Un/common Places

Group Houses in Arlington

Kansas Street

Essay by Cynthia Connolly, Visual Arts Staff, Arlington Cultural Affairs 
December, 2009

The tearing down of the “Kansas Street” group house marks the end of the era of group houses in Arlington.  The people I knew in the houses moved to Arlington because it was relatively safe and affordable, the houses were big enough to share with a handful of people, and there were basements where bands could practice without the neighbors being disturbed.  There was a great community of group houses in Arlington starting in the 1980’s, and “Kansas Street” could be the last.

 “Kansas Street” was located at 900 North Kansas Street in Arlington.  In the 1980’s I remember it as an antique store where I bought some dishes for the group house I lived in, "Dischord House" on North Fourth in Arlington, named for the record label it housed, Dischord Records.  After the antique store closed, the house became home to a handful of musicians and artists, whose  rent and utility bills were shared and thus living expenses were low, allowing us to have only a part-time job which gave us more time to do our art.  Most of us were musicians.  I was an artist.  At the time that  “Kansas Street” (or “Kansas House” to others) became a group house, there were still other single-family houses on the block.  Slowly, in the late 90’s, the houses around it were sold and torn down.  On the opposite side of the block, a large beige apartment building was built, and, on Kansas Street the empty lots made into a temporary parking lot. 

Last week I went to the house, hoping to talk to the tenants and see if I could take photographs of the interior.  I looked down to see a bundle of that day’s mail stashed between the storm door and door, with a Verizon letter sent to my friend, Mary Chen. (She lived in that house in 1998 and she sold the work of a Philadelphia artist from that house whose name is Jim Houser, who is now a successful artist who has shown worldwide.)  I stood on the porch and looked around. I put my hand on the big depression era brick next to the door and thought about the hours spent seeing bands play, sitting outside on the porch and on the lawn talking with friends.  The porch had a view of Wilson Boulevard, and, down the way, The Highlander Motor Inn.  Across the street are “new” homes, and I remember being concerned that the new neighbors would complain of the noise from the bands playing in the house. 
 
This house saw thousands of people from all over the world come in and out.  Bands toured and knew this house as a venue to play.  At some point, a tenant, Bob Massey, started a salon where people could perform works in progress: musically, written or performed.  The salon, which continued for probably a year,  nurtured ideas from the community in which we lived. 

Arlington group houses now gone include:
“Simple Machines” house at 510 North Monroe Street, which was torn down within the last five years. Simple Machines was a record label that produced over 100 records and CDs in the 1990’s, and band members from that label lived in the house.
“Dischord House,” on North Fourth still exists with the same owner but is no longer a group house. “Dischord House” was where members of a band Minor Threat practiced in the early 1980’s.  A record label named Dischord stored its inventory and eventually operated out of this house. The label is still in operation in Arlington and has distributed and manufactured more than a thousand cd’s and records from the Washington, DC area.  I lived in this house from 1986 until 2003 where I had my letterpress shop in the garage.
“Dag House” was home to many of the members of a band named Dag Nasty. 
“Positive Force House” had two locations, one on North 9th Street near Monroe, and, later, one on Fairfax Drive at Cleveland Street. Positive Force is a record label that started in Reno, Nevada in about 1981.  A group of people in DC used this name, having been inspired by the label name.  Many were activists in this house, along with some musicians.
“Teen Beat House” also had two locations, one at 715 North Wakefield and at 5316 Wilson Boulevard. The Arlington born owner of Teen Beat,  Mark Robinson, (and member of many bands including Unrest), lived and operated his record label out of these houses.  The label has released over 300 CD’s and/or records, and continues to do so, but is now based in Boston, MA.
“Underground Soldier House” on Hudson Street, where the bands, Embrace and Underground Soldier practiced in the 1980’s.
“Adams Street House”, 809 S. Adams Street, was in existence from 1996 - 2008. Key bands that practiced there were Motor Cycle Wars, Dead Teenagers, Nitro Tokyo, Disconnect, Routineers, The Cassettes, Cigarbox Planetarium, the Aquarium and Fugazi.

To read more about Kansas Street:
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/music/2009/10/16/i-think-were-not-in-kansas-house-anymore/#more-12012 
http://dcist.com/2009/12/secret_history_the_most_secret_meth.php
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=38231

 

Photo copyright Cynthia Connolly 2009 for Arlington Cultural Affairs