Last week’s announcement that a Whole Foods will open up on the 600 block of H Street NE drew lots of attention to this once-dilapidated stretch of pavement. But the imminent arrival of the yuppie apocalypse is hardly the biggest thing that’s happened to the block. First developed more than 100 years ago, the street was home to a diverse and thriving commercial community before being hit hard during the riots of 1968. Here’s a look back at the block’s eccentric and sometimes tumultuous past.
625 H St. NE: In 1920, prominent D.C. businessman Benjamin Ourisman opened a Chevrolet dealership )above) at this spot. In its heyday, Ourisman’s was the highest-selling dealership in the country; Ourisman Automotive Group has locations all over the area today, but none in the District.
645 H St. NE: This is the eastern end of the property that was purchased for $51.5 million by developer Jair Lynch in 2011. Construction on the mixed-use development, which takes up most of the southern side of the block, is still underway.
653 H St. NE: Morton’s Department Store occupied this space until 1968, when it was heavily looted during the riots after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Three years later, the skeleton of a possible riot victim was found in the department store’s demolished remains.
624 H St. NE: The former site of the Apollo movie theater (right), built in 1913. Its renovation in 1930 was heralded by the Washington Post as a “sensational new departure in neighborhood theater construction and design.” But the Renaissance Revival-style movie house was knocked down in 1955, and the spot is now home to a self storage facility.
610 H St. NE: According to a May 1929 story in the Washington Post, an office at 610 H St. NE prompted divorce between Allison Leland and his wife Susan in 1929. The issue? Susan let a contractor use her home’s entryway as an office, which her husband deemed inappropriate—particularly because the contractor was seen entering his “office” right as Allison was leaving for work.
600 H St. NE (left): Samuel Madeoy, a used furniture dealer, lived here around the turn of the century. Madeoy was severely burned on the night of Sept. 16, 1921, while attempting to put out flames on his truck, which had caught fire.
On Feb. 19, 1998, a Metropolitan Police Department officer named Hardy helped deliver a baby right in the middle of the block. According to coverage in the Washington Times, Hardy had stopped a car that ran a red light as it sped down the block. But when he looked in the back seat, he saw a woman giving birth. Hardy retrieved gloves from his cruiser, hopped in the car, and delivered the child, even clearing embryonic fluid from the baby’s throat when he realized she wasn’t breathing. Both mother and child made it safely to the hospital.
Apollo photo via the National Photo Company Collection of the Library of Congress; Ourisman photo via the Theodor Horydczak Collection of the Library of Congress; 600 H St. NE photo via the National Photo Company Collection of the Library of Congress