Today Van Street SE is a driveway-like north-south street that connects M and N Streets SE.
"Van Street" was once a name associated with poverty and squalor. In 1891 a Washington Post reporter accompanied the coroner to Van Street and found that "huddled together in one bed in a filthy dingy shanty lay ten sick persons; another lay on the floor, and wrapped in a cloth nearby was the body of a two-month's old child". In 1894 a Post reporter described visiting a dozen Van Street houses, "all of them of the same character, sunken board floors, filthy ragged beds in many cases made on the floors, and cinder fires in cracked coal stoves". However, this Van Street was an east-west street in "Old Southwest", which was bulldozed out of existence in the 1950s.
Turn of the century newspapers also mention a Van Street in Southeast Washington. Like its Southwest neighbor, it was more alley than street, the home of very poor African-Americans. This Van Street, which ran east-west between First Street and New Jersey Avenue SE, also disappeared years ago. Its site is now covered by the Southeast Federal Center complex.
No one ever lived on today's Van Street, a few blocks east of the former Van Street SE. The current Van Street was an unnamed alley in a largely undeveloped block until 1936, when the gigantic M Street Capital Transit bus garage was built at the corner of Half Street SE. The alley along the eastern side of the garage was then widened and named Van Street. It has long functioned as an access road for the garage, its rear parking lot, and a bus storage lot with frontage on South Capitol Street. Several South Capitol Street businesses also had parking lot entrances on Van Street. The storage rental building in the photo above occupies the sites of two, a dry cleaning plant and a machine shop.
Van Street SE's destiny will be determined by that of the bus garage, which will be retained under some scenarios and cleared for redevelopment under others.