H Street Revitalization

Take a walk down H Street Northeast these days and it’s definitely not the same street it was a few years ago.

The H Street corridor, otherwise knows as “The Atlas District,” is in the process of a revitalization. In 2002, D.C.’s Office of Planning got serious about starting a restoration effort for the historically relevant H Street area. After a series of community meetings, the H Street NE Strategic Development Plan was created. The plan divided H Street into 3 districts: the Urban Living district (between 2nd and 7th Streets NE), the Central Retail District (between 7th and 12th Streets NE), and the Arts and Entertainment District (between 12th and 15th Streets NE).

While there are still a fair share of locked storefronts, new bars and restaurants have planted their roots in the neighborhood. Plans are in place to rennovate and fill the empty buildings.

In its heydey, H Street was a bustling commercial area for the city. Sears, Roebuck & Company opened its first store in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in 1929 in the neighborhood. Eleven years later, H Street was one of the few integrated shopping areas in D.C.

The area changed on April 4, 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots swept the country’s inner-city neighborhoods and for five days the H Street corridor was the scene of looting, arson, and vandalism. Many of the businesses destroyed by the riots never reopened.

In the 1980s, the use of crack-cocaine exploded in cities across the nation, hitting D.C. especially hard. By that time H Street had become neglected by the city’s politicians and residents, providing fertile ground for gang activity. “If you talk to anyone on H Street, especially the older residents, and you say ‘H Street gang crew,’ they tell you they were notorious. H Street was their turf,” said Eric Lewis, who lived in the neighborhood from 2000 to 2007 as the revitalization project got started.

When the chatter got louder in 2000 about the city putting resources into the H Street area, some long-time residents grew concerned. In the late 1990s the U Street area in Northwest Washington D.C. experienced a similar revitalization. The new development in the U Street neighborhood brought more diversity to the historically African American area, and also dramatically increased housing prices. Higher property values bring along higher taxes, effectively pricing some poorer residents out of the neighborhood. Protections were put in place for H Street residents, especially the elderly.

In August 2005 the first new establishment, Argonaut Tavern, opened on H Street. The Rock n Roll Hotel followed in September 2006 and the Atlas Performing Arts Center officially reopened in November 2006.

Today there are several hip bars and restaurants located in between 11th and 14th Streets on H Street. These establishments, such as Sticky Rice, H Street Country Club and The Pug, seem to attract a mostly younger, “hipster” crowd, but walk in on weeknight and you are bound to strike up conversation with a good mix of residents, all of whom will tell you how much they love living in their neighborhood.

Tito Serrano, a young professional who has been renting in the area for two years says, “If I had half a million dollars, I would definitely buy a home here. I love H Street.”

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