Where We Live: H Street

Photo courtesy of
‘H Street Life’
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Welcome to another edition of Where We Live.  This week we’ll be looking at a whole section of the city that is rapidly changing: the section of Northeast DC north of Massachusetts Avenue and south of Florida Avenue.  This area has a LOT of different names: Near Northeast, H Street, the Atlas District, NoMa (for NOrth of Massachusetts Ave), North Capitol Hill, and the list goes on.  This part of town is known for the new office buildings in NoMa, the retail/theater/restaurant district on H Street NE, and the quiet, residential neighborhoods that surround them.  

History: Florida Avenue was once called Boundary Avenue, and was the northernmost boundary of Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, so this area was part of the original City of Washington.  H Street NE has been the site of major transportation milestones in the history of the city: the Bladensburg Turnpike was a tollgate and entrance to the city, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was constructed in 1835 and the proximity to Union Station transformed this area, in 1849 H Street itself was built, and the H Street Streetcar was opened in 1872.  The streetcar spurred a great deal of development in the area, and streetcars were running along the corridor until 1949.

Throughout the 1900s the area was a major commercial hub of Washington, with department stores, theaters, and restaurants lining H Street.  However, the riots in 1968 following Martin Luther King’s assassination devastated the neighborhood, and many businesses, theaters, and restaurants moved out to the suburbs.  On H Street, the suburban-style, car-oriented development created pedestrian-unfriendly environment, and the lack of a nearby Metro station meant that the area remained a car-focused corridor.  However, in the last several years, the area has seen a resurgence in development.  It is now home to a thriving theater scene, a variety of restaurants, and a growing number of shops.  It is once again becoming a pedestrian-friendly district, and with plans of a streetcar in the future, it may one day regain its status as DC’s main commercial district.  Next door, NoMa is also rapidly changing from an old warehouse district to a major employment center with over 1,000 hotel rooms, 8,000 residential units, a new grocery store, and new restaurants and shops.

Photo courtesy of
‘Washington Skyline – NOMA – 4-25-09’
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

Neighborhood Character: The commercial-focused corridor of H Street and the commercial office hub of NoMa are surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods like Near Northeast, Trinidad, and Stanton Park.  These residential neighborhoods have a strong sense of community character. As resident Elise, who writes the Frozen Tropics blog and has lived in the area for eight years, says, “I like the businesses, but the other factor (and this is the one that seals the deal) is the fact that there is a real sense of community around here. People tend to watch out for each other, and work together on things.  I think that transitional neighborhoods can force people to form tighter bonds.” We Love DC’s own Acacia has lived in the area for a year, and has similar great things to say about the community: “There are plenty of hipsters who frequent the nightlife on H Street now, but mostly it is families and working people.  In general everyone is just really friendly – a friend of mine from NY visited recently and I forgot how weird it is for them. ‘Why are you saying hi to strangers?’ she asked me. Haha, ‘because they are my neighbors!’ I responded.”

Transportation: The area is served by two Red Line Metro stations, Union Station and New York Avenue.  H Street doesn’t have great Metrorail access, but there is a free shuttle from Chinatown and several bus lines serve the area (in particular, the X2 connects to Chinatown and Metro Center, and the 90s run to Barracks Row, U Street, and Adams Morgan).  There are about ten Zipcars in the area, and some good bike lanes on C Street NE, D Street NE, 4th Street NE, and 6th Street NE.  The area is within walking distance of Eastern Market, Barracks Row, and even the Mall.

The big news for H Street is what is about to come.  There are funded plans for a streetcar line along the corridor, linking it with Benning Road (PDF map).  However, the project has run into many delays, and the streetscape improvements have torn up H Street, so it’s pretty much a mess at the moment.  Streetcar rails have arrived in the corridor, but service won’t start until 2012 at the earliest.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Moravsky Vrabec’

What to See: There area some must-see places around H Street:

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘jsmjr’

Neighborhood Links: I have noticed a trend in neighborhood blogs.  The well-established neighborhoods like Dupont and Logan Circle don’t have as many active neighborhood-focused blogs, but the rapidly-changing areas like this neighborhood, Southwest Waterfront, and redeveloping parts of Capitol Hill have more than I can count.  Here’s a selection of what’s out there for this part of DC:

  • Frozen Tropics is a great neighborhood blog that covers neighborhood events, crime, store and restaurant openings, public meetings and city projects, etc.  It’s the place to go for neighborhood news.
  • Follow the H Street-Benning Road Streetcar Alliance at their Streetcars 4 DC blog.  It’s a good site for project updates and upcoming meetings (FYI, there’s a streetcar meeting with DDOT Director Gabe Klein on August 6).
  • The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) website has great information on community events, updates on development in the area, and a great list of attractions in the NoMa area.
  • There are a number of active neighborhood associations in the area, including the Stanton Park Neighborhood Association, the Trinidad Neighborhood Association,  and the Capitol Hill North Neighborhood Association. There are many opportunities to get involved in your community if you live in the area.  The Rosedale Citizens’ Alliance focuses on neighborhood information and events in the Rosedale neighborhood and has good information on redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood.
  • The C Street NE Project blog provides updates on transforming C Street from a commercial commuter artery to a green residential gateway.  The blog is updated monthly with project milestones and information on surrounding DC transportation improvement projects.

Why We Love This Neighborhood With Several Different Names: This is where the commercial heart of DC used to be, and there is so much potential in this corridor in the future.  It is surrounded by beautiful rowhouse neighborhoods, it has a growing number of attractions on H Street and in NoMa, and the transportation options in the area are increasing by leaps and bounds.  It’s got some of the best nightlife in the city, some fantastic restaurants and bars, a thriving entertainment district, and best of all, it’s a real neighborhood where people get to know one another.

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!

9 thoughts on “Where We Live: H Street

  1. Max,

    It is being repaved, its a 3 stage process ending in 2011. They are installing tracks for the trolley at the same time. They are almost done w/ the first phase. I heard that the H street trolleys are still set for 2011, and DC has already purchased 2 trolleys which are being stored off in the Czech Republic. The Anacostia portion of the project has been delayed until 2012.

  2. The Hill is Home (http://www.thehillishome.com ) also covers H St, NE as part of its greater Hill blogging coverage.

    I also did not see any mention of Napa 1015, which is one of the better restaurants in the area and is located at (surprise!) 1015 H St, NE. (Website here: http://www.napa1015.com/contact.php4 ) Similarly, Sticky Rice got no mention, either, and it should have as one of the staples of H St. (Website: http://www.stickyricedc.com ) And, finally, while not as well known outside of the area, The Red and the Black should also be listed for its live music (http://www.redandblackbar.com/). Beware of the Roaring Lion at the bar, and just stick to the cheap cans of IC Light.

  3. Taylor got written up in the most recent issue of Dwell magazine. They have a copy on the counter.

    I just went to the H St farmer’s market for the first time this morning. I think I’m done with dealing with the chaos at Eastern Market, H St had what I needed and was nice and relaxed. Some of the people on H street on the walk over were less than charming though, I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on but it involved people standing outside the liquor store (at 9:30 AM) yelling back and forth about “gonna beat your ass” a lot. I took G st back home. Amazing how G street is so beautiful and calm and nice and H street with the people sleeping on the stoops is just one block over.

  4. Why doesn’t anyone ever mention Sidamo? That place is the best coffee around and they have great breakfast/lunch fair as well…sure it is on the west end of H street straddling the NOMA development…but still…a hidden gem for sure..

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