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The Hill
May, 2004

Hill's Condo - Abdo does H Street Museum
by Duncan Spencer

Striving, stumbling H Street N.E. may have reached the tipping point in its fight to rise again.

With the news that condo wizard Jim Abdo, the developer of Bryan School condos, will convert the huge Capital Children’s Museum at 3rd and H strees N.E., the ambiguous god of gentrification has surely arrived at last on the tawdry, much-loved thoroughfare north of the Hill.

Of all the damage done to commercial streets during the April 1967 Martin Luther King riot, the burning of H Street was most vivid. I can still recall how, as a young and excited reporter, I watched the row-house stores being first gleefully looted and then set on fire, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, during two wild days of chaos here.

The riot turned what had been black Capitol Hill’s main street into a broken place with huge, long-lasting gaps. Much of the black rage in the riot was aimed at absentee landlords and businesses. It took two generations for the memories to fade, and for the push to restore H Street to gain momentum.

Abdo has proved, at Logan Circle and elsewhere, that as long as there is a trace of good architecture left, he can turn a crack house into carriage trade housing. And there is much to work with at the museum.

The main building is a former convent, St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged of the Little Sisters of the Poor, with various expansions through the 1960s.

Abdo will bring the one element sure to cure what ails H: middle-class people who know how to squawk and have money to spend. And there is sure to be the usual moan and groan about how high prices are evicting the poor. But in the balance may be something that the Hill has needed for a long time: a real retail corridor from 3rd Street to 15th Street N.E. serving the fast changing and upwardly mobile Near Northeast community.

And the museum? It is negotiating a new home at downtown’s L’Enfant Plaza.