- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

The opening of the new Greater Washington Urban League headquarters yesterday marked the renaissance of a Northwest neighborhood now anchored by a major civil rights and social services organization.

“It may be raining outside, but today we’re flying above the clouds,” said Jerry A. Moore III, chairman of the Greater Washington Urban League board of directors, who served as master of ceremonies for the hour-long event.

Politicians and government officials, business leaders, community activists and corporate executives gathered inside the lobby of the new headquarters — a 30,000-square-foot building at 2901 14th St. NW — and home to a community meeting space, library, technology training center and notary public. The $6 million building allows the league, which now serves more than 60,000 people each year, to expand its services by about 10,000 people.

“I can’t figure out whether I’m excited or numb. I can’t believe this day is finally here,” said Maudine Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the organization. “We’ve been here since October, lugging in furniture. Now, we’re here and 99 percent complete.”

A Christmas tree adorned with ribbons and lights added to the celebratory mood in the lobby as guests listened to short speeches before going outdoors to witness the flag raising by the Eastern High School Army ROTC Color Guard.

“This is a rebirth,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “The [Columbia Heights] neighborhood is for residents and retailers eager to get in on the ground floor. Target is coming as an anchor. You have all this, but what is the mortar that keeps all of the sectors together? It’s the Greater Washington Urban League. It’s an important statement as this great neighborhood moves forward.”

Architect Russell Sears, 45, of Russell Sears & Associates in Northwest, said the search for a building large enough to accommodate the organization started in 1996.

“We looked at different buildings all over, and finally Ms. Cooper was blessed with this building. At one time, it was the former Hines Funeral Home, which had been abandoned for 15 years. The building’s structure was unsound,” he said.

The firm designed the building’s four-level interior and also restored its landmark facade, including the cornice and ornamental copperwork on the periphery of the mansard roof.

From the center of the building, with its large windows, one can see all four sides of the neighborhood, Mr. Sears said.

“In a symbolic way, the Greater Washington Urban League’s building is blessed by being interactive with the community. This building serves as the gateway to Columbia Heights and is on par with the renaissance being experienced in this area,” he said.

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