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Look Who's Joining the Neighborhood Association

Why, it's Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, outgoing president of George Washington University!

Trachtenberg, 68, announced recently that he is stepping down as prexy of GW after nearly two decades. During that time, Trachtenberg transformed GW from a mid-level, not terribly ambitious school into a high-quality university with a much more secure endowment and much stronger appeal in the admissions arena. He also changed the look and feel of Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, taking over the old Howard Johnson's motel across from the Watergate and turning it into a dormitory, beefing up the school with a slew of new buildings, and making GW more of a local presence by awarding numerous scholarships to kids from D.C. public schools.

But one of Trachtenberg's most persistently trying problems has been his near-constant confrontations with the Foggy Bottom Association, a neighborhood organization that has sought to protect the area as a residential enclave. The association tends to view GW as the "university that ate Foggy Bottom," in the words of a 2002 Post Magazine piece on the dysfunctional relationship.

Now Trachtenberg, never one to grope for words and often just devilish enough to be one of the great characters in our region, tells the Northwest Current that once he and wife Francine move out of the official presidential house in Kalorama, he's thinking of moving to Foggy Bottom.

Whereupon he just might join...the Foggy Bottom Association.

"I've always thought the Foggy Bottom Association needed a calm member," the prez told the Current.

Can I sign up to attend those meetings now?

So far, the association is handling this the best way possible--with class and a welcome mat. "Perhaps as a resident he might have greater sensitivity to the needs of the community," association president Joy Howell told the Current.

This promises to be fun.

By Marc Fisher |  April 14, 2006; 7:49 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I'm bummed - saw Foggy Bottom in the text and thought you were talking about my very favorite garden - Adrian Bloom's Foggy Bottom gardens in England:

which probably interests you not at all, I'm sure. Oh well.

Posted by: Severna Park, MD | April 14, 2006 10:55 AM

Good for Trachtenberg. The neighbors in FB are simply unrealistic people. They need to realize that if GW did not tend to its property the way it has, then FB might have just become another concrete canyon.

The FBA is just a bunch of complaining old nags who have nothing better to do with their time. They need a "cause" and their cause is poking their fingers in everything from GW's construction to the World Bank/IMF, demanding amenities, amenities, amenities. Since when did building new buildings automatically turn into free giveaways for ungrateful neighbors who end up a.) demanding more and b.) when plans are finalized, they still complain.

Posted by: Jorge | April 14, 2006 11:14 AM

I'm torn.

As a GW alum from the infamous "rained out graduation" class of 1995, I don't have much use for Trachtenberg and his gratuitous hippo-based statuary. On the other hand, the unthinkingly hostile treatment GW students received from the Foggy Bottom Neighborhood Association and the local ANC has permanently soured me on them too.

I would like to see those meetings, though. I'll be the guy sitting at the 50 yard line with a giant foam novelty hand and an air horn.

(I might also wave a pennant reading "Career-Ending Injuries!" I haven't decided yet.)

Posted by: cminus | April 14, 2006 11:21 AM

This is a good step for him. Remaining in DC and involved in the community should be a trend for other DC officials leaving office (ie Williams).

Posted by: sa | April 14, 2006 11:51 AM

When I was a student there (mid 1990s), the saying went that "if God wanted to build the Garden of Eden in Foggy Bottom, the FBA would tell him (or her) to go to hell." Seriously, the FBA's reason for being is to oppose anything with GW's name on it. For example: The city tells GW to build more on-campus dorms, based on input from the FBA calling for more on-campus housing, so GW draws up plans to do so. The FBA then opposes GW building the on-campus dorms for some idiotic, petty reason.

Posted by: matt | April 14, 2006 1:41 PM

SJT moving to Foggy Bottom would be a hilarious act of nose-thumbing, but a question remains: where would he live? His current digs in Kalorama are fairly opulent, if I remember correctly. It's not like he's gonna find a house of that size in FoBo. The townhouses there are pretty tiny. Perhaps the Watergate?

Posted by: GW 93 | April 14, 2006 1:46 PM

The growth of GWU, and downtown Washington, DC, has been moving along like a freight train since the 90’s. It’s unfortunate that the residents of Foggy Bottom didn’t anticipate the growth, and the changes that come along with that growth.

As an alumni of GWU I'm proud of the advances that GWU has made in the last 15 years. And in many ways, GWU has mirrored the growth of other areas of Washington, DC, such as Chinatown. When President Trachtenberg arrived in 1989 he knew that for GWU to survive and grow, that it had to move away from being a mid-level university located around a hodge-podge of buildings, refurbished town-homes, and gravel strewn empty lots. The result of this growth has lifted GWU onto a much higher academic level, and has dramatically improved the campus.

Neighborhood associations are important and useful to support homeowners and business owners. Unfortunately, in the case of Foggy Bottom, the homeowners live in a neighborhood that is a bit of an anachronism. Foggy Bottom, as a functioning residential neighborhood, harkens back to the days when Washington was, essentially, a sleepy southern town. Washington is no longer a sleepy southern town, and to support a quiet residential neighborhood on the edge of downtown Washington is absurd.

Posted by: Peter | April 14, 2006 2:20 PM

Marc - How about a blog item on your interview with Angelos today?

Posted by: 14th Street | April 14, 2006 3:44 PM

Good for SJT! I just hope he doesn't develop a case of amnesia and find, much to his dismay, that moving in next to a college campus means having college students as neighbors. Seems to be an epidemic in that area.

Posted by: GeeDubAlum | April 14, 2006 4:10 PM

Hey, C-Minus, I graduated GW in '95 too. To me, the most offensive thing about that rained-out ceremony was the consolation-prize vhs tape of a select group of students enjoying a impromptu graduation ceremony inside. The parents who flew in from around the country might have stayed home for that one, eh?

Foggy Bottom, which was a composed of industry (breweries and printers) and a working class community has, as Peter wrote, been in the path of the GW steam-roller. My neighborhood, Dupont Circle, experienced a similar thing. Dupont lost its residents from such streets as N, RI, Connecticut, and Mass, to the encroaching creep of office, non-profit, embassy, and academic use. Dupont residents continue to fight encroachment, using zoning overlays, historic regulations, and other tools.

I sympathize with FBA- I even admire them. These people are watching the demise of their community, and still they fight. What other options do they have but to fight or fade away? Whether FBA member's reactions are always strategically best is ultimately irrelevant. GW's rich and powerful, and DC knows what side its bread is buttered on.

It's obvious that the same drama, with different players, is happening in gentrifying areas all over the city.

Posted by: none | April 14, 2006 11:46 PM

The story about GW is its expansion. All the way out here to Loudoun, along Rt. 7. GW has and is building a large, lovely campus. Lots of open space. Lots of research and technology focus out here. The outgoing Prez should take some credit for this. If Foggy Bottom doesn't want GW, we'll take it.

Posted by: Loudoun4Life | April 18, 2006 10:36 AM

GW93 -- fyi, SJT's current house is GW owned, so he's got to vacate. Too bad for him; as you well know, it's an awesome pad.

The FBA is bat-s crazy. I remember attending a meeting in my GW days. GW was about to build a small park on F street for the public's use, and wanted a variance to extend it a couple of feet into the sidewalk so it could be larger. Ultimately, the FBA blocked it for no other reason than to say no to GW. The meeting was marked with FBA members screaming at each other and walking in and out of the meeting willy nilly. It was completely out of control.

Would be nice to have a voice of reason on the board for a change.

Posted by: Dave | April 19, 2006 5:06 PM

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