September 13, 2012 - 9:28 am

We may be in store for another grocery store

If local developer JBG has its way, a Harris Teeter may be coming to a parking lot near the 9:30 Club.  The proposal is only in the preliminary stages and requires the District to sell an unused parking lot to the company.

JBG owns the lot immediately to the south of the District property and would like to combine them into a single project. The two adjacent properties are labeled “DC Gov” and “JBG” on the middle-left portion of the map below. While JBG does not yet control the District-owned site, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will offer the site, along with several others, for sale this fall. For all we know, the District could select another developer.

As you may recall, Chevy Chase-based JBG is one of the biggest developers on 14th Street and U Street. They’re current constructing or entitling (seeking permits, zoning relief, etc.) several nearby projects.  At the southwest corner of 14th and U, the company is currently building a multifamily project that will include a Trader Joe’s. On the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue, the company is preparing to build two modernist multifamily buildings.  On the northwest and southwest corners of 8th and V Streets, the company recently revealed its drawings for a condo building and an apartment building.

Besides JBG, many new developers are including grocery stores in areas that have long suffered a lack of good grocery options. The forthcoming Giant at 7th & P Streets will become our closest supermarket when it reopens next year. If the proposed Harris Teeter ever gets built, it will be the second closest supermarket to LeDroit Park:

Store Location Distance (mi)
Giant (opening 2013) 7th & P Streets NW 0.6
Harris Teeter (proposed) Florida & Sherman Avenues NW 0.7
Trader Joe’s (opening 2014) 14th & U Streets NW 0.9
Safeway 5th & L Streets NW 0.9
Harris Teeter 1st & M Streets NE 1.0
Whole Foods 1400 blk. P Street NW 1.1

But wasn’t Howard Town Center, about a block away, supposed to include a grocery store? The proximity of a Harris Teeter might scare off a competitor from signing on with the still-unbuilt Howard Town Center. This could further delay the long-stalled project.

Developers like to have leases signed before construction since the leases show investors and lenders that the project will produce an income to repay the loans. For some development proposals, the lack of a lease can scuttle the project entirely.

JBG’s announcement of its agreement with Harris Teeter is somewhat unusual. National grocery chains typically keep their prospective sites secret. That JBG announced the agreement without even controlling the land is unusual.

Another interesting twist to the case is that the District used to own the Howard Town Center site and Howard used to own the parking lot JBG wants to buy. The District and the university swapped the properties many years ago out of convenience to each other. How ironic it would be if the government-owned site is the site that gets redeveloped faster.

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July 08, 2012 - 11:56 am

Time lapse video of CityMarket at O

You already know about Trader Joe’s plans for 14th & U Streets next year.  In Shaw the CityMarket at O project will bring a 60,000-square foot Giant that will be LeDroit Park’s closest full-service grocery store.

The project covers two city blocks bounded by 7th, O, 9th and P Streets. Construction is well underway and the construction company has installed a cellphone camera across the street to track the construction progress.  Here’s a time lapse video of the project so far:

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July 07, 2012 - 6:43 pm

Trader Joe’s coming to 14th & U

It looks like 2013 will be a harvest year for LeDroit Park residents as two new grocery stores open nearby. DCist broke the news that Trader Joe’s will open a store at the Louis building now under construction at the southwest corner of 14th and U.

Located at just under a mile’s walk from Anna J. Cooper Circle, the new store will provide another grocery option to area residents.

TJ’s prices are competitive with many other stores and the TJ’s specializes in unusual and somewhat exotic foods in addition to the usual staples.  TJ’s main weakness lies in its produce selection, which, judging from experiences at the Trader Joe’s in the West End, is limited.

The store’s opening next year will also be accompanied by the opening of the 60,000 square-foot Giant at the CityMarket project at 7th and P Streets in Shaw.  Once these two projects open, all the major grocery store chains in the area will be located no more than 1.1 mi. from LeDroit Park.

Store Location Distance (mi)
Giant (opening 2013) 7th & P Streets NW 0.6
Trader Joe’s (opening 2013) 14th & U Streets NW 0.9
Safeway 5th & L Streets NW 0.9
Harris Teeter 1st & M Streets NE 1.0
Whole Foods 1400 blk. P Street NW 1.1

Even still I dream of a full-service grocery store opening up at the long-stalled Howard Town Center project at Georgia Avenue and V Street.  The project, in the planning stages for many years, has been perpetually delayed by disagreements between Howard University and its development partner.

The UPO building on Rhode Island Avenue used to be a Safeway many years ago.  The site is large enough to be redeveloped into a modern, urban grocery store if parking is placed underground.  In fact the second floor could house UPO’s offices.

Until those dreams come true, the nearest full-service grocery stores are a long, but manageable walk.

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May 22, 2012 - 9:09 am

Will Florida Avenue become the next U Street?

A sign of things to come?

When perusing the excellent interactive DC zoning map, one thing stands out around LeDroit Park: all the properties fronting Florida Avenue are zoned to permit both residential and commercial uses. Even the rowhouses on the LeDroit side of Florida Avenue can be turned into restaurants, offices, or shops without any need for special zoning approval.*

We mention this not to alarm anyone, but to educate residents about the influence of zoning ordinances. Zoning is the invisible geography that quietly shapes the use and form of the built environment.

The north-side rowhouses on the 400, 500, and 600 blocks of Florida Avenue were clearly built as homes.  About 100 years ago, many of these rowhouses hosted the offices of Washington’s prominent black doctors.

Neighborhoods change and businesses move and nearly all the rowhouses on our stretch of Florida Avenue reverted to their original uses as residences. Even the notable Harrison’s Cafe at 455 Florida Avenue is a residence with much of its former retail bay window bricked in.

Thai X-ing, a culinary outpost

A few businesses still dot Florida Avenue.  While Shaw’s Tavern and Bistro Bohem are reviving the corner of Florida Avenue and 6th Street, they occupy buildings that are clearly commercial in form. Thai X-ing, however, has been located for several years in and old rowhouse at 515 Florida Avenue NW. Though it looks like an abberation, Thai X-ing may just be ahead of its time.

The properties fronting Florida Avenue are zoned C-2-A, which permits as a matter of right,

office employment centers, shopping centers, medium-bulk mixed use centers, and housing to a maximum lot occupancy of 60% for residential use and 100% for all other uses, a maximum FAR of 2.5 for residential use and 1.5 FAR for other permitted uses, and a maximum height of fifty (50) feet. Rear yard requirements are fifteen (15) feet; one family detached dwellings and one family semi-detached dwellings side yard requirements are eight (8) feet.

There is no need to worry about an old rowhhouse being torn down and turned into office blocks. First, the houses along the LeDroit Park side of Florida Avenue are within the historic district. Historic preservation laws prevent drastic alterations, especially alterations to such an cohesive section of architecture.

Second, the C-2-A zone is a low-density zone, permitting a floor-area ratio (FAR) of only 1.5 for non-residential uses. Most of the existing rowhouses already exceed 1.5 FAR since they were built before the current zoning code.

The opening and success of Shaw’s Tavern and Bistro Bohem demonstrate business success along our stretch of Florida Avenue. There is clearly a demand for commercial activity near LeDroit Park and we were happy to spend Sunday afternoon revisiting Bistro Bohem. Whether this demand translates into rowhouse conversions into restaurants and bars remains to be seen. Even still, don’t be surprised if Thai X-ing gets a few restaurant, pub, cafe, or boutique neighbors in the coming years.

501 Florida Avenue


* Though one may open a restaurant without special approval in a commercial zone, a restaurateur must still follow the usual process for obtaining a license to serve alcohol.

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May 21, 2012 - 5:18 pm

Civic association elections, JBG development proposal tomorrow night

Tulip House

The LeDroit Park Civic Association will meet tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 22 at 7 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church.

Tomorrow’s agenda includes the election of officers, an update on the JBG development for the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue, and a public safety update.

Please remember that only paid members may vote for officers or any civic association motion, so be sure to bring your $15 if you need renew your household’s membership.

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May 11, 2012 - 7:38 am

The Lincoln vs. the Howard: What a difference operations make

The revival of the Howard Theatre brought worry that our newly revived venue would follow the disappointing path of the Lincoln Theatre on U Street. After all, both theaters were built in the early 20th century, both are owned by the DC government, and both are located within a short walk of each other.

A glance at both theaters’ online schedules reveals that their fates have sharply diverged.  From now until the end of June, the Lincoln Theatre has 5  events scheduled while the Howard has 51.

This glaring disparity shows the importance of selecting the right management team.  The District chose the experienced Blue Note Entertainment Group to run the Howard while it chose the non-profit U Street Theatre Foundation to run the Lincoln.  The mayor’s office rightly revoked U Street Theatre Foundation’s contract for the Lincoln as the theatre was careening toward bankruptcy at the end of 2011.  The mayor has tasked the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities with finding a new operator for the Lincoln.

The greater U Street area is a regional arts venue.  The Howard Theatre, the 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, the Black Cat, Bohemian Caverns, Twins Jazz Club, and numerous performance-oriented bars provide an amount of live performance space most cities would envy.  But when we compare the success of these venues to the fiasco of the Lincoln Theatre, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong in the District’s stewardship of this resource.  If all of these venues can thrive, so can the Lincoln.

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April 11, 2012 - 7:53 am

The Howard is open!

Last night the Howard Theatre held its grand opening concert featuring the musical talents of Trombone Shorty and the eminent George Clinton.  After a 30-year hiatus, the century-old historic theater’s comeback has left everyone gobsmacked.

The interior is beautiful, featuring walnut panelling, tasteful lighting, and blown up shots of famous performers who made their names at the Howard. The lower floor is mostly an open concert floor, with booths and a bar on an elevated perimeter. The balcony level features a long bar, numerous tables, and banquettes that provide an superb view of the stage. Of all the articles we’ve read online, Brightest Young Things has the best photos of the interior.

The Howard’s schedule is packed with a variety of acts and with its location just a short walk from home, you have every reason to visit.

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April 07, 2012 - 9:58 am

City Paper contrasts the Howard and the Lincoln

The Lincoln by M.V. Jantzen, on Flickr

Howard Theatre. Photo by the author.

We wrote before about how the Howard Theatre differs significantly from the often-dark Lincoln Theatre on U Street. Now the City Paper published a longer essay contrasting the theaters and showing that the Howard will not repeat the mistakes of the Lincoln. According to the City Paper, there are six main reasons that the Howard will likely succeed where the Lincoln failed:

  • The Howard will book a variety of popular acts, including acts that typically perform elsewhere.
  • A professional management company with a history of running music clubs will manage the theater.
  • The Howard can convert from a standing-room venue to a seated supper club in a flash.  The Lincoln Theater’s seats, by contrast, cannot be removed.
  • The Howard will serve much more food and, more importantly, alcohol, which is where profits are made in the restaurant business.
  • The District government, though holding title to the property, has little influence in its operations.
  • The Howard has better developed PR and marketing strategy.

 

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April 05, 2012 - 9:25 am

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.

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April 02, 2012 - 8:30 am

Duke Ellington immortalized in stainless steel

New front

The Howard Theatre is nearly complete.  You may have noticed that the sidewalk on the north side of T Street is now open, giving residents a close-up view of the new façade.  More importantly, the plaza at T Street and Florida Avenue is now open and the new sculpture of Duke Ellington stands prominently at the vegetated plaza. The sculpture depicts Ellington seated on a treble clef while playing a piano keyboard.

Duke Duke

The most delightful feature of the sculpture is the energy it portrays.  As Ellington plays, the keys appear to fly off the keyboard and into the sky behind him, signifying a magical quality to his music.

Duke

Flying Notes

Duke Ellington grew up in Washington and even lived on Elm Street in LeDroit Park for a year. He played at the Howard Theatre and frequently visited the adjacent Frank Holliday’s pool hall, most recently known as Cafe Mawonaj.

The hall was a popular gathering spot for Howard scholars, jazz musicians, and city laborers alike. Duke Ellington captured the scene at the pool hall:

Guys from all walks of life seemed to converge there: school kids over and under sixteen; college students and graduates, some starting out in law and medicine and science; and lots of Pullman porters and dining-car waiters.

And now Ellington’s statue sits on the same storied block.

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