Dear PoPville – Check Out These Photos of DC from the ’80s and ’90s

Photo of ’14th and U St, NW 1988′ by Michael Horsley

“Dear PoPville,

I found these sweet photos of DC from the 1980’s and 1990’s, by a photographer Michael Horsley.

On PoPville, we tend to focus on the here and now and how much things have changed since 2000, but to me it’s amazing how far things have come since the 80’s. The people that were here way back then are really the ones that laid the groundwork for the wonderful city we have today.”

Ed. Note: We’ve been admiring this photo set since 2010. Always amazing/awesome to revisit them year after year.

47 Comment

  • Could it be that it was all so imple then?
    Or has time rewritten every line?

  • Gentrification has really ruined this city

    • Yes, things were always better *back then*.

      • Things were definitely not better back then, but at times it feels like it.

      • Yeah, exactly…and this little nugget “The people that were here way back then are really the ones that laid the groundwork for the wonderful city we have today” couldn’t be further from the truth.

        What, pray tell…did these folks actually do in laying ground work for DC today?

        Let the schools get to the point where they were actually the worst in the nation? Was it DC becoming the murder capital of the United States? Perhaps it was the city with the highest unemployment rate? Perhaps it was letting hundreds of city blocks continue to decay and rot from the race riots of the 60’s. Maybe it was helping it become the city in the United States with the highest rates of HIV infection, on par with places like Uganda, and at levels that the World Health Organization classify as “severe epidemic” levels.

        DC stagnated for so long because the residents let it. It wasn’t until the frowned upon “gentrification” started in the late 90’s that DC started become what it is today.

        • its easy to be judgmental.

        • brookland_rez

          I think they meant that the gentrifiers that took a chance on the city back then and started fixing up areas like Dupont were the ones that laid the groundwork.

          • Having lived through that time, I would say (and I will sound like Tolstoy) that history is a wave… social tectonics were in place that had to grind and shift and work their way out. A lot of us lived through all that. It was inevitable. Folks who move here now are lucky… they come at a time when problems are resolved. I would say that that is luck, the luck of your time in history. And while I like much of the new goodies, I must say I am glad I lived in DC through that time. istory will give you your own time and your own problems to work through. (I cannot resist adding that DC has many many mroe dogs now than it did then… such a noticeable difference).

          • bruno,
            i think your post is quite wise.

          • brookland_rez

            Yeah, thanks for the insight. And for being here when the times were bad.

          • This is nonsense – ” I would say that that is luck, the luck of your time in history.” There was indeed a lot of neglect, apathy and enormous failure of leadership in DC for many years. And yes, some of that has deeper sociological roots. But I was actively, vigorously engaged with getting low-income people to buy property in Columbia Heights in the 80-90’s and no one interested. The willingness of parents to accept a crap school system has certainly been a factor in having so many un-employed today. (Yes of course I know there are a lot of other factors – but this is a big one.)

          • clevelanddave

            Bruno- some truth but mostly nonsense. It was individuals, and then a collective push by individuals that made it happen, and makes what is happening now possible. It is not inevitable at all: look at Detroit. It isn’t inevitable that it will come back. Development does come in waves, but those waves aren’t all the same: they don’t all grow to the same height and don’t come crashing down in the same ways.

      • it’s all relative.

      • It was a lot easier to get some crack if that’s what you mean.

      • For many in a host of situations, familiar = comfortable no matter how bad it may be. They may have felt “ownership” in a way that they may not have gotten in any other segment of their life so this was theirs. Whites had the burbs with their covenants and red lining – the city was theirs. Yes, it is a pretty low expectation and things are better for those that live here (of course many that did live here have been moved out one way or another) but there it is.

        As for that that attitude now – many may be just getting mad at what they perceive as judgey middle class white folk who grew up in the burbs moving in and taking what they perceive is theirs and telling “them” how much better things things are (now that ‘good’ people have moved in and ‘those’ people aren’t living there anymore). I am white and understand this it isn’t that hard to understand.

        • brookland_rez

          In DC it’s easy to get caught up in race but it’s socioeconomic more than anything, it’s just that in DC the socioeconomic and racial lines are fairly closely aligned. If you concentrate poverty in one place, you’re going to have issues whether it’s inner city or trailer parks in West Virginia. I think too many people get caught up in what’s “theirs”. It’s a free market. Since the fair housing act passed in the 1960’s, people have had the right to live wherever they choose. The middle and upper income blacks fled the city too, in the 1970’s. By the 1980’s all that was left was mostly a poor population (obvious exceptions being upper NW, upper 16th St, etc.)

          • You speak as if you are an authority. You are misinformed. So what if there were fair housing laws in the 60s. That did not guarantee that folks could live wherever they chose. If they mounted a legal fight to enforce the law, maybe they could live wherever they chose. And at what cost? I am a native Washingtonian (not metro DC, but DC) 60+ years old and black middle class. My family moved to Woodridge in 1955. It’s been a predominantly black middle class neighborhood since the late 50s, early 60s. I am a graduate of Catholic U. I’ve lived in the city most of my life and your comments are shortsighted and under-informed. You clearly don’t know enough about solid black middle class neighborhoods in the city. By the 80s there remained plenty of black middle class neighborhoods in DC. And, some of those solid middle class families are leaving/left because developers have renovated/flipped houses in these old neighborhoods and now the adult children of these families (read 2 adults and 1 or more children) can no longer afford the neighborhood.

        • Awesome post! What you’ve just described apparently IS hard for many people to understand. Thank you for putting it out there so clearly.

          • Following on Techite70’s comment above(8:08pm), construction of the interstate highway system in the 50s/60s tore apart (purposely?) established, middle class black communities in the U.S.

  • So weird how few cars are in the street.

    • fewer people, fewer cars, fewer people that could afford cars, and nowhere around that area to go to.

    • brookland_rez

      What businesses that didn’t shut down due to crime and blight shut down due to Metro construction. I think Ben’s is the only one that didn’t. If you look at the photos of U St. in his collection, you can see various elements of Metro construction, like wood planks covering holes in the street.

  • Things are definitely better now than then. No question about it. Aside from the desire for sex and/or drugs, I’ve never understood the rationale for the love affair that certain relatively privileged people have with urban crime-ridden blight.

  • Oh, to have had a couple hundred thousand and the foresight to buy a block or two of lower 14th back in the 80’s.

    • I lived here then but did not buy anything…. when they say it could have gone the way of Detroit, they’re not kidding.

      • brookland_rez

        Hindsight is 20/20, buying in DC back then must have been perceived as extremely risky.

        • It just seemed eveyone wanted to live in the burbs, and they did. I always rented an apartment downtown and loved it.

          • brookland_rez

            As a kid growing up in the 80’s, I never liked the burbs. I would go into NYC back then with my dad and was always just fascinated with the city, despite all the grittiness and decay. Once I got out of school in the early 2000’s and got my job here, I lived in the burbs here (because I didn’t know DC and thought I couldn’t afford it) and hated it, so I’ve been in NE DC ever since, first H St, then Eckington, and finally Brookland.

        • also you couldn’t get bank loans in predominantly black neighborhoods.

          • Fortunately, there were and are predominantly black banks. I’m not sure where my parents got their mortgage, but I’m guessing that it was through Industrial Bank.

          • Personally, as now, I just don’t want a house, good or bad ;^)

          • brookland_rez

            Didn’t that end with the passing of the fair housing act? I’m very familiar with the redlining and whatnot that took place starting in the 1930’s. But I though overt racial discrimination had ended after the fair housing act passed in the 1960’s.

          • brookland rez,
            no, it was a problem well into the 90’s.

  • A neighbor told me there’s an old expression, better blight than white.

  • Yeah, too bad no one else can be as good as you.

  • looking forward to seeing your collection of better pictures.

  • “The people that were here way back then are really the ones that laid the groundwork for the wonderful city we have today.”

    To whom are you referring? The people who lived and worked in the 14th and U neighborhood long before it was hot? Or the people who inadvertently paved the way for gentrification and the expulsion of earlier residents, businesses, and employees? All I can say is, the developer better take down that “Come Unto Me” sign on the former Union Mission before he opens the luxury condos . . . .

  • Probably too late but can someone explain the parking restrictions in this photo:

    • No parking anytime to the left. Two-hour parking from 7am to 4pm to the right. Also to the right no parking during evening rush 4 pm to 6:30pm. You could park from 6:30pm to 9am to the right.

  • Here we go again. Thanks PoP for revisiting my work. If anyone is interested please check out the BBC Interview here:

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