MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Earlier in the show, we visited Mount Pleasant and Shaw, to take a look at neighborhood roots. We travel now to another part of the District, the H Street corridor. Like Shaw, the H Street area was devastated by the 1968 riots in D.C. Now, after decades of neglect, H Street is back and as Sam Sessa reports, it's thanks in part to a phenomenon that can be summed up in one little phrase, rock 'n' roll.
MR. SAM SESSA
If you walk down H Street on a Friday or Saturday night, the once blighted neighborhood is bustling. Sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians, the restaurants are full and depending on the time, a line of people waits outside the live music club, The Rock 'n' Roll Hotel. Just five years ago, H Street was, to put it lightly, underdeveloped.
MR. SAM SESSA
Some say it had never fully recovered from the five days of burning and looting that occurred during the 1968 riots.
I would be down here in the morning and there, I am not exaggerating this, there would literally be tumbleweeds blowing down H Street.
That's Steve Lambert, the booking agent and manager of the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel, which opened on H Street in 2006. He says the neighborhood's turnaround in recent years is due in no small part to live music.
MR. STEVE LAMBERT
I don't see why, for any other reason, if Rock 'n' Roll Hotel wasn't as successful as it is, there is no other reason for some of these bars and restaurants to be down here.
Can live music help revitalize a neighbor? Absolutely, according to Ron Sims. As the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sims has seen communities across the country, rally around live music clubs.
MR. RON SIMS
If you have a strong musical scene, you can bring back any community because people will migrate there. But what happens is that all of a sudden you get a new kind of investments. And then the restaurants show up and then the small theaters show up. It becomes more of a total arts district, not just in this musical form but a variety of them.
It's certainly happening on H Street, where a number of bars, restaurants and sandwich shops have popped up in the past couple of years. The city's Office of Planning designated the area an arts and entertainment district, which makes it more attractive for live music clubs and other cultural institutions.
Jason Martin, who co-owns the sushi restaurant, Sticky Rice, said he looked to the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel as a gauge for the neighborhood's improvement. The better the club did, the more he was encouraged to open and expand his own restaurants.
MR. JASON MARTIN
Because of Rock 'n' Roll Hotel and The Argonaut, Sticky Rice, a slew of other businesses have been opening up. We opened up Dangerly Delicious Pie Shop next door and just the overflow of foot traffic from people going to every business I think is benefiting everyone and it has a lot to do with the music venue.
The sheer number of people The Rock 'n' Roll Hotel brings to the neighborhood has a lot to do with it. Between 2,000 and 2,500 concertgoers will drop by the club over the course of a good weekend Lambert said. After a couple years, other prospective business owners began to see that and invest in the neighborhood. Not everyone is overjoyed with all the new development.
Johnny Bratin, who lives and works on the 1100 block of H Street said when the construction started business trailed off. While business has picked up in recent months Bratin worries that finding parking won't be easy in the coming year.
MR. JOHNNY BRATIN
Well, they ain't put the meters out yet but they got one on 12th Street already but when they get all them meters and stuff lined up it's going to be a mess around here. People are going to be hard to find parking.
The Rock 'n' Roll Hotel brings a range of different musical genres. From rock to rap and deejays. The last stretch of 2010 and the first few months of 2011 have been the club's best yet. For decades before it was a live music club, the building used to be a funeral home. Now, it's at the center of a neighborhood on the rebound. Ron Sims from the Department of Housing and Urban Development isn't surprised.
You cannot underestimate the power of musical venues. If you decide you don't want them, you're basically signing the death warrant to your community as when you embrace them, they all said you're willing to say our community has a future, it's going to be vibrant, it's going to be attractive, it's going to be creative. It is a statement of we are.
In spite of its roots as a funeral home, now The Rock 'n' Roll Hotel is helping give a once decaying neighborhood new life. I'm Sam Sessa.
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