Friday, November 30, 2001

Once a haunt of jazz virtuoso Duke Ellington and boxing legend Joe Louis, U Street in Northwest, with its rich cultural past, rivals the history of any great American neighborhood.
Now tourists and residents can experience the vibrancy of the black community that thrived around U Street during the segregation era from the 1880s to the 1950s.
The District’s newest historic trail the “City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail” officially opened yesterday and awaits the strolling public.
“It is no wonder that we would have a Heritage Trail here,” says D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting congressional representative. “In opening this trail, the city is not only redefining a heritage, the city is redefining tourism.”
Joining Mrs. Norton in dedicating the trail yesterday were D.C. Council Member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, members of the Historical Society of Washington and representatives of the D.C. Heritage Tourism Coalition.
The trail includes 14 signs planted in the sidewalk in front of landmarks on and around U Street.
The signs, funded by a grant from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, each feature a small exhibit of vintage photographs and facts about the area’s past.
“U Street was an area where black luminaries of the country not only of this city lived,” Mrs. Norton said.
The trail begins at the Lincoln Theatre at 1225 U Street, which is visible from the 13th Street exit of the U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro station on the Green Line.
The recently restored theater holds the architectural splendor it had through the 1920s, when it was one of three first-run movie halls clustered on U Street.
During that era, nearby Lincoln Colonnade since demolished was a popular spot for balls, parties and performances.
Besides the theater, highlights on the trail include some of the childhood homes of jazz great Duke Ellington, and the African American Civil War Memorial at 10th and U.
Throughout the early 20th century, famous black entertainers played clubs around U Street. Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton are a few who roamed what was once known as the “Black Broadway.” Poet Langston Hughes also had a visible presence on U Street.
“U Street was the great intersection for so much and for so many of us,” Mrs. Norton said. “If you wanted to have any fun in D.C. and you were black, U Street was all you needed.”
Plans for the Heritage Trail came to fruition with the economic stability that swept the U Street corridor during the 1990s.
Mr. Graham said he was not worried that the trail’s success would be jeopardized by the diminished flow of tourists since the September 11 attacks.
“These signs will still be here when the economy comes back,” he said. “We’re not doing this for the next year or the next few years, we’re doing this for the future.”
Literature about the “City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail” can be obtained at 1200 U Street, inside the True Reformer Building, which also house the African American Civil War museum.

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