When Stephanie Deutsch interviewed them in January, 2013, in preparation for their receiving a Community Achievement Award, they discussed their initial venture as charter members of the North Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association; Elizabeth still prepares that group's monthly newsletter The Buzz. They became deeply involved with neighborhood children through Cub Scouts and a variety of continuing contributions to Maury Elementary School. In addition, Nick has served as an ANC 6A commissioner since 2002, Elizabeth is active in the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, and both participate in Trees for Capitol Hill programs.
Interview with Elizabeth Nelson and Nick Alberti
Interview Date: Interviewer: Transcriber:
January 25, 2013 Stephanie Deutsch Jennifer Newton
photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke
This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Elizabeth Nelson and Nick Alberti Interview, January 25, 2013
TAPE 1/SIDE 1
DEUTSCH: Why don’t we start with you, Elizabeth? Where did you grow up?
NELSON: I grew up in Pennsylvania, outside a town called Hazleton. There was nothing there when I grew up, but right now it’s where Routes 80 and 81 cross, almost exactly where my house was.
NELSON: And after that—I lived there till I finished high school, and then I went to college in
DEUTSCH: What did your parents do?
NELSON: Oh, my father actually, initially was a college professor at one of the branch campuses for Penn State—there was a Hazleton branch campus—and he taught drafting and architectural engineering there. My mother stayed home. And then he went into business as an architectural engineer, and sometimes he was teaching and sometimes—he always kept his practice, but sometimes he would go back to teaching for a time.
DEUTSCH: So it was a small town?
NELSON: Yeah, but I didn’t live in town, I lived out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, absolutely the
middle of nowhere. There were maybe two or three—DEUTSCH: Fields?
NELSON: Fields, absolutely, fields. There were maybe two or three houses that were within what one would consider walking distance. It’s all built up now, because now it’s a bedroom community for New York City after the highways went in. But when I was a kid, it was very, very rural there.
DEUTSCH: Was it fun?
NELSON: No. I hated every blessed moment of it. I’m just being honest—I mean, I was absolutely wretched. It was a wretched childhood, and I hated living there. But every summer—and this becomes relevant—every summer I would go and spend a week or two with my father’s mother, who lived at the main intersection in an absolutely miniscule town. I mean, the town was nothing. It was Houtzdale, Pennsylvania. But they lived right on the main drag—
DEUTSCH: How do you spell Houtzdale?NELSON: H-O-U-T-Z-D-A-L-E.
Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Elizabeth Nelson and Nick Alberti Interview, January 25, 2013
DEUTSCH: H-O-U-T-Z-D-A-L-E, uh-huh. So she lived in this thriving metropolis of Houtzdale ...
NELSON: Houtzdale. But to a kid who lived where I did, it WAS a bustling metropolis! They had a front porch—she and her two spinster sisters and her mother had two houses side by side with front porches. And my sister and I would go and spend a week or two there every summer, and that’s how I acquired my taste for urban living. I thought it was the most magical, wonderful thing: you sat on your front porch every evening after dinner, and the whole world would stop by and pay brief calls on you. And—not that I go to church anymore or wish to do so—but we walked to church, we walked to the grocery store, we walked to the firemen’s carnival every summer, we walked to visit distant relatives. I saw the first movie I ever saw in my life—I could walk just kitty-corner across the street to a movie theater. Every evening after supper, we were given a nickel to go and get a Popsicle from the corner store to split, and we could walk there ourselves! And I promised myself when I was old enough to choose for myself, I would have a house with a porch in a town with people walking by.
DEUTSCH: That’s really a lovely vignette, you know, because that is what we all love about living in the city.
NELSON: It is.
DEUTSCH: Walking, which I do multiple times a day, usually, to the little store. So you went to college
in Williamsburg—William and Mary?
NELSON: Yes. And did four years there ...
DEUTSCH: What were you studying?
NELSON: My degree is actually in philosophy. I have the equivalent of a degree in studio art, but I’m not any good at it, so it seemed more reasonable to get a philosophy degree. And then—
DEUTSCH: What kind of studio art? Painting?
NELSON: It was mostly ceramics, actually, but that’s a long time ago ...DEUTSCH: OK.
NELSON: And then I moved to Richmond, because that’s where a lot of people go—you know, you form an attachment—from Williamsburg. And I had spent summers there, a couple of summers there, between years at William and Mary. And I lived in The Fan, which might not mean anything to you, but—
Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Elizabeth Nelson and Nick Alberti Interview, January 25, 2013
DEUTSCH: I know The Fan, yeah.
NELSON: And I spent 14 years there, and I loved it very much, thought I would never leave ... If you
want me to keep going, I will, but I don’t know if you want to loop back to Nick’s stuff—DEUTSCH: Let’s do a little more, let’s get you to DC, and then we’ll go to Nick.NELSON/ALBERTI: OK.
NELSON: Well, I lived there for 14 years, I absolutely loved it, had no thought I would ever leave—DEUTSCH: What were you doing?
NELSON: I was actually, initially a nursery school teacher, and I did that for quite a while. And then I switched over to computers and became a software developer. Thought I would never leave, but one of the guys I worked with—I worked for the biostatistics department at the Medical College of Virginia. One of the guys I worked with moved to the DC metro area. He wasn’t my sweetheart or anything like that, but he was a very good friend and he was lonely, so occasionally on the weekend, I would come up and visit with him. And one weekend, he got a call from his friend Nick Alberti, with whom he’d gone to graduate school. They were both working at the Census, and Nick had called up to ask if Phil wanted to go out and do anything. Phil said, yeah, but it would have to be a threesome because he had a house guest—
DEUTSCH: He had this friend here—
NELSON: So the three of us went out on sort of a museum crawl. And I was instantly smitten.DEUTSCH: Yes? OK, shall we pass it over to Nick there?
NELSON: Well, I guess I’ll just finish off by saying that when it came time for us—when we decided to get married, I thought, and I think Nick agreed, that it would be better for me to move to Washington area than for him to move to Richmond, because it would be relatively easy, I thought, for me to get a job in the Washington area but I wasn’t as certain about him finding something in Richmond, because it’s a much smaller town. So I told him that I would move, but I was not moving to the God-forsaken suburbs—he lived three miles from the Huntington Metro stop. I said we would have to move into town. And so we did. And so now he can pick up.
DEUTSCH: OK, Nick.
DEUTSCH: Where did you grow up?
ALBERTI: I grew up in Schenectady, New York. And lived there until I went to college at 18.DEUTSCH: What did your parents do?
ALBERTI: My mother was a housewife, and my father was a factory worker for General Electric. General Electric was a major employer—Schenectady sort of developed around General Electric, and it was a thriving, small northeastern city at that time.
DEUTSCH: Brothers and sisters?
ALBERTI: I have two older sisters and a younger brother. There’s an age range of 16 years between the
oldest and youngest. [Laughs]DEUTSCH: Makes for a lively family!
ALBERTI: It does. I was lucky—I had two older sisters, the oldest of which I was very close with and remain very close with. She sort of became a second mother to me. We were very close.
DEUTSCH: Nice. So then you went to college?
ALBERTI: Yes, I went to school in Buffalo, New York, spent four years there. Graduated, took a year
off, and then went back for two years of graduate school.DEUTSCH: What were you studying?
ALBERTI: In undergraduate, I was a math major, and in graduate school, I was studying mathematical statistics.
DEUTSCH: What was the college in Buffalo?
ALBERTI: It was the State University of Buffalo.
DEUTSCH: So—mathematical statistics?
ALBERTI: Yeah, and that led to a job right after that working for the Census Bureau.DEUTSCH: [Laughs] That would seem to be the place to go!
ALBERTI: Really. I made my career working in many parts of the Census Bureau, but stayed in that same agency.
DEUTSCH: So did it bring you to DC?
ALBERTI: It brought me to the DC area, living first in Maryland, and then in Virginia. As Elizabeth said, while I was in graduate school, I became friends with a person who later moved to Richmond and got a job. Subsequent to that, he became employed at the Census Bureau, and we started doing things together at that point. And that’s what led me to meeting Elizabeth.
DEUTSCH: And were you equally smitten?
ALBERTI: I think so, yes.
NELSON: Boy, you’re putting him on the spot! [Laughter]DEUTSCH: That’s true, OK, we’ll pass over that.
ALBERTI: Well, I thought it was a good match—we had a lot in common. As Elizabeth said, it was a museum crawl which we both enjoy doing. We discovered instantly that we were both vegetarians. There just seemed to be a lot in common.
NELSON: But we were geographic undesirables.
ALBERTI: Yes, she lived in Richmond, I lived just south of Alexandria.
DEUTSCH: But you worked that out.
ALBERTI: We did. It was a long-distance relationship for what—a year, was it?
NELSON: Just about.
NELSON: I guess till we actually moved in—because we didn’t move in together till after we were married, and I mean, like two months after we were married.
NELSON: We did it bass-ackwards.
ALBERTI: Right, we got married like fifteen months after we met? Something like that.
ALBERTI: And moved in together—
NELSON: About eighteen months—
ALBERTI: About eighteen months later.
DEUTSCH: It’s nice to be able to live together when you’re married.NELSON/ALBERTI: It is.
DEUTSCH: So when you moved in together, was that here on the Hill?NELSON: No, it was in the God-forsaken suburbs.
ALBERTI: We lived—
NELSON: Very briefly—
ALBERTI: —about three miles south of Old Town Alexandria.
NELSON: Nick had a house there he’d already bought. I mean, I’d bought a house in Richmond, and he’d bought a house in the Virginia suburbs, and so I moved into his house. And cried every day—loved him, but boy, did I hate—it was absolute torture. I don’t drive.
ALBERTI: So Elizabeth was familiar with the Hill from a friend who had—
NELSON: I had a very close friend whose family had a house, I’m trying to think what block that was. It was on Independence, like maybe the 600 block or something like that. No, it was the 1000 block of Independence—
DEUTSCH: Had your friend grown up on the Hill?
NELSON: No, she hadn’t actually grown up on Capitol Hill, she actually grew up in one of those southern Virginia cities. I’m trying to think of the name of it—doesn’t matter. But that family house— they weren’t based there anymore, and her mother and uncle had a house on Independence. I didn’t come up often to visit. In fact, it’s Carla Brenner’s—do you know her?
NELSON: Her house was on the house tour a couple years ago. Anyway, it’s her sister. So I would come
up. And actually, I had an old boyfriend back in, I guess it would have been the early 70s, who lived for a page 7
short time, like maybe three months, on Capitol Hill. So between visiting Kathy’s family at one point in time and spending time with this boyfriend at another time, I felt like I knew Capitol Hill. But it was the old Capitol Hill, you know—now Capitol Hill goes all the way out to the [RFK] stadium. But I did feel like I knew the area, and from what I knew of Washington, it was the area that most closely resembled The Fan. And in a lot of ways, it doesn’t resemble The Fan—the houses are for the most part smaller, and there’s a less salubrious mix of commerce. In The Fan there’s a small business on every corner—card store, ice cream parlor, you know. Here it’s sort of more segregated into little commercial strips.
DEUTSCH: So where was your first Capitol Hill residence?
NELSON: Same one.
ALBERTI: Our current residence.
DEUTSCH: Your current residence, OK. And where’s that?
ALBERTI: It’s the 1300 block of North Carolina Avenue, half a block off of Lincoln Park.DEUTSCH: Uh-huh.
ALBERTI: So we looked, we were open to looking all over the city, but we took a closer look at Capitol Hill. And both of us—
DEUTSCH: And what year was that, that you moved here?ALBERTI: 1985.
NELSON: Married in ’84, and we moved in ’85.ALBERTI: And we fell in love with it—instantly.
NELSON: Well, I don’t drive, which is a big thing. There’s very good public transportation here. The houses are very close together, which makes for being able to see a lot of people in a shorter walk. For a person who isn’t driving, it doesn’t work to have large lots.
DEUTSCH: No, if you don’t drive, the city is where you ought to be.
NELSON: But even, say, Hillcrest or Brookland—everything’s more spread out and it doesn’t work as
well for me.
ALBERTI: When we moved in, it wasn’t “Capitol Hill,” where we lived. [Laughs]
NELSON: Yeah, we didn’t move to Capitol Hill; Capitol Hill moved to us.DEUTSCH: Lincoln Park North.
NELSON: Exactly, North Lincoln Park.
ALBERTI: We were east of 11th Street, so it really wasn’t Capitol Hill. We used to joke that it was the other side of the tracks. This was 1985, the city still had some difficulties. But we immediately recognized—I mean, our neighborhood was lovely, despite any issues that the city had at that time. We loved living there, and kept wondering when it would get discovered. Because it just had so much to offer.
DEUTSCH: And when did it get discovered?
ALBERTI: Well, gradually, over the last 25 years.
NELSON: You know, it’s not like Eureka, or Sutter’s Mill, or something.
ALBERTI: We saw it in fits and starts.
DEUTSCH: So what was the first thing that got you involved in the community?
NELSON: Well, there were two things, I think. There was a neighborhood association just forming, just about the time we bought the house—
DEUTSCH: Is that the North Lincoln Park—
NELSON: The North Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. And Trant’s Liquors was right across the alley, basically, from our house, which was a very, very, very, very bad liquor store. I mean, somebody got shot, there was massive drug deals, I mean it was really bad.
DEUTSCH: Well, the 80s were a bad time—
ALBERTI: There was an open-air drug market that we discovered right there adjacent to the liquor store.
Didn’t last long, but ...
NELSON: So that was a motivating factor. And then it occurred to us that it might be worth trying to do some proactive things, instead of reactive things. And we thought we should set up a Cub Scout pack.
NELSON: So we were involved in the neighborhood association, then thought well, maybe we could make some small difference with some of the kids who were growing up to be the guys hanging out on the Trant’s parking lot. So we had a Cub Scout pack for about six years.
ALBERTI: About six years. We ran it out of—
NELSON: It was chartered out of Lincoln Park United Methodist, though they didn’t provide any
ALBERTI: They provided a space for us to meet.
DEUTSCH: And had you been a Scout? What gave you the idea of doing Scouting?
ALBERTI: Well, I was a Scout, but I think we would have done it anyways. But I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout, and enjoyed it very much. But I think the idea would have come to us anyways, even without that experience.
NELSON: The thing is, it provides you a legitimate way to interact with other people’s kids. You know, there’s insurance, the name brand—we have some issues with some of the Scouts’ policies. I don’t want to gloss that over. But it seemed like a safe—
DEUTSCH: It gives you a focus, a program—NELSON/ALBERTI: Yes, a program.
DEUTSCH: So how many kids did you have in your pack?NELSON: You know, it varied. Probably about a dozen.ALBERTI: Yeah, probably ten to 20, it varied somewhat.NELSON: You know, six years—people came and went.DEUTSCH: Were they all African-American?
NELSON: I’m trying to think ...
ALBERTI: I think so.
NELSON: I think so. And then ...
DEUTSCH: So they were local kids, your neighbors?
ALBERTI: Well, they weren’t our immediate neighbors. Some of the kids were there because they had heard about it through the church, the parents were members of the church. There was—
NELSON: Well, we advertised it in the newsletter.
ALBERTI: We advertised in the newsletter. The church ran an AA program—
NELSON: That’s right.
ALBERTI: —at least one parent who brought us children came because he heard about it from that. I think he lived east of the river.
NELSON: Some of the families did live east of the river.
ALBERTI: And they brought the kids in. They lived as far as east of the river, and up toward
Bladensburg and Benning Road area. And some of them were very local.
NELSON: Some of them, I think, had contacted the Boy Scouts, and the Boy Scouts will tell you who’s got a pack where you want to go. It was just a hodge-podge.
ALBERTI: There’s a few of them whose families we still see, occasionally.
NELSON: And then a friend of mine, well, a neighbor—because in those days the neighborhood was,
well, it’s still close-knit but it was more close-knit when we were fighting very specific problems—
ALBERTI: We had these liquor stores—not only Trant’s but other small corner stores who were out of control. There were a lot of people loitering. We used to say that they ran outdoor cafes because people would walk in—
NELSON: Without restrooms.
ALBERTI: Without restrooms. Because there were a lot of people drinking on the street, and you know, they were just a block from our house. Then there were the drug markets. Neighbors were coalescing around those issues—
DEUTSCH: It was bringing neighbors together—ALBERTI: And we had an issue to bring us together.
NELSON: So, anyway, one of the neighbors had been active in Junior Achievement for a long time. It always was a high school program, you know, you make and sell a product? A lot of people have heard of it.
DEUTSCH: Actually, I haven’t ...
NELSON: Well, if you need to do some research, it’s www ...ALBERTI: I don’t think you did it, but I did it when I was in high school.DEUTSCH: Junior Achievement, yes.
NELSON: It’s an international organization that teaches economic literacy, and it used to be a high school program. But in the late 80s they instituted an elementary school program. And I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but this friend, Leslie Leahy approached me and said, “We want to do this program at Maury Elementary on the corner of 13th and Constitution,” which is right around the corner from our house, and she said would I do it. I didn’t know it was the first year they were doing it. And I said yeah, I’ll do that. Because a lot of my Cub Scouts went to Maury, and I thought, oh, that’ll work. I’ll go do that. Well, I got hooked on it, I got hooked on the kids, I got hooked on the school. I still do Junior Achievement there every year. Now I do all the classrooms, not just a couple of them.
DEUTSCH: Now, when you say “do Junior Achievement”—
NELSON: I present it. What do they call you—they call you the consultant. You go in, it’s a pre-
packaged series of five lessons per grade level. So you go in and you—DEUTSCH: And you said it’s on financial literacy?
ALBERTI: She goes in once a week for five weeks to each of the classrooms.
NELSON: It’s very interesting. For a sample—each year it starts, it’s a different level. Like in kindergarten, you talk about yourself, then it’s the family, then it’s the community, then it’s the city, then it’s the region, you know. And like in first grade, you learn the difference between a need and a want.
DEUTSCH: [ laughter]
NELSON: In second grade, you learn about the relationship between taxes and government. You know,
we all put in a little and then we get to enjoy these things together.DEUTSCH: It’s so important.
NELSON: They talk about saving and different kinds of jobs, and as you get older, there’s talk about job interviews and interrelationships between different countries by the time you get to sixth grade.
DEUTSCH: So you started doing that at Maury ...
NELSON: I started doing that at Maury, and that’s how the Maury connection came about.
DEUTSCH: So you’re still at Maury.
NELSON: Yep, I’m still at Maury and now that I’m retired, I’m there a lot.
ALBERTI: You may want to go back to—you did the newsletter, and there’s a connection between the neighborhood association and the newsletter.
NELSON: That’s true. Well, the neighborhood association has been in business for—geez Louise, like 25 years or something.
ALBERTI: Well, it was probably 1986, 87, when it started?DEUTSCH: So just when you’d moved there?
NELSON: Yeah, we were charter members.
ALBERTI: We were charter members.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
NELSON: So this other couple used to do the newsletter. For the last 13 years, I’ve published the
newsletter. It’s just two sides of an 8 1⁄2 by 11 sheet—
ALBERTI: There was a neighbor, Stu Harris, who started the newsletter, and we’re kind of grateful that he did, but after about five years or so—
NELSON: He did it for quite a while ...
ALBERTI: Quite a while. He decided that he didn’t want to do it anymore, and Elizabeth volunteered to
take it over and has done it since, right?
NELSON: Yeah, I think what it was is he was very interested in crime—[Ringtone] Oh, I’m so sorry, let me get this turned off. There. He was very interested in crime, and reporting on crime, and when the crime lessened, it was of course good news. But I think it took some of the wind out of his sails. He didn’t feel the same passion for reporting non-crime things. Maybe another way to say it is that he didn’t—
DEUTSCH: He didn’t know what to cover.
NELSON: Well, I think he just didn’t feel the urgency of covering anything. And it is a fair amount of work, so if you’re going to do it, you need to feel like it’s important. And I think he’d gotten to where he didn’t feel like it was as important as it would need to be for him to spend that amount of time on it. But it was OK for me, because I had a different set of things I wanted to publicize, and so I could feel that urgency about publishing it for a different reason.
DEUTSCH: So what were the things that you—
NELSON: Well, to be real honest with you, I wanted to rebrand Maury. I didn’t come up with that phrase—actually, Tommy Wells used that phrase. But I felt like Maury was a really, really good school, but the new people moving into the community were not sending their children there. And in truth, there weren’t all that many kids there when we moved into town. Most of them could be accommodated in the Cluster [schools], and so Maury was to some extent an out-of-boundary school. But then, more people started moving in and they weren’t really looking at Maury, and I didn’t think that was a good situation. I do believe in public education, and—I’m going to show my hand—I don’t consider charters to be particularly useful toward that end. I felt like we really needed robust public schools where every kid went to a good one in their neighborhood, where it’s a neighborhood school, where parents can easily go to things in the evenings, and volunteer—well, it needs to be a neighborhood school.
NELSON: And Maury was a really good school, but the neighbors weren’t looking at it. It was a chicken-and-egg thing—nobody wanted to send their kid there because nobody was sending their kid there.
NELSON: So, I felt like the newsletter—I mean, I didn’t just write about the school, but that would be an
ALBERTI: And the Scouts was another thing ...
NELSON: And the Scouts. We could write about the school, we could write about the Scouts—DEUTSCH: How often do you put the newsletter out?
NELSON: Just once a month.
DEUTSCH: “Just once a month.” That’s a lot ...
ALBERTI: It’s a lot of work for her. I mean, it’s just one page front and back, but it’s a lot of work.DEUTSCH: How do you disseminate, distribute it?
NELSON: It’s volunteers. So there’s a distribution of about 2200, and it’s delivered door to door by volunteers. I do a lot of it, but there’s a lot of other people who do the delivery.
ALBERTI: Much of it is done by block captains, where you deliver a bundle to a person on a block, and they deliver to their block.
NELSON: So all the bundles have to go out. So then I started covering—this is a great thing that Andrew Lightman did—there were people who were writing about St. Peter’s and Capitol Hill Day and the Cluster for the Rag [Hill Rag newspaper], but the other schools weren’t being covered. So he gave me the opportunity to cover Maury for the Rag. That’s how I met Andrew, actually. And then it’s just—you try to get the buzz going, so everybody thinks they’ve heard it from somebody else. Like, Oh, you know I heard something good about that ...
ALBERTI: I’m going to sort of tattle on Andrew. We noticed in the Rag that some of the news from the Buzz was appearing as community news in the Hill Rag.
DEUTSCH: The Buzz being your paper.
ALBERTI: Right. It was pretty obvious, the source of the news [laughs]. So that prompted Elizabeth to
call the editor of the Rag, who was Andrew. And I think quickly the friendship developed from there.
NELSON: Yeah. And then, I realized that what we really needed—well, in my opinion what we really needed—was to get a three-year-old program started there, because the kids were all going to the Watkins Montessori program, not necessarily because people loved Montessori, but because you could get your kid into school at three years old. That was draining everything that way. Tommy was the school board rep at the time, and I said, Look, if you can get a three-year-old program in Maury, I can round up some people to send their kids. And once they do, they’re not going to leave. I mean, they’ll send them there because they’re three years old, they can get it for free, what are the risks, really. And once they try it, they’ll like it because it’s a really good school. So he said OK. So he did it there, and—I can’t remember whether it was Brent or Tyler got the other one—he set up two at the same time. And sure enough, you know, people started sending their kids, and nothing bad happened. In fact, it was really good. And then it just got better and better and bigger and bigger, and Maury is now—has one of the longest waiting lists in the city. And, you know, it’s had like a—
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 1
TAPE 1/SIDE 2
NELSON: —connection, because part of the way that went down sort of loops into the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] stuff, and I guess we’re sort of starting in the middle of that. But the ANC started giving grants, ANC6A, and I’ll let Nick talk more about that, but it hadn’t had a grants program and in fact, 6B never has given grants and 6C didn’t used to exist ... So anyway, there hadn’t been ANC grants on the Hill. So we had a grants program, and I’m the chair of the Community Outreach Committee for ANC6A, which is the group that vets the grants.
DEUTSCH: You’re the chair of the Community Outreach Committee.NELSON: It’s on your list.
NELSON: So we had to sort of drum up business for ourselves in a way, and part of my responsibility would be to contact organizations that would likely be eligible—because there’s a lot of rules—and help them successfully apply. One of the early grant recipients was a group at Maury Elementary. And so we realized it was a way to help people learn how to write a grant. Because so many groups just have never done that, they may not have any mindset for how that would even happen [phone ringing, answering, talking in background] or that such things exist, or what you would do. So it was like the training wheels was doing an ANC 6A grant. We actually stole our grant application from the Community Foundation. Because I’m like, why should I reinvent the wheel, I’ll just steal theirs. I’m sure you don’t mind.
NELSON: So if they’d applied to us, they didn’t really have to rethink the whole thing that much.DEUTSCH: It was another opportunity to—
NELSON: Yeah, and then I would help them a lot of times rewrite it a little for the Community Foundation, or other groups would apply to us for things we can’t fund. You know, we can’t pay for food or street fairs—there’s a lot of restrictions. So I’d say, well, you know, 6A can’t help you, but I can help you write your grant application for the Community Foundation. Well, once they did that once, then they were in, and that’s part of why you’re seeing applications from more of the schools.
ALBERTI: It was—once it became something they knew about, other parents, who were very capable of writing grants, would say, Oh, I can do that for you. So they became self-sufficient.
NELSON: I haven’t written one in a long time.
DEUTSCH: Shall we go over to you now, and talk a little bit about what you were doing this whole time?
ALBERTI: Boy ...
DEUTSCH: So you had been working for the Census ...
ALBERTI: I had been working for the Census, and well, like I said ...
DEUTSCH: Doing the Boy Scout troop ...
ALBERTI: Doing the Boy Scout troop with Elizabeth. You know, we had both sort of become involved with Trees for Capitol Hill—
NELSON: Oh, yeah.
ALBERTI: —just in volunteering to do some of the plantings for them. So we would do that twice a
year. You’ve since become much more involved.NELSON: Yeah, but stick to you.
ALBERTI: You know, it was learning, as part of the neighborhood association, just learning about how the city operates. And I sort of became a resource person for the neighborhood when addressing issues. Like how do we get garbage collected, you know—well, maybe Nick knows! [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: Well, you were a government guy, you kind of knew—
ALBERTI: Yeah, but I also was interested in how the city worked. And I like to joke that before Anthony Williams made it possible with the 311, I had a Rolodex of people in various offices who I had—well, sometimes it took five or six calls to find the right person. And when you did, you kept their number, and that was the person you always went to for some city service, to get some issue resolved, depending on the department. So it was around the late 90s that—yeah, it was like early 2000—we got a call one day, and I was aware of the ANC but had not really participated. Because we had our neighborhood organization, and our neighborhood organization was addressing many of the issues that the ANC would address at the local level. So we never really became involved in the ANC. But around 2002, I guess, 2003—
NELSON: I think it was the election in 2001.
ALBERTI: 2001. No, the election in 2002. We got a call, and I won’t mention who, but someone who’s
very active politically said, You need to help us find somebody to run for ANC from your area.
NELSON: I think, if I can interject, what happened was census redistricting had just happened.ALBERTI: Yeah, and they were redrawing ANC boundaries.
DEUTSCH: Does that happen automatically after every census?
ALBERTI: It does. It happens automatically after every census. So they were redrawing the boundaries. The ANC that existed was dysfunctional.
NELSON: Extremely so. 6A was a scandal. The checkbook had been confiscated, one of the guys who had been a commissioner ended up going to jail later, for an unrelated thing.
ALBERTI: For fraud.
NELSON: There had been fights, with the police called in to ANC meetings—
ALBERTI: There was some capable commissioners, but they were hamstrung and really weren’t functioning because they couldn’t even get a quorum for a meeting. People would not show up just so they couldn’t get a quorum.
DEUTSCH: Can I just ask a question—how many ANCs are there city-wide?
ALBERTI: I think 39. There were at one time 39, so it’s approximately 39, 40 ANCs city-wide. Ward 6
now has five.
NELSON: Yeah, but at the time there were only two. If you go back—there was A and B.ALBERTI: Right, A and B.
DEUTSCH: So this would be A and over there would be B? Or was it north and south?NELSON: No, the dividing line—
ALBERTI: I think we might have had three, but I’m not sure.
NELSON: Before the redistricting we’re talking about now, the dividing line wasn’t super clean, but it had actually gone down, I think, Constitution Avenue. And anything south of Constitution Avenue was B and anything north of Constitution was A. And then, with what I’ll call the 2000 redistricting, which didn’t take effect for two years, the line got moved to East Capitol.
ALBERTI: So we were now in ANC 6A—
NELSON: A, where we had been in B before. And B was not dysfunctional, but A was. And so we’d been in B, and weren’t that engaged—
DEUTSCH: So you were asked to help find someone to run for ANC rep?NELSON: So he ran.
ALBERTI: After searching. [Laughs] I guess it was sort of the Dick Cheney search. So I ran, and was elected that year. And have been serving ever since.
DEUTSCH: So you’ve been serving since 2002?
ALBERTI: Yeah. And, you know, I’m proud to say that when we came in, we were starting from zero. We had no minutes from previous meetings, the books were in complete disarray, the checkbook had been confiscated by the treasurer ... So I came in, volunteered to be treasurer, was elected treasurer, and immediately had to do past financial reports from the old ANC, and pull together records—
DEUTSCH: Now when you talk about financial reports, where does the ANC get its money?ALBERTI: The ANC gets an allotment, a stipend from the city of—our ANC is about $18,000. It varies,
depending on the size, the population of the ANC.
DEUTSCH: Now you’re not—are you paid as an ANC member?
ALBERTI: No, we are not paid. The money that the ANC gets—there are very strict guidelines on how you can spend that money. You can spend it for your office, photocopying, distribution of ANC flyers. You can spend it on grants, with many restrictions. It’s money for the ANC to function.
DEUTSCH: And what are you charged—what’s the assignment?
ALBERTI: I guess to be the local voice for the council. We advise the City Council and the Mayor,
we’re an advisory—
NELSON: —and various agencies ...
ALBERTI: We’re an advisory board.
DEUTSCH: You’re a conduit to help the mayor know what’s going at the very local level.ALBERTI: Yes.
NELSON: They also have great weight on zoning matters—
ALBERTI: On zoning matters, and alcohol beverage licensing matters, and a few other things.DEUTSCH: So, do ANC reps regularly attend city council meetings?
DEUTSCH: Is that part of your job?
ALBERTI: No. We regularly review zoning and licensing issues—NELSON: —and certain transportation issues—
ALBERTI: —and transportation issues, so we regularly advise the BZA (the zoning commission), the Historic Preservation Review Board, DDOT on public space and transportation issues. Those are the things we regularly do. We will advocate for other issues in the city. If there’s a school issue, we might advocate for it—
NELSON: But they’re not in their purview in the same way.
ALBERTI: Not in the same way. You know, we really facilitate people solving quality-of-life issues in
NELSON: To some extent, they’re ombudsmen.
ALBERTI: I mean, one of the things we did in the last few years was get the city to look at a new plan for C Street NE.
NELSON: You mean H Street?
ALBERTI: No, C Street. Well, let’s go back. When we first came in, when I first joined the ANC, one of the first things was we were approached by the city, who wanted to—well, H Street was going to become what they call one of the “Great Streets,” it was in the Great Streets program at that time—
DEUTSCH: Main Street?
ALBERTI: Yeah, Main Street program, and our ANC worked very closely with ANC 6C to come up with an overlay plan for H Street. It was out of those talks that H Street was sort of divided into three areas, the entertainment district, the commercial, retail district, and the residential district. So that would be the focus in those three segments of H Street. So the ANC was very involved in those discussions, in coming up with that plan. To Elizabeth’s chagrin, the ANC was also very involved with promoting the installation of the trolley line.
DEUTSCH: Uh huh. The trolley was highly controversial.ALBERTI: It still is.
NELSON: In my mind, it still is.
DEUTSCH: And what’s the—it sounds like you don’t like the trolley?
NELSON: I was ecstatic at the prospect of streetcars until I realized that they were planning to put in overhead wires. Originally the streetcars that went down H Street did not have overhead wires. They weren’t allowed in the historic district at all, nowhere. When the streetcars came into town, they pulled down their masts and hooked up underground. And if that is how they were going to do it, I’d be fine with it. But I think having that rabbit’s nest of wires overhead is just unseemly. And I think they’re foolish. If a tree falls down, if there’s an accident in the road, a bus can take a detour. But there’s no way a streetcar’s going to take a detour.
DEUTSCH: Where’s it stand now, the whole streetcar thing?
ALBERTI: Right now, we’re waiting to see if they’re going to put in the maintenance facility, the maintenance barn, out in front of Spingarn [High School]. That’s the last hurdle. There’s some controversy about where to put that maintenance yard. But once that maintenance yard is built, it’s my impression that everything’s ready to go. They have cars, the tracks are ready—
DEUTSCH: So they will be installed and they will have the overhead wires?NELSON: Yes, and it’s going to be a travesty to have that on the Spingarn campus.
ALBERTI: I’ve been told that they’re going to test the tracks this spring, summer ... Nonetheless, before those controversies heated up [laughs], the ANC was like, well, this is a good idea. We were involved in promoting that—
DEUTSCH: And certainly the development of H Street—ALBERTI: We were involved in promoting that—
NELSON: They are, but I think foolishly so. I ride public transportation a great deal more than the average person because I don’t drive, and the real problem with public transportation—well, there’s two problems with it. One, they don’t control the patrons on public transportation. There’s people eating mustard-covered hot dogs and dropping Doritos all over the floor, and people think that’s low-class and don’t want to ride with it. Well, as soon as those people start eating mustard-covered hot dogs and
dropping Doritos on the floor of the streetcar, it will be no more chic than the bus is. I mean, that’s the idea—it’s going to be more chic somehow, to ride on a streetcar. But it’s not as soon as the same clientele gets on it. And, the city—well, it’s Metro—can’t even manage the buses they’ve got. The GPS that’s supposed to be telling you where it is, they don’t turn them on. The signs on the bus don’t say where it’s actually going. I mean, they’re not doing the things they could do to make buses more appealing. They’re not putting giant windows in so you could see into them—it’s like this black hole, you don’t know what you’re getting onto. They won’t do any of the things they could do to make buses more appealing, and I think the streetcar’s going to end up just as unappealing for the exact same reasons, because I don’t think they’re going to manage it any better.
ALBERTI: We differ a little bit on that. I’m not happy about the overhead wires, but I’m more optimistic that the streetcars will spur economic development on H Street. You know, over the years, things may not work out that way. But initially, it’s obvious that businesses are waiting for that streetcar—
DEUTSCH: —to bring in more people?
ALBERTI: Right—and buying into H Street in anticipation of that streetcar being there.NELSON: That is true.
ALBERTI: You know, when H Street was first being redeveloped and the economic turnaround was coming for H Street, I like to think that ANCs—and I’m familiar with ANCs all over the city—you know, an ANC can either stand in the way or facilitate that growth, and I’m proud that our ANC really facilitated that growth. We made sure merchants felt welcomed, we tried to understand them. I think we did a good job of educating them as to what the expectations of the neighborhood were [clock chimes in background] in terms of what we expected from them as businesses, and how to behave and operate as it affected the community, but we also made them feel welcome. And I think it was a good partnership.
DEUTSCH: What are hot issues for the ANC now?
ALBERTI: Well, still things on H Street, the continuing development on H Street.
DEUTSCH: So, your ANC now is—
ALBERTI: Our ANC—the ANC that I’m part of—I mean, not my single member district, but—DEUTSCH: See, that’s the part I’m getting a little—
ALBERTI: It’s kind of like Congress. Each ANC is made up of single member districts.
ALBERTI: Each single member district represents about 2000 people. There are eight single member
districts in our ANC, so eight commissioners.
DEUTSCH: You’re absolutely right that people don’t know anything about it, but I couldn’t tell you who my ANC rep is.
DEUTSCH: I’m embarrassed to admit that.
NELSON: I’m trying to think—
ALBERTI: Oh, Garrison.
NELSON: No, she’s on the wrong side of East Capitol.
ALBERTI: Right. Oh, you’re in ANC 6C—I don’t know.
NELSON: She’s—you’re in 6C.
ALBERTI: It could be Karen Wirt—is it Karen Wirt? Anyways, you’re in 6C.DEUTSCH: OK, so there are eight commissioners in each ANC—
ALBERTI: Well, it varies, it varies. But generally, there’s around eight.
DEUTSCH: So I’m sure it’s written on my piece of paper what your—so you’re ANC 6A?ALBERTI: 6A, yes.
ALBERTI: Well, my single member district is 6A-04.
ALBERTI: So I have much more communication with the people in my SMD [single member district], but I really am charged with serving the whole ANC. So H Street is a big concern, both what’s happening with the entertainment district, how that’s developing, how some of the major developments—we have at the corner of 13th and H Street, which was the old R.L. Christian Library site. We had conversations with the developers, we had input into the choice of the developer for that site.
DEUTSCH: What is going in there?
ALBERTI: It’s a mixed-use, residential and commercial are going in there. I think the plan that was chosen—was just chosen—has 30 residential units going in there. So the developers—again, we advise the city on that. The developers come to us, present their plans, we gave recommendations as to the two or three plans that were preferable to us.
DEUTSCH: Uh huh.
ALBERTI: There’s major development going to be happening at Eighth and H Street, the H Street
Connection. And we’ve been working with—DEUTSCH: What is the H Street Connection?ALBERTI: It’s that strip mall on H Street.NELSON: It’s going to be redeveloped.
ALBERTI: It’s going to be redeveloped into 200-some residential units—I’m just guessing there. I mean, it’s many residential units, and retail space on the first floor. One of the things that our ANC, along with ANC 6C, promoted when the overlay for H Street was done was that any of the retail space would have a criteria of having 14-foot ceilings. So that we were guaranteed that what was happening on the ground floor was going to be retail. We wanted foot traffic. We wanted to guarantee that we had a lively H Street where people were conducting business, shopping, eating, going to restaurants—
DEUTSCH: Promoting that rich urban mix.
ALBERTI: Right. And so we’ve had some people come in and ask for exceptions to that [laughs], and we’ve not looked on that very favorably. Because it’s important to us to make sure that we maintain that quality—
DEUTSCH: All along—
ALBERTI: All along the street, yeah. I mean, the 600 block—which is not in our ANC but it’s close enough that we have asked to be party to the discussions—that whole block is being developed. The H Street Storage, Murry’s Steaks, if you’re familiar with that block—
DEUTSCH: Uh, huh.
ALBERTI: That whole block is being developed.
ALBERTI: Redeveloped. And we have been in discussions with—and commented on designs of the
plans for that redevelopment.DEUTSCH: It’s exciting.
ALBERTI: Yeah, and we comment on smaller pieces. Like in my SMD, there are two properties that are being redeveloped, and the ANC has reviewed those projects, and we provide input to the Historic Preservation Review Board, because they’re in the historic district.
DEUTSCH: How do you stay in touch with your members of your ANC? I mean, they know who you are—
NELSON: Do you mean his constituents, or do you mean the other commissioners?DEUTSCH: I was thinking of your constituents, the people you represent.
ALBERTI: In the past, we have handed out flyers to all the residents. So periodically, we do that. It becomes word-of-mouth. You start to collect e-mail addresses as people contact you. That’s the way I do it. I think various commissioners do it other ways. Since I’ve been in the job for so long, it’s kind of word-of-mouth, everyone knows—
DEUTSCH: Everyone knows you.
ALBERTI: Knows me, knows how to get in touch with me, my contact’s on the ANC website. You know, it’s kind of a network. The people who are active in solving problems in the neighborhood contact you, and they’re communicating with their neighbors, and so you now have a conduit to communicate with everybody.
DEUTSCH: I guess the Internet makes all this so much easier—ALBERTI: Yeah.
NELSON: And there’s also—
ALBERTI: And when there’s a project—like, again, the project to redevelop properties on Constitution Avenue—I will go out and flyer the neighborhood to make sure they’re aware that there’s going to be a meeting to discuss this, and when that meeting is. And of course, then they get my contact, they become familiar with the ANC and me, through that. So that’s how that happens.
NELSON: And The Buzz newsletter every month runs with a link published to the ANC website. It goes to everybody in his single member district—and lots of other single member districts—but it covers his completely. So it points people to the website and also advertises the main ANC meeting every month.
DEUTSCH: It’s certainly very complementary—NELSON/ALBERTI: Yeah, right.
DEUTSCH: —to what you’re doing.
ALBERTI: Exactly. And you know, commissioners answer all kinds of questions. Just an example: there’s a For Sale sign on a property and it says it’s commercial property, and it’s in a residential area, and I’d get inquiries as to well, what can they do with this property? What are our rights in allowing certain businesses to go in and not go in? And they want know about, you know, just advice about zoning law. So I can give them answers and point people in the right direction.
DEUTSCH: So it sounds like you liked doing this?
ALBERTI: Oh, I enjoy it very much. I guess I enjoy the subject matter but I also enjoy the fact that I get to meet so many people. It’s a neighborhood. I love knowing my neighbors, I love knowing who’s out there, even if my only connection to them is occasional conversations on the street or phone conversations when they have questions.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, it’s nice to feel connected.ALBERTI: Yeah, yeah.
NELSON: And I would add, everything that the ANC 6A does is posted on the website. Every single piece of correspondence coming out of there, every set of minutes, every agenda package is posted on the website. It’s completely transparent.
ALBERTI: And Elizabeth’s the webmaster.
NELSON: I do all of that.
ALBERTI: So she updates the website ... I mean, it’s kind of incestuous—NELSON: It IS incestuous! [Laughter]
NELSON: It is incestuous, but it works.
ALBERTI: It works. And we try to keep it as transparent as possible so people know what’s going on and don’t think that we’re like—
DEUTSCH: Conspiring to do something—
ALBERTI: Conspiring to do something. And I mention that because it has been [laughs]—
NELSON: People do have paranoid imaginations sometimes. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: I know we have other things to talk about, but I’m curious about the knitting, Elizabeth. Talk to me about knitting.
ALBERTI: Oh, you’re not knitting.
NELSON: I’m not. Out of deference to our hostess, I’m not knitting. I usually knit constantly, in
meetings and even between courses in restaurants. [Laughter]NELSON: I’m not kidding about that—
ALBERTI: Madame Lafarge.
DEUTSCH: Madame Lafarge, exactly!
ALBERTI: Someone labeled her with that many years ago. Who was that?NELSON: I don’t remember.
ALBERTI: An ANC commissioner—
NELSON: Because I do it at the ANC.
DEUTSCH: You made them nervous.NELSON: Yeah, off with their heads.ALBERTI: He deserved to be nervous, but ...NELSON: I’m a chronic knitter, and I like to—DEUTSCH: What do you knit?
NELSON: Well, I knit the sweater I’m wearing, but mostly I knit small things—hats, children’s sweaters. The Monkey’s Uncle has been very kind—they let me consign my hats there, and then they give all the money to Maury.
DEUTSCH: Oh, lovely!
NELSON: They take a very small processing fee, they don’t take their normal cut—
ALBERTI: A very small processing fee.
NELSON: I think they’ve sold 90 hats for me already this year.
DEUTSCH: Goodness! Are they wool?
NELSON: A variety of fibers.
DEUTSCH: I’m just remembering the cute hats I bought for my children that they refused to wear because they were scratchy.
NELSON: Usually, for the kids—a lot of them are cotton. Some of them are made out of a very soft merino wool. But I am cognizant of that.
DEUTSCH: And do they handle sweaters—do you do sweaters, too?NELSON: I don’t do sweaters for them. It’s, um—
ALBERTI: It’s probably not cost-effective.
NELSON: It’s not cost-effective, would be a way to put it. You couldn’t sell them, at Monkey’s Uncle anyway, for anywhere close to what you paid for the yarn. But I do put them in various silent auctions on the Hill—for Hill schools. Mostly Maury, but I have donated them to other causes.
ALBERTI: Tyler, the Cluster School ...
DEUTSCH: So, Nick, you must have a huge number of sweaters?
ALBERTI: No! She doesn’t really do large adult items. I have a number of hats. That hat I was wearing when I came in?
NELSON: The tea caddy he was wearing. I very rarely knit for adults.ALBERTI: And fingerless gloves, I have.
DEUTSCH: Fingerless gloves, that’s good. And do you do a knitting club at Maury? I know Suzanne [Wells] did a knitting club at Stuart-Hobson.
NELSON: Actually—oh, I didn’t know that! I knew she did an environmental club there, but I didn’t know she did knitting.
DEUTSCH: She also did knitting, yeah.
NELSON: Yeah, actually, I do have a knitting club at Maury.ALBERTI: You just started it.
NELSON: It just started. In the warm weather, I did a garden-to-the-table program where we grew food and then cooked and ate it. I shouldn’t say cooked, because some of it was salad. But we prepared and ate food that we grew in our little garden. But now’s not the time of year to be doing that. So I’ve switched over to a knitting club. I do it as part of the aftercare program. Polite Piggy’s Aftercare.
DEUTSCH: Miss Polite Piggy—is that still going on?
NELSON: Oh, yeah, they’ve got two aftercare—no, they’ve got more than two, I think they’ve got three different aftercare organizations. I don’t pay real close attention to who’s running what. But I’m doing it as part of Polite Piggy—
DEUTSCH: I just remember the name Polite Piggy, because I visited—NELSON: Well, Polite Piggy now is also at Tyler. They’ve got a Polite Piggy
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 2 TAPE 2/SIDE 1
DEUTSCH: ... [re]tired from your jobs—
DEUTSCH: —Elizabeth, for two years?
NELSON: Just one—not even a year. I leapt out on Leap Day last year. And Nick, it’s been like three, I think.
ALBERTI: Two years, just over two years. It was—this January was two years.DEUTSCH: So now you wonder how you had time to—
NELSON: Yeah, it’s an old saw but it’s true. I don’t see how I had time for work. Well, I was just run completely ragged when I was working. It was just such an incredible sense of pressure.
DEUTSCH: What were you doing?
NELSON: Oh, the job wasn’t that much pressure—I was a software developer for the IRS. But it’s just that having a job was a lot of pressure, because I had to get up in the morning, you know, get myself out, go to work, and then come home. And then I still had the newsletter to write, I had all of these things that I just described going on. And I had to get them all shoehorned in before bedtime.
DEUTSCH: And on Saturday.
NELSON: And on Saturday and Sunday. And it was just—I just felt like I had to keep the pedal down
the whole time or I wasn’t going to make it.
DEUTSCH: That’s an interesting expression for a non-driver to use. [Laughter]NELSON: True.
DEUTSCH: How about you, Nick?
ALBERTI: In terms of staying busy?
DEUTSCH: The transition from working to non-working, to retirement.
ALBERTI: It was the same. I mean, you would—breaks at work, you’d be doing things or thinking about things from the neighborhood, and then you would come home, throw together dinner and immediately—
DEUTSCH: Go to a meeting—
ALBERTI: Go to a meeting, do e-mail correspondence, something. There were many late nights.
NELSON: It was really, really, really hard. Now, I have picked up more stuff—not more different kinds of things but doing more for the—mostly just doing more for Maury, nothing else has really changed for me.
DEUTSCH: Did you take on anything new?
ALBERTI: No, but I think I sort of expanded what I was doing. I mean, I was just able to pay more
attention to the things I was doing.
NELSON: And even though it’s not particularly relevant to this conversation, he started with the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, not too long before he retired. So when he retired, that took up—
ALBERTI: I was able to devote more time to that position.
DEUTSCH: And even though that’s a city-wide thing, do you represent particular jurisdictions?
ALBERTI: No. The board members do not represent any particular neighborhood or jurisdiction in the city.
DEUTSCH: How many members on that board?
ALBERTI: There are currently five. The board has potential for seven members.DEUTSCH: And are you on the receiving end of a lot of people lobbying for ...
ALBERTI: No, because we’re not allowed to engage people on individual, specific matters. We are a licensing and administrative adjudicator board, so we cannot interact with individuals about a specific case.
DEUTSCH: I see.
ALBERTI: We deal with more general issues for the city.
DEUTSCH: So you’re not the person that I call when I’m upset—like some of the neighbors—ALBERTI: If you do, I tell you to call the agency. [Laughs] You would be calling the agency.DEUTSCH: So—Capitol Hill Village?
ALBERTI: I guess a little over a year ago, year and a half ago, I was asked to be on their endowment board. There’s not much to say about that. I mean, I was happy to serve, and quite honored, flattered to have been asked. It’s definitely a worthwhile commitment. I think the Village is going to continue to grow. I mean, the endowment was started to provide, hopefully, in the future, to provide a steady source of income for the Village. And we’re trying to make that happen, we’re trying to create an endowment. It’s in its infancy, but we’re working on it.
DEUTSCH: Worthwhile ...
ALBERTI: Very worthwhile.DEUTSCH: And the Restoration Society?
NELSON: Yeah, I’ve been on the board for—I lose track—I guess maybe about the same length of time that Nick’s been a commissioner.
ALBERTI: Maybe not quite as long—NELSON: Yeah, maybe not quite as long—ALBERTI: Maybe 2004, 2005—
NELSON: Something like that. We’d been members before that, but I was nominated and got elected, and now I’m in a non-elected position. I do community development work, mostly providing a presence at street fairs ...
DEUTSCH: Handing out information.
NELSON: Handing out information or helping to organize the Preservation Cafés or the membership meetings where we invite different speakers in. So I work on our interactions with the public. And I guess that’s about all to say about that. And then I do a little work for Trees for Capitol Hill. You know, helping to do the—a lot of little stuff. But, you know, Margaret Missiaen was honored for that, a couple years ago?
DEUTSCH: It was last year.
NELSON: Was it last year? No, I think it was the year before ... [Margaret Missiaen received a
Community Achievement Award in 2010.]
DEUTSCH: I went out with her when she did some pruning. It was great fun.
NELSON: So, you know, it’s finding the spots to put them, and picking the trees to put in them, and planting them and pruning them and watering them. And I do a little bit of work on that website, too, but not a lot.
DEUTSCH: So do you both work with the planting, going out and—
ALBERTI: Well, I’m one of the volunteers who helps to do the planting every year.
NELSON: He’s married to me, he has to! Hey, babe—
DEUTSCH: It’s time. [Laughter]
NELSON: Have shovel, will dig.
DEUTSCH: So, how do you feel about the state of our neighborhood, the state of our community?
ALBERTI: It has been and continues to be a lovely place to live. I mean, it’s a vibrant neighborhood. It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes. It’s growing. You know, now people consider Capitol Hill to go all the way out to the stadium. But we still are a village, and if you want to be involved, you will begin to know many of the people in the village. One of the things is that there’s so many great volunteers and so many great organizations on the Hill that if you want to get involved in a constructive way, you can do it. It is easy for you to do something, if you really have a mind to do it. So I think that continues.
I think one of the things that I’m watching closely—and I think there’s a bit of angst in the neighborhood—is that we are becoming a much more dense, cosmopolitan, maybe, if you want to call it that—but the neighborhood’s becoming a much more densely populated neighborhood. We used to think—just to express it simply, I used to go down to Barracks Row and be able to park anywhere to do errands, but there weren’t many errands to do down there [laughs], because there wasn’t much. And the same with H Street. Now, parking is at a premium wherever you go. And so, life has changed, and I think for some of the more longer-term residents, it’s kind of a shock, how dense—but I think it’s going to be a plus for the neighborhood. In fact, I think Capitol Hill, the general neighborhood from the Capitol to the stadium and from the river to Florida Avenue, is going to be one of the more desirable neighborhoods of the city—
DEUTSCH: I think it already is.
NELSON: I think it is, too.
ALBERTI: It is—will continue to be.
DEUTSCH: Those are exactly, by the way—that’s the definition of Capitol Hill that the Foundation uses.ALBERTI: Right.
DEUTSCH: That very large definition.
NELSON: You know, just to point out two negatives—well, I shouldn’t say negatives, but challenges. One is around transportation. You know, I keep repeating, I’m not a driver, I walk and I use public transportation. And so I’m not particularly wedded to cars at all. But I think that as we become dense and there’s less parking, and decisions are consciously made to discourage people from having cars, I don’t think we’re thinking about the consequences of that enough. I mean, with the number of street robberies in our immediate neighborhood and the lack of adequate or dependable bus service, it really isn’t safe or convenient to walk. I mean, it’s all well and good to say you live in the city, you don’t need a car, we should let them put in 200 units and all those people are going to qualify for RPP [residential parking
permits] and have cars, and God knows where everybody’s going to park, but that’s OK, because we’re in the city and you don’t really need a car. That’s a little disingenuous when you’re taking your life in your hands every time you go out after dark.
DEUTSCH: And that’s the way you feel in your neighborhood—because your neighborhood has been a little bit—
NELSON: I have to say that I’ve lived there for—not 30 years but it’s getting close to 30 years, I lived through the drug wars and all of that. But I wasn’t buying or selling drugs so the chances of me personally being attacked were somewhat slim. But now it’s people attacking people to take their goods, and a lot of times people are injured more than is necessary to extract the goods. And I won’t say that I’m all the way to being fearful, but I am more concerned about it than I ever have been. What I’m concerned about is what I think is the disingenuous attitude by some of the decision-makers when they say you don’t need a car, you can walk—
DEUTSCH: It’s perhaps not realistic.
NELSON: I don’t think that’s reasonable given that somebody is attacked every single day—at least one
person is attacked every single day—along the H Street corridor. Not necessarily on H Street—
ALBERTI: Yeah, in the general environs of our neighborhood—I mean from East Capitol to H Street and from Eighth Street going out towards the stadium, there are days when two or three people ... They’re petty crimes but they tend to be more violent. They sometimes have a knife or a gun, or they’re just pushing people down, and all they’re taking are purses or cell phones. I don’t know whether we’re reacting to the recent rash—but there is a recent rash. We’re hearing about it every day, and so I think that that ...
DEUTSCH: And certainly it’s something that—I feel as though we had maybe a 15-year period when we didn’t—when that really wasn’t something we thought about very much, as much. And now suddenly we’re thinking about it again.
NELSON: And when it was happening before, if I’d have been shot, it would have been by a stray bullet, because—
DEUTSCH: You wouldn’t have been the focus—
NELSON: I would not have been the focus, right.
ALBERTI: That’s not to say it wasn’t happening, but not to the degree we’re seeing it now.
NELSON: Now. And I’m still out walking, I’m going to my meetings on foot, I’m not a prisoner to it. I’ve got the good sense, which a lot of people don’t, to put my electronics out of sight. I get very frustrated when I see people with earbuds in, and expensive electronic toys, walking around after dark, and even if you bump into them, they can’t hear you.
ALBERTI: We were walking up to H Street the other night—and I’m sort of conscious of this now—and we walked by an individual with earbuds on and a phone, and the first thing that came to my mind was, it would be very easy for me to snatch his phone and be gone. I mean, there were two of us, and if Elizabeth was a male, she could have pushed him while I grabbed his phone, and we would have been gone.
NELSON: And in fact, we actually said that—kind of black humor in a loud, joking voice—and he didn’t even flinch, he couldn’t hear us talking about stealing his cell phone because he had his earbuds in. And we were right next to him, literally right next to him ... So I’m prudent and I wouldn’t say that I’m fearful. My heart’s not racing, my pulse isn’t quick as I’m walking. But I just repeat: I don’t think it’s reasonable to say, get rid of your car, walk, when it really is a chancy business. And public transportation—they’re spending a ton of money to put in these streetcars, which I don’t like anyway, but they won’t even get the GPSs working on the buses, the signs on the buses don’t work. Ooh, and my pet peeve—it’s not such a problem on the Hill, but when you get out of the Metro, you don’t know which way you’re facing. I’ve had a campaign for like 20 years now to try to get them to put an arrow pointing north at every exit from the Metro so you can get yourself oriented. I mean, little things that wouldn’t cost anything, really, in the larger scheme of things, they won’t do. So I just don’t think that people are thinking practically about what needs to be done for transportation to truly eliminate the need for cars. But they’re making it increasingly difficult to have cars.
Oops, that’s a long one. And thing number two, the other downside. As housing prices have risen, there’s a small subset of the people moving in—certainly not the majority—who appear to feel that by paying a great deal of money for their house, there shouldn’t be any civic obligation on their part. It used to be whether you were relatively well-to-do or not, there was a sense that everybody was in it together, and you had to pick up the litter in front of your own sidewalk, and prune the street trees, and report crime—
DEUTSCH: That’s what we did—
NELSON: That’s part of what we did, we were all in it together, and we didn’t have maid service and we were going to do certain things for ourselves, and enjoy being together while we did them. But there is now, like I said, a small but visible part of the population who seem to feel that it’s like an expensive or luxurious or deluxe or something neighborhood where you don’t have to—
DEUTSCH: It’s done for you?NELSON: Where it’s done for you.
ALBERTI: Well, just as an adjunct to that, the ANC (and of course, Elizabeth, being on the Capitol Hill Restoration historic board) has been trying to promote new historic districts. Both of us feel that’s important, because we’re seeing more and more people who are moving in and not really understanding— who don’t share our opinion that the architecture here is something that makes this neighborhood great and very valuable. And so even in the areas where you have smaller, more modest homes, people aren’t appreciating the streetscape that’s created by the architecture. And we’re seeing pop-ups outside the historic district, ugly third-story additions that jut up like—
NELSON: Sore thumbs—
ALBERTI: Like a sore thumb in the neighborhood, and it’s disturbing. These are not tiny houses, some of them have a basement and three bedrooms. I mean, they’re not huge grand homes, but they should be ample.
NELSON: Or adequate.
ALBERTI: Adequate—and yet we see these pop-ups. I’m fearful that pretty soon some blocks are going to have so many of them, that people are going to wake up one day and go, yeah, the curb appeal on that block’s not what it used to be.
NELSON: Yeah, people just don’t get it. They’re moving here for reasons other than knowing your neighbors or the charm of the streetscape. It’s just convenience and expedience.
ALBERTI: They don’t realize that what brought it to be—one of the aspects that made it so desirable, and that’s why they were attracted to it.
DEUTSCH: Well, I would say that is THE aspect. I mean, I suppose proximity to the Capitol, a small number of people moved here because they actually work in Congress—
ALBERTI: Well, the walkability, the geography is one of the aspects—I mean, you can walk from the river to Florida Avenue uninterrupted by anything like a railroad track, a major highway. That’s part of it—but you’re right, one of the main things is the architecture.
NELSON: Except that I do think there’s a group—not the majority, but I do think there are people moving in who just want to have fun night life and proximity to a Metro. And they really don’t
understand or appreciate the streetscape. For them, it’s like, why wouldn’t I want to put up a butt-ugly three- or four-story pop-up?
ALBERTI: On the other hand, the Trees for Capitol Hill program is very popular, and people get excited about planting a tree on their block. So there is—you know, things to be optimistic about, and celebrate. I mean it’s amazing how excited people get—oh, I’ll donate, I’ll plant. A lot of people get excited about that.
DEUTSCH: Anything else you particularly want to say?NELSON: Trying to think ...
END OF INTERVIEW