Gateway to the capital

There is little doubt that GW’s location in Foggy Bottom is one of the strong points of going to school here. Within minutes, students can visit museums on the National Mall, see a performance at the Kennedy Center or hit the shops in Georgetown. So why would anyone want to leave our cozy corner of northwest D.C.? Well, as this series examined last week, D.C. has a wealth of interesting places and people. And they all are just a few Metro stops away.

Venturing across East Capitol Street into northeast Washington, one of the first sights is the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill. This impressive marble building is a popular tourist attraction. On a sunny spring afternoon, it’s common to find a family in front of the massive ivory pillars, taking pictures.

People from all over the country are attracted to the larger-than-life quality of Washington’s historic landmarks. Ann Helmsing and Frank Wittman traveled from Chicago to admire the beauty of Capitol Hill.

“Everything is in fine detail – it’s overwhelming,” Helmsing said. She added that visiting Washington brings perspective to how the country runs.

Visitors also appreciate the sense of history incorporated in each landmark.

Wittman said these buildings serve a purpose in forming the identity of the nation; they are more than just houses of government.

Connie and Michael Johnson sat in front of the Supreme Court, admiring the architecture and commenting on how their trip to Washington has enriched their six-year-old son. The couple said bringing children to see these historic buildings in person is important.

“It changes how they understand American history, making it more real,” Connie Johnson said.

The family’s trip to D.C. from northern California has provided a change of scenery.

“Out west what is 100 years old is old, but out here 200 years is much older,” Michael Johnson said.

Like the rest of the city, Northeast’s history has its own story to tell. In 2003, Voice of the Hill, a neighborhood newspaper, published a series chronicling the history of northeast D.C. The series noted that the area did not become very populated until after the Civil War, but it has long been one of Washington’s main transportation corridors. Maryland Avenue N.E. was one of D.C.’s first roads.

With the growth of residents in Northeast, the H Street business district formed. In the beginning of the 20th century, H Street N.E. was one of the city’s busiest main streets, but the area hit hard times in the 1960s. However, H Street is experiencing economic development once again with the arrival of new businesses and the revival of old landmarks.

H Street and Capitol Hill are just two of the areas in Northeast. The quadrant’s neighborhoods boast an assortment of museums and historic sites, in addition to religious and cultural centers. One is a focal point of women’s rights and the other is full of trees, but both the Sewall-Belmont House and the National Arboretum are national parks located in northeast D.C. This section of the city also boasts several colleges and universities, including Catholic University, Gallaudet University and Trinity College. The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located on Catholic’s campus in Brookland.

But the hub of Northeast is Union Station. A cross section of commuters and tourists converge daily on the 96-year-old transit center, but Union Station is more than a transportation hub. An array of boutiques, restaurants and a nine-screen AMC movie theater make it a popular place to locals and visitors, alike. And the constant flow of people makes it a high-traffic area for commerce.

Independent retail vendor Harold Breedlove has spent two years working at the Great Zimbabwe, an African fabrics stand at Union Station. He said working in the northeast has given him a greater sense of diversity.

“People come here from all throughout the world – Puerto Rico, Europe, South America, Japan and Africa. (Many of them) are people who have visited Africa and appreciate the significance of African arts,” Breedlove said.

He said he also enjoys living in Northeast because of the neighborhood’s culture.

“I see people from all walks of life. Government officials, poets, writers … people trying to make some contribution to society,” Breedlove said.

Residents of Northeast often speak of its blend of nightlife and domestic tranquility. Walking into the Red River Grille on Massachusetts Avenue, the local population speaks out.

Inside the restaurant, a few locals are enjoying their evening, and a group of young men takes turns playing pinball while drinking beer. One of the men, Patrick Carlson, lights a cigarette as he waits his turn at the pinball machine.

Carlson is a native Washingtonian who lives in Northeast and commutes to the suburbs for work. Carlson’s affinity for this area has much to do with the attitudes of the people living there.

“The level of intellectual capital is higher than other places I have visited,” Carlson noted. “(Washington) has a slower pace than New York and is still considered part of the South.”

He said he likes being able to walk from one place to another because the area has a strong sense of community.

“We hang out on the stoop, play guitar and shoot the breeze with people we have never met,” Carlson said.

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