Langston Terrace Dwellings, opened in 1938, was the first U.S. Government-funded public housing project in Washington and the second in the nation. It was designed by architect Hilyard Robinson, a native Washingtonian. Construction began in 1935 as part of the New Deal relief work initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. African American workers performed most of the construction work. The finished complex of 274 units provided affordable housing to working-class families who competed for the opportunity to live there at a time of extreme housing shortages. With its handsome art and style, it embodied Robinson's belief in the ability of fine buildings and art to inspire and uplift residents. In 1965, 34 units were added to the original complex.
Langston Terrace honors John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), abolitionist, founder of Howard University Law School, and U.S. congressman from Virginia.
Langston Terrace is known for the artwork that decorates the fine International style buildings. The Progress of the Negro Race, a terra-cotta frieze by Daniel Olney, lines the central courtyard and chronicles African American history from enslavement through World War I migration. Olney's Madonna and Children is also found in the central courtyard, and sculptures of animals double as climbing structures for children.
Hilyard Robinson (1899-1986) was born on Capitol Hill. He graduated from M Street High School and studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and would receive a graduate degree in 1931 from Columbia University. After a stint in World War I, Robinson continued his architectural training in Europe, studying the work of the Bauhaus and Dutch modernists, especially their ideas about public housing. He taught architecture briefly at Howard University and then became a Department of the Interior architect in charge of designing public housing for African Americans. In addition to Langston Terrace, he designed the original Frederick Douglass Dwellings. His Carver Hall, 211 Elm Street, NW, and Slowe Hall, 1919 Third Street, NW, were built as government hotels for black war workers during World War II; today they are dormitories for Howard University. Robinson also designed a number of the interior and exterior structures at Howard University, as well as private homes throughout the city.
Langston Terrace was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1987.