Public welfare

Public Welfare Foundation restores the nation’s first building designed, built and owned by black people |

The True Reformer Building at 1200 U Street Northwest in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC, is a glimpse into the past, an oasis for today, and a window into the future.

The building sits in the heart of the U Street corridor, a short walk from the U Street or Cardozo subway station and across from Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Lincoln Theater. The exterior wall of the building features the iconic mural of Duke Ellington in the heart of the thriving neighborhood of Black Washington, D.C.

The True Reformer Building is where Ellington gave his first public performance when the area was known as “Black Broadway”. If it’s up to Candace C. Jones to decide, she’d like to see future creatives, visionaries, and many more “firsts” in the building.

The Public Welfare Foundation (PWF) has fully restored and now occupies the True Reformer building. Jones, CEO of PWF, wants the community to know that preserving the building’s history and serving the community were themes that supported the renovation.

These themes will be continued as the building is now administered by Jones and the Public Welfare Foundation (PWF).

Jones said the incredible history of the building and the effort to renovate it both preserves the historic architecture and ensures that visitors know the significance of the community, the street and the building itself.

It was African-American history that made U Street one of the shining lights of black America – no matter the vitriol that raged in broader American history.

Key features of the renovation pay homage to both the history of the True Reformer Building and the Public Welfare Foundation. Two hallways inside the building feature large murals, one visually illustrating the history of the building, the other the history of the Foundation.

The door frames of the original building have been preserved and frame the passage along the murals. You feel the many souls who have passed through these doors and the legacy they have left. Artwork throughout the building speaks of juvenile and criminal justice, culture change and social upliftment.

Built at the turn of the 20th century and opened in July 1903, the True Reformer Building is the first post-reconstruction building to be designed by an African-American architect, funded, built, and owned by an African-American organization.

The architect, John Anderson Lankford, was the first licensed African-American architect in Washington, DC. The building is named after the Grand United Order of True Reformers, which was its original owner and an African-American organization focused on social change. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and ten years later was purchased by the Public Welfare Foundation.

The renovated building is a feast for the eyes and the mind. The Public Welfare Foundation was founded in 1947 by Charles Edward Marsh, a newspaper magnate, to make “gifts for educational, charitable or voluntary purposes under a plan which will respond flexibly to changing need such gifts. The organization has set its anniversary celebration for September 7 and 8.

Marsh intentionally chose the generic name, Public Welfare Foundation, to allow the foundation’s focus to evolve. Under its current CEO, C. Jones, the foundation supports criminal and juvenile justice and social betterment efforts in underserved communities.