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 —
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,
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.
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
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. Touch 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 Sanctuaries (about 700 feet away); The Changing Faces of H Street (approx. ¼ mile away); Cathy Hughes (approx. ¼ mile away); Brickyards to Buildings (approx. 0.3 miles away); Education for All (approx. 0.3 miles away); Community Caretakers (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map 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 Americans • Civil Rights • Notable Events •
Credits. This page was last revised on September 10, 2016. This page originally submitted on September 29, 2012, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 466 times since then and 7 times this year. Last updated on February 11, 2014, by A. Taylor of Laurel, Maryland. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. submitted on September 29, 2012, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.