St. Dominic Church: Community Anchor
Behind you stands St. Dominic Church, established 1852. It anchors the city's only Dominican parish and is its sixth oldest Catholic church. St. Dominic's survived two upheavals — a fire in 1885 and the threat of urban renewal in the 1950s (thanks to friends in Congress — to prevail as a spiritual and community center. Throughout the 1800s it ministered to farmers, slaves, free blacks, and Irish, German, and Italian immigrants as well as native-born government workers and members of Congress. Since urban renewal, it has served its newest neighbors. This Gothic style structure was dedicated in 1875.
The famous and the humble have sought spiritual comfort at St. Dominic's, from newly freed slaves during the Civil War to former Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Actress Helen Hayes, born and raised in Southwest, sang in the church choir. And Washington Senators star pitcher Walter Johnson headlined the church's annual parade in 1937.
Neighbors of all faiths have appreciated St. Dominic's. "The whole neighborhood would go to the carnival with its bright lights," recalled Larry Rosen who grew up on 4½ Street. The priests and nuns of St. Dominic's school taught hundreds of area children from 1852 until 1957, when the rectory, convent, and school were all demolished
for the Southeast-Southwest Freeway. The 600 block of Seventh Street was designated for a new school, but because the new Southwest had fewer children, the parish asked to use the site for low-income housing. After years of litigation, developers instead completed Capital Square townhouses, sold at market rates in 2001.
From 1800 until 1950, Southwest was Washington's largest working-class, waterfront neighborhood. Then beginning in 1954, nearly all of Southwest was razed to create an entirely new city in the nation's first experiment in urban renewal. The 17 signs of River Farms to Urban Towers: Southwest Heritage Trail
lead you through the Modernist buildings erected in the 1960s while marking the sites and the stories—and the few remaining structures—of the neighborhood that was. Follow this trail to discover the area's first colonial settlers and the waves of immigrants drawn to jobs on the waterfront of in nearby federal government offices. Here Chesapeake Bay watermen sold oysters and fish off their boats. The once-gritty streets were childhood homes to singer Marvin Gaye and movie star Al Jolson. Later residents included Senator Hubert H. Humphrey and other legislators.
River Farms to Urban Towers: Southwest Heritage Trail, a booklet capturing the trail's highlights, is available at local businesses along
the way. To learn about other DC neighborhoods, visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.