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Eastland Gardens (Images of America) Paperback – November 21, 2011
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About the Author
The authors--Javier Barker, Regina King, Althia Harris, and Zerline Hughes--are officers and webmaster, respectively, of the Eastland Gardens Flower Club. With support from the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, and the DC Historic Preservation Office, they collected memories and photographs from the personal collections of residents who value the powerful history of their neighborhood.
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As does much about Eastland Gardens, this book shows community spirit. Several members of a community organization called the Eastern Gardens Flower Club wrote this book, which consists of 128 pages of historical photographs together with a running text,with grant assistance from the Humanities Council of Washington D.C. Founded in 1957, the Flower Club, together with the Eastland Garden Civic Association founded in 1931, is one of two active community organizations that unite the neighborhood. Both these groups provide a sense of cohesiveness to this small neighborhood and have worked to provide schools and municipal services that frequently were slow in coming. The authors drew the photographs in this book primarily from the files of community residents. Thus, the book offers a close, intimate look at the people and places in a small neighborhood that would be difficult to get in any other way.
Beginning with its development in 1927, Eastland Gardens has been a largely middle class African American community. The community now consists of about 300 homes. Because the area was not considered desirable at first, many of the initial settlers purchased double lots, allowing room for large homes, yards, and gardens. It was interesting to learn that many of the early African American architects in the city designed most of the homes in the neighborhood and that African American builders did most of the construction. A lengthy chapter in the book shows many different styles of homes in the neighborhood and identifies their designers and builders who would otherwise likely be forgotten.
The book offers important background on the early history of the community that became Eastland Gardens. The community abuts on marshland on the Anacostia River. Following the Civil War, portions of the area were used in raising aquatic flowers. In 1938, the National Park Service acquired some of this property and established the Kennilworth Gardens, the only National Park with this emphasis. In 1927, a developer acquired the land that became Eastland Gardens from a large horseracing track that once was in the area. Portions of the area were also used for a large municipal dump that was only finally covered over in 1968.
The presence of the marsh and the Park have been of great influence to the community and has led to the great emphasis on gardening even before the formal organization of the Flower Club. Large well-kept gardens, roses, and a community garden called Eastland Gardens Park are a focus of community life. Flowers and gardening are featured in three of the eight chapters of the book.
Many people in the current neighborhood are second and third generation descendants of the original residents. This book is precious in its attention to the small details of everyday life. Besides its focus on homes and gardens, a lengthy chapter consists of photographs of families that have long made their home in Eastland Gardens. The reader gets to meet people such as Owen Davis, the first African American police captain in Washington, D.C., Walter McDowney, a Park Ranger and educator in the Kennilworth Gardens and in the community, and Cecil Turner, who became a star for the Chicago Bears, among many other inspiring people. We also hear the residents describe the community in their own words. For example, the title of this review is taken from a long-term resident's feelings about Eastland Gardens. The title of one chapter of the book "Our Spirits Continue to Grow" derives from the words of a community activist who worked for many years to improve schools in the community during the days of segregation. Another chapter, derived from a history of the Civic Association perhaps says it best: "Our Spirits Glow in the Beauty."
After reading this book, I want to get back to take a more informed walk through the neighborhood and to see Kennilworth Gardens again. The subject matter of this book is tiny. But I learned a great deal about the value of community and of close-knit neighborhoods from reading about Eastland Gardens. I was glad to learn more about my city. I was reminded that American culture consists in an important respect in many small, unique places.