By: Paulina Lam
This week, DC Hood Hopper features the Greater U Street Historic District. The neighborhood rapidly developed between 1862 and 1900. Located in Northwest, D.C., this neighborhood was the former home to the nation’s largest urban African American community, until New York City’s Harlem surpassed it in the 1920s.
During the early 20th century, the area was flourishing with businesses, theaters, clubs and social institutions. Multiple theaters emerged during this time, including the Lincoln Theatre and the Howard Theatre. During the area’s heyday, Greater U Street was nicknamed “Black Broadway,” a phrase coined by singer and actress Pearl Bailey.
The neighborhood was also home to Duke Ellington: the famed American composer, pianist and bandleader. According to Wikipedia, Ellington’s childhood home was located on 13th Street between T and S streets.
The area began to decline in the late 1960s. The intersection of 14th Street and U Street served as the center for violence and destruction during the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The aftermath of the five-day riots caused many affluent businesses and residents to flee the area, making the area decline further. In the mid-1970s, the intersection of 14th Street and U Street became a drug trafficking junction.
Today, the area is once again a resurgence of nightlife and Washington’s music scene. To learn more about the neighborhood, visit the Greater U Street Neighborhood Visitor Center and take a guided tour or walk the City within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail.
The visitor center is next door to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite dining option for President Obama.
Photo from Ben’s Chili Bowl.