U Street Shaw & Credenza Communities – Washington DC


In April of 2006, The New York Times ran a feature article titled: “U Street: The Corridor Is Cool Again.”

The piece described the emergence of a scene along the U Street Corridor in Washington, D.C. It showcased restaurants, shops and clubs, while quoting hipsters and preppies, dressed-to-the-nines, swilling expensive wine. It even quoted Mehih Buykbayrak, owner of famed Tabiq Bistro, as saying, “U Street is new and hip.”

But U Street and the Shaw/Cardozo neighborhood has always been hip. Home to Washington’s jazz scene and standing-room only performances. Restaurants that drew diners from throughout the city. A retail and business section that rivaled all others in the District. It was only the riots of 1968 that caused U Street to lose its street credibility and city-block by city-block, the neighborhood, proud of its history, not only demanded this credibility back but has pushed the envelope even further.

Since its foundation, the Shaw/Cardozo neighborhood has been home to one of the most vibrant African-American communities in the United States. Born from freed slave encampments, which were set in the ‘rural outskirts’ of Washington, this enclave has provided the city with a distinct personality. The neighborhood was originally called Uptown but changed its name after the Civil War to Shaw (after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.)

Following the Civil War, Washington’s high-octane economy spurred growth throughout the city. As the population of Washington and the federal government expanded, so did the the city’s unceasing appetite for new housing. What greatly assisted Shaw/Cardozo in its meteoric growth was the streetcar tracks laid along 14th and 7th streets by the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company in 1862. These streetcars drew residents to the neighborhood, as they created the ease to commute downtown to work. They also made it more convenient for those who lived in the area to shop downtown. Both the population expansion and the streetcars twined together and formed the section of most rapid growth in the entire city between 1862 and 1900. And, it was this era that ushered in the the Golden Age of U Street, which would last through the mid-20th century.

This neighborhood, particularly U Street itself, blossomed as the city’s most important concentration of business, entertainment, dining, shopping and religious institutions owned and operated by African-Americans during the early part of the 20th century. As segregation swallowed Washington, Shaw/Cardozo became one of, if not the most, powerful commercial and cultural African-American center of the city.

The prominence of the neighborhood’s societies, theaters and nightclubs cannot be overstated. In the heyday of American jazz, a who’s who of artists was found in clubs throughout the neighborhood. Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Shirley Horn did not just visit from time-to-time but regularly played at the Crystal Caverns (now the Bohemian Caverns.) These musicians lit up the town and drew audiences from the entire area, while firmly establishing the neighborhood’s reputation as a serious jazz scene. Dizzy Gillespie, himself, was born in Shaw and played regularly for his neighbors. And, Evans Tibbs, known by her stagename of Madame Evanti, the first internationally acclaimed African-American opera star, lived at 1910 Vermont Avenue.

Architectural firms and the art of architecture itself started a rage in Shaw/Cardozo. The neighborhood is home of the first African-American Masonic Order of the South, The Prince Hall Masonic Temple, at 1000 U Street, which is a neoclassical feat and designed by prominent African-American, Albert I. Cassell. Both the building and the Order were a historic moment for Washington. The Lincoln Theater, a jewel of the neighborhood, was built as a collaboration between theater designer Reginald Geare and Harry Crandall, a leading Washington theater operator in 1921. What made the theater special was not just its magnificent shape and form but that it was constructed as a first-run house for African-American clientele. But, it wasn’t just the Temple or the theater that set tongues wagging. Architecture of the neighborhood’s significant homes was designed and lived in by members of this community. The homes are varied in style but all contain a trace of individuality as is fitting for the neighborhood. They defined the self-expression of the African-American community and are significant for that very fact.

This neighborhood continued to be in high demand straight through the 1960’s. The riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination did not leave this area untouched. Rather, they blazed through the streets crippling businesses and stores. The neighborhood’s finely built three and four story buildings were shuttered and became derelict. One of the only businesses left unscathed was Ben’s Chili Bowl. Opened in 1958, it managed to come through the riots relatively unharmed.

Speaking of Ben’s Chili Bowl, it is impossible not to mention this iconic institution when discussing Shaw/Cardozo. Nearly all those who live in Washington, from the President to the newest transplant, have chowed down on dogs in this greatly loved eating establishment. The legions of its fans are countless. But Shaw/Cardozo does not just boast Ben’s as its only dining treasure. Creme Cafe and Lounge along with Polly’s Cafe are local favorites. And, the diversity, which has always been a trait of this neighborhood, is tangible in spots such as Busboys and Poets (which features poetry readings and Indy film screenings) and Jin (where sofas can be reserved for up to $500 for the night.) Restaurants in this part of town receive annual awards and accolades.

Shaw/Cardozo lifted itself up by its bootstraps, so-to-speak, and ushered in a new Golden Age all on its own. It is one of the most dynamic, energetic and thoroughly enjoyable neighborhoods to live within the city. This has been evidenced by not only a plethora of new condominiums but also the refurbishment of the older, stately houses that line the streets and provide such great character. The new restaurants, clubs and bars are chock-a-block full of people and the store-fronts demand attention. The sense of community, while dimmed during the last part of the 20th century has returned in full force reclaiming its position as hip and cool.
The piece described the emergence of a scene along the U Street Corridor in Washington, D.C. It showcased restaurants, shops and clubs, while quoting hipsters and preppies, dressed-to-the-nines, swilling expensive wine. It even quoted Mehih Buykbayrak, owner of famed Tabiq Bistro, as saying, “U Street is new and hip.”

But U Street and the Shaw/Cardozo neighborhood has always been hip. Home to Washington’s jazz scene and standing-room only performances. Restaurants that drew diners from throughout the city. A retail and business section that rivaled all others in the District. It was only the riots of 1968 that caused U Street to lose its street credibility and city-block by city-block, the neighborhood, proud of its history, not only demanded this credibility back but has pushed the envelope even further.

Since its foundation, the Shaw/Cardozo neighborhood has been home to one of the most vibrant African-American communities in the United States. Born from freed slave encampments, which were set in the ‘rural outskirts’ of Washington, this enclave has provided the city with a distinct personality. The neighborhood was originally called Uptown but changed its name after the Civil War to Shaw (after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.)

Following the Civil War, Washington’s high-octane economy spurred growth throughout the city. As the population of Washington and the federal government expanded, so did the the city’s unceasing appetite for new housing. What greatly assisted Shaw/Cardozo in its meteoric growth was the streetcar tracks laid along 14th and 7th streets by the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company in 1862. These streetcars drew residents to the neighborhood, as they created the ease to commute downtown to work. They also made it more convenient for those who lived in the area to shop downtown. Both the population expansion and the streetcars twined together and formed the section of most rapid growth in the entire city between 1862 and 1900. And, it was this era that ushered in the the Golden Age of U Street, which would last through the mid-20th century.

This neighborhood, particularly U Street itself, blossomed as the city’s most important concentration of business, entertainment, dining, shopping and religious institutions owned and operated by African-Americans during the early part of the 20th century. As segregation swallowed Washington, Shaw/Cardozo became one of, if not the most, powerful commercial and cultural African-American center of the city.

The prominence of the neighborhood’s societies, theaters and nightclubs cannot be overstated. In the heyday of American jazz, a who’s who of artists was found in clubs throughout the neighborhood. Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Shirley Horn did not just visit from time-to-time but regularly played at the Crystal Caverns (now the Bohemian Caverns.) These musicians lit up the town and drew audiences from the entire area, while firmly establishing the neighborhood’s reputation as a serious jazz scene. Dizzy Gillespie, himself, was born in Shaw and played regularly for his neighbors. And, Evans Tibbs, known by her stagename of Madame Evanti, the first internationally acclaimed African-American opera star, lived at 1910 Vermont Avenue.

Architectural firms and the art of architecture itself started a rage in Shaw/Cardozo. The neighborhood is home of the first African-American Masonic Order of the South, The Prince Hall Masonic Temple, at 1000 U Street, which is a neoclassical feat and designed by prominent African-American, Albert I. Cassell. Both the building and the Order were a historic moment for Washington. The Lincoln Theater, a jewel of the neighborhood, was built as a collaboration between theater designer Reginald Geare and Harry Crandall, a leading Washington theater operator in 1921. What made the theater special was not just its magnificent shape and form but that it was constructed as a first-run house for African-American clientele. But, it wasn’t just the Temple or the theater that set tongues wagging. Architecture of the neighborhood’s significant homes was designed and lived in by members of this community. The homes are varied in style but all contain a trace of individuality as is fitting for the neighborhood. They defined the self-expression of the African-American community and are significant for that very fact.

This neighborhood continued to be in high demand straight through the 1960’s. The riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination did not leave this area untouched. Rather, they blazed through the streets crippling businesses and stores. The neighborhood’s finely built three and four story buildings were shuttered and became derelict. One of the only businesses left unscathed was Ben’s Chili Bowl. Opened in 1958, it managed to come through the riots relatively unharmed.

Speaking of Ben’s Chili Bowl, it is impossible not to mention this iconic institution when discussing Shaw/Cardozo. Nearly all those who live in Washington, from the President to the newest transplant, have chowed down on dogs in this greatly loved eating establishment. The legions of its fans are countless. But Shaw/Cardozo does not just boast Ben’s as its only dining treasure. Creme Cafe and Lounge along with Polly’s Cafe are local favorites. And, the diversity, which has always been a trait of this neighborhood, is tangible in spots such as Busboys and Poets (which features poetry readings and Indy film screenings) and Jin (where sofas can be reserved for up to $500 for the night.) Restaurants in this part of town receive annual awards and accolades.

Shaw/Cardozo lifted itself up by its bootstraps, so-to-speak, and ushered in a new Golden Age all on its own. It is one of the most dynamic, energetic and thoroughly enjoyable neighborhoods to live within the city. This has been evidenced by not only a plethora of new condominiums but also the refurbishment of the older, stately houses that line the streets and provide such great character. The new restaurants, clubs and bars are chock-a-block full of people and the store-fronts demand attention. The sense of community, while dimmed during the last part of the 20th century has returned in full force reclaiming its position as hip and cool.

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