Housing Complex

A Virtual Tour of Petworth’s Abandoned Hebrew Home

The abandoned Hebrew Home at 1125 Spring Road NW.

Adorned with timeworn stars of David and located a stone's throw from the crush of new restaurants and bars on 11th Street NW, the hulking, abandoned old Hebrew Home for the Aged looks out of place at 1125 Spring Road NW, on the Petworth-Columbia Heights border. Closer inspection doesn't yield many clues: The front doors are locked, but a number of lights are always on, and window air conditioning units hum and drip.

I'd been puzzled by the building since I moved to the neighborhood. Research yielded only a bit of history. Retired Jewish residents, of whom there were apparently quite a few in the area a century ago, occupied the building from 1925 to 1969. But the facility became overcrowded, and the Hebrew Home moved to bigger digs in Rockville, after the city purchased the building in December 1968. At some point thereafter, the building was used as a mental health facility for the homeless. It closed down in 2009 and was considered, but ultimately rejected in 2010, as a possible homeless shelter. It now stands abandoned, but remains under the purview of the Department of Mental Health Services.

I inquired into the current status of the building, and here's the response from Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser's office:

The building is indeed vacant now. The District owns the building and although it has always had great potential given its character and location, the capital markets were such in recent years that private development wasn’t a great option. It seems like a good time now for the District to focus its energies on developing an RFP that will serve the community and use the building to its highest use. In fact, CM Bowser has asked frequently about the Department of General Service’s plans for the site and it appears that recently developers have expressed some interest. As far as I know there are no specific plans for the building—either how it will be used or what form of property interest will be conveyed—but we are encouraged that occupancy is on the horizon.

So why are the lights and AC always on? That remained a mystery, behind locked doors—until one day, without explanation, one of the doors was slightly ajar.

And so I walked in. The building seemed frozen in time: The sign-in sheets at what was once the reception desk were from 2009, as were the calendars. Patients' records from last decade were strewn about. A dead bird lay decaying in a corner. But there were also signs of more recent life: a newspaper from this summer, and of course the lights and AC (some of which I, as a conscientious environmentalist, turned off).

Click on the photo below to join me on a tour of the abandoned building:

Photos by Aaron Wiener

  • Dan Miller

    Fascinating! Hopefully this spot gets used for something cool soon--it's a prime location.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Aaron: Welcome to the covering of DC neighborhoods. Ask some other people in your office - I'm not a jerk, but I tend to nitpick on stuff like this to a level that's clearly OCD, but I can't help it.

    I'd say that Spring is the boundary between Columbia Heights and 16th Street Heights. Petworth is east of Georgia Avenue. Some argue that Petworth has expanded now to include stuff further east, but a lot of that is metro station-related creep.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    Trust me that I agonized over this. But I've generally seen the southern border of 16th Street Heights set at Arkansas Ave, leaving a kind of no-man's-land north of Spring. A local ANC commissioner told me that it's sometimes called North Columbia Heights, but that's never really stuck---so most people just go with Petworth. I chose to do the same. But I appreciate your nitpicking.

  • Jeff

    There's a similar, large, abandoned apartment building in Eckington on 3rd Street, NE (here: http://goo.gl/maps/dQT2f), replete with a DC government sign on the front door. It's been this way ever since I moved to the neighborhood 4 years ago. It would be great to know why the property hasn't been sold to a developer. Would you look into it too?


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  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    Jeff -- this photo of that building is from 2007

    I won't argue with neighborhood definition, only to say that it's not static, and transportation modes and the creation of historic districts do contribute to redefinition.

    E.g., probably when the Capitol Hill historic district was created, the definition was fixed for awhile and more narrow.

    But back when people walked to work (before and in the early streetcar era), neighborhood definitions were very clear.

    With automobile transportation supplanting walksheds and the Metro and the naming of stations in part redefining neighborhoods, not to mention real estate interests (e.g., Atlas District, which I detest or the effort to rebrand the H St. neighborhood SoFlo -- South of Florida -- for a time, by some realtors), neighborhood definitions become more fluid

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    abondominiums abide

  • jewdah

    I know this is an old post but wondering if there have been any new developments with this property? Anyone know??

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