Lamont Street Collective: Inside D.C.’s Affordable Abode For The DIY Community
Walking into the confines of 1822 Lamont Street feels like entering a carefully preserved museum. The rooms on the first floor are donned with an assortment of artwork, photographs, painting and rare drawings. A Socialist Party banner hangs in the common area alongside rare artifacts that are scattered throughout the distinctive residence. The Mount Pleasant-based home feels fragile and seemingly foreign compared to its urban surroundings.
If anything, Lamont Street Collective has embraced the DIY artists and political denizens of D.C. for nearly four decades.
“It’s kind of incredible that we have the potential to preserve a home that can be an affordable living space for artists, activists [and] musicians,” says Marzena Zukowska, who has been involved with Lamont Street Collective since 2012.
As rental prices in the D.C. area continue to skyrocket, Lamont Street Collective has become an unofficial symbol for affordable living, Zukowska adds. Perspective residents who fill out an application are asked if they can contribute between $600-$700 per month for rent, utilities, food and other housing costs.
When activist John Acher-who passed away in 2004-discovered the house, it was initially used as the headquarters for D.C.’s Socialist Party.
“In essence it has been collectively owned,” Zukowska says. “Shared food, shared responsibilities. We strive to make this house a living space.”
Lamont Street Collective is not only an affordable place to live for D.C.’s emerging creators and leaders, but it also serves as a venue for DIY events. Notable figures like Barbara Ehrenreich have come by to speak, and Lamont Street Collective’s largest event-Salon de Libertad-just returned for its ninth installment earlier this month.
“The whole purpose of the salon is to take our entire home and open it up to the community,” Zukowska says, adding that the entire house gets taken over with artwork, poetry slams, dance and musical performances along with puppetry and raffles. As a photographer and social activist, Zukowska had ten of her own pieces hanging throughout the home.
While the space has hosted many successful events, keeping it up and running has not been an easy task for Lamont Street Collective’s residents. Over the past decade, residents have been involved in a legal dispute after the former owner passed away and moved it into a trust. The tenants eventually won the opportunity to purchase the house at its initial market price, but are working to secure additional financing from a lender. With the help of an Indiegogo campaign, they are striving to reach their initial financial push of $5,000 for pre-development costs.
“This crazy legal battle turned into an amazing opportunity,” Zukowska says. “[It’s been] a symbol that affordable living spaces can-and should-exist, in addition to providing value.”
Resident Justin Smith adds that Lamont Street Collective also serves as an example that people from all walks of life can co-exist under one roof peacefully.
“There’s not a litmus test for people’s politics,” says Smith. “But, I think people who come here understand that this is a house with a historical legacy that leans to the left.”
From the house’s basement, Smith produces a radio interview program called, Voices of the 99%. Even though the tents may have cleared out of Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, the show continues the spirit of the movement. Smith interviews organizers and activists about their work, philosophies, strategies and more.
“We also talk about the intersection of politics and popular culture,” Smith says. “For the show, we explicitly use political music for all of our bumps; that’ll connect us with political artists all around the world.”
Smith is also heavily involved with Lamont Street Collective’s literature and poetry organization, along with its social media output. For him, Lamont Street Collective’s commitment to the arts and DIY community has left the greatest impact on his life. Smith recalls the one year anniversary of Occupy D.C., where activists came to Lamont Street Collective to work on art for the marches.
“It was almost sort of an Andy Warhol feel,” Smith remarked, referencing the artist’s Factory collective of the ’60s and ’70s. “There were banners being made; there were giant puppets being constructed in the backyard. The fact that it was happening here and that there were so few spaces in the city for that to be possible-I thought was really encouraging,” Smith adds.
This hospitality has given the space its reputation for having an open and friendly atmosphere, Zukowska adds.
“We have a regular programming slate. We also do a monthly book club, have a weekly figure drawing class and even partnered with nonprofits to help them host events,” she adds. “We’ve also had a burlesque show that really explored and challenged themes of gender and sexuality.”
Zukowska adds that Lamont Street Collective is also looking to include more workshops and events in the near future, with artists in the community not only offering their work but also sharing their skills. While there is a sense of timelessness when you come to the space, it’s far from a place that’s stuck in time.
“I’ll be honest: To me, this is a microcosm of how society should function,” Zukowska says. “There’s a magic within this house and it’s just the way people treat each other and interact with one another that makes it so powerful.”