River Farms to Urban Towers
—Southwest Heritage Trail —
Front of marker:
Washington's schools and playgrounds
were legally segregated from 1862 until 1954. But that didn't stop kids of all backgrounds from playing together. "We didn't understand racial disharmony," said Southwester Gene Cherrico of his childhood on Sixth Street in the 1950s. "Everybody was equal. Everybody was poor." Yet playground monitors tried to keep the races apart. Through the trees ahead of you is the King-Greenleaf Playground, formerly the white-only Hoover Playground amid a largely black neighborhood. Randall Playground, some five blocks ahead, was operated for black children, and whites were regularly shooed away.
For adults, though, social time was more segregated. When public housing first opened here, residents met in social and self-improvement groups such as the Syphax Homemakers Club. Long past the 1953 court-ordered end to segregation in public accommodations, the adults of Southwest found entertainment on their own sides of the Fourth Street dividing line. African Americans enjoyed Bruce Wahl's restaurant and summertime beer garden at Fourth and C streets. Whites gathered at waterfront watering holes such as Hall's Restaurant, at Seventh and K. Founded in 1864, Hall's had been a favorite of General U.S. Grant.
To your right are the townhouses and highrises of River
Park. Architect Charles M. Goodman worked with Reynolds Metals to feature aluminum in his unique design for urban residential architecture. When River Park was opened as a cooperative in 1963, its residents worked to ensure an integrated population. From the beginning, they have made decisions together governing the use and care of the River Park facilities.
Back of marker:
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 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 or 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.