This is not what the city imagined.
When the music finally fades, most of the partyers climb into cabs back to Northwest. They zip past blocks of buildings that tumble out of the darkness like discordant notes: a burned-out storefront; a bistro that serves craft beers; a Popeyes; a coming- soon sign for a New Orleans restaurant.
The people disappear over the H Street Bridge, a physical barrier that has kept this neighborhood separate from the rest of the city for years.
When the District began redeveloping the corridor between Union Station and 17th Street Northeast eight years ago, officials had visions of how life used to be in the neighborhood in decades past.
In the years after 1929, when Sears, Roebuck and Co. opened its first store in the District on H Street at Bladensburg Road Northeast, H Street became the busiest shopping and entertainment district in the city.
The city chose H Street in 2005 as one of the first areas to become part of the “Great Streets Initiative,” an effort to transform the District’s struggling corridors into more attractive and vibrant neighborhoods.
Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, calls it a “reweaving of the city.” The city’s vision for H Street: a neighborhood that is “hip but has young families” and is “international, multilingual and diverse.”
D.C. officials acknowledge that the H Street corridor is not quite there. The area needs more than nightlife to thrive.
But daytime businesses, such as grocery stores, bookstores and clothing boutiques, have been slow to open, while a new restaurant or bar opens nearly every week.
“We were very permissive of the first pioneers of H Street,” says Jose C. Sousa, a spokesman for the planning and economic development office. “But a lot of developers know they now need to step up their game. We want people to say that H Street is not just a place to eat out but also a place where people can go to buy things or spend the whole day.”
The city had a long way to go when the redevelopment process began. Like a number of D.C. neighborhoods, the corridor was devastated by riots that erupted after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
For years afterward, 30 percent of the buildings on H Street were boarded up or left vacant, according to the nonprofit H Street Community Development Corp.
Eugenia Kim, 59, a novelist, remembers her first week on 12th and G streets Northeast in 1984. She was greeted with the news that a middle-aged woman named Catherine Fuller had been robbed, sodomized and killed in the neighborhood.
“Suddenly everyone wanted to change the face of what that strip was before, which was a burnt-out nest from 1968 and the site of this brutal rape,” Kim says.