The Greater U Street Historic District-Washington DC


The Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U Street
NPS Photo

The Greater U Street Historic District is a Victorian-era neighborhood, developed largely between 1862 and 1900. The area consists of a coherent group of row houses constructed overwhelmingly by speculative builders and real estate developers along streets established by the L’Enfant Plan. The neighborhood’s rapid development was in response to the city’s strong demand for housing following the Civil War, the growth of the Federal government in the late 19th century, and the expansion of Washington’s economy and population. Development was made possible by the laying of streetcar tracks along 14th and 7th Streets by the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company in 1862. The new streetcar technology opened up this vast area for residential development, making it convenient for the first time for government employees and others to commute downtown to work and shop. By the end of the 19th century, the transportation corridors along 14th and 7th Streets had developed as neighborhood-based commercial areas. Most of the district’s brick Victorian-era architecture remains intact along its residential streets and commercial corridors.

The historic district is also significant as the center of Washington’s African American community between c.1900 and 1948. While always racially and socio-economically diverse, the area was predominately white and middle class until the turn of the century. As Washington became increasingly segregated, the neighborhood emerged as a “city within a city” for Washington’s African American residents. U Street became the city’s most important concentration of businesses, entertainment facilities, and fraternal and religious institutions owned and operated by African Americans, while the surrounding neighborhood became home to many of the city’s leading African American citizens. This second phase of development is most tangibly evident along U Street, and its immediately adjacent blocks where buildings of significant stature and architectural expression were built by and for the African American community. While the area remained an important commercial and cultural center for the African American community through the 1960s, the neighborhood began to change in character after racially restrictive real estate covenants were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, thus allowing African Americans access to housing throughout the area.

Today, the Greater U Street neighborhood is defined by a variety of architectural styles and building types ranging from the 19th-century residential and commercial architecture to the early- to mid-20th-century African American fraternities/societies, theaters, and jazz clubs for which the area gained international acclaim. Between the commercial transportation corridors, the streetscapes are defined by rows of 19th-century dwellings punctuated by churches, corner stores, and schools. There are 12 individually notable landmarks within the historic district which are listed below.

The Evans-Tibbs House NR is located at 1910 Vermont Avenue and was the home of Lillian Evans Tibbs, known as Madame Evanti, the first internationally acclaimed African American opera star. It was designed by R.E. Crump and built in 1894. The Lincoln Theatre NR, located at 1215 U Street, was constructed as a first-run house for an African American clientele. Built in 1921, it is a significant collaboration between noted theater designer Reginald Geare and Harry M. Crandall, a leading Washington theater operator. The Prince Hall Masonic Temple NR at 1000 U Street was the home of the first African American Masonic Order in the south. The Neoclassical building was designed by prominent African American architect Albert I. Cassell, and built in 1922-30.

U Street, Lincoln Theatre, c. 1935
The Historical Society of Washington, DC

The Southern Aid Society/Dunbar Theater NR at 1901-3 7th Street was built in 1921 and designed by Isaiah T. Hatton, and Reginald Geare, theater architect. The True Reformer Building NR at 1200 U Street was built in 1903 for the United Order of True Reformers. It was the first major commission of John A. Lankford, prominent African American architect. Frelinghuysen University (Edward P. Goodwin House) NR at 1800 Vermont Avenue served as the first permanent home of Frelinghuysen University to provide academic, vocational and religious education for African American working class adults. It was built by Diller B. Goff in 1879.

The Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ NR is located at 1701 11th Street. It is an unusual example of Italian Romanesque Revival architecture designed in 1928 by Howard Wright Cutler. It is the home of an influential congregation. The Anthony Bowen YMCA (12th Street Branch) NHL can be found at 1816 12th Street. It is the home of the nation’s first African American chapter of the YMCA, and founded by former slave Anthony Bowen in 1853. The present building dates from 1908-1912 and was a major commission of W. Sidney Pittman, one of the nation’s first African American architects.

The Howard Theater NR at 620 T Street was built in 1910 and designed by J. Edward Storck. It was the city’s first legitimate theater for African American audiences and entertainers. The Whitelaw Hotel NR at 1839 13th Street is an apartment hotel, which long served as a unique meeting place and public accommodations for notable African Americans during the era of segregation. It was the work of Isaiah T. Hatton, locally trained as an African American architect, and built in 1919.

The Mary Ann Shad Carey House NHL, the home of the first African American female journalist is located at 1421 W Street. After the Civil War, she became the nation’s first African American female lawyer. The house was built c.1890. The Manhattan Laundry NR is located at 1326-46 Florida Avenue. It is a complex of vernacular and architect-designed commercial buildings representing more than 50 years of commercial growth.

The Greater 14th Street Historic District is roughly bounded by Florida Ave., NW; 12th St., NW; and S and 16th Sts., NW. Unless otherwise noted above all buildings are private and not open to the public. Metro stop: U Street-Cardozo