Remember When? Vol. 3 – 14th Street Pre- DC USA


Photo by Elizabeth McIntire

If anyone has a photo of an area/building/lot that has changed please send me an email at princeofpetworth(at)gmail with ‘Remember When?’ in the subject line. Thanks!

Thanks to Elizabeth for sending the above shot of the future DC USA in 2005. It’s the west side of 14th Street, NW with the former Woolworth’s in the background.


DC USA 2013

38 Comment

  • Yes, I do remember! I remember taking an out-of-town friend on a walk around this area, just before the wrecking crews came in. Her first comment about my neighborhood was “Why am I looking at blight?”

    Needless to say, I love it when she comes back. We walk down that same stretch and I say (every time, often more than once, with more than a little smugness) “Remember when you judged me for buying a house a block away from “blight”?”

    • Teehee.

      Shaw is the next area to blow up exactly like Columbia Heights once the massive development on 9th is completed.

      • saf

        In 1989, we were trying to buy a house. Having lived in Mt Pleasant and Shaw, and liked both neighborhoods, we were looking at those.

        But the Shaw metro station had recently opened, and suddenly, houses had tripled in price.

        We bought it Petworth instead. Turns out to have been a good choice.

        • I know I’m being nosy, and please forgive me if this is tacky/offensive, but could you share how much you paid for a property in Petworth in 1989? I think it’ll blow our collective minds…

  • Brace yourself for 100 nonsensical “DCUSA sucks” comments. Because we were better off before.

    • Yup. DC usa is fugly. There is a metro here. CH would have rebounded just fine without forcing a big box mall. All of you are comparing CH now with CH then. But try for a minute to compare CH now with a CH that could have been without the forced development. DC usa IS a blight.

      • This comment is delusional. CH was blighted for 30 years. Retailers and restaurants would not take a risk here until DCUSA anchored the development. So, no, CH would not have rebounded just fine. If you want to see the CH that could have been, look at the top photo.

        • Agreed. DC’s development model seems to favor having a “big box” shopping center (on top of a metro station) be the anchor and then fill in the rest of the spaces in the neighborhood around it with smaller businesses and condo residences. The first place to do this was Metro Center and then Columbia Heights followed suit. We now have the same thing happening in Shaw.

          The neighborhoods abutting these “big box” neighborhoods also greatly benefited. The desirability of Mount Pleasant and Petworth really skyrocketed after DCUSA anchored the metro station. I imagine the same thing will happen to the ancillary neighborhoods to the immediate west of Shaw, once the large development anchors 9th Street.

      • Ahhh, yes. If only we had Friedrich Hayek for a mayor, Columbia Heights would have developed even better than it did, during the worst economic downturn since the 30s.

        I’ve gotten into it with people for years in these comments over DCUSA. I don’t have the inclination today, but this photo speaks for itself. So does your comment.

        Also, I freaking love Target.

      • Forced development? Ok. That seems a bit overly dramatic.

        I agree that CH would have rebounded and gentrified without DCUSA, but I do think it is beneficial for many to have a Target et al so accessible by public transportation.

        Kenyon, the Metro station opened in 2000. Things started to change after that. What area in the District west of the Anacostia near a metro station hasn’t improved in the last 5-10 years?? None that I’m aware of. Throw in CH’s plentiful housing stock, proximity to other areas in DC, and yes, it was going to rebound sooner or later. DCUSA just sped it up a bit.

        (And just to make it clear, I think DC USA is a good thing overall)

        • I was here in 2000. Sure, the Metro was a good thing, but not much happened in CH between 2000 and when DCUSA opened. Everything took off after that. I lived through a lot of years in CH when it was a sh*t hole. I don’t share your optimism that redevelopment “sooner or later” would have been any reasonable time that I would have wanted to wait for.

          • I walked twice a day, five days a week from the Metro to 16th Street 2000-05 and not even the plastic bag tangled around the chain link fence post changed, the same abandoned shoe in the little alley (for lack of a better word) by the homeless shelter just rotted away in its same little spot. It was not good.

      • +1 Johnny — I remember how dumpy that stretch was pre-construction so I have no illusions about what was lost, but at least it wasn’t some sterile suburban mall UFO. I say that as a Target fan who appreciates having it there on one level, but they’ve done better urban models elsewhere, including a really nice recent one in East Liberty in Pittsburgh

      • Yep, those big box places screwed us. When my wife bought our house on New Hampshire, in 1998, Dominoes wouldn’t even deliver. Now, everyone debates the quality of the craft beers served at the dozens of places to eat within walking distance.

      • Whatever, every resident I know in the area loves it. So convenient and you don’t have to ever go to that POS CVS.

    • It’s an astonishing change. I remember that stretch well.

      I have no problem with what DC USA is or how it looks (big box stores are never going to be pretty), but I don’t think much of the name. I still can’t believe that’s the best they could come up with.

  • I remember the 3 inch bullet proof glass, back when the only retail spots were barber shops, liquor stores, and hole in the wall mom & pop shops. Though I miss some of them, I think we’re better off in many ways, but I often wish some of my annoying neighbors would have changed with the neighborhood. It’s hard to think of 2005 as a long time ago.

  • amazing. and 2005 wasnt all that long ago.

  • nope don’t remember….likely because there was no reason to visit columbia heights back then…

  • Not 100 percent opposed to DCUSA, but honestly, simply setting the building a few feet further back from the street and adding some green space would make me much more inclined to want to spend any part of my day there.

    • +1 – I’m not a fan of the design, but you’re right — it’s too close to the street and visually overwhelms the entire block. I’d hate it a little less if it wasn’t so in my face

  • Still trips me out to this day…

  • Back when driving/biking down taking 14th Street was the quick way to get downtown from up north. Now, I avoid 14th street on car or bike (parking in bike lanes) especially on the weekend. Yikes.

    It is nice to see so many people out enjoying the restarurants and shopping.

  • I lived in Columbia Heights from 95 – 99 (16th Street), my brother (98 – 05 Meridian Place) so I was still frequently in the neighborhood even after I moved. I still go to Pete’s, Target etc. I am not inclined to call the neighborhood a sh*&hole because I always liked living there. I do remember that 14th Street actually got worse once they started building the Metro and Kenyon was cut off and many of the business could not survive the lack of foot traffic. I don’t think the Metro alone would not have been enough of a jolt for the neighborhood. Knowing DC USA was in the works gave my brother and I am sure others the confidence to not just rent, but buy (condo conversion) years before DC USA actually ever opened. Fort Totten is on the Red and Green line and is still struggling to get major development.

  • As a property owner on 11th St I can tell you that DCUSA was one of the main reason I took a chance on 11th St. Like it or not, DCUSA made the “hipstrip” happen.

    • agreed. complain all you want about dcusa’s perceived ugliness. it brought essential goods and services to a neighborhood that was starving for them, which brought tons more residents and pedestrians to its four-block (at least) radius.

      and, yes, without those residents, the “hip strip” wouldh’t have happened by itself.

  • I remember the Soviet style post office on Irving and the fragment of an old Pontiac dealer (the Super Chief head sillouette from the 50s that somehow survived nearby). The post office service was atrocious and the place looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since WWII, but people from adjacent zip codes like mine had to go there to pick up packages, held mail, etc. Part of the facade is preserved on Irving St in the DCUSA facade. The building is ugly but it’s designed in a way that creates foot traffic rather than taking it away. The area needed a catalyst and the Tivoli block seemed to be under a curse, with one proposal after another going back to the 80s–Shoppers and Safeway were previous prospective tenants, before Giant (which had a store at 14th & Park) got involved. The are has managed to do better at attracting local chains, despite the failure son the ground floor (with tax incentives) in DCUSA itself. It’s no more chain-y than Clarendon, which people love and the area has businesses that serve all segments of the area, rather than drawing Pottery Barn or other places selling overprices by chi-chi stuff.

  • As you consider the development of 14th St in CH, keep in mind that in the early 1970′s, in the wake of the 1968 riots, the Redevelopment Land Agency bought up pretty much all of the 14th St corridor in CH in order to Urban Renewal it. They knocked down some great housing stock, among other things, because developers hate to do the dirty work. As nearly all the residents possessing wherewithal had fled, the strip’s 30+ year run as a sh*th*le was inevitable. Once RLA came in, there never was going to be any “organic” or strictly market (to the extent that that is possible) development. They were always looking for big developments, that is why they bought up beautiful, occupied houses and knocked them down!

    So the interesting question is not DCUSA’s effect on the neighborhood. With the greater Urban Renaissance and the Metro opening, such developments were pre-programmed and the neighborhood’s gentrification inevitable. What is interesting to ponder is the history of the corridor without RLA intervention and the resultant nature of the area now.

  • I bought here in 1987- (14th & Columbia) because it was affordable, and I knew with Metro coming it wouldn’t get worse, and because it was close enough to other desirable neighborhoods to probably eventually get sucked in by their orbits.

    The big DCUSA mall deal – was definitely necessary, and also definitely a failure of good design and urban planning. The civic plaza is also better than empty lots, but still sadly short of what it could be – (and what we had been told it would be!)

    I’m certainly happy for what we have as well as sad about how much better it – pretty easily – could have been.

  • I no longer live in DC, but when I first moved there in 2001 I looked for a place to live in Columbia Heights. The old Tivoli Theater was burnt out and several shops were shut down. It was a sad and depressing site and I ended up on Capital Hill. Several years later I moved to Columbia heights and it was like another universe. I wish I had taken more photos when I first arrived to DC. After 10 years on DC, the place I arrived to and the place I left were 2 different worlds. I miss you DC.

  • Too bad this picture didn’t capture what was just around the corner….one of those classic “Waffle Shops”! It even had the old classic neon sign with 50s style font lit up.
    I wonder what ever happened to to that sign…wish I had it!

  • Gentrification is terrible. now we have safer streets. cleaner neighborhoods. Restaurants and legitimate shopping options.

    Stop it right now!

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