The True Reformer Building

The True Reformer Building (HM85X)

Location: Washington, DC 20009
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Country: United States of America
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N 38° 55.026', W 77° 1.701'

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City Within a City

— Greater U Street Heritage Trail —

The daily lives of residents of this historic African American community were woven together through hundreds of social and civic organizations—fraternal organizations, clubs, school alumni associations, civic associations and the like. The grand 5-story, Italianate building at the southwest corner of 12th and U Streets, known as the True Reformers Hall and later the Pythian Temple, was the setting for many of their activities. Completed in 1903, it was among the grandest buildings in the nation to have been designed, built and financed by African Americans.

The Order of True Reformers based in Richmond, Virginia, provided insurance and other benefits for its members. The organization built this building at a cost of $100,000, to symbolize the achievements of African Americans in a prominent place in the nation's capital. It was designed by John A. Lankford, the city's first registered African American architect, who went on to national prominence as the architect for African Methodist Episcopal churches across the country. In 1906, Lankford said, "being in Washington, it stands out to the civilized world as an example of what the Negro can do and has done with his brain, skill, and money."

Duke Ellington played one of his first paid performances with his own band here. Its lofty, second floor auditorium provided the setting for debutante balls, sorority and fraternity dances, and from 1938, for basketball and other activities of the Police Boys Club No. 2. The First Separate Battalion, an African American reserve unit that served with distinction in World War I, drilled on the ground floor.

Today it is home to the Public Welfare Foundation, which shares the original mission of the True Reformers in dedicating itself to the well-being of people and communities in need.

[photo captions:]

John Anderson Lankford, Washington's first registered African American architect, designed the True Reformer Building in 1902.

Duke Ellington, seen here with his band about 1930 at Louis Thomas's cabaret at 9th and R, played his first paid performance at the True Reformer Building.

Boys Club members exercise in the second floor auditorium.
HM NumberHM85X
Marker Number2 of 14
Placed ByCultural Tourism DC
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, October 16th, 2014 at 3:41am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 324149 N 4309532
Decimal Degrees38.91710000, -77.02835000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 38° 55.026', W 77° 1.701'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds38° 55' 1.56" N, 77° 1' 42.06" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)202
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 1201 U St NW, Washington DC 20009, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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