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Culture House DC

Great American Rail-Trail

Arts, Entertainment & Sports Black History Religion

What used to be Friendship Baptist Church is now Culture House, a community art exhibition space and private venue. The former church building is painted with a mural in an array of simple shapes and colors.

This community cultural center used to be Friendship Baptist Church, an African American congregation formed in 1875. The congregation commissioned and constructed this building in 1886-87 and occupied it for almost 100 years (until 1974). [1] Despite the congregation's continuity, the neighborhood around it changed—or more accurately, was changed—as a result of urban renewal. In the 1950s, the city displaced 1,050 of the neighborhood’s 1,300 families in an effort to replace low-quality housing with new development in the Southwest. [2] The predominantly African American, working-class families who lived in the area could not afford the new housing and faced housing discrimination in the rest of the city. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that public housing opened in the neighborhood, enabling some of the old residents to move back. [3]

The church itself was saved from the bulldozing that demolished the surrounding residences because of the activism of the congregation and its Reverend, Benjamin H. Whiting, who argued that the church was an essential civic institution in the neighborhood. Only two of the neighborhood's 15 churches avoided the wrecking ball. [4] Today, Culture House supports community artists by hosting creatives-in-residence as well as regular gallery exhibits.

  • [1] National Register of Historic Places, Friendship Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., National Register #04001236. Hereafter NRHP.
  • [2] NRHP.
  • [3] Marjorie Lightman, Peter Sefton, and William Zeisel, Historical Context Study: Southwest Washington DC, 1791–1973, Prepared by QED Associates LLC for the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (Washington,D.C.: Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, 2014), 37–40.
  • [4] NRHP.
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