Columbia Height Plaza Completed and Looks Great! Don’t Forget What it Looked Like Only 7 Years Ago


Thanks to a reader for sending a new birdseye look at the plaza. We’ve been following this development closely, and whatever frustration and/or delay there has been I think most of us can agree that it came out great and is certainly a fantastic addition to the neighborhood. Even the solar trees can look awesome:

looking up
Photo by PoPville flickr user cacophony76

It can be hard to imagine this happening 10 years ago. I was lucky enough to have a reader send some photos from 7 years ago. I don’t think anyone can deny that this is progress:

kenyon and 14th #1

Lots more photos of the area from 7 years ago after the jump.


Current location of the Giant grocery store above.


14th Street, NW


Current location of Target

irving looking at 14th

Irving Street, NW looking towards 14th.

59 Comment

  • WOW, the pictures from 7 years ago seem almost like another place entirely!

  • I agree- the transformation has been nothing short of miraculous. I remember walking by those tumbleweed-strewn lots on my way to the metro just 5 years ago.

  • Those don’t even look like the same place.

  • I was aware the progress in our area has been significant, but I’ve never seen photos taken from eye-level. It gives the transformation much more perspective. Thanks for sharing. I sat in the plaza a few times this weekend to drink coffee and people watch. Love it.

  • I too am reminiscing on the laundry mat that used to be where the target is. remember driving up a couple of block up there with no traffic, construction and tons of parking…

  • Most of those vacant lots had mature trees growing on them… gives you a sense of just how long they were vacant.

  • shocking turn-around

  • Have we decided what the solar panels power yet?

  • Take lots of “before” photos of Sherman Ave! It’s scheduled for its facelift starting next fall (It’s being paid for with Stimulus Funds).

    It will be an AMAZING change. I can’t wait.

  • Looks great – I’ll have to drop by tonight to see it in person. I can’t believe I was at the GALA hispanic theater last night and forgot to stop over at the plaza!

    My only question would be about the size of those trees. I would expect more shade, but for whatever reason it looks like large shade trees were not part of the design – perhaps for lack of good soil and the difficulties of designing around an area of soil large enough for a tree in such an active plaza. People I’ve talked to seem excited about the fountain, and I like the green sloping terraces.

  • i will be the first to say it…

    gentrification rules!

  • Collin – was waiting for my wife outside Giant the other day and was watching them assemple the lights. The solar cells power lights that fit within the brushed aluminum cylinders.

  • Wow, are there more photos like this? This is pretty amazing.

  • When phase 2 is complted, the brick will extend to the tivoil side with the cirlces, all the roads will be repaved so it will look awesome then.

  • don’t forget, there was a community garden in the space where giant is now. i’m not saying that it wasn’t a good thing to put the grocery store and housing there (it was), but the area wasn’t all vacant lots.

  • The solar panels power their own (LED) lights, plus they’re helping to power the fountain, and there’s a power source for things like sound systems for concerts that they will also help to power. Pretty cool.

  • an amazing turn around indeed – although i think it would have been even more amazing if we had more independent and smaller stores rather than the big boxes. such is life in the 00’s.

  • I remember every detail in that picture and the difference is like day and night.

  • There’s something steampunky about it (mean that in a good way).

  • Kind of poor planning that the solar panels will power the lights built into the “trees” since there are at least 4 normal streetlights surrounding the plaza that, when turned on, will surely wash out any light produced by the solar trees.

  • When we first moved to the area four years ago, we took some visitors on a walk down 14th Street. My always-frank dear friend said “Why are we looking at blight?” I explained all excited about the things to come. She said “I’ll believe it when I see it”. She’s coming back to visit again next month!

  • I moved to DC 7 years ago-I can’t believe how much things have changed in those years!

  • I hope its appearance won’t be pocked with densely spaced gum wads – so prevalent.

  • Wow … it’s been so long that I had almost forgotten what the vacant lots looked like. What a difference some investment makes!

  • Here’s hoping we’ll be saying the same thing about Georgia Ave. someday…

  • The Columbia Heights metro opened ten years ago (September 18, 1999) – the transformation from pre-metro to today is really amazing.

    Thanks for posting the pictures!

  • Overall the transformation is a positive. I do miss the real trees though.

  • Amazing pictures, I had heard but never seen. Thanks for posting!

  • I’ve been trying to be positive about it and wait for completion etc. but gotta say I’m disapointed. No shade? No benches? No real place to sit and read or chat with people. (When the fountain is on and there is the slightest breeze, as there was today, the black stone bench area is wet.)

    I was really hoping for a place where the “diversity” everyone is always talking about might actually happen through natural use of a public space. I can’t see elderly people, for example, coming here to sit on the stone walls or on the little strips of grass. Are any of the laptop people going to choose this over Starbucks? Anybody going to bring the Sunday crossword here instead of sitting on their own front steps, deck or garden?

    Maybe we could get the 22 ghost bike guy to paint a bunch of chairs and drop them off. I’m tired of things simply being “better than nothing.”

    And a different question entirely – the building facade on Irving St. that was incorporated into the DCUSA structure (in the last photo above) was retained under some kind of historical preservation requirement, but I remember way back then trying to find out why it was architecturally notable, and no one knew. Does anyone know? I don’t think it was the building itself, as it was a garage/chop shop since at least 1987.

  • Generating power from the sun for the sake of generating power from the sun is just a dumb idea. Yeah, we get it, solar works. Something tells me that trees would have been a better alternative.

    That plaza is going to be ruined by gum wads by Thanksgiving, too.

  • I remember the vacant lots and boarded up Tivoli. The fences around the lots had green plastic slats in the chain-link, which was covered in graffit and tags. All along the sidewalks were broken bottles and the litter on the 1400 block of Irving was astounding. The community gardens on the land behind the Tivoli, while a nice placeholder idea were poorly maintained and there was trash and an abandoned car dumped back there at some point as well as crazy weed trees in strange spots. The changes have been amazing over the years!

  • Most of the lots were bought, cleared and used in support of Metro Construction that began in about 1994/95. As Metro construction was completed they were then made available for construction. The progress did not just happen, work began by community visionaries in the 70’s and 80’s. Unfortunately, some are no longer around to see the fruits of their labor. It took a community effort/fight to even get the GreenLine instead of a major freeway down U st.

  • I hope the Stadium area, H Street etc. can have similar results. Columbia Heights was an almost perfect storm of development – there was so much vacant land. No one was displaced but a new school was built, new shopping, condos, rental (some affordable) senior housing and the economy was in great shape. It was a net gain for all. Now we share the burden of the area traffic

    The differences between now and 7 years ago are amazing. Pre-Metro Columbia Heights photos would be absolutely shocking!

  • Makese think of two things
    1 crafty bastards started In
    Columbia heights in the gravel lot where pete’s pizza is.

    2. Once at a neighborhood meeting someone was talking about how they had been working on the plan for CH for about 15-20 years. So while the appearance seems recent and sudden people put lot of time getting that going.

  • Well done DC! Victoria…stop complaining!

  • What we ended up with was pretty good – apparently, there was a plan back in the 80s (Haft?) that would have resulted in suburban style strip-mall development with parking in front of everything. Picture a bunch of Nehemiah Centers clustered around the Metro, yuck. Good thing that didn’t happen!

  • Anybody know when Phase 2 begins/ends? The updates on the “Columbia Heights Streetscape” website are always 2-3 months behind…

  • @east of Petworth: Thanks

  • I moved here in 2002 and remember power walking home after work at 5:30pm past all the empty lots including the boarded up Tivoli. I remember there was always water/urine mix at the base of the Tivoli. At 5:30 pm a handful of people get off the metro and most walk west of 14 streets, but usually one or two of us walk up North, and usually I was the only one who goes past Tivoli. Scary times. I am still amazed by the number of people that get off the train at Columbia Heights every evening/night and walk North and North past me. I am just glad that all the architectural renderings of all the buildings and the plaza actually became true. Bravo for all involved!

  • These changes have been for the best.

  • I’m still with Victoria, better than before but not what it could or should be. It’s public space designed by a building architect, not public space designer (you can tell by the width of the black sitting stones.) I’m not surprised that a lot of long-standing residents are the least satisfied — did two decades of planning go into building a plaza that doesn’t have much staying power? You can complain about the insatiability of these folks, but that sentiment is what chugged the neighborhood along for decades until you felt it was safe enough to move in and throw you “get over it!” two cents in.

    Plenty of room for improvement. It’s definitely riding on the density of the neighborhood though and lack of public space, not on its inherent merits.

  • It looked very pretty when I walked by on my way home from the sub.
    Bench was wet though.
    Also, it looked like a design that will not age well.
    It could have been a lot better.
    Having lived in the neighborhood since 1977 and a householder since 1980 it is a vast improvement, of course. But also, why did this have to go through so many stages.
    First the horrible white pebbles, then the concrete pavers, now the final (I suppose) product. Sounds like a lot of waste so typical of DC public works.
    Dig it up, fill it in, dig it up, fill it in, dig it up, fill it in. I am sure you will recognize that this is how roadworks are done in this town.

  • Walked through here yesterday. As a Petworthian who left a lot of friends behind in lower NW, this neighborhood is a conduit, not a resting place but I’m so happy about most of the new stuff…on the way to the bus stop I picked up a coupon at Past Tense yoga, grabbed lunch at Pollo Sabroso, shopped for dinner at the Giant, looked for something sweet but not cake or cookie-y at Sticky Fingers and gave up (what, are there no good vegan doughnut recipes?), contemplated buying baby shoes, caught the 52, saw that Social was open at 3 in the afternoon…but my absolute favorite thing is the new Pho 14 place was open and a lady in there said next month they start DELIVERY VIETNAMESE Yes!

  • If you want to see a really cool aerial representation of the progress in that area, download the free Google Earth application. A feature has recently been added that allows you to roll back to aerial images that were taken on different dates. In the case of “downtown” Columbia Heights, the earliest image is from April 29, 1999, which gives you a good view of the mess in the neighborhood during Metro construction. If you zoom out for a wide view, the overall changes across ten years are astonishing.

  • @Anon 8:05 – “why did this have to go through so many stages?”

    I’ll tell you why, so that you could have a usable park for the maximum amount of time possible. What you witnessed was not waste. It was the exact way it SHOULD be. It was a good thing. Pebbles are cheap, and easy to dump in and spread around. It is a temporary solution to avoid having the site be a giant mud pit (which people certainly would have complained about), and it represents a minimal investment of resources – in other words it was avoiding waste. The interim park of pavers and trees was installed so that the park would be attractive an usable by residents such as yourself. Again, the alternative would have been a big empty mud pit/construction yard, a perfect breeding place for crime and other problems. However, because the area still had work to be done, they did not commit to the final, more expensive materials, again to avoid waste.

    This area was, and still is, a large, complicated project. Not everything can be built at once, and the park area was used, off and on, as a staging area for other construction projects. Construction projects are organized along a “critical path” – a sequence of events that must be finished before the next step can begin. (example: water lines must be installed in the road and to the plaza before the fountain in the plaza could be built, but if a crane is using the road to construct the adjacent building, you can’t dig up the road under the crane to put in the water line – it all has to happen in order). If there was a gap of many months between critical path elements for the park, then it was in everybody’s best interest to install a temporary finish to the park so that the public could use it.

    Why do people continue to complain about this???

  • but that sentiment is what chugged the neighborhood along for decades until you felt it was safe enough to move in and throw you “get over it!” two cents in.

    Get over it. Tough S***. We won and they “lost.”

    They actually won too but some on that mailing list want to pretend they lost.

    This all came down when I was talking to a neighbor who complained that the city never came in and removed the lead paint in her house- railed against the racism of it all. She knew her house had crumbling lead paint but did nothing about it. When I asked her who painted the house, she said her father handled it all. So it was her father who decided to buy lead paint. Now I buy my house and it has lead paint and I go into debt cleaning it up, can’t afford the debt, and then in a panic have to get a second job to pay for all that debt but then it’s paid off and my house is lead-free-ish. A long-term resident blames the city- and you know there WAS redlining laws, racist, that wouldn’t allow for good mortgages in bad parts of town- but again, that’s not the city’s fault!

  • I cannot even believe the change! This area has come a long way. While there are still issues here and there, this neighborhood has been heading in the right direction for a long time now. Hopefully things continue in a positive direction.

  • Victoria, as for that facade on Irving Street, I’m going to mix up stories and probably remember wrong, but I think it was at one time part of the post office. I understand that the post office there used to be quite a big one, back in the day, and was one of the last remaining that still stabled horses used to deliver the mail. Maybe that’s why the tiny bit had to remain. Anyone else know the facts on that one? I could be delusional.

  • @PoP The before and after photos are very cool. It would also be nice to see the architectural drawings and the result, as they can be quite dissimiliar. Since developers often use shiny sketches to sell projects to neighbors, it would be great to compare the proposal with the result. Maybe that could be another semi-weekly feature, like the Horses A**.

  • djdc – I remember the post office, a plain little building next door to this facade – but it sounds plausible. The space was obviously big and open enough to be turned into a garage, so a stable makes sense.

  • Does anyone else notice that 14th street now runs into a light pole??? Why did they do that?

  • What a transformation! I can’t wait to see the continued improvements and changes to the area over the next 5 years.

  • Neener – It is kinda the city’s fault – If people broke laws and the proper governmental entity did nothing about it.

    A long-term resident blames the city- and you know ***there WAS redlining laws, racist, that wouldn’t’t allow for good mortgages in bad parts of town- but again, that’s not the city’s fault!***

  • Re: Neener

    Guess you missed the point. Seems like the newer residents have a “good enough for me!” sentiment, and the older residents who’ve put in effort to transform the neighborhood were expecting more. If I was new and not planning on living somewhere for decades I’d likely have less impulse to want more — kinda the, “well, I can live with it” sentiment, b/c they’re expecting to not live with it forever.

    You’re anecdote about your neighbor isn’t a-typical, but its also the polar opposite of the type of long-term resident that was pro-active in pushing CH along decades ago.

    I don’t know what to say about your US vs THEM win/lose outlook, except “fuck you.” Not as a resident either (I’m not anymore, and was an early ‘gentrifier’), I just think that’s a shitty attitude to have about the people you live with, and a fucked up outlook/approach.

    The point was that the people who put in sweat early on might know a thing or two about what a long-term resident wants/needs there. If you’re planning on being a long-term resident too, it might be wise to hear what they’re saying.

    You equated wanting something great with writing something for free. Your predetermination made you missed the point.

  • Ray Swore:

    I did not get that from Neener at all

  • correction : “equated wanting something great with wanting the city to do it or them (for free)”

  • Thanks for posting it is great and an improvement. For all the haters and complainers out there. If you don’t like it don’t use it. I am sure there is plenty of breeze and benches and stuff out in the suburbs, where you obviously belong

  • The construction was a pain and I grumbled, but I totally tip my hat now — looks great!

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