U Street


When Early Gentrifiers Can’t Afford to Stay

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.

A Look Back: Lincoln Theatre and Black Broadway

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.

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.

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D.C. May Lose One of the Last Remnants of Black Broadway

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.”

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Lincoln Theatre, Fixture of Black Broadway, To Close

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.

On Your Mind: A Shooting Near U Street

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.

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.
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The Man Behind Duke’s on 14th Street

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:
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Ben’s Chili Bowl Loves Vegetarians

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.

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“Expressing dissent through murder”

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….

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When “you fight for them” and they still lose.

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.