Ben's Chili Bowl has been located on U Street in Northwest D.C. since 1958.
One stop away from Glenmont on the Red Line sits the small neighborhood of Wheaton, Maryland. Caught in the north of Silver Spring and east of Rockville and Bethesda, Wheaton is home to developing apartment complexes, mom-and-pop shops and the longest Metro escalator in the area.
“Wheaton has always been kind of a neighborhood to me because it’s small, the footprint is small. It’s not like Silver Spring, Rockville or Bethesda in terms of the people or in terms of the people or the businesses. We have some of the most unique businesses in Wheaton that you won’t find anyplace else,” said Marian Fryer, 76, who has lived in Wheaton for 37 years.
During her time in Wheaton, Fryer said that there has been a lot of change, mostly in the people who live there.
“Over the last 10, 15 years, we have had a lot of change in terms of demographics, in terms of ethnicities. We have a lot of new neighbors who are from all different countries now,” she said.
One important thing that has changed along with the more international population: the food.
“We have Greek restaurants that we never had in Wheaton before. We have so many different kinds of restaurants that we never, never had before in Wheaton because of the way our community has changed,” Fryer said.
While Wheaton might be small, Fryer said that she continues to live there because it has everything she needs. She also values the sense of community in the neighborhood.
“Everything I need is right here in Wheaton. Shopping, my spirituality stuff, my church is here. And there is a lot of unique religious organizations to meet everybody’s needs. I think one of the unique things about Wheaton is that we are diverse, but we do a lot of things together.”
U Street, D.C.
For most D.C. residents, U Street brings to mind images of a night out at one of its many bars and restaurants, followed by a trip to the classic Ben’s Chili Bowl for a half-smoke or some chili cheese fries. For Zahra Jilani, a U Street resident, the neighborhood is about the history.
“I really, really love U Street and I love living here. We get so much more than you get just coming for a night out. I love U Street because it’s one of the most unique and exciting neighborhoods in D.C. I love it because it’s truly accessible; there are so many public transportation options that you actually don’t need a car. I love it because it’s the center of the arts, music and D.C. culture. I love it because there’s a drum circle, every day,” Jilani said.
The iconic neighborhood in Northwest D.C. includes some of the most important history of the civil rights’ movement during the 20th century. Its African American history is also reflected in the African American Civil War Memorial. The monument, right outside the U Street Metro station, is the only one in the world.
“Until 1920, U Street was the largest urban African American population in the entire United States. It was on U Street that some of the first Civil Rights protests occurred. And right here on Twelfth Street NW where Thurgood Marshall met with civil rights leaders to prepare himself in fighting Brown v. Board of Education in the Supreme Court,” Jilani said.
The neighborhood has been steadily gentrifying, but Jilani says that adds diversity to the lively neighborhood. “The landscape is just very, very vibrant. It’s filled with many, many people of different cultures.”
U Street’s nightlife might be what drives people there initially, but Jilani says she stays there for the history and culture of the neighborhood.
“Next time you come to U Street for a good time and a late night out, keep in mind the significance of the street you’re walking in and the heritage that lies within them.”
Music: "Hungry Eyes (In the Style of Eric Carmen)" by Hot Fox Karaoke from Hot Fox Karaoke - Dirty Dancing