H Street – Washington DC

With the explosion of the H Street Corridor onto Washington’s cultural and commercial scene, the city has once again lifted a historic and prominent neighborhood into the spotlight.

H Street is quickly claiming back its one-time title of Washington’s busiest district.

Many people are unaware that from the late 19th through the middle of the 20th century, this neighborhood was a beehive of activity. The fifteen block stretch of H Street, NE (from the railroad tracks in the west to the intersection of Benning and Bladensburg Roads to the east) was considered Washington’s main commercial district.

While the H Street neighborhood was plotted as part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design of the city, most of the development took place in the late 19th century following the Civil War. Major public works and neighborhood improvements were undertaken as the city rapidly expanded. The construction of a streetcar line in the early 1870’s greatly impacted the area for the good. The intersections of 8th and H Streets was quite significant due to its proximity to the Navy Yard, the city’s largest employer in the the late 19th century.

As the 19th century turned into the 20th, the H Street corridor continued its expansion and prominence. The District’s Apollo Theater opened in 1913 at 624 H Street (which was subsequently torn down in 1955.) And, the first location of Sears Roebuck in Washington was found in this neighborhood. H Street buzzed along, offering residents of D.C. a shopping and dining paradise. However, this would not last and the neighborhood went into decline following World War II.

Following the war, many residents moved from the area, spreading throughout the District and into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. While the area still was able to attract big names – the Beatles played at the Washington Coliseum here in 1964 – the neighborhood began to fall into a state of decline. This was followed by the 1968 riots, brutalizing the commercial corridor of the neighborhood, which until recently remained stagnant.

In 2002, the District of Columbia’s Office of Planning initiated a community-based planning effort to help revitalize the 1.5 mile long corridor. It divided the area into 3 districts: Urban Living District (between 2nd and 7th Streets, NE); Central Retail District (between 7th and 12th Streets, NE); and the Arts and Entertainment District (between 12th and 15th Streets, NE.) Since then, H Street has taken off on its upward trajectory. It has become one of the hippest and trendiest neighborhoods in the District.

Shops line the streets offering myriad wares. A small sampling includes florists, such as Noveau Fleur, furniture stores, such as Hunted House, and clothing shops, such as George’s Place. Wig stores, bicycle shops and even tatoo parlors (Britishink Studio and Gallery) dot the street enticing passersby. And, the nightlife of H Street is one with which to be reckoned. The Queen Vic and the Rock and Roll Hotel, among others, offer shows and live entertainment. Packed with restaurants, the neighborhood always offers a variety of eating choices. Sticky Rice is one of the city’s most lauded eateries as are the Atlas Room and Toki Underground. And, of course, Dangerously Delicious Pies and SOVA Espresso and Wine are not only favorite local haunts but are featured regularly in food reviews throughout the city.

One of the highlights in the neighborhood is Granville Moore’s Gastropub. This eatery blends history and food seamlessly. Dr. Granville Moore, who was one of the District’s most respected African-American doctors, lived and worked on the street. His office at 1238 H Street is now home to the gastropub and a city-wide favorite.

But, the neighborhood is not only about shops and restaurants. H Street offers activities to its residents through companies like the Joy of Motion Dance Center and weekly jam sessions at HR-57. Perhaps, its most prominent community member is the Atlas Theater. This theater is the only community-based performing arts center in the District. It includes four theaters, three dance studios, offices, a cafe along with production and rehearsal spaces. The Atlas hosts locally renowned theater and dance companies, symphony orchestras and choral groups and is one of the greatest features on the H Street corridor.

H Street also features the FRESHFARM Market. This market, is part of a partnership project with the H Street Main Street Program and the DC Office of Planning. Every Saturday, farmers bring their local foods, such as handmade cows’ milk, cheeses, yogurt, organic and grass-fed meats, fruits, vegetables, eggs, pastries, sorbets, ice creams, flowers. And, although in a city, the farmer’s market is not the only place to enjoy outdoor enjoyments. In 2011, H Street launched the H Street Festival, comprised of more than 30 musical and dance performances, an art car exhibit, a fashion show preview of DC Fashion Week and featured face painting, rock climbing, basketball games, carnival games, dog tag making, free health screenings and crafts.

And, the future only looks brighter and brighter for the new H Street Corridor. Selected as one of the locations for the relaunch of Washington’s streetcars, tracks have been laid with an estimated 2013 completion. If history repeats itself, these streetcars will once again propel H Street into one of Washington’s main commercial districts. The neighborhood’s community has already laid down its own extraordinary tracks in this regard.


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