April 05, 2012

Neighbors reminisce about the Howard Theatre

HOWARDIn preparation for the Monday’s grand (re)opening of the Howard Theatre, the Post ran a story about the theater’s past and how the Shaw and LeDroit Park have changed over the decades since the theater’s heyday.

The article also describes the histories of some long-time local businesses, including the Hall Brothers Funeral Home, the HJM Variety Shop, and Gregg’s Barber Shop.

A neighbor we know who studies local history likes to ask long-time residents if they feel the city has lost anything with the influx of residents, wealth, and investment over the past 15 years. Inevitably, the answer is yes and the answers differ to some degree.

The Post article is striking in that the residents who remember the theater in its golden age don’t expect its current incarnation to live up to the excitement of its younger self.

For those Washingtonians, the Howard’s rebirth stirs a mix of curiosity and excitement for what is new, and nostalgia and melancholy for what has been lost.

“It looks like a mausoleum to me,” said Juan Rosebar, 61, eyeing the theater on a recent afternoon, as workers laid cobblestones on the street outside.

As a kid, Rosebar watched the stars migrate from the Howard to Cecilia’s Stage Door, a bar a few yards away where they’d mix with their fans and drink post-performance cocktails. Cecilia’s closed long ago, as did Jimmy’s Golden Cue, the pool hall across the street where Rosebar learned to hustle. All that’s left is Jimmy’s rusted sign, the letters barely legible.

“You can’t turn the clock back,” Rosebar said. “You won’t get the scene; you won’t get the flamboyance.”

Another resident, Frank Love, concurs:

“It’s all changed around here,” said Love, 77, shaving a customer’s sideburns and listing the names of a half dozen long-gone barbershops. He can’t wait for the Howard’s reopening and the chance to step inside the place where he went to see Jackie Wilson with his future wife, Pearl Love.

He knows the theater can’t be what it was, but he’s okay with that. “That was then, and this is now,” he said. “You can’t look for it to be the same.”

You can tell from the posts on this blog that history fascinates us.  However, the study of history is part real and part imagined.  Though buildings can be preserved and restored, the people and societies that made them relevant cannot.  The Howard will reopen on Monday and it will serve as a lively venue for a diverse array of national acts, but its cultural relevance may never again match its storied past.

Categories: Development Projects, History, Howard Theatre
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