We were back in Columbia Heights today on a beautiful sunny day. There are many majestic row houses in the neighborhood. Here are some of our favorites.
There were also the usual assortment of brightly colored homes, including this lilac one.
We walked by the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. The school is named for a Puerto Rican activist who lived in the District and was the first head of the Spanish Community Advisory Committee. The Committee is now called the Office on Latino Affairs of the District of Columbia and acts as an intermediary between governmental agencies and the private sector to improve the quality of life of the Latino population. The school, which was the first adult charter school established in the United States, teaches numerous international student oriented classes, including: English as a Second Language; culinary arts; and technology. The school has two campuses, including the one we passed on Harvard Street that was formerly the home of James Ormond Wilson Normal School. It was designed in Elizabethan Revival style by Snowden Ashford and built in 1912. Ashford was the District’s first municipal architect serving from 1895 through 1921. His fingerprints are on numerous public buildings from that time including Eastern Market, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and a number of schools and fire stations.
Two quiet, one block long, streets that run along either side of Harvard St. between Sherman and Georgia Avenues are remarkably different. Hobart Place is tree lined and shady. It even had an empty lot that had been turned into an idyllic little park.
Gresham Place on the other hand was almost completely devoid of trees. It gave us an appreciation of how lucky we are to live in an urban environment where treelined streets are the norm.
There are also a number of old and new apartment buildings in the area and we passed many currently under construction. This building provided an interesting juxtaposition between the old and new.
Today, we finished our exploration of Park View. The neighborhood is aptly named because it does, indeed, have a view over a park.
But it is not a public park.
Instead the 272 acres that border Park View are owned by the U.S. Government and are for the benefit of approximately 340 veterans that live in the Old Soldiers’ Home, a retirement facility on the grounds. The Home was founded in 1851, a few years after U.S. General Winfield Scott and his troops routed their Mexican counterparts in the Mexican-American War. The Mexican government paid Scott $150,000 not to sack Mexico City and the General asked that Congress put the money into a trust fund for old soldiers. Anyone over the age of 60 who has served for 20 years or more of active duty is eligible to live there, along with those with a service-related disability or combat-zone service that makes it unable for them to earn a livelihood. The veterans who live there get all of their meals and 24-hour medical care. The grounds include a golf course and two ponds stocked with fish. Other facilities include a bowling alley, art studios, a theater, a gym, and even a bar where residents drink for free.
In our last blog entry we noted that most of the renovated row houses that we come across are painted some combination of grey and off-white. Here are some examples from today’s walk.
We expect that this place will be grey and off-white when we next see it.
Our friends Carlos and Naera used to live in this building before they moved to Pittsburgh. They had an amazing roof deck where we spent an enjoyable July 4th one year watching fireworks exploding all around the city.
We have passed a number of beautiful fire houses during our walks but this is the first charming police station we have come across.
It’s hard to describe exactly why, but there is something about Park View that distinguishes it from the surrounding neighborhoods. Maybe, it’s that we definitely felt as though we were on an elevated point in the City as we walked through the neighborhood. Maybe it’s that the row houses that constitute most of the neighborhood are more varied than usual. Particularly on Warder Street, which was wide and unusually bare of trees, it was almost as if we weren’t in Washington at all.
The other day, we posted photos of green houses. Today we are going with blue.
However, we couldn’t resist just one more green house.
As we have walked through Columbia Heights and Park View we have noticed many of the row houses are being renovated. You can usually tell these because they are inevitably painted some combination of grey and off-white.
We really liked this modern and simple brick home with its dark trim.
For a small neighborhood, Park View has more than its fair share of corner groceries.
It’s been a while since we have seen a community garden. You can’t tell from the photos, but this one, called Wangari Gardens, seemed particularly urban tucked in between busy roads, with Washington Hospital Center looming over it. The gardens are named for Professor Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Among other things, she founded the Greenbelt Movement which planted over 51 million trees in her home country. Sadly, she died in 2001 from ovarian cancer.
Here are a couple of examples of the public art that we enjoyed in the neighborhood.
We also walked by the most formidable elementary school that we have seen so far during our travels.
Bruce-Monroe Elementary School is a bilingual (English/Spanish) public school with approximately 450 students. It is named for Blanche Bruce and James Monroe. Bruce was born into slavery in Virginia in 1841 but went on to become a politician who represented Mississippi in the United States Senate from 1875 to 1881. Monroe was the fifth president of the United States. The gothic school was designed by Snowden Ashford and built in 1916.
Today we started our walk on Georgia Avenue. It’s an interesting avenue with a varied streetscape. There you’ll find everything from Covid ready nightclubs . . .
to “Gospel Spreading” bible book stores.
But mainly, it’s an assortment of small restaurants, bars, grocery stores, barber shops, nail salons, and other neighborhood serving establishments. Some of have been renovated and others not so much.
This mid-century diner looked as if it would be more at home in California than in the District.
We passed by a metroPCS store, which retails mainly cell phones but oddly also sells go-go music. It has been in the news recently. The store has been blasting go-go music since it first opened back in 1995. But for a short time a year or so back the store was ordered by T-Mobile to stop playing the music after a neighbor from a nearby luxury apartment building complained. However, after demonstrations in support of the store, and a petition that gathered more than 61,000 signatures, the company reversed its decision and we are happy to report that normality has been restored.
Go-go is a popular subgenre of funk that is indigenous to D.C. and, in fact, became the city’s official music this year. It started in the seventies here but has never taken off anywhere else. That being said, we first came across go-go music back in the eighties on the other side of the World in New Zealand when Mal bought a go-go compilation album called “Go-go Crankin’: Paint the White House Black”. Little did we know at the time that we would one day end up living in the hometown of go-go.
Just around the corner from the MetroPCS store is the historic Howard Theatre. Opened in 1910, the theatre has played host to many of the great Black musical artists of the twentieth century.
During the seventies and eighties it was a popular venue for go-go acts and Chuck Brown, the godfather of go-go, features in the Howard Theatre Walk of Fame.
Not far from the Howard Theatre is another iconic Washington music venue, the 9:30 club.
We’ve been around long enough to remember the original 9:30 club which got its name from its location at 930 F Street NW. That venue was small with a pole in the middle of the room that always seemed to get in the way when you were trying to watch an act. It also had an interesting smell of urine and bleach that fit in nicely with the whole punk and indie vibe of the place.
In 1996, the club moved to its current location and it is now ranked as one of the premier locations in the country to see indie music. Back in 1996, the gentrification of Shaw was still a few years distant and the area had a decidedly dangerous feel. On one particularly memorable night, at a Billy Bragg concert, an English tourist we met at the club asked us if it was safe to walk back to his hotel in Dupont Circle. We assured him that it was and told him that he could join us as we were walking back that way ourselves. However, no sooner had we left the club, when a fleet of police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring flew by. We could tell that he was already doubting whether he should have taken our advice. His anxiety heightened a little further along when we had to walk out into the traffic on U street to avoid a fight that had broken out on the sidewalk in front of us. But the last straw came when a rat, not much smaller than a cat, ran across his shoes. He turned to us and said something along the lines of, if this is a safe neighborhood, I’d hate to see the unsafe ones. But now the Club is surrounded by luxury apartment buildings. How quickly things can change.
Speaking of apartment buildings, we came across this renovated one we liked with its black and white color scheme.
As well as this newly built one.
We also passed by Capital Checkers, where dedicated checkers players have been gathering for over 30 years to enjoy their love of the game.
Today marked our hundredth exploring the streets of Washington D.C. by foot. So far, we have walked for over three hundred miles. To put that in perspective, if we were walking from Washington D.C. to Boston, we would already be well past New York City. During our days of urban hiking we have come to realize how much we have previously missed when traveling by car or even by bike. There really is something to be said for slowing down and smelling the roses. Every day we come across something of interest. It might be a particularly captivating house or beautiful garden. Sometimes it’s a school named after an interesting person that we knew nothing about until we got home and did some googling. Getting out on the streets has also helped us to counter the feeling of isolation that these pandemic days have caused.
Speaking of which, nowhere is the effect of the pandemic more visible than downtown. Today we walked along the K and L street corridors. The two streets are the homes of numerous legal, consulting and lobbying firms. In fact, some would argue that the true power in Washington resides on these two thoroughfares rather than on Capitol Hill. Normally, on a Wednesday afternoon downtown would be bustling with suits but on this day there was barely anyone to be seen.
It didn’t help that many of the restaurants and stores were closed and some were still boarded up after the recent riots.
The streets are not very interesting visually, consisting mainly of modern concrete and glass buildings. However, every once in a while you across something more interesting. Such a building is the Almas Temple, a Masonic building with a beautiful Moorish facade facing Franklin Square. The building was constructed in 1929 and moved a hundred feet westward to its current location in 1987 to make way for a new office complex.
Another fascinating building overlooking Franklin Square is the Franklin School. Built in 1869, the school was the flagship building of eight modern urban public school buildings constructed in the District during 1860s and 1870s. Unexpectedly, the building has an important place in the history of telecommunications. On June 3, 1880, Alexander Graham Bell sent the world’s first wireless telephone message from the top floor of the building to his nearby laboratory on L Street.
Follow K Street east from downtown and you eventually run into Mount Vernon Square. Sitting in the middle of the square is beautiful Carnegie Library. Built in Beaux-Arts style, the library was donated by Andrew Carnegie and was opened in 1903. It operated for almost seventy years as a public library before it became overcrowded and the central library moved to the nearby MLK Memorial Library. The building now contains what may be the world’s most lavish Apple Store.
Across the road from the Apple store is the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The 2.3 million square foot convention center was opened in 2003 and is named for the District’s first (and aptly named) home rule mayor.
Next to the Convention Center is Washington’s largest hotel, the Marriott Marquis, with 1,175 rooms. It was another woeful reminder of the effects of the pandemic to see no sign of life outside of what is normally a hectic hotel.
Walking along L Street we passed the iconic Post Pub that recently closed its doors. For many years the pub had been a favorite of Washington Post journalists who worked just around the corner. However, the pub found it hard to survive the impact when the Post moved its headquarters in 2015 and the advent of the pandemic led to its ultimate demise.
We passed numerous newly constructed buildings along L Street that appeared empty. Somehow this lonely tree appeared symbolic of the quiet times downtown.
On a grey day, we continued to explore Columbia Heights and neighboring Park View. The two areas are rapidly gentrifying. Consequently a large number of the small apartment buildings and row houses have been recently renovated. Many have been newly painted, often with bright colors. We decided to make green row houses (not eco friendly houses but those actually painted green) our theme of the day.
Just for fun, to complete the traffic light, we thought we’d also throw in photos of a yellow as well as a red house.
We don’t often see cats during our walk but we did see a number today, including one on a leash, and this one relaxing by the front door.
We often think of these overcast days as being reminiscent of Europe. We thought that these two, strikingly different, apartment buildings added to the European feel of the day.
Quite often we came across modern buildings tucked in between the original, more traditional, buildings.
With gentrification comes new restaurants, bars, cafes and stores catering to the young professionals moving in to the neighborhood. We dropped in to one for lunch. Tabla is a recently opened Georgian (the country not the state) restaurant that is aptly located on Georgia Avenue. It was our first time eating out during the pandemic.
We sat outside on a beautiful terrace and ate chicken kabobs and, perhaps, the best fries that we have ever tasted. We spoke with the owner of the restaurant, Jonathan Nelms, who along with his wife, Laura, also owns Supra, another Georgian restaurant, located in Logan Circle. Jonathan, who is American, worked for a number of years as a lawyer in Moscow. While there he discovered Georgian food, which he told us is the go-to food for many across the old Soviet republics. He compared it to the American love of Mexican food.
Directly across the road from Tabla is a Jewish deli with the hilarious name of “Call your mother”. It appeared to be doing brisk business with people lined up outside waiting for their orders.
We have often thought during our walks that every neighborhood really should have at least one corner shop.
Odd Provisions is the most upmarket corner market that we have come across so far. Among the items on display were an assortment of craft beers, fancy cheeses, olive oils, and locally sourced vegetables.
We liked the way that the residents of these two row houses appeared to have coordinated their curb appeal. They shared a front yard, street lamp and even “No Justice No Peace” sign.
The churches scattered throughout the neighborhood didn’t have the same grandeur as those we had seen lining 16th Street.
On Spring Street we passed a beautiful old building that was being renovated. It was adorned with a number of Stars of David which piqued our interest as to its history. Lauren’s guess that it had probably been a Jewish old age home or hospital turned out to be correct.
The building was originally built for the Hebrew Home for the Aged, which occupied the building from 1925 through 1969. As jews moved out of the area and into the suburbs, the Home followed and was relocated to Rockville Maryland. The building was sold to the District of Columbia in 1968 for $13 million. Originally the building was used by the District as a homeless shelter. However, the shelter closed in 2009 and the building has stood empty from that time. But now the District is renovating the building into senior living and residential facilities.
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 badsaintdc.com 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.
On an overcast day, we decided to do a somewhat different walk from the usual urban streets we hike, and headed down to Hains Point. Despite its name, Hains Point is not so much a point as an island, bounded by the Tidal Basin, the Washington Channel and the Potomac River. An artificial island built between 1880 and 1892, the island is named for Peter Conover Hains (1840-1921), a Major General in the United States Army. Although he served in the Army during the American Civil War, Spanish-American War and the First World War, Hains is best known for his engineering efforts. Among other projects, he designed the Tidal Basin which sits at the northwestern end of the Point and lobbied for the Panama Canal to be located at its present location rather than in Nicaragua.
We started our walk on the channel side of the island. Across the narrow channel is the newly constructed Wharf neighborhood.
This wildly popular area of apartments, bars, restaurants and music venues continues to expand as more and more buildings are being constructed along the channel.
Further along the channel toward the point where the channel, Anacostia River and Potomac River all converge is Fort Leslie J. McNair. The fort, named for a general killed in action in World War II, is one of the oldest forts in the United States. It was first established in 1791 but was captured and destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. It was subsequently rebuilt between 1815 and 1821. The conspirators accused of assassinating president Abraham Lincoln were imprisoned and tried at the Fort and a number were hanged there. Those included Mary Surratt, the first woman to be executed by the US Federal government.
The Fort contains, Roosevelt Hall, an immense Beaux Arts style building built between 1903 and 1907. It currently houses the National War College and is designated as a National Historical Landmark.
A large part of Hains Point consists of the East Potomac Golf Club which offers an 18 hole and two 9 hole courses. The courses are very popular public courses and appeared to be in full use as we passed. Mal, who truth be told isn’t much of a golfer, has enjoyed some of his most memorable games there when he and some colleagues would occasionally sneak away from work for a quick round. The club house is quite impressive for a public course.
The point is also a favorite with cyclists who take advantage of the largely traffic free road that encircles the island.
It is also a popular spot for fishermen.
As we rounded the point, the Potomac was very serene with not a boat in sight.
Across the river, in Virginia, Washington National Airport was also very quiet. Normally, planes are landing and taking off every minute but things have changed dramatically during the time of Covid.
In fact, during our entire walk alongside the Potomac which took over half an hour, this is the only plane we saw coming in to land.
There are numerous bridges crossing this part of the Potomac, and we passed by and under a number of them.
Sitting practically under one of the overpasses is what has been called Washington’s most obscure memorial. The Cuban Friendship Urn, also known as the Maine Memorial, commemorates the 266 crewmen who died in 1898 when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana’s harbor. The disaster sparked the Spanish-American War, during which the United States liberated Cuba from Spain. The urn resided in front of the Cuban embassy for a number of years but when the relationship between the two countries deteriorated it was removed to a warehouse where it languished for several decades. It wasn’t until recently that it was rediscovered and placed in its current location.
We also passed by the George Mason Memorial. Dedicated in 2002, it is a rather modest memorial for one of the country’s most prominent founders. The bright red purse sitting next to Mason made us smile.
As the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, Mason created the first constitutional protection of individual rights. The Declaration of Independence, United States Bill of Rights, and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Rights all drew inspiration from Mason’s writings. Certainly, the similarity between Mason’s words from the Virginia Declaration and Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence are unmistakable. Here’s Mason “All men are born equally free and independent and have certain inherent natural rights . . . among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” And here’s Jefferson “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Speaking of Jefferson, we also passed his memorial, a much more impressive structure. It was under repair and surrounded in scaffolding so not particularly photo worthy at the moment. On the other hand, the view from the platform in front of the Memorial and across the Tidal Basin to the Washington Monument and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was worth a picture. Normally, the Basin is dotted with tourist driven paddle boats. But tourists are a rare sight in Washington at the moment and consequently not a boat was in sight.
It’s been very hot and humid over the last few weeks and the streets have been less than inviting. Hence, it’s been a while since our last blog entry. However, the heat and humidity finally broke so we headed out onto the streets of Columbia Heights. Lots of people were out taking advantage of the beautiful day. This had its pluses and minuses. On one hand it was nice to be out among people again and the world almost seemed normal. On the other hand, the large number of other pedestrians required plenty of dodging and darting to attempt to maintain a safe distance. Such is life during a pandemic.
We started out walking down 15th Street NW on the west side of Malcolm X Park where we saw this beautiful Spanish style home.
Next door was another beautiful building, the Josephine Butler Parks Center.
Currently used as an event center (Lauren, in fact, once performed at an event there during her belly dancing career), in past lives it was the Embassy of Hungary as well as Brazil. The Renaissance Revival-style mansion was designed by George Oakley Totten Jr., a noted architect who designed over a dozen major embassy buildings across the city. The developer of the property was Mary Foote Henderson, widow of the Missouri senator who introduced the 13th Amendment giving African Americans the right to vote. The center is named for Josephine Butler (1920-1997). The granddaughter of slaves, Ms. Butler was one of Washington’s most respected community leaders. Among other accomplishments, she started America’s first ever union of black women laundry workers and co-founded the statehood movement for the District of Columbia.
There are many restaurants, bars and cafes in the area. To accommodate more outdoor diners during the pandemic, the city has allowed restaurants to expand into the street.
Walking up 14th Street, we passed the Black Cat nightclub where Mal has spent many a happy night checking out indie bands from far and wide.
On one particularly memorable evening in the late nineties he saw New Zealand indie rock god, Chris Knox. The concert took place during a snow storm and consequently there were only twenty or so of us in the audience. We all sat around Chris while he played songs from his latest album, Yes!!. He also asked for requests but in true Chris Knox fashion would then refuse to play them. As well as being an innovative musician, the father of New Zealand punk, and one of the founders of the iconic Flying Nun Records label, Chris also made incredibly original music videos, wrote movie, television and music reviews, and drew comics. If you were a college student in New Zealand during the eighties and nineties, he was impossible to miss. Unfortunately, he suffered a debilitating stroke in 2009 effectively putting a stop to the output of one of New Zealand’s most creative geniuses.
There are many Black Lives Matter tributes throughout the neighborhood. This one was particularly poignant, juxtaposing the names of young African Americans who had their lives taken far too early against the smiling photo of a young African American man in a neighboring advertisement.