Langston Terrace Dwellings
The Langston Terrace Dwellings, a large-scale public housing project, was built under the New Deal from 1935 to 1938. It was the first U.S. Government-funded public housing project in Washington DC and only the second in the nation. Initial funding came from the Public Works Administration (PWA); later the U.S. Housing Authority stepped in to complete the job.
The International Style complex was designed by prominent African-American architect Hilyard Robinson, a native Washingtonian. With its handsome art and style, it embodied Robinson’s belief in the ability of fine buildings and art to inspire and uplift residents.
Construction began in 1935, with African American workers providing most of the labor. The finished complex of 274 units provided affordable housing to working-class families who competed for the opportunity to live there at a time of extreme housing shortages. In 1965, 34 units were added to the original complex.
Langston Terrace honors John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), an abolitionist, founder of Howard University Law School, and the first black Congressman from Virginia.
Langston Terrace is known for its artwork. Daniel Olney created a terra-cotta frieze, “The Progress of the Negro Race”, and an Olney sculpture, “Madonna and Children” is found in the central courtyard. Five large animal sculptures by other artists double as climbing structures in the children’s playground.
Although public housing in the United States has often been denounced for barren high-rises and Black removal, most of the offending projects came after the Second World War. Langston Terrace Housing and similar projects of the 1930s were usually models of good design offering sound housing for working families. There is no evidence we know of that African Americans were displaced by Langston Terrace and, as for segregation by public housing, Washington DC was already a thoroughly segregated city long before the New Deal era.
“WPA artists completing Langston sculptures,” Washington Post, September 1, 1940, p. A7
"Historic D.C. Housing Project Marks 75 Years," WAMU 88.5 FM, February 22, 2013
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee - wpatoday.org on May 19, 2012.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
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