3019 Stanton Road SE

3023 Stanton Road SE

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From the air, the string of hills that overlooks the Suitland Parkway would look like a backbone, a rippling succession of knobs and depressions. Instead of Washington's usual tight grid of numbered streets, the hills are crisscrossed by wandering "Roads" with names like Pomeroy, Elvans, and Stanton, which probably trace farmers' tracks to market at the shore of the Anacostia or across the river on Capitol Hill.

Although the neighborhood is within 3 miles of the Capitol, there are surprising patches of dense forest in the hills. Some have trees so massive that it is hard to believe they were ever cleared. One boarded-up house on Elvans Road SE has a vast steeply-sloping wooded lot that could easily be farmland returning directly to forest. Other lots have thick brush and trees that, while mature, are only 30 or 40 years old. It's difficult to envision what used to stand there.

Until a few years ago, the dominant structures in the area were public housing apartment developments. Today a few old-style projects stand derelict awaiting their fates, but most have been demolished and are rapidly being replaced by townhouses.

There are still some very old frame houses surviving in the hills. This week's oddly-matched fraternal twins, which cling to a steeply-sloping block between Elvans Road SE and Suitland Parkway, show the contrast between the extremely urban and highly rural in this small neighborhood.

3019 Stanton would look at home on a ridge in the Alleganies. It's a very rustic gable-roofed house built in a very economical and austere style. Every angle was once a right angle, and there's something very pure about the rectangle upon rectangle style, down to each small window with its 12 rectangular panes. The only curves in the front are what make it an honorary Victorian, the shadowy signature gingerbread brackets at the top of the front porch posts. The chunks of brick and small stones lying on the porch roof are not a testimonial to the accuracy of the last generation's throwing arms.

The house next door at 3023 Stanton is more urban, and more typical of the old houses in the neighborhood. Although most detailing has been lost over the years, its ornamental cornice remains. Although the brackets at either end are conventional Victoriana, the cornice has a remarkable ornament in the middle. Although it undoubtedly pre-dates the Wright Brothers' flight, it looks like a propeller hub, or the grille of a 1950 Studebaker. Could this be a rowhouse where they never got around to building the rest of the row ?

The fate of these houses is uncertain. In addition to a great deal of nearby townhouse construction, some new single family homes are bring built on Elvans Road. Other older houses have signs advertising "Land For Sale" posted in the yard. (March, 2002)

REQUIEM: September, 2004

Actually these houses' fate was certain at the time they were photographed.

In the summer of 2002, 3023 Stanton Road SE suddenly lost its sagging screen porch. The thicket of creepers, alianthus sapplings, and polk weed that bulged over the chain link fence was cleared, along with a decrepit garage and a derelict dump truck that screened it from view. Threshing the lot exposed the forgotten carcass of a blue Ford Pinto, which then also vanished.
The rowhouse-without-a-row then stood cryptically untouched for months, teetering between between renovation and demolition. The issue was decided on a September afternoon, a few minutes before I happened to hit a red light at Stanton and Suitland Parkway. Glancing up the hill toward Elvans Road, I noticed a frontend loader being chained to a lowboy trailer in front of the house. I had my camera in the car and used my lunchtime to shoot the demolition pictures at "The Last Victorian on Stanton Road SE".
The gable-roofed house at 3019 Stanton Road SE never had such a near-metamorphasis. In summer, it would become an indistnct shape behind a veil of vines and tall brush, something like an abandoned plantation being overrun by the Amazonian forest. Then, at the first frost, the lush vines would die back to what looked like loops of wire and even the porch gingerbread would reappear. The last time 3019 Stanton Road pulled its vanishing act was the spring of 2004. In late September, I noticed that the lot had been cleared of both house and foliage.
These houses would have been so out of place in the neighborhoods I knew that they fascinated me. I photographed them often and tried to trace their history. However, they dated to a time when house numbering was uncommon and no one much cared what was built in the outlying area of the city. The earliest records I found were news articles about crimes and neighborhood misfortunes of the 1920s--a man struck in the head with a stone during a fight or a boy injured by a Model T Ford. At that time the neighborhood was apparently entirely African-American and poor.