proceeds from which will benefit his international school building efforts.  On top of the interesting goods and the worthy cause, the Saloon will be offering $2 off its selection of excellent beers.  The market will run from 1pm-5pm and, contrary to normal Saloon rules, there will be a strict, no-sitting policy for the afternoon.  So, go out, enjoy a nice beer on what promises to be a lovely fall afternoon and support school construction in developing nations.

The Daily Feed, WMATA

What’s Your Favorite Suburban Metro Station?

Photo courtesy of
‘Bethesda at night’
courtesy of ‘InspirationDC’

BeyondDC has a great post up today about the best suburban transit-oriented development (TOD) in the area.  The Washington region has some of the best examples of TOD, and places like Arlington and Bethesda have become national examples of how to create walkable, mixed-use districts in the suburbs.  BeyondDC thinks that Bethesda deserves the number one spot, with its great mix of uses and walkability.  King Street takes the number two spot, and Clarendon is third.

I’d argue that Clarendon deserves the title of the best TOD in the region– not only does it have a great variety of restaurants, offices, retail, and housing, but since it’s in the middle of the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor the whole area is transit-oriented.  From Clarendon, you could easily continue walking to Courthouse or Virginia Square, but you can’t walk to any other Metro station from Bethesda, which makes it seem more isolated and car-dependent than Arlington.

What do you think?  What’s your favorite suburban Metro stop?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Essential DC, Life in the Capital, Mythbusting DC, The District, The Features

DC Mythbusting: The Height Limit!

Photo courtesy of

‘Cairo Apartment Building’

courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

As an urban planner in DC, I cringe every time I hear a myth about the city (OMG, if I hear the “Pierre L’Enfant hated John Jay” reason for there being no J Streetone more time I’m going to scream).  One of the most widespread myths I hear from out-of-towners and Washingtonians alike is that the height limit in DC states that no building can be taller than the dome of the Capitol, and that the limit was enacted to preserve views of the Capitol and Washington Monument.  This is just plain wrong, and I’m here to tell you why.

Back in 1894, the Cairo apartment building was built on Q Street NW in Dupont Circle.  At 14 stories tall, it was the tallest building in the city at that time, and some residents had concerns about it.  Would it overwhelm the lower-density neighborhood?  Was it structurally sound?  Would existing fire-fighting equipment be able to reach top floors?  Those last two questions were primarily the reason that Congress stepped in in 1899 to establish the Height of Buildings Act.  Technology at the time was advancing quickly, but questions remained about the safety of such a tall building.  Height limits at the time were fairly common in American cities, including Boston and Chicago.

The 1899 Height of Buildings Act established that no building could be taller than the Capitol (289 feet), but if that’s the case, why don’t we have a city full of 28-story buildings?  Well, in 1910 the  act was amended to restrict building heights even further: no building could be more than twenty feet taller than the width of the street that it faces.  So, a building on a street with an 80-foot right-of-way could only be 100 feet, or 10 stories.  This preserved the “light and airy” character of Washington that Thomas Jefferson envisioned.  This 1910 law is still in effect today, and it essentially means that no building can be taller than about 13 stories (with the exception of Pennsylvania Avenue, which is zoned in some places to allow buildings of up to 160 feet). Continue reading