A Shared Neighborhood
City Within a City
—Greater U Street Heritage Trail —
Although Washington, D.C., has been a racially segregated city for much of its history, black and white Washingtonians have shared parts of this neighborhood.
The modern building across 15th Street sits on the site of Portner Flats, demolished in 1974. An 1897 apartment building, the Portner was occupied by white residents until the end of World War II. Its grand public dining room and parlors, large, high-ceilinged apartments, and many resident services made it a sought after address. Its elaborate drugstore entrance was a landmark on the corner.
In 1945, the Portner Flats became the Dunbar Hotel, at one time the largest black hotel in the nation. It was named for poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who once lived in the adjacent neighborhood of LeDroit Park. The hotel became a popular gathering place for famous sports and entertainment figures, Howard University faculty, and other black professionals. Just up 15th Street stands St. Augustine Catholic Church, the city’s oldest predominantly black Catholic congregation, founded in 1858 at 15th and L Streets. In 1961, the congregation took the dramatic step and merged with a white congregation, St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, and moved into its 1883 Gothic Revival building. You can see it just north of the old Dunbar Hotel site, at the corner of Fifteenth and V Street. For 20 years,
Photo captions (clockwise from top):
The Portner Flats, top, became the Dunbar Hotel after World War II, with an elaborate drugstore on the corner of 15th and U, right.
St. Augustine Catholic Church is a landmark at 15th and V Streets. Its 1920s church choir is pictured top right and a 1990s worship service, right.
(Reverse side, same for all markers in this series)
For the first half of the twentieth century, this U Street neighborhood inspired and sustained the rich social, civic, and cultural life of Washington's African American community. Here in the shadow of the renowned Howard University, neighbors responded to the injustices of a segregated city by creating their own self-reliant culture as well as generating leaders for the city and the nation in science, medicine, law, the military, education, literature, and the arts. Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington, though only one of many celebrated residents, personified their achievements. Follow this trail to the places that tell the story of this exceptional community in the heart of the nation's capitol. A tour booklet, City Within a City, is available at local businesses and sites open to the public. For information on guided walking tours call 202.828.WALK. To learn
Map of the Greater U Street Heritage Trail.
A resident relaxes on the porch of the elegant Portner Flats apartment buildings in 1897, shortly after its construction. It once stood directly across 15th Street. The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. (Marker Number 11 of 14.)
Location. 38° 55.025′ N, 77° 2.087′ W. Marker is in U Street Corridor (Shaw), District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of U Street NW and 15th Street, on the right when traveling west on U Street NW. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20009, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments (within shouting distance of this marker); Saint Augustine Roman Catholic Church (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Strong Families and Eminent Citizens (about 500 feet away); Meridian Hill Park (about 600 feet away); Todd Duncan Residence (approx. 0.2 miles away); Mrs. Henderson's Legacy (approx. 0.2 miles away); John Wesley Cromwell Residence (approx. 0.2 miles away); James Buchanan (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in U Street Corridor (Shaw).
Categories. • African Americans • Churches, Etc. •
Credits. This page was last revised on January 29, 2017. This page originally submitted on January 25, 2015, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. This page has been viewed 254 times since then and 31 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on January 25, 2015, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.