port of harlem magazine
mike jones state farm
Spaces that Once Were: Gentrification and High Density
Jun 17 – Jun 30, 2021
1201 Kearny

1201 Kearny Street, NE - after.

Instead of being a space that once honeyed my memories, I now actually grieve a little every time I pass by the corner of Twelfth and Kearny Streets, NE in the nation’s capital. In 1962 and 1963, I briefly lived at 1201 Kearny Street, NE with my maternal grandmother. It was a space that once was a home that hugged me with so much goodness when I was a child.

A couple of years ago, my neighborhood courtesy driver brought something sad to my attention:

You know that house you like to look at on Twelfth Street?


Well, it's torn down.

Uh? What? I responded.

It is torn down.


I had the courtesy driver to take a beeline straight to Twelfth and Kearny so that I could see the abomination, the audacity of the demolition for myself. My heart sank at seeing the frame of an apartment building on the corner where my grandmother’s home once stood.

Brooklandbridge.com, a neighborhood blog, posted a pre-demolition photograph of the house in its pale blue glory along with an article titled: “11 Unit Development Coming to 12th And Kearny (Where One House Stood).” The building now is finished, and its units sold.

A little before the demolition of the 1201 Kearny Street house, a lot at Sixth and H Streets, NE was demolished to make way for a new posh multi-purpose building. In the early 1960s, that lot once housed a hair salon that my grandmother owned at 648 H Street NE. She named it Val Deb Beauty Salon after my cousin and myself.

Although under new management, the space remained a hair salon until 2018 when the demolition of the corner of Sixth and H Streets, NE began. Many of the features of the salon originated by my grandmother were still in place before the demolition—interior pink walls, pink wrought iron partitioned booth space, and even the back wall sink looked as though it had been there since 1959. The store front was even the same, except for its most recent name, Lee’s Beauty Salon.

I walked into Lee’s one day in 2012 and met the owner, a woman of 87, still robust. The owner remembered my grandmother and said that the salon had changed ownership only three times since my grandmother’s salon. Being in the salon that day reminded me of long-ago Saturdays when I would leave the Kalorama Road skating rink to spend the rest of the day hanging out in the salon with my grandmother as my young curious eyes took in the shenanigans of an early 1960s H Street.

A mid-rise building now stands where my grandmother’s hair salon once stood in the same way that a building stands in the space that was once her home on Kearny Street. When riding on either Twelfth Street or H Street in Uber and Lyft, I point to the new buildings that no longer embrace the spirit of my grandmother and begin talking about how my grandmother once owned a salon in the space where the posh building on H Street now stands or how I would walk up Twelfth Street to go to the original Brookland Elementary school. I then think a little about impermanence and change, gentrification and high-density development, but a lot about the need to share a people’s history.

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