Hyattsville 2021: The good, the bad and the ugly
By HEATHER WRIGHT
I feel like I’m slouching into 2022 — mouth parched, back bowed, eyes a bit bleary as they try to adjust to the uncertain dawn of tomorrow. No, these symptoms aren’t the result of a raucous New Year’s Eve party; I’m just another inhabitant of a relentless pandemic — a stranger in a very strange and troubled land. Before I slouch any further into the new year, though, I’d like to take a rheumy glance back at Hyattsville in 2021, with the city’s good and bad — and even its ugly. But let’s go in reverse order, as that somehow may bring us to a more hopeful conclusion.
County school board dynamics seemed especially dysfunctional and ugly this past year — the infighting, fractious five-hour-long virtual meetings, ethics complaints and counter-complaints, and members’ bids to oust one another were far from attractive. In March, the school board decided to reassign Hyattsville Middle School students to three different schools during construction of the new school, resulting in an ungainly busing process that continued until the end of December, when county public schools went entirely virtual; the move solved the transportation problem but led to more than a few others.
In June, we covered the unattractive orange-soup phenomenon of sediment pollution abundantly visible in the Anacostia River as it flows through Hyattsville. And in July, we again looked at the contentious relationship between Werrlein Properties and some Hyattsville residents; this time our focus was on citizens’ claims that Werrlein’s construction work at Suffrage Point, next to Driskell Park, was not being properly regulated and was contributing to said sediment pollution.
Other notable uglies this year: dog escapes and attacks, eleventh-hour county redistricting decisions, and county council zoning moves that continued to ignore county planning committee and City of Hyattsville recommendations, and instead favor the opinions and past promises of just one county councilmember.
The bad (with some qualifiers)
In mid-February a hit-and-run on Queensbury Road sent a pedestrian to the hospital. (Of note: A 2018 city transportation study recommended traffic-calming measures along Queensbury.) And a bicyclist was struck by a car near the intersection of Queens Chapel Road and Lancer Drive in mid-November. The 2018 transportation study lists installing a traffic light at that intersection as one of the 20 highest-priority projects in the city.
In May, we wrote about how carjackings had been climbing, nationally and locally, during the pandemic. Fortunately, on the local front, police had recovered most of the targeted cars, including a red Alfa Romeo Giulia.
In mid-July, a shooting took place on Jefferson Street, in the Arts District; an apartment building and three businesses, including Busboys & Poets, were all hit. No injuries were reported, and city police later arrested one of the three suspects
In September, the Life & Times explored why some Friendship Arms residents, displaced by an October 2021 fire, were still waiting to come back home almost a year later.
And we honored some of the lights that went out. Particularly notable among those lights was former DeMatha Catholic High School principal John Moylan, who died, at age 88, last January. Moylan served DeMatha in several capacities for 60 years, including his stint as principal, from 1968 to 2000.
De Clichy Menswear and the Tiered and Petite bakery were among the Hyattsville businesses whose windows went dark in 2021. And many Hyattsville residents bemoaned the sudden closing of College Park’s family-owned Bagel Place, in late October, after lease negotiations fell through.
For as disagreeable as last year was, a number of lights did shine brightly, piercing the viral gloom and opening our eyes to the blessings around us. Cheers to the First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville! Testing for COVID-19? Check. Administering vaccinations? Check. Hosting the first mobile shower program in the greater D.C. area? Check.
And in September, community members rallied to help refugees, especially those coming from Afghanistan, following the U.S. withdrawal from that country in August.
The late art historian, educator and artist Dr. David Driskell (1931-2020) received well-deserved recognition on at least two fronts: On June 7, the city passed a resolution legally changing the name of Magruder Park to David C. Driskell Community Park. And this fall, a special exhibition, “David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History,” at the Phillips Collection, in Northwest D.C., featured more than 50 pieces of Driskell’s work.
Most school and Olympic sports were able to resume this year, producing some local highlights: Frances Tiafoe, who grew up training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, in College Park, and lived with his family just outside Hyattsville city limits, competed in the Tokyo summer Olympics. And in November, the Northwestern High School soccer team won its third state championship.
With diffuse dreariness descending over the nation during this long pandemic, the Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) focused its attention on mental health and wellness. In March, an HCPD officer made national news when he sat down at a local convenience store to connect with an agitated and confused customer. And the HCPD recently secured two federal grants, totalling almost $350,000, to fund a crisis intervention team and expand the department’s mental wellness check-in program.
Many local businesses and restaurants drew on their resilience and creativity in response to the year’s challenges. In mid-June, after a 15-month suspension, dancers from Adagio Dance Studio finally took the stage again, outside at Driskell Park. Queens Chapel Barbershop celebrated its 80th year this past summer; Tina Sang, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam, has owned and operated the shop for the past 25 years. And Maryland Meadworks toasted its new mural with an art opening and reception at the end of August.
Hyattsville welcomed a number of other murals, too. In the fall, artists put their finishing touches on one at The Spot, a community gathering space that opened this summer at 4505 Hamilton Street. That mural celebrates Black history and calls attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. And in late December, a DeMatha art teacher completed a mural at the high school’s entrance depicting the life of St. John of Matha, a 12th-century Catholic saint who dedicated his life to freeing enslaved Christians.
Some businesses and restaurants turned their lights on for the first time — or for the first time in a new location. Three Little Birds Sewing Co. moved into a bigger space (5307 Baltimore Avenue) this fall and is partnering with Sweet Pea Fiber, a mother-and-daughter-owned yarn shop. And Satchmoe Art Tattoo Lounge moved into the Gallatin Street space that Three Little Birds vacated. Suga & Spice, a Caribbean-influenced restaurant in the Arts District, held a soft opening at the tail end of December, offering a teaser of gustatory hope for 2022.
Speaking of teasers, I’ll end with a few more for 2022: The opening of the new Hyattsville library (now slated for late January), with its new art pieces and reading terrace, its fireplaces and study rooms. Ongoing city and commercial initiatives to support small businesses and fill empty storefronts. Millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan funds, flowing in to support the city and those residents most impacted by the pandemic. The arrival of a much-anticipated Trader Joe’s (need I say more?), just up the road in College Park. Since there seems to be no way of escaping this pandemic, riding it out in Hyattsville sounds pretty darn good to me.