Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-go, died on May 16. That night a crowd of fans celebrated his life and mourned his death in front of the Howard Theatre.
Brown’s viewing will be held at the Howard Theatre on Tuesday, May 29, from 11 am to 10 pm. To accomodate the expected crown of mourners, DDOT will close several streets to private automobiles on Tuesday. T Street from 7th Street to Florida Avenue will close from 3 am to midnight. The following streets will close from 9:30 am to midnight:
- T Street between 9th Street and Florida Avenue
- 7th Street between Florida Avenue and S Street
- 8th Street between Florida Avenue and S Street
- Wiltberger Street between T Street and S Street
You may still walk or bike along these streets, but if you’re driving, it will be best to avoid the area.
What happened to all the historic buildings at 7th Street, Florida Avenue, and Georgia Avenue? We all recognize the CVS and its adjacent parking lot. As we reported before, the adjacent grassy field is slated for a residential development by JBG, one of the region’s largest development companies.
But how did the CVS, the parking lot, and the grassy field get there in the first place? They are the consequence of the 1968 riots and of the construction of the Green Line tunnels.
The riots of April 1968 destroyed many of the buildings along 7th Street. A few months ago we came across this photo in a Congressional report published in the wake of the riots. The west side of 7th Street from T Street to Florida Avenue was obliterated:
Decades later, the intersection sat at an elbow in the proposed Green Line tunnel. The subway line curves from 7th Street to Florida Avenue and then to U Street. Much of the line was constructed using the cut-and-cover method, which requires razing buildings, digging a trench, building a concrete box in the trench, and covering it back over.
Subway tunnels typically run under existing streets, but sharp changes in direction require cutting corners and thus the creation of tunnels where buildings often stand.
A 1988 photograph shows the construction of the Green Line tunnels, which pass under the CVS and adjacent lots.
What the riots didn’t destroy, the Green Line took care of.
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.
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 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.
To reduce the liklihood that patrons will park on residential streets around the Howard Theatre, the theatre will sell prepaid private parking through Ticketmaster. The passes are for private lots owned by Howard University and other private owners.
In fact, we were looking on Ticketmaster at prices and availability for April’s Wanda Sykes show and spotted this prominent parking add-on at the bottom:
The lots described above are as follows:
- Valet shuttle Lot B – Howard University’s large parking lot at Georgia Avenue and W Street.
- Self-parking Lot A – Howard University’s HURB-I parking lot at 7th & T Streets.
- Premier Valet – private triangle lot at T Street and Florida Avenue, across from the theater.
When Progression Place, the office and apartment project at the Shaw Metro, finally opens, the theatre will lay claim to a significant number of the project’s underground parking spaces during nighttime hours, thus adding a another option.
Channel 7 ran a short story on the fracas over the All Souls tavern license we reported earlier.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to make the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board hearing on Wednesday, but we heard secondhand that it was quite a show.
A commenter from a previous post pointed us to an article sympathetic to the opposition.
The article notes that the ABC Board does not typically grant alcohol licenses within 400 feet of a school unless there is already another alcohol license within 400 feet of the school. In this case, All Souls would qualify since Boston Wine & Spirits (1905 9th Street) is within 400 feet of the school.
We looked up on Google Earth the distance between Boston Wine & Spirits and Cleveland Elementary School and marked a 400-foot yellow line in the map below. We were able to spot-check the relative accuracy of the program by measuring the right-of-way distances in Google Earth and comparing them to the numbers in the Baist Real Estate Atlas of the area. By a more generous measure, where we measure from the school building instead of the school’s property lot (outlined in red) to 9th Street in front of and thus beyond Boston Wine & Spirits, it appears that Boston Wine & Spirits is within the 400 feet.
Here is another interesting tidbit from the article:
The parent group who is behind the protest of the bar conducted a survey. According to the survey, 45% of Cleveland Elementary School teachers would be reluctant to attend evening activities at the school and 33% of parents would remove their children from the school should the bar open up across the street…
It seems the frequent, blatant, and public drug-dealing and urination a block away have not deterred these hardy souls from attending Cleveland, but the thought of a 5 pm happy hour across the street will.
Few things rile up neighbors like liquor licenses. Just outside LeDroit Park at 8th and T Streets, a proposal for a new restaurant, All Souls, has elicited the ire of several neighbors. The objectors, though small in number, are trying to stop a local restaurateur from turning a vacant storefront, pictured above, into a community asset. Much of this opposition is unwise and unwarranted and will hold back neighborhood improvement. We have heard the objections to All Souls for several months and would like to see this restaurant finally come to fruition.
While some objections, particularly regarding outdoor noise late into the night, are certainly reasonable, a few objectors have damaged their own credibility with an array of spurious objections.
The first of such complaints is that a restaurant serving alcohol across the street from an elementary school is unsavory. This is a red herring. Restaurants cannot serve alcohol to 10-year-olds and the main business of restaurants is at night, several hours after school has ended. The restaurateur has agreed to not serve alcohol before 5 pm.
The most ludicrous objection we heard is that patrons on the patio on 8th Street (along the blank wall in the photo above) will leer into a neighboring house. This is another red herring as drawing one’s window blinds or curtains can easily solve this problem.
Another objection is that a restaurant is inappropriate for what one objector alleged is a “residential street”. This is not entirely true. Most of the 1900 block of 8th Street is actually in a commercial zone C-2-B, which is intended for commercial uses, but also allows residential uses.
The restaurant site is surrounded by a residential zone (R-4) on three sides. Nonetheless, all zones have boundaries in which differing uses abut each other. It is the responsibility of residents to research and understand the zoning implications of where they live. It is also important for residents to understand their limitations in dictating how other people lawfully use their own property.
The restaurant building, as marked in the map below, is zoned for commercial uses (C-2-A), which permits restaurants as a matter of right. The law is very clear in this case that a restaurant is permitted in this location. The issuance of the alcohol license, which is necessary for any reastaurant to survive financially, is not by right, but must be requested. Thus, it is only in the alcohol license that the objectors have a viable case to block the business.
All Souls will improve the quality of life in several ways. It will provide a sit-down restaurant, something we consider a desirable neighborhood amenity. It will provide more eyes on the street to deter crime. Drug dealers and criminals at 7th & T Streets will feel less confident in their criminality when they see that there are numerous witnesses at sidewalk tables 100 feet away.
Most importantly, the conversion of a vacant property (pictured to the right) into a vibrant, occupied use improves the impression of the neighborhood. People rightly look upon vacant and abandoned space negatively. They look at active, lively restaurants positively. All Souls will improve the image of the neighborhood by improving the quality of life.
Let’s hope the unreasonable objections of a few don’t derail a potential community asset that we suspect the silent majority supports.
The Howard Theatre’s renovation, in which the District government invested $12 million, got us thinking about the role of public finance in development projects. The use of public money or, alternatively, the granting of tax abatements to private projects, elicits controversy. Opponents argue that such investments are give-aways to well-connected businessmen.
In the case of the Howard Theatre, the District’s investment in the venue, which the District government technically owns, is a good investment that is economically justified. The new venue and streetscape in front will improve the perception of the area and thus improve property values in LeDroit Park. The former is an improvement to the quality of life while the latter is an improvement to the District’s tax base.
Though the theater is technically just outside LeDroit Park, the path from the Shaw Metro Station to LeDroit Park typically brings people in front of the theater. When the District-owned theater was decaying and vacant, it served as an awful first impression of the area. A barbed wire fence under the awning and marquee made visitors well aware that a strong wind gust could cause the awning to collapse. The heaps of litter and scurrying of rats certainly didn’t help perceptions, either.
Work crews are reconstructing the entire street, including sidewalks and lamp posts, and when the renovated theater opens next month, much of the former blight will be removed. Smooth, wheelchair-accessible sidewalks will replace broken concrete. Lamp posts will provide ample light. A statue on the sidewalk and a statue atop the theatre will add to the sense of place for this important historic venue.
The theater itself, renovated and gleaming, will attract patrons several nights a week and the building will have to remain in good order. Clean surfaces and façade adornments will replace trash, decay, and danger. The block will be unrecognizable from before.
These improvements will undoubtedly improve how visitors and residents view the block and perhaps how they view LeDroit Park. The quality of life improvements are certain. From a financial standpoint, the improvements will likely boost surrounding property values and thus property tax revenues for the District. In doing so, the additional revenue may far exceed the $12 million of public money invested in the site.
Correction: An earlier version of this post understated the dollar amount of the city’s investment.
The Howard Theatre is set to open in April. While construction crews are finishing the theater’s historic restoration, the District government is renovating the entire street in front of the theater. The streetscape project involves replacing the sidewalks, curbs, road pavement, storm drains, and lamp posts on the 600 block of T Street NW and along the one-block Wiltberger Street NW, which abuts the Howard Theatre.
Construction work started at the beginning of February. We were able to get this photo of construction crews removing the old streetcar tracks that were paved over after the streetcar system ceased operation in 1962. In fact the old tracks still lie under many of Washington’s streets; paving them over was cheaper than tearing them up.
Though the streetcars ran along 7th Street/Georgia Avenue and along Florida Avenue, a 1958 streetcar map shows that a short connector linked both of these routes along the 600 block of T Street NW.
DDOT’s plans for the block are ornate and are designed to complement the restored arts venue. The street will feature decorative pavement for both the sidewalk and the roadway. We certainly hope the decorative pavement can withstand the stress of traffic once the street reopens.
Below is the plaza section where T Street intersects Florida Avenue in front of Zenebech. Earlier today we noticed that the sculpture plinth is in place already. The deciduous tree will certainly be a welcome addition to what is now an uninterrupted expanse of concrete.
Cultural Tourism DC is finishing the installation of the signs for the Georgia Ave./Pleasant Plains Heritage Trail. Here is one we spotted outside the Dunbar Theater (now Wells Fargo bank) at 7th and T Streets NW.
The trail opening event will be on Saturday, October 15 at 11 am at the plaza in front of Howard University Hospital.
Work on the heritage trail for LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale has progressed greatly and we are on our way to having our own trail to honor LeDroit Park’s rich history.
Capital Bikeshare, the District’s smashingly successful bikesharing system, will expand this fall. Unfortunately, the expansion plans for this fall exclude LeDroit Park.
The District and Arlington launched the system a year ago with 14 stations in Arlington and 100 in the District. This fall, DDOT will add 34 stations in the District. In our area, DDOT will add a station by the Shaw Library and another at 1st Street NW and Rhode Island Avenue NW in Bloomingdale.
These additions should help alleviate the pressure placed on the existing stations at 7th & T Streets NW in Shaw and at Florida Avenue and R Street NW in Bloomingdale. Currently, LeDroiters and Bloomingdalers compete to use these two stations and thus frequently leave the stations empty or full during rushhour.
Last week DDOT Director Terry Bellamy announced that the district will add 50 stations early next year. We hope that in this new round DDOT focuses more attention on LeDroit Park and other neighborhoods in ANC 1B.
For instance, a Capital Bikeshare station could easily go in at the Park at LeDroit’s south entrance at 3rd and Elm Streets NW. This location is central to the neighborhood and could bring some extra eyes to the park throughout the day.
Outside of LeDroit Park, there is a noticeable station gap in the northern reaches of Bloomingdale and around Cardozo High School.
Capital Bikeshare is particuarly successful in our part of DC for several reasons:
- Car ownership is relatively low compared to the rest of the nation, region, and city. This inclines people to bike more.
- Parking is particularly difficult on many neighborhood streets, thus making cycling more attractive.
- The historical development of this area has permitted the close proximity of commercial uses to residential uses. This means trips to shops and restaurants are short and easily made by bike.
- Downtown is a short ride away and biking is often faster than taking the bus.