Tag Archives: gentrification

Gentrification on H Street Northeast

H Street Northeast is a neighborhood in major transition. It was in the 1950s and 60s an important retail and entertainment corridor for the African-American community in DC, along with the U Street corridor in Northwest. Along came the 1968 Martin Luther King riots, and then in the 1970s and 80s the rise of the drug epidemics, and H Street turned into pawn shops, liquor stores, and abandoned buildings. In the early 2000s, property developers turned their eyes toward the area for the relative abundance of cheap real estate as the next new place they could revitalize and get rich in the process.

These first four shots here represent the old side of the neighborhood – liquor stores, barred windows and businesses that clung to life through the lean years.

Cold Beer & Wine
Cold Beer & Wine
1101 Convenience
1101 Convenience
Phyllis J Outlaw
Phyllis J Outlaw
S and S Shoe Repair
S and S Shoe Repair

This set are the changing face of H Street – fresh paint, new entertainment venues, coffee shops and chic pubs.

Cirque Du Rouge
Cirque Du Rouge
Nomad Hookah Bar
Nomad Hookah Bar
Sidamo Coffee & Tea
Sidamo Coffee & Tea
The New Drink
The New Drink

The not-so-visible dark underside to this is that the past residents (lower and middle income African-Americans) and the businesses they used to operate are being pushed out not only by the housing redevelopment that is driving real estate prices up by several hundred percent over the span of a decade or less, but by the changing retail landscape – when enough businesses on your street have gone from selling fifty-cent cups of coffee and five dollar lunch deals to six dollar cappuccinos and thirty dollar tasting menus, your old clientele aren’t coming around anymore. If you were already operating on a shoestring, it can be cost-prohibitive to reinvent yourself.

DC Inaugurates Streetcar Service (50 years after removing it)

I’m a big public transportation junkie, so when I heard they were finally launching the DC Streetcar on H Street Northeast (a public works project over a decade in the making and long overdue – the tracks have been in place for two or three years now), I was so excited I ran over after work last Friday to see it and ride it only to find out I was a day early! So I satisfied my urge and photographed the streetcar at the Union Station end of the line, catching it at sunset. The shiny new car reflected not only the setting sun but the buildings across the street, bringing the surrounding urbanscape out of frame back into the picture.

DC Streetcar, Union Station, Sunset
DC Streetcar, Union Station, Sunset

Here is a different view of the streetcar, waiting at the Union Station end of the line, looking down H Street. H Street was, fifty or so years ago, a thriving business district catering mostly to a middle-class African-American clientele. Then along came the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and then with the 1980s, the cocaine and crack epidemics. H Street was devastated.

Westbound Oklahoma Avenue Streetcar
Westbound Oklahoma Avenue Streetcar

Obviously now, not so much. It has transformed starting in the early 2000s with the real estate boom. Perhaps the turning point was the creation of a large condominium complex, Senate Square, on the grounds of what was originally a Catholic school and later the Capitol Children’s Museum. Now, pawn shops and lake trout joints are being replaced by artisanal coffee roasters, fancy pubs serving British-Indian fusion cuisine, and cultural outlets like the Atlas Theater and the Rock n’ Roll Hotel (which is not a hotel, but a bar and concert venue). Instead of a Murry’s, the neighborhood is now sporting a Whole Foods.

When finally fully operational (at the moment, the streetcar only runs less than half the length of installed track), the streetcar will connect Union Station and the governmental core of the city to east of the Anacostia River, a long-suffering neighborhood where good jobs and access to quality goods and services have been sorely lacking.

Neighborhood Walkabout – 9/21/2014

I’ve been past the PanAm Market for years and wanted to photograph the outside, but never got around to it. Several times I’ve walked past and been on the verge of taking a photo but gotten the hairy eyeball from patrons or folks just hanging out on the sidewalk in front, so I’ve moved on and not taken the shot. This time there were not so many folks around and I was able to get a clean picture of it.

Panam Market
Panam Market

After scanning the negative I noticed that there’s a kid’s hand on the window that looks somewhat disembodied. All the security bars on the windows and doors make it look like a prison rather than a store, which was certainly NOT my intent. But it is what it is, and there’s no changing that. The kid was sitting by the door and holding it open for people with full carts trying to get out to their cars.

I’ve photographed Barbara’s Beauty Salon before, close up. This time I shot from across the street, to include the crosswalk stripes and more of the context of the neighborhood. I think you can really see the “Ajax Was Here” phenomenon in this shot. The Premium Title company to the right is brand new and spiffy looking, Gloria’s Pupusas to the left is cleaner, newer and bright and busy. Barbara’s, I still can’t tell if they’re even in business.

Barbaras Beauty
Barbaras Beauty

Here’s the older photo I posted of Barbara’s for comparison:

Barbaras Beauty Salon
Barbaras Beauty Salon

Neighborhood Walkabout – Surviving Gentrification

The signs of gentrification, both good and bad, abound in my area. Funky old shops in decrepit buildings are being forced out and razed to be replaced by condos and market-rate rentals at prices I don’t know how anyone can afford and being serviced by shops and restaurants worthy of being spoofed by AbFab. At the same time, the drugs, the street crime, and the random trash are all disappearing too.

SaintEx, 14th Street, from above
SaintEx, 14th Street, from above

I’m not sure Mitoni’s salon is still in business, or if it is, for how much longer. But I’ve not been sure if it is in business for the last decade, frankly. Regardless, it will shortly be going away to be replaced by an 8-10 story condo/retail complex.

Mitonis Salon, 14th Street
Mitonis Salon, 14th Street

You can very clearly see the layers of old and new, gentrified and recycled here. A former post office (that was once notorious for a rat infestation that destroyed tens of thousands of pieces of undelivered mail) is now a trendy taqueria. An old antiques store is now the Policy restaurant and bar with the roof deck you can see. In the upper left background is the old cold storage facility which oddly enough still rents out storage lockers. Behind the street-level buildings in the foreground is The Louis, a high-rise condo complex with swanky restaurants, coffee shops, and a Trader Joes (which is actually a welcome addition to the neighborhood). This shot was taken from the roof of Room and Board, an upscale furniture shop in what was a long-boarded-up former car dealership building.

T Street, From Room&Board's Roof
T Street, From Room&Board’s Roof

The dining room at Doi Moi, a new Thai/Vietnamese restaurant.

Tables, Doi Moi
Tables, Doi Moi

Transformer Gallery is one of the pre- to mid-gentrification vestiges. They’re a small space, and perhaps their saving grace is the fact that the space is too small for most developers’ interests. I don’t know how they survive as, from my perspective, a lot of the art they show is hard to sell.
When I took the photo, it was still August, so I thought the leaves made an interesting ironic statement about the nature of the changing neighborhood.

Transformer Gallery, Premature Fall
Transformer Gallery, Premature Fall

The Fabulous Vegas Lounge is another vestige of the old neighborhood. They must own their building to have outlasted the condo buildings that went up around them. It’s been a Jazz club since the 1970s at least.

Las Vegas Lounge
The Fabulous Vegas Lounge

As usual, all photos taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Ilford FP4+.

Neighborhood Walkabout

It “snowed” here in DC on Tuesday, and we got the day off for what amounted to a little more than a dusting that rapidly turned into slush and never really interfered with traffic or public transportation or anything. But, since I had the day off, I took a walkabout in my neighborhood to burn some film.

I’m always looking for images of things to add to my “Portraits of Everyday Objects” series. This mailbox, outside the Industrial Bank building on U Street fits the bill, looking somewhat forlorn with all its graffiti.

Mailbox
Mailbox

Industrial Bank was started at the beginning of the 20th century by African-Americans to cater to the African-American community. Their main branch is at the corner of 11th and U Streets, and has this really cool metal and neon clock sign out front. Alas they have allowed the sign to lapse into disrepair – I THINK the clock functions but it is not accurate, and either they just never turn on the neon or it no longer works. I really wish they’d fix it up so it would work, as it would make a very nice neighborhood landmark and a visual counterpoint to the yellow saxophone sign across the street outside the Bohemian Cavern nightclub.

Clock, Industrial Bank
Clock, Industrial Bank

Up the street there is the Soul-Saving Center Church of God – a storefront community church with a primarily if not exclusively African-American congregation. It’s a sign of the gentrification and transformation of the neighborhood – across the street from them is a brand-new condo building with units selling for up to $1.2 Million.

Soul Saving Center Church Door
Soul Saving Center Church Door
Soul Saving Center Church
Soul Saving Center Church

You can see the real estate bonanza still happening in the neighborhood – small row houses are being converted and expanded into multi-story multi-unit condominium buildings. Here is one with a “Fabulous Interio”- the agent broke off the “r” to get the sign to fit inside the fence. I wonder how long it will be before the Soul-Saving Center Church decides to sell their buildings plus the adjacent lot they have – they’ve got perhaps $10 Million in land alone now.

Fabulous Interio
Fabulous Interio

Up the street is another landmark of the neighborhood, almost as famous as Ben’s Chili Bowl. The Florida Avenue Grill has been around since 1944, serving up good old-fashioned soul food to locals and celebrities alike. The Florida Avenue Grill once owned a large empty lot next door, which served as their parking lot. About five years ago the family that owns the grill sold the empty lot and now a five story condo building has filled it. The average unit in that building sold for north of $500,000 each.

Florida Avenue Grill
Florida Avenue Grill

More Street Photos, In The Neighborhood

I was out walking around in the late afternoon and found these. I like the simple graphic compositions they inspired, combined with the long shadows being cast. They’re remnants of the old industrial component of the neighborhood that is quickly being usurped by gentrification.

Air Conditioner Cage, V Street
Air Conditioner Cage, V Street
Gas Meter, Red Wall, V Street
Gas Meter, Red Wall, V Street

Another Neighborhood Walkabout

Just four random shots from around the neighborhood. These first three are small local businesses managing to hang on in the face of growing gentrification.

EJ's Hair Designs
EJ’s Hair Designs

I don’t know what’s going on with EJ’s. Every time I walk past (which may be heavily influenced by when I’m going by – weekday evenings and/or weekends) it appears closed. I know the sign says “open” in the door, but you tell me what closed miniblinds means… I love the sign on the door (which is probably too small to read in the JPEG version of this shot): “We love children. However, insurance regulations do not allow children in the shop unless they are receiving services. Thank you, The Management”.

Claws N' Paws
Claws N’ Paws
Arthur's Grocery
Arthur’s Grocery

A sign of the times. General hipsterization plus the general trend of people being so absorbed by their mobile devices that they do stupid stuff like walk into traffic has inspired these signs spray-painted at the crosswalks of a number of intersections in the Upper 11th Trend Strip (don’t know what else to call it- North-East Columbia Heights Business District? NoECoHiBD? …that stretch of 11th where all the new restaurants have proliferated amidst old-time bodegas and coin laundries? How about just Hipster Velcro? (can’t call it a hipster magnet because that would imply something about hipsters that’s just not true. Velcro sounds about right because it sticks well to things like scruffy beards and ironic flannel). Of course, it NEEDS to be painted on the sidewalk, for it to stand a chance of registering with the phone-focused.

Look Both Ways (No Cell)
Look Both Ways (No Cell)