March 29, 2011 - 8:54 am

7th & T was always the seedier end of the U Street corridor

This is the second in a series on the Scurlock photo archive.  Read the first entry.

During the Jazz Age of the 1920s and later into the 1930s, U Street was dubbed the “black Broadway” as it featured such venues as the Lincoln Colonnade (now the Lincoln Theater), the Howard Theatre, and other clubs and restaurants.  In a segregated city in which blacks were excluded from most restaurants, theaters, and stores, U Street served as a refuge to catch a show and enjoy a meal.

This photo from the Scurlock archives was taken looking east at 7th and T Streets NW in 1939.

[Toggling between now and then photos will not work in RSS readers. View the actual post]


We have referred to this area as the block of blight for its dilapidated buildings, copious litter, and frequent police arrests.  It turns out that some things never change.  Even when this photograph was taken, U Street was not uniform in character and the area around the Howard Theatre was considered downscale compared to the classier venues west on U Street.  (For more on U Street’s evolution, see Blair Ruble’s recent book, Washington’s U Street: A Biography.)

Pictured here at the corner is National Grill, which, like Harrison’s Café in LeDroit Park, advertised itself as open all night. The lighted vertical sign attached to the façade appears to read “LUNCH” and the pediment at the cornice bears the building’s name, “Scott’s”. (View a larger version of the photo.)

Just to the right (south) of National Grill is the S.W. Keys Luncheonette, whose vertical sign advertises coffee and waffles.  Just south of that is Harlem Cafe, located in a building that has since been replaced.

On T Street, just behind Scott’s Building and just before the Howard Theatre, you will see a sign that reads “BILLIARDS”.  That marks Frank Holliday’s pool hall, 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.

Just beyond the pool hall, you’ll see the Howard Theatre sporting its original Italianate façade. The theater was later covered with plaster, which was only recently removed for the restoration project.

Today the last two buildings on 7th Street are a Chinese take-out and a tiny market.  One of the developers of Progression Place, the large development project underway on the block (rendering below), said that the late owner of these two buildings refused to sell to his development.  Progression Place will incorporate every building on this block except for these two.

If anyone is looking for a two-building restoration project, here is your chance!

Progression Place

Progression Place will include all but the gray and orange buildings.

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