From its birth, the Whitelaw Hotel was a community effort. It was financed by black investors from every segment of the community and built entirely by black entrepreneurs, designers, and craftsmen. Shaw district residents used to say their most famous hotel was named for the "white laws" which segregated Washington's hospitality industry. In fact, the gray brick hotel is named for its builder, John Whitelaw Lewis, a black businessman who began construction of the hotel after World War I.
In its short heyday, the Whitelaw, located at the corner of T and 13th Street, attracted the likes of Cab Calloway and Joe Louis and played host to debutante balls and many black tie occasions attended by Washington's black elite. But during the 1960s, it deteriorated into a drug den, and in 1977 District officials condemned the Whitelaw. Once the only high class hotel for black patrons in Washington, the "Embassy," as it was fondly called, became a shelter for junkies and the homeless.
The Whitelaw was restored to it's original elegance in 1991-1992 and serves as a symbol of rejuvenation for the area. The lobby houses a display of the Whitelaw's past heydey, decline, and its restoration, including documents showing that Duke Ellington and other famous African Americans were its clients. Today the Whitelaw houses subsidized, low-cost apartmnets and is regarded special community pride as an important historical site.
The 12th Street YMCA, founded in 1853, was the first YMCA established for "colored men and boys." Anthony Bowen, former slave turned prominent black educator, organized the Y first on 11th Street and then at the True Reformer's Hall on U Street. The 12th Street location represents tremendous community fund-raising efforts to the tune of $27,000, which, along with private contributions, made the $100,000 structure a reality.
William Sidney Pittman, son-in-law of Booker T. Washington and one of the nation's first African-American architects, designed the five story building to hold 72 rooms and a swimming pool. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone on Thanksgiving of 1908, calling the Y "a monument to the advancement of the city of Washington." Renamed the Anthony Bowen YMCA in 1972, the community center housed such famous residents as Langston Hughes who lived there for a few years.
It gave way to the inception of the modern United Way and facilitated the Traveler's Aid Committee, which met black tourists at Union Station and guided them to local "colored" accommodations. The Bowen Y was allowed to deteriorate, arguably because of the newer Y built blocks away on Rhode Island Avenue. The building closed in 1982 and the main location for the Y relocated to W Street betweeen 13th and 14th Streets.
The building that housed the 12th Street YMCA has been completely restored, and is now known as the Thurgood Marshall Center. The Center will house a small historical museum honoring the neighborhood of Shaw, as well as private social service offices.
The Industrial Bank of Washington has been an institution of the African American Community for nearly 90 years. It is situated at the corner of 11th and U Streets, across from the site of Dr. George Davis's drugstore and its basement tenant, the night club Bohemia.
It was founded in 1913 by John W. Lewis as the Black Industrial Savings Bank, but closed 19 years later during the bank crisis. In 1934, Texas native Jesse Mitchell, a black businessman with a Howard University law degree, reopened the bank under its new name. He trained and hired only black employees to run his establishment.
Black citizens could deposit their money at white banks in the District, but only black banks allowed their patrons to borrow money. As a result, the Bank, which still operates from its original location, multiplied its assets 30-fold under Mitchell's direction, leading black banks nationwide.
The Reeves Center is the cornerstone of the economic redevelopment of the U Street area once known as Uptown and now known as Shaw. In 1986, the city government invested $50 million to erect The Reeves Center at the crossroads of 14th and U Streets as a major site to house city agencies. This was the first major step toward the comeback of the U Street area, which had languished for a quarter of a century.
Named after Frank D. Reeves, DC's first black Democratic Party committeeman, the Reeves Center -- or the Municipal Affairs building -- is eight stories of glass and stone, housing more than 1,000 city workers, as well as street level shops and a day care center.
Having witnessed the destruction of the 1968 riots as an Army soldier on duty, architect Paul Devarouax saw construction of the Reeves Center as a special opportunity to participate personally in regenerating a neighborhood he had enjoyed as an entertainment spot as a youngster.
Several years after the Reeves Center, the construction of a new metro station at 13th and U became another important catalyst to the area's revival, linking U Street to downtown and making its rich history accessible to many visitors and tourists.
Ben's Chili Bowl, illuminated by warm neon signs and an often steamy window front, is the Shaw District's most notable culinary landmark. Opened in 1958 by husband and wife team Ben and Virginia Ali, the Chili Bowl boasts "the Finest Hot Dogs and Chili Served with a Touch of Class."
For cultural black Washington, it represents the meeting ground for the neighborhood's most recognizable names. Located next door to the famous Lincoln Theater, entertainers, musicians, and comedians have broke bread together over many of the Alis' steaming bowls. During the 20s and 30s, the neighborhood attracted a string of popular pool halls; the Annex, the Narrow Gauge Billiard Parlor, and Charlie Buck's Place built up the neighborhood's nighttime clientele, setting the stage for the Chili Bowl's success. One piece of Chili Bowl lore: Comedian Bill Cosby and his current wife Camille met at Ben's for dates.
Ben's is built on the site of Washington's first silent movie theatre built in 1911. In 1986, the Ali's opened a back dining room, the Minnehaha, named in its honor.