Bank’s Response to Community Concerns Included Providing a Public Plaza

Based on the verbal accounts of folks who’ve been selling at the Adams Morgan Saturday morning farmers market for decades, we’ve been saying that there was a major community struggle with the bank at 1800 Columbia Rd NW prior to the building even being built.   New records that have come forth also describe how this was a historic victory that marks one of the first known acts of reparations for racial discrimination in which a bank that engaged in redlining altered its practice and returned wealth to the community.  Clear historical records are coming forth, and more are yet to come. Here is the story they reveal so far.

Fighting Redlining Adams Morgan

After Perpetual Federal Savings & Loan bought the site at 1800 Columbia Rd NW in 1976, there was an extended fight between the Adams Morgan Organization and the bank about putting a branch at that location. The fight centered on the then-common banking practice of redlining, or racially segregating, neighborhoods using selective home lending, which Perpetual, along with many other DC area banks, had engaged in since the 1930s.

This struggle is described at length in this 200-page Masters thesis by James Lloyd entitled Community Development, Research, and Reinvestment: The Struggle against Redlining in Washington, DC, 1970-1995.  This thesis became two journal articles, one in the Journal of Progress in Public Planning, and the other in the Journal of Urban History.   We directly contacted Mr. Lloyd, and he also provided this transcript of his 2011 oral history with Councilman Frank Smith, who was head of the Adams Morgan Organization, which eventually became the Adams Morgan ANC and was a signatory to the settlement about the lending practices and construction of the plaza.  In the transcript, Smith describes how he and other Adams Morgan Organization members went to Atlanta to testify before the Federal Home Loan Bank Board regarding the branch charter.  At minute 20:00, he states about his testimony there and the settlement regarding the plaza:

We said, “well, we’ve got affidavits from people who have been long term members who [are] creditworthy enough for them to be taking their money and holding their large accounts in there, but they’re not creditworthy enough for them to lend money to them.” So we told them that. At the end they did issue them a charter, but the charter required them to do certain things at that site. It required them to – one of our requests was to have a bilingual staff. This was a bilingual community – that they have a bilingual staff there at the bank and that they provide – this site was being used as a public meeting place, as a community garden, not a garden, but a place where they were selling products and they had to allow that to continue. So when you look at that site now it looks a little bit like an amphitheater. That’s because it was supposed to have a community choir go in there every year for Christmastime and sing. We never did that even up to now, but it’s still a good idea and maybe we’ll have it one day. But beside this, they do have the community produce out there …

Related to this, we’ve turned up the following underlying historical documents from 1976-1979 about the Plaza site at 1800 Columbia Rd NW, all from the Washington Post.  These are in chronological order with the oldest first:

And this PDF was given to us directly by former Councilman Frank Smith, from his personal records, and it includes one of the legal agreements between Perpetual Federal. However, the key item of note is described in the July 28 1977 Washington Post article by Martha Hamilton describing the “good neighbor” agreement which the Perpetual put in place with the Adams Morgan Organization which was a forerunner to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, in order for its agreement to allow the building of the branch.

Unfortunately, the Historical Preservation Review Board recent staff report about the site states “demolition of the building and plaza do not raise preservation concerns”.

Perpetual Federal Savings & Loan was purchased by Crestar in 1992. The city property records still indicate a division of Crestar is the legal owner of the building.  SunTrust then purchased Crestar in 1998, and rebranded the branch, but never officially transferred ownership.

Here (PDF, 230MB) is about 250 pages of additional documents surfaced in our research.

And here is a page about the prior history of the site.

One thought on “Trove of Historical Records

  1. Keep up the fight to save the SunTrust Plaza! Your efforts are greatly appreciated! Public space in a central public location is a critical component of a vibrant and healthy community!


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