Former Marcus Garvey Principal Mary A.T. Anigbo has another fight on her hands.
The lease on the building at 2313 4th St. NE may be held by the League of Afrikan Women Corp., but around 4 o'clock on a balmy weekday afternoon, there are no signs of any women--Afrikan, African, or otherwise--at the property, which an awning identifies as Thnayn Place. Instead, five men sit around card tables in the parking lot, playing chess and dominoes.
Across the street, just north of Rhode Island Avenue, is a familiar cluster of downscale urban retailers: a liquor store, a carryout, and a dry cleaner. Another crowd of men regularly sets up shop on the sidewalk outside, soliciting business for more illicit entrepreneurial ventures. The Thnayn Place building itself sits between a former drug house and yet another liquor store.
Thnayn Place--a not-for-profit "social welfare" organization incorporated in 1999--is apparently unrelated to the League of Afrikan Women. But the league's status as the leaseholder on the 4th Street building has locals pointing fingers at a familiar D.C. target: Mary A.T. Anigbo, Ph.D., the director of the league. Neighbors say the building, which has been touted as a community center with programs for kids, is instead a party house with go-gos and alcohol.
Anigbo, of course, has faced off against irate community types before. The former principal of the Marcus Garvey Public Charter School, she was convicted of assault in 1997 after physically attacking Washington Times education reporter Susan Ferrechio during her visit to the Afrocentric school. Marcus Garvey closed a year later.
Anigbo's League of Afrikan Women Corp. came to the Edgewood neighborhood with a long list of promises. The for-profit group, incorporated in 1993, initially moved into the two-story beige-brick building with plans to open a store. According to the league's incorporation papers, it was to sell, import, and export clothing, textiles, furniture, ethnic art, new and used auto parts, office equipment, jewelry, and "other such commodities as may be lawfully bought and sold." It was also slated to provide merchandising and office-training programs for minority women and youth.
According to Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) records, the league last renewed its corporate status in April 1995; it has been operating as an unincorporated association since 1997. If a store ever operated on the site, community residents say, they don't remember it. In fact, nowadays some residents--and officers from the Metropolitan Police Department's 5th District--are arguing that the building is a plain-old public nuisance.
The reason, say neighbors, is that despite the sign that hangs from the structure's locked black gates--which counsels, "The Thnayn Place is not a church, but when you enter here, treat it like one"--the building has earned a reputation over the past couple of years as a place for rowdy private parties. Some believe that the building acts as a smoke screen for an entertainment center and nightclub.
"The only thing we have seen them do is give go-go parties on Sundays, creating mayhem and violence," says Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Marshall Ray Phillips. "And this was on Sundays when people go to church....They come home in the afternoon to hear outrageous sounds and see youngsters drinking on the street. The only thing I've seen [in the building] are professional pool tables and a big-screen TV."
Even before the current controversy, though, the city-owned property seemed as if it was always behind the 8-ball. The building abuts the derelict warehouse known as "Heartbreak Hotel," a onetime heroin shooting gallery shut down by the District in the early '90s. After the warehouse was boarded up, the District, with the local advisory neighborhood commission's (ANC) blessing, rented out the adjacent structure to the league.
Last month, a DCRA hearing examiner denied an application for a public hall license for Thnayn Place, citing a need to "protect public decency, public safety, public health or the peace and quiet of the community." Two weeks after the ruling, the District terminated the League of Afrikan Women's lease of the property. (The city hopes to jump-start a 3-year-old unsolicited proposal by the H Street Community Development Corp. to build a retail center on the site. The ANC supports the proposal, which was approved by the D.C. Council.)
Anigbo hasn't packed up just yet. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are aware of the H Street Development Corporation....and their unsolicited proposal to purchase what has been our civic and business home for nearly seven years," she wrote in a March 20 letter to ANC commissioners and neighbors. "We are engaged in every effort to remain at 2313 so that the family and youth educational, recreational, and cultural services to our community can continue."
Edward Scott of the city's Office of Property Management says Anigbo is now "in litigation" with his office regarding the termination of the lease. First signed in 1993, the agreement rented the space to the league for $800 per month. According to the lease agreement, that rate was increased to $1,200 in 1995, and then reduced to $300 in 1997. The lease prohibits any subrental of the property without consent from the D.C. government. Scott says the league never contacted the District about subleasing the space.
Calls to Thnayn Place were referred to Anigbo. Anigbo did not return calls for comment. According to testimony given by Thnayn Place Director Elsa Gaiem at a January DCRA hearing, the building holds "community meetings and functions, church services, and recreational activities for the neighborhood children and the District of Columbia at large."
"Recreational activities," of course, is a term with plenty of definitions--and the city has helped the group facilitate at least one type of activity that bothers neighbors. Up until last summer, the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board granted the group one-day liquor licenses for events held at the building. Edgewood residents say these events were not child-friendly block parties. Some of the licenses were used to serve alcohol at go-go shows that occurred on the premises--shows that attracted traffic and lots of police attention. "No children from our community benefit. The only thing they have harbored are go-gos--and youngsters and adults from other parts of the city," says former ANC member Timothy Thomas.
Anigbo has apologized for the disruption. "I will ensure that 'Go-Go' music will not be performed at Thnayn Place again," she wrote in her letter to ANC commissioners. "We regret any discomfort and inconvenience that the four go-go performances caused our Ward 5 community."
Phillips, whose son attended Marcus Garvey and who says he even went on 60 Minutes to defend Anigbo's actions against Washington Times reporter Ferrechio, isn't buying her excuses this time. His fellow commissioners agree. "Do you see children [at Thnayn Place]?" asks Thomas. "Do you see senior citizens?" CP