- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2000

One of the most difficult challenges the District will face during the next decade has to do with money. It will need money to keep taxes down, pay for new schools and roads and other capital projects, and it will need money to raise the standard of living in the nation's capital. There are various signs indicating city officials are moving in the right direction, including increases in home sales and office space. The recent announcement of a restoration project in the Shaw neighborhood is a small but important sign.

"We are literally seeing the city in which I was raised reborn," D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said at a May 17 press conference. "It takes effort, and it takes money … [and] nothing signifies the revitalization of U Street and all that U Street stood for … there is no more prominent symbol than the Howard Theatre."

Located on T Street N.W. between Seventh and Florida, the Howard Theatre has a long and storied history as part of America's theater circuit. Major stars performed there from its opening in 1910 until its closure in 1970 and, as Mrs. Norton pointed out, the cultural and economic ups and downs of the U Street corridor and the Howard are inherently entwined.

Unlike other major corridors outside of downtown Washington, such as Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue, which have long been viable because of restaurants, upscale shops, popular retail chains, and housing to sustain them, the U Street area in Shaw has been far less fortunate. Smack in the center of the city, U Street was the heart of black Washington. A place to see and be seen, it thrived with theaters and nightclubs, bars and eateries, small clothing shops and bookstores, and meeting halls for the black intelligentsia as well as civic activism. That pretty much was the picture from the turn of the 20th century until the 1968 riots spawned by Martin Luther King's assassination and segregation shifted black demographics. Only in recent years has new life been breathed into the area.

As busy now during the day as it is after nightfall, about the only remaining major edifices from the black heyday are the Howard, a 1,500-seat performing arts house, and the Dunbar Theatre, an old movie house around the corner at Seventh and T. These days, even as new construction bustles all around the Shaw area, black market activities abound at practically all hours. Even on May 17, while the front of the Howard Theatre was alive with Mrs. Norton, Mayor Williams and others boasting of the "newfound" interest in the city, the darker side prevailed. Trash was strewn all about, street hustlers clung to sidewalks and aged facades reminded people of what was and what could be.

What must be, obviously, are arts venues and other entertainment outlets office space and eateries where that blight now stands.

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