News & Politics

Petworth’s Famed Paperhaus Is Now a “Palace to Gentrification”

The onetime DIY music venue went on the market last week for $750K.

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from DC music scene darling Paperhaus–either the DIY house show venue or the band it was named after. But neither have been inactive. The long-running Petworth community music venue and homemade recording studio, shepherded by Paperhaus (the band) frontman Alex Tebeleff, went quiet fall of 2015 when after nearly five years of hosting community music shows the death knell of any quasi-legal nightspot rang: Cops were called. Tebeleff says one officer on the scene told him he was a drummer himself and offered a friendly “Now I’m not saying y’all don’t sound good.” Nevertheless, the venue closed.

Since then, the old house has undergone some new changes, bucking some of the grit, history, and community focus in favor of an aesthetic that leans distinctly…West Elm. The house hit the market last week with a $750k asking price (it appears to be under contract already).

Petworth Paperhaus
Shepherds play the living room of the Paperhaus. October 27, 2015. Photo by James Cullum.
Petworth's Paperhaus
The newly remodeled living room that served as the longtime stage for bands touring at the Paperhaus.

Prior its final show, Paperhaus was a place of local music legend. The building, a four-bedroom rowhouse built in the 1930s, had hosted hundreds of bands, filling a niche for many touring groups. Established music venues (though not all, Tebeleff stresses) tend to book bands certain to draw a crowd. If the venue isn’t confident a band can bring in enough people (and the alcohol sales that come with them), it may pass. Smaller or lesser known bands often can’t pin down a venue to perform in, much less eke out the cash needed to eat or procure a place to sleep at the end of the night.

petworth's paperhaus
Wanted Man practicing at the Paperhaus, April 2015. In the back left, the original kitchen. Photo by James Cullum.
petworth's paperhaus
The renovated kitchen, complete with copper fixtures, stainless steel appliances, and white countertops.

Paperhaus addressed many of those issues. The residents of the home made a stop in DC an option for struggling artists. Parties were BYOB, and as many as 100 people would filter in through the back entrance to see touring and local acts rock out in the transformed living room. This was no amateur production. Booking, sound, and lighting were all part of the setup process. Press rolled in from Express and Mother Jones, among others. Paperhaus put a spotlight on the changing identity of the city’s music scene, along with the struggles creative communities face. 

Petworth's Paperhaus
Ryan Hunter Mitchell at the Paperhaus, January 31, 2013. Another view of the stage area. Photo by James Cullum.
petworth's paperhaus
The area between the stage area and the kitchen where the audience traditionally gathered.

Tebeleff says he could see change coming in recent years: “The quieter neighbors moved out,” he says. Tebeleff depicts the community that was Paperhaus as a sort of DIY utopian venue. He says his landlords were on board. Neighbors, he says, were either first to arrive come showtime or “live and let live” types.

“It was the end of an era, but it was good,” Tebeleff says. “An unusual environment where I learned a lot.” Now Paperhaus (the band) is focused on their second full length album, set to be released in spring of 2017. The original residents of the Paperhaus house have for the most part moved on, while Tebeleff moved out to Brookland, where he operates the quieter HausHouse.

Petworth's Paperhaus
Rick Irby strumming on the floor of the downstairs basement at the Paperhaus, March 16, 2013. Photo by James Cullum.
Petworth's Paperhaus
The newly renovated basement of the Paperhaus.

When asked about his time at his old home, Tebeleff waxes nostalgic. “My grandmother grew up on that street. It’s not so much the new residents I mind, it’s just that it would be nice if they made more of an effort to talk to the people that are already there, to contribute to the community that exists rather than bringing the suburbs in.”

“The house wasn’t in bad shape. It had great acoustics and was a good spot for house shows because there was no wall between the kitchen and the living room,” he explains. Now the house, chock full of years of local music history, once dubbed “One of the 15 Best Music Venues in DC,” has been repurposed to appeal to hip housing trends. Tebeleff calls it “a fucking palace to gentrification.” See the full listing of 4912 3rd St. NW here.

petworth's paperhaus


Assistant Editor

Hayley is an Associate Editor at Washingtonian Weddings. Previously she was the the Style Editor at The Local Palate, a Southern food culture magazine based out of Charleston, South Carolina. You can follow her on instagram @wandertaste.