Shaw, Washington, D.C.

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Shaw, Washington, D.C.
Neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
The Phillis Wheatley YWCA, built in 1920, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
The Phillis Wheatley YWCA, built in 1920, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Shaw within the District of Columbia
Shaw within the District of Columbia
Country United States
District Washington, D.C.
Ward Wards 1, 2, and 6
Named for Robert Gould Shaw
 • Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1)
Jack Evans (Ward 2)
Charles Allen (Ward 6)
 • Total .73 sq mi (1.9 km2)
Population (2010)
 • Total 17,639
 • Density 24,163.0/sq mi (9,329.4/km2)

Shaw is a neighborhood located in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., named after Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War.


Shaw is roughly bounded by M Street, NW or Massachusetts Avenue NW to the south; New Jersey Avenue, NW to the east; Florida Avenue, NW to the north; and 11th Street, NW to the west. The area also includes the U Street Corridor, which is the commercial hub of the Shaw area, extending westward to 16th Street NW.

Florida Avenue marks the northern boundary with the adjacent neighborhoods of Columbia Heights and LeDroit Park. The area consists of gridded streets lined with small Victorian rowhouses. It is dominated by Howard University--technically just north of Shaw in the Pleasant Plains neighborhood--and the shops and theatres along U Street and centered along 7th Street NW, the original commercial hub of the area prior to redevelopment in the wake of the 1968 riots and Green Line Metrorail construction.

Shaw is sometimes considered to include Logan Circle, Truxton Circle, Randolph Square and other neighborhoods east of 16th Street and north of Downtown Washington, D.C., but in recent years those neighborhoods have become seen as separate entities.


Shaw grew out of freed slave encampments in the rural outskirts of Washington City. Originally called "Uptown," in an era when the city's boundary ended at "Boundary Street" (now Florida Avenue), in the Urban Renewal Era the neighborhood began to be referred to as Shaw because of the neighborhood Junior High School named after Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The neighborhood thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the pre-Harlem center of African American intellectual and cultural life. Howard Theological Seminary received its first matriculates in 1866; by 1925, Professor Alain LeRoy Locke was advancing the idea of "The New Negro", and Langston Hughes was descending from LeDroit Park to hear the "sad songs" of 7th Street. The most famous Shaw native to emerge from this period—sometimes called the Harlem Renaissance—was Duke Ellington.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, riots erupted in many D.C. neighborhoods, including Shaw, Columbia Heights, and the H Street, NE corridor. The 1968 Washington, D.C. riots marked the beginning of a decline in population and development that would condemn much of the inner city to a generation of economic decay. Following the riots, Shaw civic leaders Walter Fauntroy and Watha T. Daniel led grassroots community renewal projects with the Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) .

Shaw is a mostly residential neighborhood of 19th century Victorian row houses. The architecture of these houses, Shaw's central location, and the stability of D.C.'s housing market have transformed the neighborhood through gentrification.[1] Shaw's notable place in African American history has made the recent influx of affluent professionals particularly controversial.[citation needed]

Gentrification in the 2010s is transforming the neighborhood into an upscale retail hub.[2] But the mix of upscale newcomers and very poor long-time residents may contributed to a persistent high crime rate.[3]

Infrastructure and landmarks[edit]

Public transportation[edit]

Dunbar Theatre, also known as the Southern Aid Society Building, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Shaw is served by the Mt. Vernon Square Metro, Shaw – Howard University and U Street Green Line Metro stations.

Cultural institutions[edit]

Among Shaw's many landmarks are Ben's Chili Bowl, the Lincoln Theatre, the Howard Theatre, O Street Market, Shiloh Baptist Church, The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, the Twelfth Street YMCA Building, and the north portion of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1950 34,208
1960 25,749 −24.7%
1970 19,994 −22.4%
1980 15,901 −20.5%
1990 15,044 −5.4%
2000 14,997 −0.3%
2010 17,639 17.6%

Shaw has grown dramatically since the mid-to-late 20th century, with a 2010 population of 17,639. In 1950, the area's population had reached over 34,000 people, around double its current level.[4] Like many neighborhoods throughout Washington, D.C., Shaw hit a population low point in the 1980s and 1990s, rebounding considerably at the turn of the 21st century.[5]

Little Ethiopia[edit]

Since 2001, a number of Ethiopian restaurants and retail businesses have either opened or moved from nearby Adams Morgan into Shaw, settling in particular on the once desolate block of 9th Street NW between T and U streets. This influx of Ethiopians has revitalized the corridor, prompting members of the Ethiopian American community to lobby the city government to officially designate the block as "Little Ethiopia". Although no formal legislation was proposed, Shaw residents have expressed opposition to the idea, feeling that such a designation would unfairly isolate that area from the historically African American Shaw.[6]


District of Columbia Public Schools operates public schools.

District of Columbia Public Library operates the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Community Library.[7]


  1. ^ A Bittersweet Renaissance, Paul Schwartzman, The Washington Post. February 23, 2006
  2. ^ Halzack, Sarah (14 August 2014). "What a new shopping hub in D.C. shows us about the future of retail". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Schwartzman, Paul (30 August 2015). "Amid glittering renewal, violence evokes a neighborhood’s bloody past". Washington Post. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  4. ^ 1950 Census of Population and Housing
  5. ^ 1970 Census of Population and Housing US Census Bureau Retrieved 2012-04-23
  6. ^ Shaw Shuns 'Little Ethiopia', Paul Schwartzman, The Washington Post. July 25, 2005
  7. ^ "Hours & Locations." District of Columbia Public Library. Retrieved on October 21, 2009.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°54′40.1″N 77°1′18.9″W / 38.911139°N 77.021917°W / 38.911139; -77.021917