Historic Anacostia has witnessed its fair share of ups and downs through the years, but it has remained the crown jewel of the greater Anacostia community in Southeast Washington.
The historic district — roughly bounded by Good Hope Road to the north, Fort Stanton Park to the east, Morris Road to the south and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to the west — is in the early stages of a rebirth fueled by the arts, a burgeoning real estate market and cheerleading from proud residents. There’s a promising mix of homegrown businesses and attractions — plus a number of ambitious projects in the works, including the forthcoming 11th Street Bridge Park and a Busboys and Poets cafe with an adjoining hospitality school — that suggest the oft-overlooked area is taking shape.
Incorporated in 1854 as Uniontown, historic Anacostia was one of the District’s first suburbs and had predominantly white residents. As highways were built in the mid-1900s to accommodate Washington’s growing population, housing disappeared and whites left for newer suburbs. Today, the neighborhood and the surrounding area is predominantly African American.
Through it all, locals have sung historic Anacostia’s praises and maintained a resolute sense of community. (They’re also quick to brag about its sweeping views of the city.) You’ll find a concentration of businesses along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road — accessible via Metro’s Green Line, the Circulator and a number of Metrobus routes — though if you branch out, you’ll see there’s more to explore.
1231 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-631-6291. www.anacostiaartscenter.com.
Five years ago, the building at 1231 Good Hope Rd. was a place where at-risk youth in Ward 8 could take GED classes and get job training. Today, the sprawling complex is undoubtedly the creative hub of the neighborhood: Tenants include three clothing boutiques, an art gallery, a wellness center, a design firm, a black box theater and a cafe. It frequently hosts creative events, such as Sip and Sew, a monthly three-hour sewing class during which guests make shrugs or clutches. Within the past fiscal year, more than 25,000 people have visited the center, primarily from Wards 7 and 8, according to the Arch Development Corp., an arts and education nonprofit group that oversees the project. “We’ve seen a great influx of people coming in, and we’ve seen an influx of people in the neighborhood take advantage of the arts center,” says Duane Gautier, CEO and president of Arch.
All of the studios are worth a visit, but here are two of our favorites:
Anika Hobbs opened this ethnic clothing and beauty boutique in September 2013 after pining for a retail space of her own. “We don’t sell things you’d find in Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s,” Hobbs says. Rather, Hobbs stocks budding designers from Kenya, Malawi, New York and the District, including local dressmaker Cecily Stewart Habimana. Maxi skirts, blazers, pants and dresses are made from waxprint fabrics in so many colors they could fill a Crayola crayon box. Most brands are made with fair-trade materials, and often the proceeds go to nonprofit groups. Handmade soaps from New Orleans, all-natural beard oils and jewelry round out the offerings. www.nubianhueman.com.
Nürish Food + Drink
A true hidden gem, this French-inspired cafe is tucked in a far back corner of the arts center. The tiny kitchen churns out such dishes as chicken liver pâté, onion and anchovy tatin and charcuterie boards. Breakfast and lunch means locally roasted coffee, baked goods from Hawthorne Fine Breakfast Pastry in Severna Park and a quiche of the day. The cafe is owned by Kera Carpenter, who helped pioneer Petworth’s resurgence when she opened Domku on Upshur Street 10 years ago. “People come in and say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is here,’ ” Carpenter says. “It’s part of my mission to spark economic development through small food businesses.” www.nurishfoodanddrink.com.
Honfleur, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. www.honfleurgallery.com.
Project Create, 2028 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. 202-660-2555. projectcreatedc.org.
Honfleur Gallery, another project of Arch Development Corp., sits next door to the Anacostia Arts Center. Exhibits are primarily experimental, such as a recent show of works made from fungus. From July 10 through Aug. 28, the gallery will host its eighth-annual East of the River exhibition, highlighting emerging artists with roots in Wards 7 and 8. Around the corner, Project Create is a grassroots studio that makes art accessible to all, particularly families living in poverty. The nonprofit studio offers free, professional-led classes in spoken word, theater, painting, drawing and muraling to middle and high school children. “Often our students don’t have opportunities to explore their creativity,” executive director Christie Walser says. “We give them space to use their voices and express themselves.”
1411 W St. SE. 202-426-5961. www.nps.gov/frdo.
Often referred to as the “Sage of Anacostia,” Frederick Douglass was an active member of the community when he lived there between 1877 and 1895. “He knew all of the local grocers and the movers and shakers,” says Ka’mal McClarin, curator of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site on 8.5 acres in the heart of historic Anacostia. The 21-room mansion, known as Cedar Hill, houses Douglass’s personal artifacts, including a cane gifted to him by Mary Todd Lincoln and pens believed to be chewed by him. The house was often abuzz with Douglass’s 21 grandchildren or Howard University students, whom he often invited over for intellectual salons. “The home sits in the middle of a hill, poignantly looking out on the dome of the Capitol building,” McClarin says. “He would joke that he was keeping his eye on the politicians.”
2020 Shannon Pl. SE. 202-290-2328. www.anacostiaplayhouse.com.
“This is the definition of a black box theater,” founder Adele Robey says of her 150-seat playhouse. “It’s an ever-changing space limited only by the imagination of the wonderful people who work here.” The theater opened in 2013 as the second iteration of the H Street Playhouse, a similar theater that Robey founded with her husband in 2002 and closed in 2012. Theater Alliance, the playhouse’s resident company, mounts four contemporary productions a year. (The troupe recently nabbed a whopping seven Helen Hayes Awards, including outstanding ensemble in a musical and outstanding musical.) The warehouse often hosts traveling theater companies, too. This weekend marks the closing of “The Norwegians,” a dark comedy about hit men in Minnesota hired by two women scorned.
1901 Fort Pl. SE. 202-633-4820. www.anacostia.si.edu.
When this Smithsonian institution opened as the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in 1967, it housed a hodgepodge of artifacts from the institute’s vast collection. “There were dinosaur bones and paintings and butterflies, and when the community saw the collection they said, ‘There’s no guarantee we’re going to come, because we don’t see ourselves in the museum’, ” says Camille Giraud Akeju, the museum’s director. Following a collective effort from museum executives and residents, the Anacostia Community Museum began hosting exhibits that focused on African American history and culture. Today, exhibits explore how issues affect urban communities in Anacostia and beyond. Now on display: a look at how the Civil War shaped Washington. (Though this museum is technically outside of the boundaries of the historic neighborhood, it’s well worth a visit.)
1900 Anacostia Dr. SE. 202-472-3884. www.nps.gov/anac.
Where can you find an outdoor rollerskating rink, a playground set made to resemble a pirate ship, some of the best views of D.C.’s monuments and a marsh with lotus flowers and lily pads as far as the eye can see? At Anacostia Park, a sliver of greenery that runs along the eastern shore of the Anacostia River. “We think Anacostia Park is poised for a renaissance, and it’s time to challenge negative perceptions,” says Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service. The space is a kid’s outdoor dream, complete with 11 tennis courts, three basketball courts, a soccer field and several grassy playing fields. You can fish and grill with a permit, launch a boat at the public ramp, bike along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, bird-watch or take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool.
Eventually, the 11th Street Bridge Park will connect Barracks Row and the Navy Yard to historic Anacostia and Anacostia Park. The ambitious $45 million project will include an amphitheater, an environmental education center and a restaurant.
2122 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. 202-525-4287.
When it opened in 2010, Big Chair was the first sit-down restaurant to serve the historic Anacostia community. “I used to work at an elementary school nearby, and I was looking to eat when I didn’t bring my lunch and there was nothing,” owner Ayehubizu Yimenu says. Initially the cafe struggled financially, and it closed in October 2013. Two months later, it reopened with a more streamlined menu that focused on sandwiches and Ethiopian food. The space is bare-bones, but the timeworn board games and menus suggest there’s a steady stream of customers. The restaurant’s name comes from the 19
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