The Washington Yacht Club (WYC) was founded in 1910 by a group of white Washingtonian boaters, looking to establish affordable facilities along the Anacostia River in proximity to their homes on the east side of the river. Unlike some extant clubs, members of the WYC were solely devoted to motorized boating, rather than sailing or rowing, which were immensely popular at the time. At a time when motorboating was a pastime of the wealthy, the founders and subsequent members of the Washington Yacht Club were proudly working class. Early members included mechanics, clerks, a carpenter, and a boat livery operator. Club members built their own boats by hand and constructed all their own facilities, rarely if ever contracting out work. They have maintained this tradition, contributing to the upkeep of buildings and grounds through mandatory work parties.
The club’s first location was at the foot of Naylor Road SE, where members leased a site for docks from DC in 1910 through 1915. Due to the ongoing reclamation of the Anacostia Flats, the club was forced to relocate to about one hundred feet west of the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge pier. It was here that the members built their clubhouse, a twenty by thirty-foot frame building, which forms the center portion of today’s WYC clubhouse. In 1925, the club was again required to relocate, this time to its current site on the west bank of the Anacostia. The WYC towed the clubhouse across the river on a scow and immediately set about constructing piers to provide a water approach to their club. The clubhouse was expanded to the rear in 1929 to provide a room for a steward and in 1930 with restrooms and a galley.
The WYC has remained committed to its place on the Anacostia despite the city’s near abandonment of the river. Over the twentieth century, the Anacostia became one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. At the same time, it became a symbol of the city’s racial and economic divide. The exodus of African American residents to the east side of the river, necessitated through planning decisions, urban renewal, race restrictive covenants, and other policies, rendered the Anacostia a physical boundary between Blacks and whites, rich and poor. These changes left the Washington Yacht Club on the borderline of the District’s division, where it exemplified the issues of a segregated city.
The WYC admitted its first member of color in the 1970s, after which membership at the club dropped precipitously. White members who did not wish to be associated with African Americans or the suffering Anacostia River left to join other clubs. Turnover in membership to predominantly African Americans only reinforced the racial and economic divide symbolized by the Anacostia. Despite periodic drops in membership, difficult times during several wars, an energy crisis that severely impacted the boating community, and a river burdened with environmental and social issues, the WYC remains on Boathouse Row, serving as a steward of the Anacostia, and proudly welcoming all.
DC Inventory: April 30, 2020
National Register: October 2, 2020