Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour: 9:30 Club (WUST Building)

The renovated club allowed it to compete with new venues in DC.

With The Black Cat opening in 1993 and bands quickly booking shows there instead of the 9:30 Club, owners Seth Hurwitz and Richard Heineke began the search for a new, competitive venue. Throughout their six-year search, the duo had honed in on a building at 815 V Street NW, also known as the former WUST Radio Music Hall. The building’s appeal occupied the duo’s mind as they searched for the perfect venue, and they finally purchased it in 1992. Even before WUST, this building had hosted famous African American musicians, including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billy Eckstine, among others, and would add more famous acts to its repertoire in the coming years.

In its first iteration, the building opened as The Music Hall by David Rosenberg in 1947. The club’s location on a corner lot at 9th and V streets, and only one block north of the popular clubs and theaters of U Street, made it ideal for the nightlife scene. Additionally, the club opened without any racial segregation policies, which meant that African American performers could take the stage without any restrictions or challenges. Rosenberg opened the club after famous African American pianist Hazel Scott was unable to perform at DAR Constitution Hall due to their segregation policy. Thus, he wanted to give African American artists a space to perform. The sold-out opening concert, headlined by Louis Armstrong, gave the club an optimistic start, but closed less than one year later due to high renovation costs and low profits.

Not long afterwards, Duke Ellington decided to try his hand at creating a successful club in the now vacant space. His new self-titled club, Duke Ellington’s, offered patrons a place to dance and listen to performances by musicians like Count Basie. However, the club failed to sell out shows and make a reasonable profit, with its doors closing just six weeks after opening. Some blamed the club’s lackluster success on its failure to obtain a liquor license, while others pointed to the high cover charge.

After the closure of Duke Ellington’s, the space was used as a dance studio, a wall decorator’s school, and then another club before the WUST radio station and music hall moved in. In 1959, the R&B AM radio station moved from its former U Street NW headquarters with a loyal following that spanned DC. The station connected listeners through its popular DJs, radio shows, and new music that it broadcasted. In addition to the station, the music hall hosted concerts, public speaking events, and much more. Malcolm X once delivered a speech in the music hall, and organizers for the March on Washington used the space to host its volunteers.

As time went on, the radio station changed its programming to gospel music and sports broadcasting, but performers of all genres continued to book the music hall for concerts. After WUST left the building in 1993, Hurwitz and Heneike purchased it almost immediately and began renovations to create the ultimate concert venue. After renovations were completed, the new venue opened with better facilities (thanks to bands’ input on what they needed), as well as the ability to move the stage and fixtures in order to fill the space – no matter the crowd size.

In addition to the new facility, Hurwitz and Heineke worked with local civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot to create a lasting relationship between the community and the venue. The building’s long tenure as a community gathering space and fond memories of the WUST station made it a local staple. Guyot recommended that the duo hire local residents to work at the club, and created charity fundraisers and drives through the venue that continue to this day.

From its humble beginnings in the basement of the Atlantic Building to its current home, the 9:30 Club gave punk bands a place to perform at a time when many were banned from most other venues in the city. The all-ages policy also allowed young audiences to attend shows when other places had age minimums. Through its ownership and location changes, its loyal concert goers have noted its ability to book legendary performers and to create an intimate atmosphere even with a sold-out show.

Recently, however, a wave of nostalgia caused many to yearn for the old, cramped, L-shaped space at the Atlantic Building. As someone who had their start as the drummer for the local band Dain Bramage, but is better known for his work with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, DMV local Dave Grohl decided to resurrect the original 9:30 Club, with a recreation of the original space next door to its current home. Grohl announced the plans in 2021, with the reconstruction beginning in 2022.

This site is a part of the Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour.



815 V St NW, 20001