Jen DeMayo was pregnant with her first child when she and her husband found a three-bedroom 1927 rowhouse just a block from H Street NE in the District. The H Street corridor left a lot to be desired at the time, but their focus was on finding an affordable place for their growing family.
Without extensive research, they jumped in.
“It was a lot of boarded-up buildings, but there were inklings that development might happen,” said DeMayo, 44.
Fifteen years later, the neighborhood has evolved.
Change has been a constant in the 165-year history of the H Street corridor, a 11 / 2-mile stretch that had become the city’s second-largest commercial hub by the middle of the 20th century. “H Street has a long and rich history, much of it shaped by transportation forces,” according to the H Street NE Corridor Transportation & Streetscape Study Recommendations Report. The District Department of Transportation hired Michael Baker Corp. to assess how to revitalize the area and adopted the study’s recommendations in 2004.
Rising from the ashes: Originally constructed in 1849, H Street was a thriving business hub traversed by streetcars, which carried as many as 3.3 million passengers per month until buses replaced them on the route in 1949.
The riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 hit H Street hard, leaving burned-out buildings in their wake.
“It was a bustling commercial district,” said Kenneth J. Brewer Sr., executive director of the H Street Community Development Corp. Yet decades after the riots ravaged it, H Street began to rise again. “Residents and the government and business came together,” Brewer said.
Brewer and others have no illusions about the development of the H Street corridor and the ramifications of revitalization. “It’s a teenager,” Brewer said. “It’s having a growth spurt. I’d give it 10 years to be fully matured.”
Inevitably, revitalization brings with it differences of opinion as to how things should be done. “The quality of life has arrived at a certain place,” Brewer said. “People are looking to make some money” when they enter a neighborhood either to start a business or develop a property. At the same time, they bring in businesses that some don’t like — such as a preponderance of bars and restaurants rather than retail stores.
A conglomeration of neighborhoods: Much of H Street’s desirability stems from the corridor’s proximity to the U.S. Capitol and Union Station.
There is disagreement about where Capitol Hill ends and the H Street area begins, but, roughly speaking, the corridor is bordered by Florida Avenue to the north, Maryland Avenue to the southeast, F Street NE to the south and Second Street NE to the west.
The H Street corridor is probably best known for its nightlife. Some call the neighborhood the Atlas District after the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts, a former 1,000-seat movie theater built in 1939. Restaurants and clubs abound, including the HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz & Blues, a jazz club named for the House resolution first passed in 1987, which designated jazz a national American treasure.
Another major attraction is the H Street Festival, which attracts 50,000 people to the area, Brewer said. This year’s event is set for Sept. 20.
The H Street FreshFarm Market at 1300 H St. NE, open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon from mid-April to late-December, “is a big part of life in the neighborhood,” DeMayo said.
Living there: Housing that surrounds H Street dates to the early 1900s and earlier. It includes stately two- and three-story homes and rowhouses, some brown or beige or subtle pastels. Others are painted bright turquoise or burnt orange.
Property isn’t a bargain in much of the area, but the market is active. Within the past year, 511 properties have sold, according to Megan Shapiro, an agent with Re/Max Allegiance.
At the high end, a 3,233-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath condominium at 215 I St. NE sold for $1.35 million. A 2,871-square-foot, two-bedroom, 21 / 2-bath condo in the same building is on the market for $1.6 million.
For those who don’t have seven-figure budgets, rowhouses are on the market in the $600,000 range.
Area residents’ grocery-shopping options expanded last year with the opening of a Giant Food supermarket at Third and H. The long-standing Safeway store at Hechinger Mall is just east of the neighborhood. Just north of Florida Avenue is the new Union Market with its wide variety of vendors.
Transit: The X1, X2 and X8 Metrobus lines serve H Street, and the Union Station stop on Metrorail’s Red Line is nearby. The coming return of streetcars to H Street has brought track-construction headaches, but the long-delayed line could start running by the end of the year, according to Reggie Sanders of the District Department of Transportation. Capital Bikeshare has four H Street stations.
Schools: Ludlow-Taylor, Maury and Watkins elementary schools; Stuart-Hobson Middle School; Dunbar High School; and Two Rivers Public Charter School.
Crime: In the past 12 months, according to D.C. police, there have been nine aggravated assaults, 14 robberies and 15 burglaries in the area.
Harriet Edleson is a freelance writer.