Where We Live: Shaw

Photo courtesy of
‘so d.c.’
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Welcome to the latest edition of Where We Live.  This week we’ll be covering a DC neighborhood with a storied history– Shaw!  Shaw and the surrounding neighborhoods of Eckington and Bloomingdale have seen a great deal of reinvestment over the last decade, and many people are discovering the charm and history in this beautiful urban neighborhood.

History: Now this is a neighborhood with a great history.  Shaw was named after Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and originally started as a freed slave encampment just outside the original Washington City.  The neighborhood thrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a center of black culture.  Howard University opened in the area in 1866.  The area was the hotbed of jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, with its most famous resident Duke Ellington. In the 1960s, the area was hit hard by the riots, and hit again in the 1990s by the crack epidemic.  But new residents started moving in in the 1990s, drawn by its central location and reasonable housing prices, and the area began to redevelop.  Today, Shaw is one of the District’s most-loved neighborhoods, with beautiful housing, a great location, and civically-engaged residents.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Neighborhood Character: Shaw has a strong residential character, with neighbors actually getting to know one another (funny, that seems to be a theme among DC’s most-loved neighborhoods), and a number of locally-owned businesses.  Ralph, author of renewshaw.com and Shaw resident of three years, says he feels connected to businesses in the area: “I know a lot of business owners on a first name basis and feel a vested interest in their success, which is neat in such a large city.”  And our very own Jenn, a Shaw resident since 2000, has gotten to know her neighbors: “I worked on my front garden every weekend, was friendly, and that went a long way. If you treat your neighbors with respect, they will reciprocate.”  The mix of beautiful rowhouses with big front porches and pockets of commercial development on tree-lined streets makes the area very walkable.

The area has seen a great deal of renewal over the past decade.  However, rather than large-scale redevelopment projects, Shaw’s renewal has been quieter, with one building renovation at a time.  Ralph thinks that this smaller-scale redevelopment has preserved the historic charm of the area, and cites the 1300 block of Ninth Street as a great example.  He says, “When I moved to Shaw, the block had over a half dozen vacant buildings and one used car lot. Now, there is only one vacant building, 1304 Ninth, and it recently went on the market for sale.  All of the other buildings have been renovated or are currently under renovation, and the used car lot is no more. In the next year or so, I expect the block’s handful of fantastic, newly renovated street level retail spaces to be filled with a mix of new tenants, making the block a great, charming commercial destination.”  Of course, some of this redevelopment is pushing out Shaw’s older residents, and the historic center of black culture is now full of affluent young professionals of all races. This 2006 Washington Post article covers the tension in the redevelopment of Shaw very well.

Photo courtesy of
‘Shopping Cart ride, Shaw, Washington, DC’
courtesy of ‘Matt.Dunn’

Transportation: Shaw is very centrally located– it is directly north of downtown and just a few blocks southeast of the U Street district.  The neighborhood is served by the Shaw-Howard University Metro station (green/yellow lines), and it is within walking distance to both the U Street and Mount Vernon Square Metro stations too.  There is good bus service in the area, with the 70 and 71 routes connecting the area with the waterfront and Silver Spring via 7th Street, and the G2 bus that connects Georgetown University and Howard University.  And, for those who have cars, there’s great freeway access too.

What to See: This neighborhood is home to some great locally-owned establishments:

  • Hungry? Check out Vegetate for innovative drinks and greasy vegetarian food (Katie loved the ice cream sandwich), or 1905 for a cozy meal (Jenn recommends the Merquez or gnocchi).  Etete is a great Ethiopian option, and Jenn had great things to say about her 2006 visit there.
  • There are lots of late-night options in the area too, from concerts and dancing at DC9 and the 9:30 Club to drinks on the roof deck at Nellie’s.
  • There are some great neighborhood stores to check out, including Wagtime (a dog store and kennel that bills itself as a ‘pet resort’) and the Maruka Boutique for jewelry and accessories.
  • Old City Green is a lush garden center and Landscape Co-Op that focuses on urban gardening and community.
  • Also keep an eye open for the renovated Long View Gallery, which will open next month.  It will be one of the area’s largest art spaces, and a great location for hosting an event.

Neighborhood Links: This neighborhood has a very strong online presence, and in 2007 was recognized as being one of the ‘bloggiest’ neighborhoods in the country.  Here are a few blogs to check out:

Why We Love Shaw: This neighborhood has a wonderful history, beautiful buildings, and dedicated residents.  It has changed a lot over the past two centuries, and residents have seen the neighborhood through various struggles.  Jenn says, “There are many long-time residents whose families have lived there for generations, like my immediate neighbors. My own house has only had three previous owners, and it’s 120 years old.”  Shaw is thriving today, with locally-owned businesses and restaurants cropping up all the time, and new residents moving in to renovated properties.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

11 thoughts on “Where We Live: Shaw

  1. Actually, the neighborhood was called mid-city, and was only referred to as “Shaw” after the neighborhood school was firmly established.

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