Hub, Home, Heart
— Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail —
With its view of the Capitol and Senate office buildings, and with the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court just a short stroll away, Union Station truly is the gateway to the heart of the nation's government. The station is also where official Washington mixes with the local city. Before air travel became common in the 1950s, Union Station attracted enormous crowds to salute arriving presidents, watch protesters, or shriek at the Beatles disembarking for their first live American concert.
Until the early 1950s, most of downtown Washington's public accommodations were segregated. Union Station was one of the exceptions. In its dining room, African American and white patrons could sit down and eat side by side.
Traffic at Union Station peaked during World War II (1941-1945). Throngs of military men and women passed through en route to training camps and battlefronts. Civilians, especially young women, arrived to staff the enormous war effort. But as air travel expanded, Union Station's importance declined. When the station underwent major renovations in the 1980s, its grand concourse was reconfigured to hold inviting shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
The 1990s brought the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, on this block, named for the Howard University-trained lawyer whose strategies helped end this country's legal segregation. Marshall later became the first African American Supreme Court Justice.
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 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.