Posts Tagged ‘U Street corridor’

Charles Hamilton Houston House

As I happened to be riding down Swann Street in northwest D.C.’s U Street Corridor neighborhood during this lunchtime bike ride I noticed an historic marker sign on a wrought iron fence in front of an otherwise non-descript brick row house.  So as I am prone to do, I immediately stopped so I could read the sign and find out why it was there.  From the sign I discovered the house, located at 1444 Swann Street (MAP), was the childhood home of Charles Hamilton Houston.  Later as an adult, Houston lived there again along with his wife, Henrietta Williams Houston.  Later after the ride I researched him to find about him.  In addition to information on the sign (below), here is what I learned.

Charles Hamilton Houston was born on September 3, 1895, here in D.C., to William Le Pré Houston, an attorney, and his wife, Mary Hamilton Houston, a teacher.  And as I would find out, his parents’ occupations would greatly influence their son’s life.

Houston attended segregated local schools, graduating from the academic (college preparatory) program at M Street High School (now Dunbar High School) at the age of 15.   He then went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1915, before returning to D.C., where be began teaching English at Howard University.  The following year, however, Houston joined the Army and served as second lieutenant in France during World War I.  Upon returning from the war in 1919, Houston began attending  Harvard University Law School, where he  was the first black student elected to the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity which was founded by and for black students.  He would go on to graduate cum laude with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922, and receive the Doctor of Juridical Science the following year.  That same year he was awarded a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to study at the University of Madrid.  In 1924 he again returned to D.C, and joined the faculty at Howard University Law School and his father’s law firm.

From 1929 through 1935, Houston served as Vice-Dean and then Dean of the Howard University School of Law.  During this time he worked hard to develop the school, turning it into a major national center for training black lawyers.  He extended its part-time program to a full-time curriculum and gained accreditation by the Association of American Law Schools and the American Bar Association.  During this time Houston served as a mentor to a generation of young black lawyers and influenced nearly a quarter of all black lawyers in the country, including former student Thurgood Marshall, who became the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Houston believed that the law could be used to fight racial discrimination and encouraged his students to work for such social purpose.

Houston left Howard in 1935 to serve as the first special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving in this role until 1940. In this capacity he created litigation strategies to attack racial housing covenants and segregated schools, arguing several important civil rights cases. Through his work at the NAACP, Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown verses Board of Education.  Houston played a significant role in dismantling Jim Crow laws, especially attacking segregation in schools and racial housing covenants. He earned the title “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow”.

Sadly, Houston died from a heart attack on April 22, 1950, at the young age of 54.  It’s a shame to think had he lived how much more good he might have also been able to do during the civil rights movement.


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The Afro-Columbian Mural

The Afro-Columbian Mural, also known as Currulao y Desplazamiento, is a public mural that celebrates the Afro-Colombian culture of D.C., while at the same time increasing public awareness about the widespread displacement and other human rights violations related to the ongoing armed conflict in the South American country of Colombia.

Located in an alley at 1344 U Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor, the mural was funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and created by internationally recognized muralist Joel Bergner and his organization, Action Ashé! Global Art & Social Action Initiative, who also painted a number of other mural throughout the city, including Release Your Burdens and Be Free, Cultivating the Rebirth, “My Culture, Mi Gente” and A Survivor’s Journey.

According to the artist, he designed this mural with guidance, input, and inspiration of many of my close friends in D.C.’s Afro-Colombian community, many of whom have been granted political asylum in this country due to the severe human rights violations.  For additional inspiration, he also traveled to the Pacific Coast region of Colombia where the conflict is often most severe to visit his friends’ families, do research, and learn more about the political situation.

The colors of the mural are vibrant, intriguing and welcoming, while the mural’s complex content is depicted by several different scenes.  The size of the woman in the mural and the people underneath her portray the importance of Afro-Colombian traditions and culture.  These encouraging images are in a paradox with the depiction of the Colombian paramilitary, with people running from the forces, while a group of Afro-Colombians being exiled to huts is in the foreground.  And while working with a green field, Bergner also paints an airplane hovering above releasing ammo on the people below.

The mural was completed in 2009, and unveiled at a public event featuring speeches from the Afro-Colombian activist Marino Córdoba, as well as live music, traditional Afro-Colombian food, and a traditional dance presentation by the local Afro-Colombian dance group Tangaré.  The event was co-sponsored by TransAfrica Forum and the U.S. Network in Solidarity for Afro-Colombian Grassroots Communities.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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27 – Seagulls near a puddle in the parking lot at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Below I have included more photos that I took at different times over the past year, but were not previously included in this blog.  They had not been previously posted because what they depict are not necessarily main ingredients in what I like to call the recipe of this city.  I consider them to be more like ingredients that contribute to the overall flavor.  I hope you enjoy them.  And I hope you will continue to follow this blog, and enjoy the posts as much as I enjoy everything that goes into them.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

27 – Seagulls near a puddle in the parking lot at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
28 – One of the mid-day summer performances in Franklin Square Park.
29 – The Suburbia airstream bar in the parking lot in front of Union Market.
30 – An altered stop sign in the H Street Corridor. (I couldn’t get the song out of my head for the rest of the ride.)
31 – A weary-looking bike tourer and his dog in front of the Trump International Hotel.
32 – The Chocolate City mural in an alley near 14th and S Streets in the U Street Corridor.
33 – One of the colorful artworks at the National Zoo made entirely of trash taken from the ocean.
34 – An overview of the WMATA rail yard in Brentwood.
35 – A peaceful promotion of Islam and the Al-Islam online digital library by a young woman handing out roses.
36 – A colorful knight, or at least suit of armor, guarding the balcony of an apartment on Capitol Hill.
37 – Some promoters of Red Nose Day raising awareness and money to help raise kids out of poverty.
38 – A clock on the side of a building on 14th Street in the U Street Corridor.
39 – An artist working and displaying his wares on the sidewalk near Eastern Market.
40 – Evidence of an eviction in front of an apartment building in Downtown D.C.
41 – The iconic dome of the U.S. Capitol Building towering over trees on the Capitol grounds.
42 – A Muslim protestor in front of the White House taking a break.
43 – One of the many Little Free Libraries I have seen throughout D.C.
44 – An antique Good Humor ice cream truck in front of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
45 – A promotion for the Washington Capitals using the DuPont Circle Fountain.
46 – Demolition of an office building at the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
47 – Mushrooms at the Department of Agriculture Outdoor Farmers Market.
48 – Construction on the southwest waterfront development project.
49 – A homeless man in a doorway on 8th Street, ironically next door to The Lansburgh, a luxury apartment building.
50 – A company car for a marijuana advocacy and investment group.
51 – A lone gun rights advocate demonstrating in front of the White House.
52 – The Spirit of Washington dining ship in the Washington Channel.

NOTE:  Check out Part 1 of my year-end collection of various photos on yesterday’s post.

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Union Row

As with most large cities, there are a lot of alleys throughout D.C.  But some alleys are better than others, and they can vary as drastically as the neighborhoods of the city where they are located.  I often ride through alleys when I’m riding my bike.  But the alleys are usually there to simply to provide a narrow passageway between or behind buildings, or for off-street parking and storage space for trash cans.  But on this bike ride I happened upon an alley which had recently been renovated into some trendy living spaces.  And being able to imagine myself living there quickly made it one of my favorite alleys in the city.  Located at the corner of 14th Street and V Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, the residences are known as The Warehouses at Union Row.

Union Row is a contemporary housing and business complex developed in 2007 by the P.N. Hoffman real estate development firm.  The Warehouses at Union Row were previously used for car storage, but were transformed into modern, industrial-looking three-level town homes that feature open floor plans with high ceilings and oversize windows to maximize natural light, and include private terraces on two sides of the home.  European kitchens with stainless appliances and granite countertops flow into spacious living and dining areas.  Additional amenities include a concierge, elevators, a courtyard, community meeting and party rooms, and off-street parking for cars (or bicycles).

The Warehouses at Union Row are within walking distance of the U Street Metro Station, and is conveniently located near a number of neighborhood cultural attractions.  These include the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, the Howard and Lincoln Theaters, Meridian Hill Park, as well as some of the city’s best jazz clubs and dance halls, the 14th & U Streets Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants, including Busboys and Poets across the street, and the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl.

As I wrote earlier, I could easily imagine myself living in one of town homes that make up the Warehouses at Union Row.  However, for two reasons I am fairly certain that changing my address to Union Row will not be happening anytime soon.  First, there are no units available at the present time.  And the other reason is because units can sell in the half a million to million dollar range.  So absent winning the Powerball lottery, I think there are a lot of other alleys I could wind up living in before I become a resident of Union Row.

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The African-American Civil War Museum

Whether it’s referred to as the War to Preserve the Union or the War to End Northern Aggression, American Civil War history is all too often thought of in terms of white Yankees from the North fighting against white Southern Rebels, with African Americans relegated to the sidelines of history as their fate was decided for them. The truth, however, is much different.

In 1861 before the Civil War broke out, African Americans comprised about 14 percent of the country’s population, compared to 12.2 percent in the most recent U.S. census.  There were approximately four million slaves in the United States, and almost a half a million free African Americans. But only about one percent of all African Americans in the country lived in the North at that time.

Although African Americans had served in the U.S. Army and Navy during the American Revolution and in the War of 1812, they were initially not permitted to enlist on either side during the Civil War. In the North, a 1792 law barred them from bearing arms in the U.S. Army. Additionally, President Abraham Lincoln did not support it at that time because he was concerned that accepting black men into the military would cause more of the border states to secede. Free black men were finally permitted to enlist in the Union Army in late 1862, following the passage of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, and Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the South, General Robert E. Lee eventually convinced the Confederate Congress to begin enlisting black soldiers near the end of the war. The legislation required the consent of the slave and his master, and would confer the rights of a freeman after the war.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, it is estimated that 209,145 African-Americans had served as soldiers, participating on both sides, although to a far lesser degree in the South than in the North.  Eventually, several thousand blacks were enlisted in the Rebel cause, but they could not begin to balance out the nearly 200,000 blacks who fought in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) for the Union, and it was too late in the war to make a difference regardless of the numbers.  All together, over 60,000 died over the course of the war, with sickness causing thirty times more deaths than battle.

The African American Civil War Museum, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is dedicated to preserving and telling the stories of these men, and African Americans’ involvement and impact during the American Civil War.  The museum is located in the historic Grimke Building at 1925 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just a couple of blocks west of The African American Civil War Memorial in the Shaw neighborhood’s historic U Street Corridor, an area traditionally considered to be the heart of African-American entertainment and theater in the city.

The museum opened in January of 1999, with a mission “to serve the educational needs of its local, national, and international community with a high-quality and effective learning experience while interpreting the history of the USCT and the community life of African Americans prior to, and after, the American Civil War.” This is achieved through the communication of information and stories using historic documents, photographs, newspaper articles, replicas of period clothing and uniforms, military weaponry and other artifacts, seminars by staff, and historic presentations by volunteer re-enactors. With more than 200,000 visitors each year, the museum serves as a unique resource for teachers, scholars, students and professionals of museum studies, as well as the general public. And through the museum’s African American Civil War Descendants Registry, the museum documents the family trees of more than 2,000 descendants of the men who served with the USCT.

As I was leaving the museum, I couldn’t help but think that its importance is even greater at a time like now, when the Confederate flag is getting so much attention and causing debate and divisiveness around the country. The museum enables visitors to instead learn about the largely unknown role of those 209,145 black men who fought for freedom and to preserve the union, the 23 who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the emergence of three important amendments to the Constitution — the 13th, 14th and 15th — which ended slavery, gave blacks equal protection under the law, and guaranteed black men the right to vote.  All in all, I’d say that’s not a bad achievement for a museum.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Bohemian Caverns Jazz Club

On this bike ride I went by Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz club located in the U Street Corridor at the corner of 11th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

The club started out in 1926 as a small basement venue named Club Cavern, and was one of the spots where many prominent musicians of the day, including native Washingtonian Duke Ellington, came to relax after local shows to enjoy after-hours jazz.

In the 1950s, the club’s name was changed to Crystal Caverns and then to Bohemian Caverns, during which time it became the premier jazz venue in D.C., hosting such famous artists as Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, John Coltrane, and Ramsey Lewis.

During the late 1960’s business at the club began to decline, and as a result of the destruction of many nearby business during the riots that following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the club suffered additional financial difficulties and was ultimately forced to close its doors in September of 1968. Three decades later, as re-development of the U Street Corridor was underway, the club reopened and returned to its earlier prominence.

Bohemian Caverns is one of the few clubs from the 1920s to have survived, and despite some periods of shutdown, it remains one of the premier jazz hot spots of contemporary D.C.

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Ben’s Chili Bowl

September’s end-of-the-month restaurant review is of Ben’s Chili Bowl. A D.C. landmark restaurant, it is located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  Built in 1910, the building originally housed the city’s first silent movie house, named The Minnehaha Theater. Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.  A family-run business, Ben’s Chili Bowl was originally opened by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancee, Virginian-born Virginia Rollins. They were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant.  Today it is run by their sons, Kamal and Nizam.

From the unrest of the late 1960’s race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the tough economic times in the 1970’s and 1980’s that resulted from the destruction of much of the neighborhood’s businesses during the riots, and finally to the revitalization and gentrification of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 1990’s, Ben’s has survived and seen it all. Over 50 years later, Ben’s remains as it has always been, right down to the red booths and bar stools and Formica counters, which are the original ones from when the restaurant first opened. Even Ben’s large neon “Home of the Famous Chili Dog” hearkens back to an earlier time.

Locals and tourists, as well as celebrities including Bill Cosby, Chris Tucker and Bono, and politicians such as President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have flocked to Ben’s Chili Bowl for decades for its rich history, friendly atmosphere and delicious food.  A sign at the restaurant, however, notifies patrons that only Mr. Cosby and the Obama family eat for free.

The menu at Ben’s includes the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, as well as more recently added healthier choices such as turkey dogs and vegetarian burgers. But I must confess that I have not tried any of these offerings. It seems almost wrong to go to Ben’s and not have what they are most famous for.

Ben’s namesake chili is still made according to the original recipe, and comes complete with chunks of ground beef, green peppers and onions, and is filled with spices to tantalize your taste buds. The chili is available by the bowl, as well as how I prefer it – as a condiment for the hot dogs, French fries, and just about anything else on the menu. But my recommendation is to try “Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-smoke.” Originally made famous by Ben’s in 1958 and a favorite of Mr. Cosby’s since the early 1960s, it is a mouth-watering and juicy half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage, topped with their spicy chili, on a warm steamed bun. It is considered not only Ben’s, but D.C.’s signature dish.

Recently, Ben’s Chili Bowl has also expanded by opening a new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door, in addition to outposts at Nationals Park and FedEx Field, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and across the river in Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. And although the food is the same, there is something about the original location that makes everything just a little bit better.  But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to believe the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which named Ben’s one of the “down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape.”  I recommend that you stop by and try it for yourself.

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Duke Ellington's "Encore"

Duke Ellington’s “Encore”

On this bike ride I rode to Ellington Plaza in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood’s “U Street corridor” in northwest D.C., to see a statue entitled “Encore.”  Located in front of The Howard Theatre at Florida Avenue and T Street (MAP), the 20-foot stainless steel statue on a granite base depicts Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as “Duke” Ellington, who was a native Washingtonian.  It was created by sculptor Zachary Oxman, also a D.C. native, who was commissioned to complete the piece by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.  The statue depicts Ellington sitting on a giant treble clef while playing a curved piano.  The site where the statue is located was chosen because Ellington spent his childhood and the early years of his career in the neighborhood.

Ellington got his nickname when childhood friends noticed that “his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman.” and then began calling him Duke.  Ellington credited his friend Edgar McEntree for the moniker, stating, “I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke.”  The title stayed with him for the rest of his life.

It was not until his teen years, when he began hanging out at Frank’s Billiards next door to the Howard Theater, that Duke Ellington really focused on a musical career that would eventually lead to him being considered one of the best  American composers, pianists and jazz orchestras bandleaders of all time.

In New York, jazz musicians were in demand and by 1923 The Duke moved to Harlem, and formed his first band, the Washingtonians.  Once his career took off, he not only played local venues including the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall, but toured and played internationally, including Europe, South America and Australia.  But even after achieving success and national recognition through recordings, radio broadcasts, and film appearances, Ellington continued to return many times to D.C. to perform.  One of his most important trips was to give a boost to the re-opening of the Howard Theater that had fallen on hard times in the late 1920s.  At the Howard, beginning on September 29, 1931, Ellington was the top headliner and played to standing-room-only audiences for an entire week.  It was this commitment and dedication to the neighborhood and the Howard Theater that makes it an ideal location for this fitting tribute.

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