At 14th and U, construction of the Reeves Municipal Center and the opening of Metro's Green Line added momentum. On residential side streets, urban pioneers were restoring blighted Victorian rowhouses and moving in. They established the Greater 14th Street Historic District to protect old buildings from demolition.
In 2000, residents recruited Whole Foods and CVS to a stretch of P Street that once housed LP Stewart and Studebaker dealerships. It didn't take long for the new stores to attract enough people to crowd their aisles. Developers noticed. Restaurants and furniture boutiques opened, and hundreds of apartments rose near U Street and south of Logan Circle.
"It's an authentic loft," Rebecca Menes says of her new home at Rainbow Lofts, a converted auto body shop on Church Street NW.
(Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
Along P, Church and 14th, buildings created for cars nearly a century earlier began to be redesigned for people.
Four years ago, at least six auto body and repair shops operated on those blocks, catering to downtown commuters when the showrooms and their customers were long gone. One remains.
Auto Express was bought by Studio Theater. Raygoza's Auto Repair will be demolished for a 28-unit condo project. Two garages went vacant during all the construction; the owner of the properties said he has leased one to a beauty salon and is looking for another retail or office tenant. He envisions condos there one day.
At 1445 Church St., shiny red lettering spells Rainbow Auto Body & Painting. But the business moved away in 2001, after 75 years, when the founder's grandchildren sold the building to a developer for $2 million. Rainbow Lofts opened last month, attracting buyers who loved the exposed brick, open spaces and vintage photos in the lobby.
"It's an authentic loft," said Rebecca Menes, 43. "Something that, for once, we didn't borrow from another country." Another resident, Gregory Buja, 26, said the building's location near Logan Circle was key. "That's where all my friends are," he said. "I am just very excited about how it's changing."
The renaissance has brought a host of new retailers -- Reincarnations furniture store, for example, took over a shabby storefront that for years housed a check-cashing post. Some older places -- Best-In Liquors, next to Whole Foods, and Vegas Lounge, across the street -- have improved their buildings and adjusted their merchandise for more upscale patrons.
But owners of a few properties and businesses have refused to upgrade or sell. The result is a scattering of 14th Street's scruffy past amid the buffed-up buildings reshaping its present.
Carl's Barbershop and the Mid-City Fish Market, for example, are housed in faded, Queen Anne-style buildings that date to 1885. The owners, brothers Joseph and Aaron Richman, inherited the properties from their parents, who ran a pharmacy in the market space. They say they want to continue renting the storefronts to modest businesses and the upstairs apartments to people of limited means.
"My father was not CVS. He was a small independent," Joseph Richman said. "The people there who we're renting to, they're small, middle-class working people, and we want to keep it that way."
Jay Levy, owner of Sam's Pawnbrokers, refused offers from Metropolis to buy his shop, a former bakery built in 1875. He says he is tickled when newcomers check out the merchandise that desperation has brought through his door.
The eclectic mix appeals to Mike Watson, 30, who moved into Rainbow Lofts last month. He routinely breakfasts on an egg sandwich from the fish carryout that costs less than the Starbucks coffee he buys to wash it down.
"They are businesses that have established this community far before any of us even thought about living in this area," he said. "We owe them a certain amount of respect."
Those developing the corridor see some value in such establishments but are frustrated by businesses that don't seem interested in joining the renaissance. Scott Pomeroy, who directs the 14th & U Main Street Initiative, has failed to get two wholesale shops near P Street to join an annual sidewalk sale. He has secured funds for facade improvements and is searching for a balance between improving 14th Street and celebrating what has been there.
Malone said he appreciates the appeal of the fish market, directly across from his most expensive project. But he would like the store's facade painted and the sidewalk free of trash.
"I don't believe in antiseptic neighborhoods," Malone said. "But even with the funk, there's got to be some character."