Chesapeake House to be rehabilitated as a community center

Emily Mulderig

The Chesapeake House, an abandoned brick building located on the corner of Chesapeake Street and Belt Road on the Southwest corner of Fort Reno, is often overlooked by passerby. But members of the Coalition for Chesapeake Community Center, comprised of Wilson students and Wilson ELA teacher Marc Minsker, are currently advocating for it to be revitalized as a community center.

The Chesapeake House was built in 1937, designed as retail space with housing on the second floor. When the surrounding African-American community known as Reno City was displaced to build Deal and Wilson, the Chesapeake House remained. It was sold to the federal government in 1950 and operated as a plumbing supplies store in the 1950s and 60s. The House then served as a headquarters for Neighborhood Planning Council #2 and #3 from 1976 until it was boarded up in the 1990s. 

During this time, it served as a community center and was a common hangout spot for Wilson kids during lunch or after school. Wilson students also worked there through the Summer Youth Employment Program. The Chesapeake house became the property of the National Park Service in 2011.

Minsker got involved with the Chesapeake House when he hosted Wilson alum Ian Mackaye to speak with his seniors last year. Mackaye fondly recalled hanging out in the house as a Wilson student, which compelled Minsker to want to see it as a community space again. It had been previously planned to be National Park service offices.

The Coalition for Chesapeake Community Center aims to see the Chesapeake House become restored as an educational center with an exhibit for Wilson and Deal students to learn about the history of Reno City. “We want it to be used for educational purposes, also to tell the story of Fort Reno and be a facility that can be used by Wilson students, Deal students, teachers, families, community members,” said Minsker. Only the second level would be National Park Service offices. 

A group called Urban Investment Planners is planning on building a high rise on the 4600 block of Wisconsin Avenue that exceeds the building ordinance for height. “In order for them to do this, they have to provide to the community a community benefits package. So they’re investing $250,000 to rehab the Chesapeake house,” said Minsker. This money will contribute to the renovations of the house, including new walls, flooring, lights, and HVAC. 

According to Minsker, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) for Ward 3 would like to have input on the decision of what the Chesapeake House will become, but ultimately it is up to the National Park Service.