Landmark Building Embodies Past and Present of DC's Black CommunityBreaking News
tags: historic preservation, architecture, African American history, urban history, Washington DC
It would be easy to walk past the handsome building at 1200 U Street NW and not consider its history. Each year, thousands of people surely do.
But the True Reformer Building, at the corner of 12th and U streets, has a storied past foundational to Black Washington. Built in 1903 as the headquarters of the Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, it was a landmark building and probably the first in the country that was funded, designed, built and owned by African Americans after Reconstruction, according to the Library of Congress.
The purpose of the True Reformers was clear. Founded by William Washington Browne as a Black temperance organization in the late 19th century, it later grew into an insurance, banking and newspaper enterprise that catered to Black people in need of business loans, aid and services they couldn’t obtain from White-owned businesses, according to Encyclopedia Virginia. At one point it was the largest Black-owned business in the United States.
The building was also a symbol of Black Washington’s growing political, economic and educational strength.
John Anderson Lankford, Washington’s first Black registered architect, designed the building. It “stands out to the civilized world as a sample or example of what the Negro can do and has done with his brain, skill and money,” he said at the time, according to Cultural Tourism DC.
Now the Public Welfare Foundation, owners of the building since 1999, is making efforts to inform both newer Washingtonians and lifelong residents about its importance.
In the process, the foundation wants to continue the building’s legacy as a resource for Black Americans.
“This is literally hallowed ground,” Candice C. Jones, the Public Welfare Foundation’s chief executive, said last week as she led a tour through the 119-year-old building, which was updated in 2001 and remodeled again in 2019 just before the pandemic.
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