By the end of the month, 733 Euclid Street NW, the large, three-story building known to many as the Emergence Community Arts Collective [ECAC] will have a new owner who has expressed plans to turn it into townhomes.
ECAC’s leadership board recently announced the sale of the $3.5 million property, much to the chagrin of community members who questioned how the nonprofit would continue the work of ECAC’s founder, the late Sylvia Robinson.
A group of organizers has since united to get ECAC designated as a historic site and to discuss ways in which they could ensure ECAC operates as Robinson envisioned. They said, while those plans have been put in motion, actualizing them hinges on the finalization of the sale and the ECAC’s board decision about how to use remaining funds.
“The building needs to be known as a historic place for the Emergence Community Arts Collective, the Merriweather Home for Children and Key Daycare,” said Darren Jones, president of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association.
For years, Jones, Robinson and others worked together on the Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force. At ECAC’s inception, Jones, through the Pleasant Plains Civic Association, connected Robinson with resources to renovate the building.
When Banneker Recreation Center briefly shut down, Jones conducted meetings with the Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force and the Pleasant Plains Civic Association in ECAC.
Jones said 733 Euclid Street NW has a rich history that should be recognized not only out of regard for Robinson but those before her who used the space to help others.
“Those are the things I would like to see so that people in D.C. and around the world are aware. There’s a distinct possibility of that happening,” Jones said.
From 2005 up until Robinson’s death in 2017, ECAC served as a space for activists, religious groups, artists, educators and others who hosted programming after renting rooms from Robinson at a low cost. Long before Robinson purchased the property, community members knew 733 Euclid Street NW as the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, which housed and educated orphaned women and children after the Civil War.
In the years after Robinson’s transition, ECAC underwent significant changes in board leadership amid struggles to continue providing services and collaborate with community partners dedicated to preserving Robinson’s legacy, including Jabari Zakiya, Robinson’s life partner with whom patrons often booked space at ECAC.
As explained at an online meeting hosted by ECAC’s board of directors, the pandemic complicated efforts to secure funds to cover ECAC’s mortgage and a second line of credit opened by board members.
By 2020, keeping the lights on in ECAC cost at least $6,000 per month, board members said during the February 10 meeting. To continue operation, ECAC’s board negotiated a postponement on mortgage payments and secured a Small Business Administration loan they said covered nearly two-thirds of costs.
In the end, as a means of avoiding foreclosure, the board decided to sell 733 Euclid Street NW. Long before then, board members considered collaborating with a developer to add an affordable housing component. As they weighed various options, board members said they understood the property sale as the best means of overcoming significant financial challenges.
“We were at the point where the building went on the market,” said ECAC Board Vice President Doreen Thompson.
“People came in and we chose the highest bidder. The sharks are out there waiting. We have done everything good to save the building from foreclosure [and] it’s not going to make everyone happy. We’re open to hearing suggestions about what happens to the proceeds,” Thompson said.
Upon learning about the new owner’s desire to convert 733 Euclid Street NW into town homes, community members during the February 10 meeting expressed anxiety about how the sale precipitated gentrification in the Pleasant Plains community.
And while some appreciated the ECAC board’s transparency, concerns still loomed about the lack of a concrete plan to carry on Robinson’s work.
Ginia Avery, a District resident, said she wants to explore the possibility of collaborating with the new owner in the continuation of ECAC’s purpose. As a founding member of the Georgia Avenue Business Alliance, Avery often organized small business owners along the corridor to push back against development that threatened their longevity.
Avery said Robinson often counted among the partners in that effort with the two routinely going to Park Morton Public Housing in Northwest to help tenants fight displacement.
However, Avery acknowledged ECAC as the center of Robinson’s year-round community engagement.
“People had something free every day,” Avery told The Informer. “That’s how much Sylvia was able to provide for the community. We believe in her work and the work that came before her in that building. That’s too big of a legacy for us not to continue.”