“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Northeast in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Get Behind the Wheel

Hub, Home, Heart


—Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail —

Get Behind the Wheel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
1. Get Behind the Wheel Marker
Inscription. Ourisman Chevrolet once occupied almost the entire north side of this block. After two years as a top-performing Chevy salesman on Connecticut Avenue, and with a $2,000 loan from his widowed mother, Benjamin Ourisman opened his own dealership here in 1921. When he built the five-story building on your right in 1940, his was the country's highest-selling dealership. Ourisman continued to service cars during World War II (1941-1945), when automobile production was shut down. After the war, demand was so high that he hired 67 salesmen. Although he received Chevrolet's largest allotment of new cars, customers still had to wait three years for delivery. With the growth of the suburbs after World War II, Ourisman Chevrolet moved to Maryland in 1962.

Across from Ourisman's, at 619 H Street, Pietro Borghese ran Pete's Barbershop for nearly 50 years. Borghese emigrated from Italy in 1920 and opened his business near the homes of many Italian workers and craftsmen. The family got along well with its African American neighbors, recalled his son Carmelo. During the riots of 1968, when Pete's was one of only two white-owned businesses on the block, rioters left the barbershop untouched.

Sanitary Grocery, the forerunner of Safeway, first appeared on H Street in 1909. In the early 1960s, Safeway opened at 600 H, but moved in 1983 to the
Benjamin Ourisman Chevrolet image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
2. Benjamin Ourisman Chevrolet
Above, Benjamin Ourisman, standing sixth from left, and his sales force in their store on the north side of H St., 1923. Used cars were sold near Union Station's tracks at 62 H St., right, later razed for the H St. overpass. The automobile row peaked with six dealerships in the 1930s.
new Hechinger Mall on Benning Road, leaving the neighborhood without a major grocery. Five years later the independent, black-owned Mega Foods opened across the street but lasted only two years. Murry's, which took over the Safeway building, is part of a local chain founded in 1948 by Alfred Mendelson and named for his son. Murry's two-ounce frozen steaks offered consumers conveniently small portions of meat for the first time.

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 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
Businesses along H Street image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
3. Businesses along H Street
Top: Barber Pietro Borghese and daughter Filippa, photographed across H St. from the family barbershop, around 1953.

Center and bottom: Sam Madeoy's second-hand furniture and hauling business once occupied this corner. At left are proprietors Rosa and Samuel Madeoy inside their story, around 1910.
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
Erected 2012 by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 17.)
Location. 38° 54.007′ N, 76° 59.81′ W. Marker is in Near Northeast, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of H Street, NE and 7th Street, NE, on the right when traveling east on H Street, NE. Click for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 640 H Street, NE, Washington DC 20002, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Fires of 1968 (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Sanctuaries (about 400 feet away); At the Crossroads (about 500 feet away); Community Caretakers (approx.
Grocery and Movie Theater image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
4. Grocery and Movie Theater
Left: Henry H. Edwards, Jr., co-owner of the new Mega Food Store at 625 H, 1988.

Right: The Apollo movie house at 624 H St., photographed in 1922 with its enclosed, open-air theater on the right, shut its doors in 1955.
0.3 miles away); The Changing Faces of H Street (approx. 0.3 miles away); Brickyards to Buildings (approx. 0.3 miles away); Education for All (approx. 0.3 miles away); Roll Out the Barrel (approx. 0.4 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. Industry & CommerceNotable Places
Back of Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
5. Back of Marker
H Street's Auto Dealer Row image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
6. H Street's Auto Dealer Row
A scene on H. St.'s auto dealer row looking east from Fifth St., 1949.
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
Get Behind the Wheel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 29, 2012
8. Get Behind the Wheel Marker
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 276 times since then and 17 times this year. Last updated on , by A. Taylor of Laurel, Maryland. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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