If you are a Washingtonian, you’ve probably walked past our double doors across from historic Ben’s Chili Bowl more than a hundred times. Until recently, the shades were drawn and you likely never stopped to look further into the hidden gem that is the True Reformer Building located at the corner of 12th and U Street Northwest. As we celebrate the anniversary of the building’s dedication in 1903, we wanted to share not only the building’s history, but also how local organizations can use its space today.
The True Reformer Building is much more than the eye can see. Designed by John Anderson Lankford, the city’s first recorded African American Architect, it has served as the home of numerous civic and cultural institutions over the years. The building was constructed for True Reformers. These were African Americans, united together to promote wealth, change and opportunity among their community.
Over time the organization grew and they managed a bank, ran a local newspaper entitled the Reformer, owned numerous properties and, at their peak, were the largest black fraternal society and black-owned business in the United States.
The building has been used by a host of community organizations for events, celebrations, concerts and public forums. The legendary Duke Ellington even played on our stage! We pay homage to him by our mural on the side of our building which we restored this past May.
Fast forward to today. Today marks the 116th anniversary of the building’s dedication. The Public Welfare Foundation purchased the building in 1999 with the hopes of keeping the spirit of the True Reformers alive.
We recently renovated the space with the intention to host more events and convenings. What once was empty storefronts are now community and media rooms. These spaces have been transformed and are open for public use. Not only do we showcase local artist on our walls, we offer cozy community spaces at no cost to the general public and nonprofits. With meeting spaces for 15 people to over 200 the True Reformer Building is a great option for DC area “reformers” to gather and do great work.
Today we dedicate the True Reformer Building to you…our community. For more information on how to book space at the True Reformer Building visit our website. https://www.publicwelfare.org/true-reformer-building/