DCentric » U Street http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU When Early Gentrifiers Can’t Afford to Stay http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/01/when-the-first-gentrifiers-cant-afford-to-stay/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/01/when-the-first-gentrifiers-cant-afford-to-stay/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2012 21:52:43 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=13239 Continue reading ]]>

Michael Feagans / Flickr

Love Cafe is closing on Jan. 29 after nine years on U Street.

Businesses move to transitional neighborhoods because space is cheap and there’s potential for future growth. But sometimes the economic success of these neighborhoods leads to the demise of the early gentrifiers.

Love Cafe opened at 15th and U Street, NW in 2003, two years before Busboys and Poets moved into the corridor and signaled rapid change in the community. This week, Love Cafe owner Warren Brown announced he’s closing Jan. 29 because rent has gotten too high. H Street Playhouse on H Street, NE is closing moving after it opened along the corridor in 2002, ahead of the trendy bars, restaurants and high rents.

Of course, some businesses that moved into neighborhoods at the beginning stages of gentrification do remain. They could be at an advantage because they got their feet in the door early. But gentrification happens in stages, and just like the longtime businesses that successfully weather gentrification, newer businesses also have to keep adapting to neighborhood changes in order to survive.

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A Look Back: Lincoln Theatre and Black Broadway http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/a-look-back-lincoln-theatre-and-black-broadway/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/a-look-back-lincoln-theatre-and-black-broadway/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2011 12:00:45 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11445 Continue reading ]]> By Mary-Alice Farina

The Lincoln Theatre is approaching its 90th anniversary as a cultural beacon of the U Street district. But impending closure threatens to break an important chain in D.C. history.

The theater opened in 1922 at 12th and U Streets, at the height of the racial ghettoization of D.C. Although the District outlawed Jim Crow laws in 1917, segregation became a reality in D.C. Racially restrictive housing covenants and Depression-era laws ended up restricting housing and services to non-whites in certain neighborhoods.

618nl0010383-01bp.tif Atermath of 1968 race riots. Poster for Cab Calloway performance at the Lincoln Theatre's ballroom.

In the face of this, U Street evolved into Black Broadway, an inimitable nexus of businesses, civil institutions, entertainment venues and homes. The area first experienced a boom after the Civil War, as thousands of new residents moved from the south. Between 1900 and 1948, U Street proved a vital epicenter for those suffering under the legacy of slavery.

The Lincoln Theatre was a luminous cornerstone in the grim shadow of segregation, a place where those ostracized by much of the country had a bright future. Tennis star Arthur Ashe recalled the 1940s on U Street: “The cream of black society and everybody else passed through there… You always had the sense that something big was about to happen.” As Teresa Wiltz put it in her evocative 2006 Washington Post article, “With U Street, black D.C. could lay claim to a world that was, to borrow a phrase of the hip-hop generation, ‘for us, by us.’”

The theater was one of a number of such venues built in D.C. by two ill-fated white entrepreneurs. The Lincoln thrived when it opened, first as a first-run silent film and vaudeville house, then in 1927, when it became a luxurious cinema venue with a ballroom downstairs. Proprietor Abe Lichtman brought huge names to the theater including Count Basie, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman, which eventually paved the way for the likes of Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn.

For forty years the Lincoln reigned as an institution of U Street nightlife. That changed on April 4, 1968, the day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. As the devastating news spread, crowds formed on the streets of downtown D.C., with outrage and sadness gradually twisting into violence and rioting. D.C.’s landscape would be radically altered for the next 30 years a result of the damage from the riots. U Street businesses were hit hard and wealthy and middle class people fled to the suburbs. Likewise, the Lincoln fell into disrepair and disuse, finally shutting its doors in 1981.

Then in 1989, the theater received $4 million in federal money toward its $9 million restoration. The Lincoln reopened in 1994, marking a turning point for the Columbia Heights, Shaw and U Street districts, which have undergone revitalization in recent years. These areas were back in business, with the Lincoln once again at the forefront.

But the Lincoln has been plagued by financial woes in recent years. It almost closed due to low funds in 2007, the year it became a historic landmark and property of the city. The city gave it $1.5 million for capital improvements to fix the roof and plumbing. But it once again faces closure. Without at a boost of at least $500,000, the theater will close by the end of the year.

Mary-Alice Farina is a writer for 365DC. Read her in-depth Lincoln Theatre history here and follow her on twitter at @mafalicious.

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D.C. May Lose One of the Last Remnants of Black Broadway http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/d-c-may-lose-one-of-the-last-remnants-of-black-broadway/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/d-c-may-lose-one-of-the-last-remnants-of-black-broadway/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 21:39:46 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11109 Continue reading ]]>

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Cynthia Robbins, Lincoln Theatre board member, makes an appeal for funding to save the theater.

When the Lincoln Theatre opened in 1922 on U Street, it was one of the jewels of “Black Broadway.” But with money running out, the historical landmark is at risk of closing.

“They say, ‘Before Harlem, there was U Street,’” said Rahim Muhammad, who grew up in the area. “So to me, the Lincoln is more important than the Apollo.”

During a Thursday afternoon press conference in front of Lincoln Theatre, board members blasted Mayor Vincent Gray for not answering their calls to hold a meeting to discuss saving the theater. Gray has said the theater’s business model is “not sustainable” and that the city couldn’t “pour money” in it.

Without a $500,000 boost, board members said the theater could close by the end of the year.

The possible closure of the Lincoln Theatre may be a sign of bad economic times. But some say the theater, on a now totally-gentrified corridor, holds a special place in D.C.’s black history and it should be preserved.

Rick Lee, a Lincoln Theatre Board member, criticized the city for giving money to other theaters such as Ford and Arena Stage, and yet failing to allocate anything to the Lincoln Theatre in Fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1. They have received $250,000 in past years.

“Even though the mayor is black, I almost feel like it’s a racial thing because I don’t see why you would have this theater, as beautiful as it is with all of this potential, and nickel and dime it,” Lee said. “I’m offended.”

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

The Lincoln Theatre was supposed to celebrate its 90th anniversary next year. It may close before that due to lack of funding.

The demographics of the area have changed since the theater’s heyday — most nearby residents are white — but board members don’t view that as a problem.

“[The theater] has evolved. We have diversified our programming,” said Lee, who has also owned Lee’s Flower and Card Shop on 11th and U for more than five decades. “We don’t have a problem with the neighborhood changing. It was an African American institution and I still think it should be preserved as a monument to the African American struggle.”

The theater does host a variety of shows. For instance, an Indian dance company has a performance scheduled next week. But the theater does need to attract more programming to survive, some critics say.

Muhammad, who has also produced a number of shows at the Lincoln Theatre, said the black community should do more to support the institution.

“I think all the real cultural history of the greater U Street area is being lost, and I think especially the African American community has abandoned U Street,” Muhammad said. “There are large African American organizations that could help the Lincoln.”

Muhammad questioned why big groups, such as BET and the Urban League, don’t host galas and events at the Lincoln Theatre rather than at venues downtown.

DCentric has a call into the mayor’s office and will update this post once we have a response.



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Lincoln Theatre, Fixture of Black Broadway, To Close http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/lincoln-theatre-fixture-of-black-broadway-to-close/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/lincoln-theatre-fixture-of-black-broadway-to-close/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2011 16:28:37 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11016 Continue reading ]]>

Wally Gobetz / Flickr

We have an update on this story here.

Lincoln Theatre, which was a U Street landmark since the corridor was known as “Black Broadway,” may close next week because it’s run out of money, DCist is reporting:

Earlier this year, Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) and [Councilmember Jim] Graham, who sits on the theater’s Board of Directors, were able to secure $500,000 in funding for the Lincoln during budget negotiations. However, that money will not be allocated until the next fiscal year. [Mayor] Gray responded to Graham’s news by stating that the city couldn’t “pour money in” to the theater, which he described as having a business model that was “not sustainable.”

In its heyday, Lincoln Theatre regularly featured Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. It eventually added movie screens, offering entertainment options to African Americans at a time of segregation. The theater fell into disrepair after the 1968 riots, but reopened in the 1990s with federal, local and private financial support. Since then, the theater has hosted a diversity of performances while U Street experienced gentrification and rapidly increasing property values. But in recent years, the Lincoln Theatre has struggled to keep its doors open as money dwindled.

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On Your Mind: A Shooting Near U Street http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/on-your-mind-the-u-street-shooting/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/on-your-mind-the-u-street-shooting/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2011 23:24:39 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=6013 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: IntangibleArts

14th and V Streets, NW.

Shots were fired at a busy intersection near U Street today. Two men were wounded in a drive-by shooting; neither had life-threatening injuries, according to Council member Jim Graham. A woman told NBC that a stray bullet hit the window of her apartment above Busboys and Poets while she was home having lunch. A conversation about whether the shooting would have gotten as much coverage had it been in a poor neighborhood ensued on Twitter.

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Scurlock and Sons: Beautiful Black D.C. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/scurlock-and-sons-beautiful-black-d-c/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/scurlock-and-sons-beautiful-black-d-c/#comments Fri, 01 Apr 2011 14:31:13 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=5313 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Libenne

Young ladies watching a football game at Griffith stadium, from the 2009 Scurlock exhibit at the Smithsonian. The Scurlock family operated a famed U Street studio, which was known for its elegant work.

It feels appropriate to look at black and white pictures of Washington’s past, when it is so gray outside. Luckily, the Left for LeDroit blog is offering up a series of fascinating images, taken by esteemed African American photographer Addison Scurlock, who, with his sons Robert and George, ran a successful studio on U Street NW, which was “one of the longest-running black businesses in Washington”.

The National Museum of American History is working hard to protect the vast Scurlock collection of pictures, many of which captured important parts of D.C.’s black history. Left for LeDroit deserves much credit for inspiring a delightful online journey which taught me a lot about this family and their beautiful work.

The Post had this to say about the Scurlocks, in a review of their exhibit at the Smithsonian back in 2009:

Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Marian Anderson praised the Scurlock crew, but so did students over at Howard University, when that institution was a place for the children of the nation’s black elite. And countless men and women from the city’s black middle class, who took high tea, held soirees, staged book readings and vacationed over on Maryland beaches, depended on them as well.

The style of their work — silky, refined, dignified and poised — became known as “the Scurlock look.” It said a lot of things, chief among them that classiness is swell and uplift gets rewarded.

This excerpt from that review really frames how significant and radical these images were:

The Scurlock exhibition highlights more than 100 black-and-white photographs that were taken when the world was very different for people of color. It was a world where reports of lynchings were in the daily newspapers, along with “coon” ads for minstrel shows.

Scurlock’s granddaughter, Jacqueline Scurlock Corbett once said, “We’re just so proud these photos have captured the beauty of black America when black America was on the road to equality”. Word. Here’s hoping the Smithsonian offers another exhibition of them, soon.

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The Man Behind Duke’s on 14th Street http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/the-man-behind-dukes-on-14th-street/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/the-man-behind-dukes-on-14th-street/#comments Mon, 31 Jan 2011 17:31:26 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3810 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Adam Gurri

After passing it for years, I’ve often wondered about the shoe shine/repair place with dramatically high ceilings across from Busboys and Poets on 14th Street, in the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs; I had no idea that it had been there for 75 years. TBD has a video featuring the 89-year old proprietor of the shop. Here’s how they describe it and him:

Irving “Duke” Johnson has been shining shoes in the heart of Washington, D.C. for the past 75 years. His shop, Duke’s Shoe Repair, is located at the intersection of 14th and U Streets. For this 89-year-old man working is a joy and a way of life. He says he has no plans of retiring.

The first comment on the piece is amusing:

God, I can’t believe he’s still there. He used to scare the crap out of me when I was in daycare there. I’m pretty sure he was old as dirt then, and that was 22 years ago.

Speaking of 20 years ago, in 1991, Mr. Johnson had this to say about Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the state of his people:

To some black men, however, the issue is different. Fearing a backlash in the wake of Hill’s accusations about Thomas’ behavior, they said that sexual harassment is of far lesser social concern than the advancement of black people.

“We’re falling behind now,” said Irvin (Duke) Johnson, the 70-year-old proprietor of Duke’s Shoe Repair and Shine in Washington’s Reeves Municipal Center, as he listened in disbelief to Hill’s testimony. “If black folks keep telling on one another, the black man will never get ahead.”

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Ben’s Chili Bowl Loves Vegetarians http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/10/bens-chili-bowl-loves-vegetarians/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/10/bens-chili-bowl-loves-vegetarians/#comments Tue, 05 Oct 2010 22:01:49 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=1241 Continue reading ]]>

What I used to get at Ben's: Chili Cheese Fries

One of you emailed me this link to DCist with the subject line, “Good news for you!”. Thank you for that! As for the “news”, it turns out that Ben’s Chili Bowl just started serving vegetarian hot dogs; now I can finally eat something at Ben’s which looks like what the rest of you order. From Ben’s Big Blog:

For a few years now customers have been calling and emailing Ben’s requesting that they offer veggie hot dogs. Though it took some time to find the one that lives up to the quality and reputation of Ben’s, a veggie dog is now on the menu! Get yours with mustard, onions and Ben’s famous veggie chili. Don’t forget, for years Ben’s has offered Veggie Burgers, Veggie Chili, Veggie Chili Fries and Veggie Chili-Cheese Fries.

I’m a vegetarian and I love Ben’s…mostly because I have happy memories of the instances when it’s almost empty and the staff and I sing along to “My Girl” or similar. Everyone who works there is so kind. And the chocolate milkshakes are yummy.

I like the chili, too, even if I usually have an omnivorous friend taste it “just in case”– that’s just a testament to how realistic and meaty it seems. The only thing I’ve had at BCB which I didn’t like was the Veggie Burger, but I wasn’t that surprised. The vast majority of places I go to– and I’m talking about restaurants which serve delicious food otherwise– offer disappointing veggie burgers. The one at Ben’s is dry and while microwaving it keeps it off the meat-covered griddle, it probably doesn’t help with texture. Here’s hoping the hot dog is a better veggie option. And anyway, yay Ben’s, for not forgetting about us herbivores!

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“Expressing dissent through murder” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/10/expressing-dissent-through-murder/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/10/expressing-dissent-through-murder/#comments Tue, 05 Oct 2010 18:17:24 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=1231 Continue reading ]]>

Kevin H.

Bryan Weaver has a powerful post up at Greater Greater Washington regarding Jamal Coates, gun violence and how such tragedy seems to replay itself on an endless loop.

Public officials will tell you that the crews have moved on to other parts of the city… so don’t believe your lying eyes. We have been here before, a high profile killing that grabs the up and coming part of the city. But then like collective amnesia we move on and forget.

The point being made in article after article is that last week’s murder happened in the rapidly gentrifying part of the city. But we can’t coffee-shop and bike-lane our way out of this tragedy. There are still numerous people in DC who have degenerated to the point of expressing dissent through murder and haven’t learned to disagree without becoming violently disagreeable, no matter where they live. But my hope is that the people who use those coffee shops and bike lanes can and will be the change — if they care enough to do so….


Blanket ideas like civil injunctions and curfews, that are not well thought-out, can’t be the only solution.

The best way to stop a bullet is an education and a job.

And we must make sure their stories are told. Every young person murdered in this city has someone who loved them. A parent, a grandparent, a friend, a cousin, a mentor. None of these young lives should end up being relegated to just two column-inches buried deep in the Metro section. Their stories need to be told. They must be humanized instead of being turned into a passing sentence or two on a blog, in the paper or on TV.

We must take the time to get to know our neighbors and reach out to the young people in our community. We need to celebrate our differences instead of condemning them.

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When “you fight for them” and they still lose. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/when-you-fight-for-them-and-they-still-lose/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/when-you-fight-for-them-and-they-still-lose/#comments Thu, 30 Sep 2010 15:27:14 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=1129 Continue reading ]]> ANC Chair Bryan Weaver on U street shooting victim, Jamal Coates, who struggled to get away from the gang culture he had participated in, in his youth:

“You know somebody for 10 years, and you fight for them to move away from a certain lifestyle,” said Bryan Weaver, 40, a neighborhood activist who ran unsuccessfully this year for Ward 1′s seat on the D.C. Council.

He said Coates, who had an arrest record, belonged to the “1-7″ crew, based around 17th and Euclid streets NW in Adams Morgan. In the summer of 2009, he was among 30 young people who spent six weeks in Guatemala teaching basketball to local children with Hoops Sagrado, an organization Weaver founded that aims to encourage peaceful coexistence by exposing District youths to foreign culture.

“You have this kid by the neck, and you’re trying to wrestle him out of that lifestyle, and then suddenly something like this happens,” Weaver said.

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