BEFORE 1968, the H Street corridor in Northeast Washington formed one of the city's major retail areas. Since the riots that left many of those businesses damaged or in ruins, it is difficult to say which has been more frustrating, the memory of H Street's destruction or the seemingly countless proposals to revitalize the blight that has remained ever since. Over the years, headlines have announced grand plans such as "District's Latest Plan to Rehabilitate Riot Corridor Focuses on Small Businesses." The results have been a few small businesses and a lot of disappointment. And the unbelievably brutal murder there of Catherine Fuller in 1984 only served to deepen the belief that the once-thriving area would never recover.
But recent events have kindled new hope. There have been festive ground-breaking ceremonies for a major shopping center in the heart of the corridor. A new church is rising off 13th Street. The city says it plans to consolidate its Department of Human Services offices at Sixth and H. Other plans involve a minority-owned grocery store.
After all the plans and promises, we have just one plea: this time, do it right.
What went wrong before? Developers missed deadlines or just pulled out, citing economic conditions that would not support their plans. There was a sense of there being too little to work with, of little confidence in the community. City oversight of the use of federal funds and loans was poor. Funds were spent with dubious results, or were unaccounted for, or were not spent at all. As of 1985, the H Street Community Development Corp. had barely touched $1 million in funds that were earmarked to renovate small businesses along the corridor.
But there is reason to believe the chances are better this time. Development has followed the regentrification along Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol and along Massachusetts Avenue in Northeast. These movements have pushed toward H Street. According to one developer, a partner in the shopping center, "the merchants who are here are already doing very well." After all the broken promises and plans, this may be the time to do things the right way. H Street deserves to be something more than a scarred memory of a riot 18 years ago.