Interior of a Unit in Lily Ponds HousesPhoto by the Alley Dwelling Authority, ca. 1937-1944. Source: Report of the National Capital Housing Authority, 1934-1944.
The Alley Dwelling Authority (ADA) and the Federal Works Agency (FWA) funded the construction of the Lily Ponds Houses in Washington, DC, in 1943. It consisted of 500 living units and was built for national defense workers.
In 2006, researcher Joe Lapp described the Lily Ponds Houses in a history brochure about the surrounding Kenilworth neighborhood:
“The Alley Dwelling Authority noticed a large plot of unused farmland (once the David Miller farm) in the Kenilworth area, right next to the new national park, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. In 1943 they built the Lily Ponds Houses, a complex of one-story red tile and cement block ‘townhomes’ for white war workers. The complex centered around the 4400 and 4500 blocks of Quarles Street, the ﬁrst time that street appears west of Kenilworth Avenue. A community center at 4500 Quarles Street oﬀered day care facilities and an activity room. In the mid-1950’s, the Lily Ponds Houses were demolished.”
Today, a building at 4500 Quarles Street (which may be the original Lily Ponds Houses administrative building and community center) serves as the main office for “Kenilworth Courts,” a housing project managed by the DC Housing Authority. Kenilworth Courts stands on the same ground as the former Lily Ponds Houses.
In 1943 and 1944, the Lily Ponds Houses faced at least two controversies. First, occupancy was low compared to other national defense housing projects (likely causing concern about wasteful spending). And second, white citizens in the area—the Kenilworth Citizens’ Association–became alarmed over rumors that African Americans might become tenants of the Lily Ponds Houses. The final outcome of this racial controversy is unknown to the Living New Deal.
The ADA was one of the earliest New Deal initiatives to provide better housing for low-income Americans. It replaced unsafe alley dwellings in Washington, DC with more modern and affordable houses and apartments. The ADA existed from 1934-1943 as a federally controlled special authority. It then slowly evolved into today’s DC Housing Authority, an independent agency of the DC Government.
With advent of World War II, the ADA was enlisted to help the FWA create housing for national defense workers (using Lanham Act funds). The Lily Ponds Houses was one of those projects.
Report of the National Capital Housing Authority, For the Ten-Year Period 1934-1944, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1945, available on Hathitrust (accessed July 14, 2020).
Report of the Alley Dwelling Authority for the District of Columbia, For the Fiscal Year July 1, 1936 – June 30, 1937, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937, available on Hathitrust (accessed August 15, 2020).
Joe Lapp, Kenilworth: A DC Neighborhood by the Anacostia River, 2006. Brochure funded by various organizations, including the National Park Service and the Humanities Council of Washington, DC (accessed August 16, 2020).
“Kenilworth Courts,” DC Housing Authority (accessed August 16, 2020).
“First of Lily Ponds Low-Cost Homes Open to Tenants This Week,” Evening Star, June 18, 1943, p. A-14 (accessed August 16, 2020).
“Young Pledges Support of Slum Clearance Plan,” Evening Star, September 8, 1943, Section B (accessed August 16, 2020).
“Senate Housing Unit To Inspect Projects In Nearby Maryland,” Evening Star, November 23, 1943, Section B (accessed August 16, 2020).
“Citizens Unit Asks Report On Lily Pond Housing,” Evening Star, February 8, 1944, p. B-2 (accessed August 16, 2020).
“Nickel Tells Senators Public Housing Costs Twice Private Figures,” Evening Star, February 15, 1944, pp. A-1 & A-12 (accessed August 16, 2020).
“Kenilworth Citizens Oppose Any Change In Lily Ponds Project,” Evening Star, March 7, 1944, p. B-2 (accessed August 16, 2020).
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on August 19, 2020.
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