Shaw | Columbia Heights | U Street Corridor
Since its foundation, the Shaw/Cardozo neighborhood has been home to one of the most vibrant African-American communities in the United States. Born from freed slave encampments, which were set in the ‘rural outskirts’ of Washington, this enclave has provided the city with a distinct personality. The neighborhood was originally called Uptown but changed its name after the Civil War to Shaw (after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.)
This neighborhood blossomed as the city’s most important concentration of business, entertainment, dining, shopping and religious institutions owned and operated by African-Americans during the early part of the 20th century. The prominence of the neighborhood’s societies, theaters and nightclubs cannot be overstated. In the heyday of American jazz, a who’s who of artists was found in clubs throughout the neighborhood. Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Shirley Horn did not just visit from time-to-time, but regularly played at the Crystal Caverns (now the Bohemian Caverns.)
While Shaw is not changing in the same way as Logan Circle or Columbia Heights, the neighborhood is evolving. Over the last decade, newcomers have moved in to the area’s statuesque Victorians, smaller federal-style row houses and boutique condo buildings, transforming blocks formerly characterized by abandoned houses. The lack of development in Shaw has as much to do with its landscape as it does with a desire among residents to keep it the way it is. Unlike Columbia Heights, the area doesn’t have huge tracts of developable land and much of it is covered by a historic district that limits building options.
The two Metro stations — the Shaw-Howard University stop and the Mount Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center stop, both on the Yellow and Green lines — and several bus lines running through it make Shaw a very well-located neighborhood. While the area’s commercial offerings are limited compared to its neighbors, 9th Street has become home to number of art galleries and event spaces like Long View Gallery, Lamont Bishop Gallery and Lost & Found. A new restaurant from the folks behind Corduroy is coming to 1124 9th Street and Shaw’s Tavern is could open soon on Florida Avenue. These offerings will add to places like 1905 Restaurant and Azi’s coffee shop, a popular place for a cappuccino and a croissant.
About Columbia Heights
The transformation of the four blocks of Columbia Heights has undergone is apparent the minute you step out of the neighborhood Metro station at 14th and Irving Streets. Busy stores and a dense, diverse throng of pedestrians crowd the neighborhood’s streets. This bustling scene — wholly manufactured by the city working in tandem with developers — has changed the demographic, residential and retail make-up of the neighborhood over the past decade.
Columbia Heights lies to the north of Florida Avenue, which was once the boundary between the federal city and the suburbs and sits between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue with Spring Road as the northern border. Wander up 14th Street, Columbia Heights’ main spine, and it’s obvious that the area’s residents come from a range of backgrounds. The community has long had a strong African American and Latino presence, and it clearly still does. It’s also been something of a hipster haven since before all of the construction began. Young professionals who’ve been lured by Columbia Heights’ many amenities and increased housing options also have a strong presence. Housing in Columbia Heights reflects its mix of residents. There’s a wide variety of options, from big new condo buildings and majestic four-story row houses to smaller, older multi-family structures, more humble row houses and public housing complexes.
About U Street Corridor
For the first half of the 20th century, the U Street neighborhood was the nexus of DC’s African-American community, a site of thriving business and culture. This was the period that saw the rise of the neighborhood’s vibrant music and theater scene, earning it the moniker “Black Broadway”. During the second half of the 20th century, after the 1968 riots and the subsequent migration of people and businesses to other parts of the city, the neighborhood declined into relative squalor. Only a few historical institutions remained in operation, including the Lincoln Theatre (first opened in 1921) and Ben’s Chili Bowl (which started serving its iconic, chili-slathered half smokes in 1958). The late 1990’s and early 2000’s saw a turnaround, as more people and businesses, inspired by the revitalization of nearby Logan Circle, Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, returned to resurrect what had been considered lost.
Off of U Street, the neighborhood is filled with relatively new condo buildings that have sprouted up in recent years. Condos on the western side of the neighborhood tend to lean toward the higher end of the price spectrum. Then there are the town homes that line the neighborhood’s northern and southern streets. They are handsome and historic.
For such a relatively narrow stretch of the city, the U Street Corridor is packed with current and future development. Some of the neighborhood’s most eye-catching projects in recent years include, on the corridor’s eastern limits, The Shay apartment building at 9th and U Streets NW, and the Atlantic Plumbing building on 8th Street NW. There is much new development on the horizon, which includes a Whole Foods-anchored development at 965 Florida Avenue NW, and a 23-unit condo development right on U Street.
The eastern and western borders of the U Street Corridor are fairly defined, because they cover the entire stretch of U Street, between 8th Street NW to the east (where it intersects with Florida Avenue) and 18th Street NW to the west (where it again intersects with Florida Avenue). As for the northern and southern boundaries, these tend to be a little more up in the air based upon who you speak with. Most people find the neighborhood extends north to W Street NW and south to T Street NW.