Ad

Monday, July 23, 2012

Alan Page: What H Street Means to Me

P1010054_7
A sign on Wylie Street warns off those seeking to buy drugs in the Spring of 2005

I have lived just off the H Street corridor since the beginning of 2003. I was the first gentrifier on the block, so to speak. A black lawyer, with a pregnant fiancee, I often found I was the lone fellow on the block heading off to work in a dress shirt and khakis in the morning (as vivid a sign of the unemployment problem facing the neighborhood as any).

When my fiancee told me she was pregnant, we were living in an efficiency in NW. For us, raising a family in an efficiency was out (kudos to whoever pulls it off), so we started looking for a new place. Rents in NW were already high enough for me to decide to pursue purchasing a house, especially looking at the reasonably low interest rates of that time. A lot of other people must have had the same idea, because we got outbidded on every house we tried to buy in NW.

So, we expanded our search to other areas of the city. We chose Wylie Street because it was affordable.  So, we got the joyous experience of moving into a very community oriented, friendly neighborhood, although admittedly there was enough drug traffic to justify the sign at the 13th Street entrance to the one way block warning "automobiles that come onto this block to purchase drugs may be seized" (this sign was subsequently removed when the block improved; the old school hand-to-hand drug sales prevalent on the block nine years ago are now completely gone).
The block and the surrounding area had problems beyond drug traffic. Garbage collection was spotty. H Street itself was filled with abandoned buildings and there had been years of discussion about (and some action taken toward) revitalization of the corridor back to its commercial glory days. My new neighbors were happy to let me know the scoop on prior restoration efforts. The Hechinger Mall was one revival attempt. The strip mall stretching from the 800 to the 1000 block on the south side of H was another attempt at getting the retail aspect of the corridor back to its prior level of strength. There was a lot of foot traffic on the block, but businesses were coming and going, some only lasting a year. A lot of small entrepreneurs were willing to give the strip a try, but few of them were surviving for the long term (businesses like George's were the exception, lasting for decades, only to close recently).

I worked with the H Street Main Street program and its volunteers on a few ideas to get things up and running. Anwar Saleem and Richard Layman were the two folks at H Street Main Street that I often sought for advice about how best I could help the street. I walked the corridor with Richard Layman helping to gather business information for a H Street business directory meant to inform neighbors and other potential customers about all the current businesses awaiting their patronage on the strip. Layman personally introduced me to Sonny (who formerly operated a plumbing supply shop on the east side of H Street that is now a fashion boutique). Sonny was a great plumber who did fast work and charged reasonable rates. Parks Hardware didn't look as fancy as Lowe's, but it usually had the items I needed for home improvement projects around my as-is home. H Street Main Street (brought back?) the H Street Festival a few years ago, to minor success, but each year, the crowds got bigger and the production value went up.

I was pretty happy to stumble onto Frozen Tropics near this time period, as it allowed me to keep up with forward progress in the neighborhood. The purchase and revitalization of the Atlas Theater was a good first sign. A book store opening on the west side of H (421 H St NE) was another (it subsequently closed and was replaced with a small parade of bar concepts, including Pap & Peteys, Toyland and now The Big Board).

The wave that helped revitalization stick was the rise of concept businesses on the corridor. A children's spa, a nautical-themed bar, a mussels place in a former doctors office. This was the first wave. Barber shops, hair salons, and beauty supply shops fed the longtime foot traffic during the day, but an increasing number of bars and restaurants were bringing the corridor alive at night.

Finally, major investment came. The long empty space on the north side of the 300 block of H Street soon will be the location of the first new grocery store on H Street since its heyday (note I use the term "new" to differentiate this store from the current presence of Murrays in the 600 block, another site that is soon to be developed). The phrase "soon to be developed" is a bit of a mantra around H Street now, as some major projects are moving at a slower pace than some neighbors would like. We could use more daytime retail among the new waves of businesses opening up (the arrival of a bike shop is a particularly welcome sight for me and my young bike-riding A-alike). Coming from a 2003 view, though, I think H Street is in a great space and getting better. No matter when you arrived, welcome to the neighborhood! Random acts of kindness and saying hi are always welcome, especially if you see me riding or walking around our 'hood. *smile*

Your neighbor,

Alan Page
spirit head shot in suit
Headshot photo provided by Alan Page

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this. It offers a nice perspective of an ever-evolving neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this, Alan! I've been on H Street for a little more than two years now and I've been thrilled with this neighborhood. I hope as more people continue to discover this area they will bring the same positive attitude you did.

heyktb said...

When I first moved here, I was told that Wylie was the street that newcomers were warned to avoid. Now, it is the cutest block in the neighborhood punctuated by your Wylie Street garden and beautiful window boxes all in a row. I make Wylie my route when traveling from my home on K to the dance studio because it feels so welcoming and makes me smile. Kudos for the effort to bring about this transformation!

Anonymous said...

Wow, just wow. Fantastic. I am proud to have you as neighbor. Thank you for this.

Daily Rider said...

Neighbors like Alan are part of the reason we enjoy being on H as well. Thanks for the shout out Alan!

Alan Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Page said...

Thanks for the kind words, everybody!

Takes great neighbors to make a great neighborhood, so let's keep pushing forward!

Anonymous said...

This was great, I feel the positive change on H Street all the time. I know that is always encouraging as friends in NW and Virginia start to venture to the area-and keep coming back.

Anonymous said...

Well, I actually just purchased drugs on Wylie Street yesterday.

John said...

Hey all - As much as I love the area (been here for nearly 7 years), I want to alert everyone of an attempted bicycle theft occurred this morning on my property (1600 block of Lang Place NE).

I was in my house and I heard someone on the front porch, tampering with the chain lock on my bicycle. When I opened the door, I saw that an African America male, about 5'8" and 155 pounds, wearing navy blue sweat pants, a white t-shirt and a navy blue duffel bag, had used a chain cutter to cut the bike lock and was about to hop on the bike to ride away. I ran after him and pulled him off the bike and started shouting at him that he was "trying to steal my bike", and I proceeded to try to teach him a lesson, "What makes you think you need this bike more than I do?" and "What makes you think it's okay to steal what clearly doesn't belong to you?". My neighbor came out to see if I needed help and he also saw the bike thief (at this point, on the ground after I pulled him off the bike). Although I recovered the bike, I want to share this with FT readers. Please be alert and watch out for each other.
- John

Anonymous said...

John,

How old do you think the guy was? What time was it? What do you mean by chain cutter? Bolt cutter, grinder? Just curious as I thought most bike thefts from yards around here were crimes of opportunity. If a guy is targeting locked bikes it's good to know. Glad you were not hurt, btw.

Anonymous said...

I live on the nicer west side of H street and never had any problems like this.

grrrr said...

i live on the west side too and have had a potted plant stolen, and my mailbox stolen. oh, and also a propane tank. i guess if it's not glued down, it's public property. lesson learned.

Alan Page said...

@ John,

I am wary of leaving my bike outside for that very reason. Sigh.

On a more positive note, does anyone have good suggestions for indoor bike-mounting?

Alan Page said...

@ John,

I am wary of leaving my bike outside for that very reason. Sigh.

On a more positive note, does anyone have good suggestions for indoor bike-mounting?

JoshNE said...

Hey Alan,

Here are some cool ideas:

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/5-handmade-bike-shelves-for-ap-148404

npm said...

New topic: The Union Station plan discussed in the Post this morning is available here: http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/919/171/Washington-Union-Station-Master-Plan-201207.pdf

(Thanks to Greater Greater Washington for the link: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/15663/amtrak-akridge-imagine-the-future-of-union-station/)

Post article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/amtrak-to-propose-7-billion-overhaul-at-union-station/2012/07/24/gJQApGwi7W_story.html

Now, does anyone have $7 billion to spare?

Anonymous said...

tommy likey. tommy want wingy.

John said...

@ Anon 11:37 AM -- Sorry - The theft happened at 8:45 this morning (I was running late for work). The guys was probably in his mid-30s. And, yes, I meant to say "bolt cutter". He cut right through a sturdy 1/4 inch steel chain in about a minute (the bike was locked to my front porch railing).

I know the guy from the west end (Anon 12:37) is just looking for reactions, but I've heard of this sort of bike theft happening in various parts of the city so nobody is immune to theft, even if items are locked down.

Dolemite said...

John,

I think you meant to say

I know the guy from the west end (Anon 12:37) is just A BIG DOUCHE looking for reactions...

There, fixed it for ya.

John said...

Ha Ha, agreed, Dolemite!

Anonymous said...

That is exactly why I would never own a bike in the city. Unless you have room to keep it indoors, it's going to get stolen one way or another. I've lived in the area for over 5 years and have heard one too many bike-theft stories like this one. Glad you are okay.
Consider selling your bike before it's stolen and investing in a bikeshare membership.

Anonymous said...

Why is someone a big douche if they live in a nicer neighborhood than you and haven't been the victim of crime? I think you need to look in the mirror and re-examine a bit. Maybe if you worked a little harder you could afford the kind of security this person has.

inked said...

8:51,
I think it's because 12:37 was pretty clearly trolling.