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St. Elizabeths Hospital grounds slowly transforming

Saturday - 8/3/2013, 8:42am  ET

WASHINGTON - There are big plans for part of our area that's full of vacant buildings nearly hidden behind tall walls.

City leaders, developers and the federal government are working to transform the historic St. Elizabeths Hospital grounds into a lively new neighborhood.

St. Elizabeths opened in Southeast D.C. in 1855 as a government hospital for the mentally ill and became known for helping set national standards for care.

It eventually expanded to include campuses on the west and east sides of what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.

The hospital had its largest population of patients in the 1940s and 50s, but the population began to decline after about 1965.

St. Elizabeths became a National Historic Landmark in 1990 and many of its dozens of buildings are being preserved.

There is still a working psychiatric hospital named St. Elizabeths, which is operated by the District and moved into a new building in 2010.

A beautiful new headquarters building for the Coast Guard just opened on Aug. 1 on the hospital grounds and other federal agencies under the Homeland Security Department are expected to follow.

It's going to take years for the consolidation of Homeland Security agencies to be completed. But very soon another part of the redevelopment plan will open.

"At the Gateway Pavilion we planned an interim but a long-term use facility to spark commercial activity on the East Campus. When it opens, the project will feature lunchtime options for the Coast Guard as well as other DHS employees, retail vendors, and most importantly for the future of this city, technology offerings," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said at the Coast Guard Headquarters ribbon cutting ceremony Monday.

"The area around the Congress Heights Metro station will one day be the flagship entrance to St. Elizabeths, a place where longtime and new residents will live, work, play. And where our federal partners on the West Campus will have opportunities to maintain the important work of keeping our country safe while forging critical ties to federal contracting partners we hope to land on the east side of this campus. St. Elizabeths East is at the center of millions of dollars of public and private investment in the east end of the city over the past years, and still years to come," Gray added.

D.C. Councilman Marion Barry hopes some of the employees who now work at the new Coast Guard building will move into the area.

"We want to invite you all...to buy a house over here. It's really nice. We have good police protection, and not only are we safe, you feel safe over here, and we need you," Barry said at the ribbon cutting.

Learn more about plans for the eastern portion of the campus here. Or learn more about the history of the site and the federal government's current plans for the property here.

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