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Washingtonian Magazine
April, 2006

Great Places to Live

The Revival Heads East: H Street and Hill East

“Where is the next 14th Street?” Jim Abdo asks. “I found that in H Street. I am absolutely convinced it will experience a renaissance like 14th Street.”

Here as elsewhere, Abdo has faced down the skeptics. He runs down the list of neighborhoods he’s helped revitalize: “One after another, I’ve been told, ‘You’re nuts, you’re going places nobody wants to go.’”

On H Street, Northeast, as on 14th, Abdo put his money where his mouth is, spending $27 million to buy the old Capital Children’s Museum. He is restoring the 1870 building that once housed a convent and demolished the newer structures to wind up with 480 housing units, most of the upscale condos. The project, to be called Senate Square, will also include 25 or 30 units of affordable housing.

There are glimmers of change beginning to radiate down the commercial street and in the residential blocks on both sides, where speculators are betting H Street as the next frontier in DC’s eastward gentrification. One sign is the restoration of the 1938 Atlas Theater, in the 1300 block of H Street, for use as a performing arts center.

“As the H Street shopping corridor improves,” predicts Stevens, the former DC Economic Partnership executive, “all the neighborhoods both of [it] will be in position for the next wave.”

South of H Street and likely to benefit from it revival, Capitol Hill has been spreading east toward the Anacostia waterfront, where city planners envision a new neighborhood to be known as Hill East. “As the Hill pushes more to the east and north, you’ll see townhouses purchased and renovated,” says Stevens.

In a sense the neighborhood has already arrived. Abdo plays classical music in his SUV as he navigates the city streets, eventually arriving at the Bryan School Lofts, a century-old building he has converted into 20 high-end condos at 1315 Independence Avenue, Southeast. It adjoins 38 Bryan Square townhouses, which sold for up to $1 million. All of the lofts sold quickly. One small unit that went for $430,000 resold less than a year later for $570,000. Two of the four penthouse units sold for $1.5 million. Abdo owns the other two; he rents one and keeps the other as a showplace to entertain clients.

Its bathroom has 100-year-old reglazed tubs, and the ceilings are 19 feet high. The unit has 2,400 square feet, excluding the rooftop patio from which the entire region unfolds. “I own this view in perpetuity,” Abdo beams.

There’s the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, and off in the distance the National cathedral. To the northeast, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception stands out, and to the east are the hills of Anacostia, looking sylvan and beckoning.

—Eugene L. Meyer