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Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 4:20 AM
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DC Autumn Streets: H Street

This fall I am photographing some of Washington, DC's interesting streets. Rather than doing traditional neighborhood tours, I'm picking streets and staying on them as they string through multiple neighborhoods.

This is part three of a multi-thread series. Parts one and two were 16th Street and 14th Street. Today: H Street.

Here is a map of the tour route we'll be taking. We'll be starting on the east (right) end of the red line and walking due west, ending at the left end.

We start in a neighborhood with many names. Some people call it the Near Northeast, others call it the Atlas District, and a few misguided souls hoping to sell real estate insist it is North Capitol Hill. But these days most people refer to it simply as H Street District.

If the part of 14th Street I showed you last week is ground zero for gentrification, H Street District is the active frontier. Also torn up by the 1968 riots, and also a ghetto for decades after, it is also improving - though gentrification didn't start until much more recently and is happening much more slowly. The difference between 14th and H has been Metrorail. 14th Street has it, H doesn't. Simple as that. Metro's power is substantial.

Here we are at the east end:



Let's just start walking. There's not much to say yet.





The Atlas Theater is a local landmark.





The building at right is "H Street Country Club", an indoor mini golf joint. It is the first unmistakable sign of hipster gentrification in the neighborhood.



Let's keep going.





If you've been paying close attention to the last couple of pictures you may have noticed something particularly interesting...



Yes, streetcar tracks. New ones. Being installed by the city as we speak, for what will be the first line of a 37-mile streetcar network.

Streetcars are due to begin running on H Street in 2012. Streetcar construction doesn't generally take so long, but DC is installing the tracks a bit early because they're tearing up the street for repaving anyway.

You'll see signs of construction through the rest of the neighborhood.







The second unmistakable sign of hipsters is Palace of Wonders, a bar themed after 19th century freak shows. Inside they have a real stuffed unicorn, among other things. Live performances offer fare such as burlesque shows and flame jugglers.





Mmm, wooter ice.









Let's look at the streetcar tracks again, because really they're just beautiful.













Streetcar rail, yet to go in.



The new neighborhood banners are very unique. The weird collection of lines is the street grid.



Getting closer to Union Station (and within walking distance to Metro) larger buildings begin to appear.









Both those buildings are housing now, but the older one in front used to be the DC Children's Museum.

Here's a close up.



Looking back the way we came:



Now we come to the Hopscotch Bridge, which carries H Street over the rail tracks behind Union Station.





There are a few places you can look through the fence and see the tracks. We're facing north here, looking at NoMa buildings in the distance.

It's a Sunday, which means there are Amtrak trains every half hour or so, but not much else. On a weekday these rails would be packed with MARC and VRE trains.



There are a few trains about. Here's a MARC train parked for the weekend.



An electric Amtrak locomotive for the NE Corridor.



Headed off all on his lonesome, probably to the Brentwood railyard a mile or so away.



Looking out towards NoMa again.



As the Hopscotch Bridge descends to the surface we come into NoMa, which stands for North of Massachusetts Avenue and is a formerly industrial neighborhood that is currently in the process of becoming part of downtown.

DC experiences an interesting and unique phenomenon that you might call "downtown sprawl". Since we have a strict height limit, downtown is always expanding outwards into new areas. NoMa is the current direction of expansion.



At the base of the bridge sits the historic Government Printing Office building, one of the only large red brick buildings in DC. We are a city of granite and marble, not brick.



This is a newer building.



Looking back towards the bridge. These obvious 70s/80s office blocks were among the first buildings in NoMa. For a couple of decades they sat more or less alone.



Crossing North Capitol Street we go from the Northeast quadrant of the city into Northwest. And we get a nice view.



And now: desolation. Excellent sites for future developments.



But you can see, civilization is not far off.



Crossing New Jersey Avenue we again look down towards the Capitol. Also visible is one of the city's more interesting flatiron buildings.




Civilization, only one block away!



Why is this section of H Street so desolate, despite being so close to (what you'll soon see to be) very active and desirable parts of downtown?

The answer awaits...



Oh yes, a sunken highway cutting through the urban fabric. That would do it. No wonder NoMa sat empty so long.

The good news is that will soon be gone. Developers are preparing to cap the highway and build over it. They'll restore the street grid, so from a pedestrian perspective you won't know there's a highway there. That'll be nice.

The trench is actually only a couple of blocks long, because the highway is already underground to the north and south of here. This interesting structure is a ventilation shaft from the highway tunnel below.



As soon as we get by the highway on ramps, the city picks up again.



On the left: H Street. On the right: Massachusetts Avenue.



Now that we've cross Massachusetts Avenue we're no longer in NoMa. We are coming in to Chinatown. This will be the last neighborhood of the tour.



This is the back end of Chinatown, where (unlike the front end) it is still sort of an ethnic community.









The Friendship Arch, at the intersection of H and 7th Streets, and the Gallery Place / Chiantown Metro station.





This would be the "front" of Chinatown, where the neighborhood gives way to some of downtown's most desirable retail spaces.



In many ways this is Washington's version of Times Square: It's the city's densest concentration of large-scale entertainment and chain retail. Chinatown is filled with brand name restaurants and stores, plus the city's best multiplex, one of its largest live theaters, a bowling alley, multiple museums, and of course: the Verizon Center.

North on 7th:



South on 7th:





We'll end the tour with a picture of the Verizon Center, home to the NHL Capitals and NBA Wizards. The Verizon Center is on 7th Street, but this zoomed-in picture was taken while standing on H Street:



Were we to continue west along H Street, we'd find ourselves heading deeper into downtown. We would pass Metro Center and then hit the White House. We'd go through George Washington University and the Foggy Bottom neighborhood before dead-ending at the famous Watergate, on the bank of the Potomac River. A tour including all that would be twice as long.

Next up: Probably Pennsylvania Avenue.
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Last edited by Cirrus; Oct 26, 2010 at 1:27 PM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 2:20 PM
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I don't think I've ever asked this nor have I cared to look at Wikipedia for the answer but is there a reason why Washington has unusually wide streets? Was it part of the plan ala Burnham with the Great Lakes, carriage radius turns, or something else?
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 3:00 PM
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Pierre L'Enfant planned them that way so the city would appear grand.

Of course, he couldn't have anticipated that wide streets would one day be a bad thing.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 5:51 PM
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For me, H street east of Union Station seems to fall somewhat short in that the sidewalks appear rather small and there is almost a complete lack of trees. I wouldn't want to be walking along that street in the summertime when the temperatures are high, the humidity is oppressive, and there is little to no shade available for protection from the high sun angle.

Having said that, it's exciting to see the streetcar tracks!
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 8:38 PM
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Sushi Heaven at Sticky Rice is soooo worth the trip out to H Street!
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 8:43 PM
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Biergarten Haus is not too bad either.

These photos would be much better, however, when there is the streetcar operating on H Street.
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Old Posted Oct 26, 2010, 10:38 PM
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H Street Northeast has changed so much from when I use to go to the Hechinger Mall. I can't believe all the new retail. If you'd only gone 2 more blocks west, we couold have met at my building.

Cirrus, I heard a rumor that the street car line in Anacostia is on hold. Do you know if that's true? I haven't seen any construction there for the last month or so.

Great tour.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2010, 4:21 AM
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Another great installment. I'll need to check this stretch out next time I'm in DC.

How far is it from H St to the gentrified part of Capitol Hill?
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2010, 6:37 PM
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How far is it from H St to the gentrified part of Capitol Hill?
At most, it's 1/3 to 1/2 mile from these parts of Capitol Hill and Eastern Market.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2010, 6:12 AM
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Those first few shots remind me of Chicago.
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