Back in 2002, Capitol Hill businesspeople Adele and Bruce Robey bought a restaurant at 1365 H Street NE for $300,000 and turned it into the H Street Playhouse, a 100-seat black box that now serves as a home for small theater groups. Since then, hip bars and restaurants have sprung up around it, making H Street the city’s buzziest cultural destination—-while many of the businesses that had been there for decades have either failed or cashed out and left.

Now, the H Street Playhouse has perhaps become a victim of its own success.

After Bruce died in 2009, Adele sold the property to the local real estate investment firm Century Associates for $1.1 million, and paid for a three-year lease up front with the proceeds. She writes:

It was my understanding that the new owners of the building would keep it as a performance venue when my lease expired. Now apparently that is not going to happen. Or, it could possibly happen if the theater groups are willing to pay “market rent” which in the eyes of these men is in the neighborhood of $55/square foot. Since that works out to something like 20,000 a month, it’s obviously not going to happen. Most companies struggle to pay $6,000 (at which rate I lose $2,500 a month). In talking with our resident companies and judging by the daily calls I get for rental space, it is my opinion that if we can find a viable space that we can outfit, we can be up and running and fully booked very quickly.

Robey says she’ll be starting a new non-profit to raise money for a new location, and hopes to stay somewhere in the neighborhood, maybe further out on Bladensburg or Benning Road. “We need to be where an audience can reach us without too much hassle but also would like to locate somewhere where our presence can help spark new business development as we did 10 years ago on H,” she says.

The Playhouse’s lease is up in February of next year. The clock’s ticking.

I’ve reached out to the principals of Century Associates, and will update if they’ve got anything to say.


UPDATE, Friday, 4:30 p.m. – Joel Kelty of Century Associates says that the $55 figure is “ridiculous,” and that if H Street Playhouse does leave, “we’d love to replace it with another tenant that incorporates an arts or performance-related use.”

Robey forwarded me an email from the landlord in which they laid out a couple of examples of what H Street properties are leasing for these days, topping out at $55, and told her: “While it may be aggressive to think that rents on H Street can exceed those downtown, we believe the Playhouse has unique characteristics that should allow for a rent in the neighborhood of $45 per SF.”

Photo from