Day 97

Columbia Heights (September 20, 2020)

Back in Columbia Heights today, on what was the nicest walking weather, so far, this year. There was definitely a touch of Fall in the air.

We started off at the center of Columbia Heights where Park Road NW meets 14th St. NW. This area was redeveloped a few years back not without controversy. Many felt that the large shopping mall and apartment buildings detracted from the original charm of the neighborhood. We can’t say we disagree.

However, one important historic building was kept.

The Tivoli Theatre was designed by prominent New York architect, Thomas W. Lamb who designed many famous movie theaters during the 1910s and 1920s. The Tivoli was built in 1924 for a cost of $1 million and showed movies through to 1976 when it was closed due to increased deterioration of the theater and the local area. However, as the area revitalized, the Tivoli undertook an extensive renovation and reopened in 2005. It is now the home of GALA (Grupo de Artistas Latino Armericans) Hispanic Theater.

The area consists mainly of row houses and small apartment buildings.

We passed a number of colorful and interesting murals during our walk.

Our favorite was this mural painted along the side of a row house that depicted two people talking by way of cans connected with string.

One Washington Institution with its own awesome mural is Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Ben’s, located on U Street, has been selling chili dogs, half-smokes and milkshakes, along with other tasty (but not altogether healthy) food and drinks since 1958. Over the years, it has attracted many famous people. Jazz legends Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Nat King Cole frequented Ben’s when they played at the numerous clubs that lined U Street in the fifties and sixties. More recently, President Barack Obama, U2 frontman Bono and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain have all dropped by. Perhaps its most adoring customer was Bill Cosby who was a big fan of the half-smokes. For those not in the know, a half-smoke is a Washington DC delicacy. It is similar to a hot dog but larger, spicier, and with more coarsely-ground meat (often half-pork and half-beef) smoked and serve with herbs, onion, and chili sauce. There used to be large mural featuring Bill Crosby adorning the building but it was removed in January 2017 after he was convicted of numerous sexual assaults. Today the Obamas and Prince take pride of place on the mural.

Next door to Ben’s is the Lincoln Theater. The theater served the city’s African American community when segregation kept them out of other venues. It included a movie house and ballroom and hosted jazz and big band performances. It closed after the 1968 race-related riots that devastated that part of the city. The theatre reopened after an extensive renovation in 1994. It is now operated by the same company that owns the iconic 9:30 Club that is nearby and has booked hundreds of shows of artists from across the musical spectrum. Everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Peter Frampton has played there.

We walked by a restaurant that is less famous than Ben’s but is incredibly popular with area foodies.

Bad Saint is a tiny Filipino restaurant that is consistently ranked in the top ten dining destinations in the District. With only twenty seats it was virtually impossible to get into. In fact, at the moment its truly impossible because the dining room is closed due to the pandemic. However, it continues to offer carryout, so if you want to see what all the fuss is about check out their website at to find out how to order.

We walked by a number of schools, including Harriet Tubman and Garrison elementary schools.

As well as Meridian Public Charter School.

However, by far the most impressive school we passed was the Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus. Formerly called Cardozo Senior High School and Central High School, it is a combined middle and high school. It is named after Francis Lewis Cardozo, a clergyman, politician and educator. Born in 1836 in Charleston, South Carolina, Cardozo was the son of a biracial mother and sephardic Jewish father. He was elected Secretary of State in South Carolina in 1868, and as such was the first African American to hold statewide office in the United States. He also served as principal of nearby Dunbar High School, then known as the Colored Preparatory High School from 1884 until 1896.

Know locally as “the castle on the hill”, the formidable building was designed by William B. Itner and opened in 1917. From 2011 through 2013, the school underwent extensive renovations costing approximately $130 million.

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