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Near Northeast in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

The Fires of 1968

Hub, Home, Heart

 

—Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail —

 
The Fires of 1968 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
1. The Fires of 1968 Marker
Inscription. On Friday, April 5, 1968 the 600 block of H Street went up in flames. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated a day earlier, and grief-stricken, angry men and women had taken to the streets across the city. Some took part in looting and burning.

Helen Wooden Wood remembered watching from her home on Linden Place as flames spread. "It was horrible. You could feel the heat and couldn't open the windows for the smoke." According to a fireman, the alley behind Morton's Department Store became "a freeway for looters" carrying "television sets, clothes, everything." Yet other people supported the firefighters, bringing them chairs and coffee.

When Morton's first opened downtown in 1933, it was among the few white-owned department stores that did not discriminate in hiring or sales. In fact owner Mortimer Lebowitz was a former Urban League president who had marched with Dr. King. Nevertheless, looters ransacked and torched his store here. The destruction, Lebowitz told a reporter later, "was nothing against me personally."

"The riots did not happen in a vacuum," recalled Sam Smith of the Capitol East Gazette. In 1968, "24 percent of the [area's] labor force was unemployed or underemployed." After the smoke cleared, 90 buildings in Greater H Street, containing 51 residences and 103 businesses,
Morton's Department Store image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
2. Morton's Department Store
Left: Morton's Department Store, seen in the 1950s, stood on the southwest corner of this intersection.

Right: A futile attempt to save the building, April 5, 1968.
were gone. Most stores that weren't destroyed closed, never to reopen.

While the city cleared land for sale, it didn't pay to repair existing businesses or develop new ones. In 1984 the H Street Community Development Corporation formed to attract investment for development. The corporation and other nonprofits built housing and commercial buildings but H Street suffered from relentless suburban competition. It took the rehabilitation of the Atlas Theater, which started in 2002, investments in nightlife, and a new appreciation for the charms of the neighborhood's close-in, 19th-century buildings for H Street's revival to take hold.

(Back):
Trains and streetcars created the Near Northeast neighborhood around H Street. The B&O Railroad's arrival in 1835 made this a center of energetic, working-class life. Workmen living north of the Capitol staffed the Government Printing Office, ran the trains, stocked the warehouses, and built Union Station. When a streetcar arrived linking H Street to downtown, new construction quickly followed.

H Street bustled with shops and offices run by Jewish, Italian, Lebanese, Greek, Irish, and African American families. During the segregation era, which lasted into the 1950s, African Americans came to H Street for its department stores and sit-down restaurants. Most businesses welcomed all customers.

Then came the
8th and H Streets image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
3. 8th and H Streets
Top: A soldier walks through the intersection of Eighth and H Sts., with the gutted Kay Jewelers on the right.

Bottom: Two years later, the city opened a playground on the site.
civil disturbances in the wake of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968. Decades of commercial decline followed. Just off H Street, though, the strong residential community endured. The 2005 opening of the Atlas Performing Arts Center signaled a revival, building evocatively on H Street's past. Hub, Home, Heart is a bridge to carry you from that past to the present.

Hub, Home, Heart: Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided, 3.2-mile tour of 18 signs offers about two hours of gentle exercise. Free keepsake guidebooks in English or Spanish are available at businesses and institutions along the way. For more on DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.
 
Erected 2012 by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 16.)
 
Location. 38° 54.017′ N, 76° 59.752′ W. Marker is in Near Northeast, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of H Street NW and 7th Street NW, on the right when traveling west on H Street NW. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20002, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. At the Crossroads (within shouting distance of this marker); Get Behind the Wheel
H Street Revival image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
4. H Street Revival
Far Left: Opening the new quarters for the nonprofit Hospitality Community Federal Credit Union at 1114 H St. in 1974, the corridor's first new building since 1968.
Left Center: Real estate broker Rudolph Taylor, left, Councilmember Nadine Winter, and Mayor Marion Barry opened Taylor's second H St. Office, at 421 H St., 1985.
Center: The H Street Festival Foundation's first event highlighting progress on H St., 1987.
Right: The 1990 groundbreaking for townhouses developed by the H Street Community Development Corporation.
(about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Sanctuaries (about 700 feet away); The Changing Faces of H Street (approx. 0.2 miles away); Brickyards to Buildings (approx. 0.3 miles away); Education for All (approx. 0.3 miles away); Community Caretakers (approx. 0.3 miles away); Leonard M. Elstad (approx. 0.3 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Near Northeast.
 
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail
 
Categories. African AmericansCivil RightsNotable Events
 
Back of Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
5. Back of Marker
1200 Block of H Street image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
6. 1200 Block of H Street
Smoke rises from the still-burning 1200 block of H St. the day after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968.
Map of the H Street Heritage Trail image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
7. Map of the H Street Heritage Trail
Southwest Corner of Intersection image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
8. Southwest Corner of Intersection
Where Morton's Department Store stood.
Buildings along H Street image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
9. Buildings along H Street
Older surviving, restored structures stand alongside newer construction along H Street.
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 419 times since then and 6 times this year. Last updated on , by A. Taylor of Laurel, Maryland. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on September 10, 2016.
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