Hub, Home, Heart
— Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail —
Union Station, across First Street, was the world's largest railroad terminal when it opened in 1907. Its construction took five years and displaced hundreds of small houses and businesses. Architect Daniel Burnham's Beaux-Arts masterpiece, with its soaring, elegant and light-filled interiors, was the first of the series of Classical buildings demonstrating the sophistication and power of the Nation's Capital.
The station's name refers to the "union" of two competing railroad depots: the Baltimore & Ohio's on New Jersey Avenue, NW, and the Pennsylvania's which occupied 14 acres on the National Mall. The merger made train travel more convenient. It removed commerce from the Mall and eliminated the danger of tracks crossing city streets.
Union Station and the railroads have employed thousands, many of whom lived nearby. For a white male immigrant of the early 1900s, a railroad job meant security for his family and, often, economic progress. For African American men the job of porter on a Pullman Company luxury rail car was among the best available. In 1925 A. Philip Randolph founded a pioneering black union, International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. DC's station porters, or Red Caps, were the nation's first to organize a local union, the Washington Terminal Brotherhood of Station Porters. Inside the station you can see a memorial to Randolph, who also worked to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The Classical City Post Office, designed to match Union Station, opened on this corner in 1914. The Post Office (since reborn as the National Postal Museum) replaced Capitol Park (a.k.a. Swampoodle Grounds), where the first baseball team known as the Washington Nationals played beginning in 1886.
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.