History of Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods
CHUN’s beginnings lay rooted in the desire to improve the greater Capitol Hill community. In 1969, a group of young Capitol Hill residents took a hard look at what was happening to their neighborhood in light of the urban flight and civic indifference, and decided something had to be done to stem further deterioration of this historic but tarnished, neglected center city jewel. As community organizers they were a talented and experienced cadre. Many came from the ranks of the turbulent 60s protest generation. Their initial grassroots resistance was to stand in opposition to the city’s plan to add more one-way streets through the Capitol Hill neighborhood (specifically 11th and 12th avenues). Reverend Bob Musil of Warren Methodist Church organized the concerned neighbors to fight the proposed conversion of East 11th and 12th Avenues into one-way streets. The group was successful in this endeavor.
Encouraged by this success, the Capitol Hill Congress evolved, later to become Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods. From their first victory, the organization began to address issues of land use, zoning, housing and transportation. A more formal organizational structure was instituted and the geographical boundaries were expanded.
In 1974, CHUN agreed to take responsibility for running a relatively modest event called the Capitol Hill People’s Fair, which had been coordinated by the Police Storefront & Community Services Committee. Under the direction of CHUN, the People’s Fair became a citywide event, drawing more than 250,000 people to its spring celebration of urban living. The People’s Fair became the mainstay of CHUN’s financial livelihood, enabling a paid staff. Additionally, a percentage of the Fair revenues were funneled back into the neighborhood through grants to community organizations. In total, more than $750,000 had been returned to the Capitol Hill community. These funds have even helped to form new community-based initiatives, such as Urban Peak. In 2015 and 2016, the organization would suffer significant financial setbacks; the board of CHUN would suspend People's Fair operations permanently due to poor performance in recent years and a lack of profitability.
In the late 1970s, CHUN continued to address issues of neighborhood concern, and grew in support and organization. In 1978, a half-time office staff person and half-time People’s Fair coordinator were hired. Opening an office in the Capitol Hill Community Center marked another sign of permanence and stability. Federally sponsored VISTA volunteers began to work under the direction of CHUN, addressing issues of transportation and the elderly, housing, the mentally ill, and economic development. In 1980, Meg Nagel was hired as the first professional Staff Coordinator. CHUN would go on to have a number of executive directors including Roger Armstrong, Tom Knorr, et al.
In 2005, CHUN assumed ownership and operation of the Tears-McFarlane property--formerly known as the Center for the People of Capitol Hill. Once a separate nonprofit organization, the Center would go bankrupt and transition the operation to CHUN. CHUN offers low cost office space to myriad organizations. It also donates rental space to nonprofits and neighborhood organizations serving greater Capitol Hill, including Cheesman Park Advisory Group, Capitol Hill United Ministries, and Warren Village. CHUN also utilizes the building for many civic activities and a multitude of community meetings that engage neighbors so that they may have a voice in shaping city policy around important neighborhood topics.
Throughout the years, CHUN has consistently worked for the betterment of our Capitol Hill neighborhood. Zoning and licensing, historic preservation, public safety, neighborhood beautification, and other issues constitute the bulk of CHUN’s current concerns. Today, CHUN regularly engages in city issues like supporting affordable housing or promoting smart land use and zoning.
CHUN is committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, and just community. In 2019, the organization adopted a comprehensive equity and inclusivity statement that guides its work across all areas of difference. Because of sound governance, improved internal organizational culture, and responsible financial oversight, CHUN emerged from near bankruptcy in 2016 to net financial gains in every fiscal year since.
CHUN has gained and maintained recognition as an influential organization supportive of community interests. Growing from a handful of concerned citizens to an organization of more than 500 members, CHUN derives its strength from its active membership – people involved in making our community a better place in which to live and work.
FORMER BOARD PRESIDENTS