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Old Posted Oct 17, 2010, 10:26 PM
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DC Autumn Streets: 14th Street

(Scroll down to skip the intro and see the pics.)

Each weekend this fall I am preparing a photo tour of one of Washington's important streets. I pick start and end points and simply walk straight down that one corridor.

Last week I began the series with a tour of 16th Street. Today we move two blocks east for a walk down 14th Street.

Despite being so close, 14th and 16th Streets could not be more different. While 16th has always been a relatively swank and safe residential avenue, 14th Street is a commercial corridor with a much more troubled past.

In 1968 14th Street was one of the key locations of rioting that destroyed much of inner city Washington. After that, during the 70s and 80s, it was the heart of the poor black ghetto, and the city's prime red light district.

20 years ago 14th Street was a ghetto. 10 years ago it was rough, and as recently as 5 years ago it was still lined with decay and dereliction. Over the last 5 years however, it has been gentrification ground zero. It has gone through a dramatic transformation and is now among the more healthy and diverse streets in the city. Although it cannot be said that it is as wealthy as 16th or some other commercial streets like Connecticut or Wisconsin Avenues, it has undeniably turned the corner in a very real and visible way. And it's done so in a very short span of time.

As a personal example: I started dating my (now) fiance in 2007. At that time she lived in Columbia Heights, near the section of 14th Street where we will start our tour in just a moment. Of all the new residential and retail buildings you see in this thread, only two were open and occupied when we first met (and they had just done so within the previous year or so).

Here is a map of our tour route. We will start at the northern end of the red line and walk south.

We begin in the center of the Columbia Heights neighborhood, with a panorama showing the intersection of 14th Street and Park Road, where the city recently installed a new public plaza. This is not only the epicenter of Columbia Heights, but also the center of redevelopment. 5 years ago this intersection was surrounded by vacant lots and patches of weeds; now it is a burgeoning midtown district, and the most important retail location in this part of the city.

Since it's a panorama I'm going to put in it a separate post, so it doesn't stretch the entire thread:
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Last edited by Cirrus; Oct 18, 2010 at 8:49 PM.
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Old Posted Oct 17, 2010, 10:26 PM
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Old Posted Oct 17, 2010, 10:26 PM
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With the exception of the PNC Bank building at extreme left and the Tivoli Theater right next to it, every major building you see in that panorama is new construction. Tivoli itself went through a major renovation about the same time. Here's a picture of the same building from 7 or 8 years ago:



As we continue along the rest of the tour, keep the Tivoli in mind. Remember the difference between it 7 years ago and today, and picture that same level of change up and down the entire street.

Here is the plaza I spoke of earlier. During the summer this fountain is packed with children playing in the water. Since this picture set is from October, it was a little too chilly for that.



Zooming in on the grocery store in the background:



Standing in about same spot as the previous two pictures but facing in the other direction, we look south along 14th Street.

Fancy condos on the left, and yes, Target on the right.





It's not just a Target, but a vertical power center, with a whole collection of large and small stores.



Here's one more picture from 7 years ago, taken the same day as that old Tivoli shot:



Guess what that facade is part of now:



Across 14th Street from Target, new luxury condos.



Columbia Heights Metro station is right next door. Yes, the condo building above is also new.



Walking south from the Metro, finally we run in to some vintage buildings.





As we get a few block south of Columbia Heights we begin to descend Meridian Hill (remember it from the 16th Street thread?). The Metrorail Green line runs directly under 14th Street here, but because of the slope of the hill there is a large gap between stations. No Metro station nearby means things get quiet for a few blocks.





But hey, we're at the top of a hill. Let's turn south and see what we can see.



With the exception of the Potomac River and Wilson Bridge (visible in the far distance), we will pass everything you see in this picture later in the thread.

Clearly we've got a long way to go. Let's keep moving.

Look! Condo development! Yay! This plot of land had been a strip mall, probably built after whatever was there before burned down in the 1968 riots. The older buildings in the background are on a cross street, and are all vintage.



... Except one.



Oh hai, giant new condo building. Near the bottom of the hill 14th Street has a slight curve. This building is built right at the curve, and is clearly designed to provide the maximum number of units with a view down the street. Clever design.





That condo building marks the beginning of U Street District, where retail once again picks up.





And where - surprise surprise - there are a lot of other new condo buildings from the recent boom.





As we get closer to U Street itself, the character transitions to smaller commercial buildings. Get used to it, because we'll be passing a lot of this sort of thing for the next - oh - mile or so.



This is a rental. You can tell because of the yellow sign on the back. It's not bikesharing, but is daily rental aimed at tourists.



We reach U Street itself, which is an important crosstown commercial street.

The yellow brick condo building (actually I think it's apartments) is a relative old-timer. It opened in 2005.



Let's pause and look back north along 14th.



Now onwards south.



Reminders of the old ghetto years are becoming increasingly rare, but they do still pop up from time to time along the corridor.



U Street is a major location for live music venues and theater. A number of theaters spill over onto 14th Street.



And furniture. 14th Street south of U has become DC's interior design specialty retail district.

This is one of the oldest such stores, but you'll see newer and fancier ones later.



Your basic character along this part of the street. That crepes place wouldn't have been there a couple of years ago.



The big building with the black trim is a music venue. The orange and blue stores are interior home goods boutiques. The white one is a wine bar, and "Pulp" is a goofy trinket/gift store that sells things like The Audacity of Soap.



Guess what kind of store "Room & Board" is.







Having walked a few blocks south from U Street things thin out just a little, as we transition away from the U Street District and towards the Logan Circle neighborhood.

One sign of the old years that probably isn't going away any time soon is the Central Union Mission, a homeless shelter and halfway house.



AME Zion.



Coming into Logan Circle neighborhood. We won't actually go through Logan Circle itself, which is on 13th Street.





Guess what Logan has more of... condos!



Crepes, wine bars, chocolate boutiques. Are you sensing a theme?



With a couple of notable multifamily exceptions, most of the cross streets in this part of town are row houses.



Where Rhode Island Avenue and P Street come together to cross 14th, it is the center of Logan.

Note bikesharing station in the foreground.





This is P Street, which is a retail and condo street.



14th:



Studio Theater here is really fun at night, when it's all lit up. You'll have to settle for a day time shot.







If you don't love barrel-shaped liquor stores then we can't be friends anymore.



Haha. Get it? Thai Tanic!



We also have Thai restaurants called "Thaiphoon" and "Mai Thai". In the DC Thai business, you need a punny name or you're just out of luck.

Moving on south, we're getting close to Thomas Circle, which is the boundary into downtown.



Thomas Circle is a whole lot more pedestrian friendly than 16th Street's Scott Circle, but it's still a far cry from the other three much more park-like circles. Fourth out of five.



By the way, notice the fence around the statue? Yeah, the circles are all owned by the National Park Service, which is great at managing Yellowstone and Yosemite but doesn't have a clue about little urban parks. Their basic mantra is "if nobody uses it then it will look nice, so how about nobody use it for anything". The fact that there's a sidewalk through it at all is a major victory (there wasn't one a few years ago).

Looking down M Street (left) and Massachusetts Avenue (right) from the circle:



Before we move on into downtown, I want to remind you that although my two Autumn Streets tours to date have both featured awful circles, they are definitely not all like that. If you're depressed, take a few minutes and look at pictures of Dupont Circle. They'll make you feel better.

And now: Downtown.





DC's height limit is defined as the width of the street a building fronts on, plus 20 feet. So if a building fronts on a 90 foot wide street (common in DC), then it can be 110 feet tall. However, the city will allow exceptions for decorative elements like spires, and there are a couple of such elements along 14th Street.

This one looks nice from far away, but I'm not a fan up close.



This one is actually on K Street, near its intersection with 14th. At 210 feet it is the tallest office building in DC:



South of K Street we hit Franklin Square, one of the largest of DC's many downtown parks.

It's actually a little too big. Although there are always plenty of people in it, it often seems sparsely used when compared to nearby McPherson or Farragut Squares.





This building fronts on Franklin Square, but it's on 13th Street. Don't tell anyone that I'm cheating on my 14th Street tour.



This next picture is 14th and I Street, at the south end of Franklin Square. The building is all curvy because there's a Metro station at the bottom of it.



BTW, there is no J Street in DC. Good ole Pierre L'Enfant was worried that I and J looked too similar (especially back in the 18th Century when everybody wrote in calligraphy), so when naming our streets he just left the J out.

It's a common joke among locals that lost tourists are trying to find J Street.

But I digress. Let's keep on going.

Maybe I should take off my polarizing filter with all these shadows?



Nah. I'd rather keep the blue sky. You can deal.



Any building in downtown DC that does not go up to the height limit will almost surely have an addition on top.











Note the addition.





This is the Willard Hotel, which like the Hay Adams on 16th Street is often used by visiting heads of state.



Having reached Pennsylvania Avenue, we reach a pair of plazas. Freedom Plaza on the east side of 14th Street, and Pershing Park on the west side.

This is Freedom Plaza. Note the US Capitol in the distance, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.



Freedom Plaza is fun because its floor is a giant map of the city. In this picture we're standing looking down Pennsylvania Avenue with Pennsylvania Avenue in the distance. Meta.

The tall tower, by the way, is the 315 foot tall Old Post Office tower. You can go up. It's a fun time.



DC City Hall fronts on Freedom Plaza.



As earlier noted, Pershing Park is along Pennsylvania Avenue on the other side of 14th Street. It has a dramatically different character than Freedom Plaza, and is in my opinion one of DC's very most under appreciated parks. Nobody ever much thinks about it, but I like it a lot.



I'm a sucker for water features and terracing.





Another unique feature of daily life in Washington is the VIP motorcade.



You can't see the White House from this spot, but nonetheless we are very, very close to it. The main entry into the White House for cars is right next to Pershing Park. And oh, look, a bunch of big unmarked black vans happen to be driving in.



Welcome to Washington. Have a nice day :-)

Up next week: H Street.
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Last edited by Cirrus; Oct 17, 2010 at 10:45 PM.
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Old Posted Oct 17, 2010, 10:51 PM
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If we all had DC's infill, we'd be golden.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 4:55 PM
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nice tour!!!!! (never noticed how dc resembles chi a little bit...)
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 4:57 PM
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Another amazing street tour, thanks! I'd say between DC's built environment and developed transit network, it looks well positioned to pull in the current generation of young professionals and thrive.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 5:04 PM
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Another great tour. DC is simply one of my favorite cities. I'm almost strictly an old-urbanity guy, but I dig DC's infill. In my dreams Chicago has infill of that quality.

Looking forward to H St.

Although shorter, Mt Pleasant St would be a good one to do.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 5:15 PM
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Quote:
(never noticed how dc resembles chi a little bit...)
I think 14th Street specifically resembles Chicago because it's one of the few corridors in Washington where 3 story commercial buildings are the dominant character for a very long stretch, which is very Chicago-like.

It's worth noting that 14th Street really is not typical for Washington. Generally our retail streets are shorter and so continuous. Each neighborhood has its main street, which doesn't necessarily connect to the next neighborhood's main street. And those long commercial streets we do have (the state-named avenues specifically) often have enough apartments or offices mixed in that they don't have that same 3 story commercial character.

In the sense that Chicago is so full of retail streets that just go on for miles, DC really only has a couple of similar examples, and 14th Street is one of them.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 5:19 PM
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Quote:
Although shorter, Mt Pleasant St would be a good one to do.
Mt Pleasant Street (one of those disconnected neighborhood main streets mentioned in the post above) probably won't make it into this series, because I'm focusing on longer streets. However in 2006 I put together a photo set from MtP, which is available here.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 5:54 PM
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Excellent photos of one of the best parts of DC. You need to add a photo of the bulgogi cart on 14th & L Street. The lunches from there are perhaps the best $7 you can spend in DC. Thai Tanic a great place, one of the best Thai restaurants in DC and reasonably priced (for DC at least). Across the street is Birch & Barley, a new addition to 14th Street. Birch & Barley has 50 beers on tap and a selection of something like 400 beers total-- one of my new favorite bars.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 5:55 PM
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A U Street/FL Ave photo thread should be next.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 8:36 PM
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Wow. This is a great photo thread. What a beautiful city.
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Old Posted Oct 18, 2010, 11:24 PM
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DC has never wanted for anything, being the epicenter of the US gov't and all. She's sholl purty!
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Old Posted Oct 20, 2010, 9:21 PM
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I'm loving these street tours! Really gives an idea of what the city is like that you don't normally get from random city pics.
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Old Posted Oct 20, 2010, 10:03 PM
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Very nice tour!
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Old Posted Oct 21, 2010, 12:19 AM
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Love the density -- I've never seen much of DC. These shots prove that you don't necessarily need tall, skinny skyscrapers to make a vibrant city. Thanks for the great tour!
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Old Posted Oct 21, 2010, 12:38 AM
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Fantastic! Love DC's urbanity!
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Old Posted Oct 21, 2010, 2:07 AM
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These are nice. Very nice. I can't wait until H Street and how much it's changed. Will be the new U street once the trolley is finished and the bars/clubs open up. I just moved from DC to Chicago back over the summer but I still would love to visit DC. Great and fun city.
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Old Posted Oct 21, 2010, 5:04 AM
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Some handsome buildings in here.
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