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Correction to This Article
A Nov. 13 article about gentrification at 14th and T streets NW referred to the radio station WYCB as WYBC.
CROSSROADS The Price of Change at 14th and T

One Urban Panorama Fades, Another Rises

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By Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 13, 2005

On the second floor of a battered building on the corner of 14th and T streets NW, more than 300 worshipers are caught in the driving syncopation of drums and organ. Church of the Rapture has occupied this corner for three decades. Beyond the doors of the Pentecostal storefront, the sun is out and the iPod people walk by. A real estate agent hammers in a "For Sale" sign pointing to a T Street rowhouse that six years ago sold for $282,000 but now has granite counters and is going for $839,000.

Upstairs in the church, the music oscillates, and the worshipers are out of their seats, some so deep in the spirit that their shouts of "Yes, Jesus" and "Hallelujah" become bursts of unrecognizable syllables.

"I thank God for this church and we can express ourselves," a pastor says when the music quiets. "No one to pull your coattail and make you sit down. We are in a beautiful place, saints, free as a bird flying over this building. No one will hinder us. I see prosperity all over the church."

Not only spiritual prosperity. The church that started with nothing more than a sweat-stained tambourine and a small group of followers had just sold its property for $10 million. Its pastor and founder, known to her congregation as the Honorable Doctor Theresa Garrison, a high school dropout with prophecies and visions, closed one of the most lucrative deals in the 14th Street real estate boom. Church of the Rapture was going condo.

How much longer would Paradise Liquor be holding down the other corner? The grimy package liquor store is where $2 half-pints of Velicoff are shelved behind bulletproof glass and the customers have names like Bo-Bo, Snipe, Jerome, Miss Brenda, Koo-Koo and Peanut. Now Koo-Koo is standing at the counter next to a young blond man who's asking for fresh limes.

"Fresh limes!" says manager David Lee. "These people are so picky! Nothing is good enough like it is."

Church of the Rapture and Paradise Liquor are two stubborn relics from a bygone era of a bygone city. This year, after decades of sharing the same tattered geography, both decided it was time to go. The future of the neighborhood stared at them from across the street: the steel-cut letters that said "Saint-Ex" and smoked glass windows that revealed a bistro crowded with white people.

Soon there will be luxury lofts in the spot where Pastor Garrison hollers about the end days, a prediction that in one sense is coming absolutely true.

* * *

It has been more than a decade since the crosswinds of urban renewal started blowing across Shaw, once the crown jewel of black Washington that slipped into blight and is now being re-imagined by baristas and purveyors of tapas. Race and class are colliding on dozens of other blocks in a city where demographics are shifting by the month, but 14th and T represents something else: that split-second before the curtain drops on one era and rises on another.

This corner has turned before. The young Duke Ellington used to carry his sheet music here in 1917 as he rounded for home at 1816 13th St. In the 1940s, the Sunny South Market was a corner grocer that catered to the working-class and Howard University faculty members who lived nearby. On the other corner stood Club Bali, where Billie Holliday played, and all along the side streets, tea lights were strung in backyard gardens in makeshift after-hours clubs.

History turned again on a balmy night in April 1968 when the radio at Peoples Drug Store on 14th and U announced that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. It was a block south, near 14th and T, that some of the first store windows were smashed, unleashing days of rioting that left 95 businesses destroyed in black Washington's commercial Mecca.

CONTINUED     1                 >

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