Hub, Home, Heart
— Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail —
This high ground near the B&O Railroad tracks has been Union Terminal Market since 1931. That year Center Market on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, came down to make way for the National Archives. Vendors seeking new locations clustered here.
Before the market arrived, this land was part of the Brentwood estate, and then the World War I-era Camp Meigs, an army training post. In the 1920s the Hechinger lumber yard replaced the camp. With the railroad so convenient, traveling circuses occasionally set up here.
Jewish, Greek, Italian, and African American vendors dominated the original market, including Fred Kolker and his Kolker Poultry. In the late 1950s, more businesses arrived as urban renewal closed the Southwest wholesale market. Among them was Washington Beef Company, belonging to Fred Kolker's uncle Sam. Every week Washington Beef employees unloaded and butchered five rail cars of beef carcasses for distribution to such customers as the Hot Shoppes and DC Public Schools. And each night a crew cleaned equipment to prepare for the federal inspector's regular morning visit. Sam's six sons and grandsons continued the business into the late 1980s.
A new wave of immigrant entrepreneurs, especially from China, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Korea, came in the 1980s.
Civil rights activist Nadine Winter, concerned about homeless people at the market, created Hospitality House to assist them. In 1962 Hospitality House opened a family shelter at 507 Florida Avenue. Winter later helped establish a community credit union on H Street, worked for federally supported urban homesteading, and, in 1974, was elected to the first of four terms on the DC City Council, representing Ward 6.
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.