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Amazing Flickr Photos of DC from 1985 to 1988

by Prince Of Petworth September 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm 81 Comments

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

Thanks to a friend of mine for sending this incredible link to a flickr series called ‘Hidden Washington DC’. The description says:

“From 1985 to 1988 I wandered the streets of Washington DC photographing the unseen and vanishing moments of the city. These images lay dormant in the archives until I realized that they needed to be brought to life before the persons and spaces are totally lost to entropy and time.”

They are absolutely fascinating. See them all here.

And many thanks to Mr. Horsley for allowing me to post a couple of his great photos.

Photo by Michael Horsley

  • Moose

    Fun photos, though I’m not too sad about losing these places due “to entropy and time.” We’ve come along way since then. Since then DC has moved much closer to becoming a world class city that it ought to be.

  • anan

    Wow. I grew up here and man if these don’t make me feel nostalgic. I always try and explain to my new DC friends what downtown was like going there as a kid. Well a picture speaks a thousand words. I should go through my childhood photos and see what I can find. I’m not gonna say I’m upset that my hometown is thriving but… Well you can see for yourself that the city had a lot more character back in the day.

    • Anonymous

      I’m a white boy who grew up here too, but character isn’t best word. I have always loved this city, but I like it better the less boarded up buildings there are. They’ve never done the city any good and were just a sad reminder of how bad things had gotten, crime-wise. We’re on track for about 25% the amount of murders compared to 20 years ago. Thank god for that

      • anon808

        I agree, I moved here in the late 80’s/early 90’s and downtown was quite an eyesore.
        It’s definitely amazing how much the city has improved since then. And I agree, character isn’t the best word.

        Funny how the spy museum used to be all peepshows and xxx shops.

        how times have changes (for the better)…

        • anan

          guess it depends what your idea of a good time is…

          • Did I ever tell you about the time a friend of mine went into the then Doc Johnson’s Marital Products on a dare, went into one of the porno booths, and ended up sitting in some “man gravy?” From then on, we called her “Spunky.” Good times.

  • u street v

    Great photos, thanks for sharing! Only having lived here since 2002, it’s amazing to see what this city once was. It would be a cool project to do side-by-side comparisons with modern day pictures – especially the ones in the metro center/chinatown areas.

  • Eric in Ledroit

    the difference in downtown and dupont is just staggering.

  • JT

    <3 this

  • Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful.

    I’ve only just begun looking at these photographs. I need to take them in a few at a time, in between bursts of real work.

    I share the OP’s passion for exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, and started taking similar photos around 1994. I’ll try to scare some of them up – they’re all on film in the old days.

    In the meantime, here is a group of photos from the Tivoli Theatre before it was renovated:


  • Jumping Yellow Christ, these are great. That was the time-period of my first solo wanderings downtown. And I’ll agree that there was more CHARACTER down there, but it’s more of an architectural thing. More of the victorian-esque brick shopfronts & such. Abandoned and blighted is clearly not ideal, but it’s a shame the revival couldn’t have been balanced with an easier hand on the old wrecking-ball.

    But still, outstanding collection. The old Ontario Theater, etc…

    • Neil

      I dunno, it seems to me that as many of the older details and facades have been restored and brought back to view from where they were hidden behind awful 1970s vintage remodels as were lost.

      As for the trash, porn shops, boarded up windows, I guess it’s character of a sort. One good thing about it; it saved that part of town from being entirely leveled and replaced with glass and concrete boxes as happened in the West End.

      • But they’ve been brought back to frighteningly antiseptic state which makes the whole city look like Disneyland. A simulacra of history. Add so much great neon and midcentury modernism was lost for some 2000s version of what the 1920s was supposed to look like.

        I guess I wish places would would move into spaces and not feel like they have to scrub the character out of places. I suppose that’s why I love NY where we appreciate that cities have rough edges.

        These photos made me incredibly sad because I think DC is a shadow of what mate a vital and interesting city in the 1990s.

        I find it the most depressing and lonely city in America and with each streetscaping project and sparkling clean renovation it gets worse.

        • Hair Care

          That’s f’ing HILARIOUS! NYC, particularly Manhattan, is the most Disney-fied whiteboy playground in the country.

          “Rough edges”?


        • Anonymous

          If you want sparkling clean, check out downtown Mountain View, Calif. They house down the bums each night. Oh, wait, they allow no bums. Only forgetful Apple software engineers.

        • kwest

          You can’t be serious. The victorians now look how they did when they were first built, how they are SUPPOSED to look. How can you be nostalgic for the 50 years of neglect and willful destruction that made all these images?

          DC is a shadow of what made it a vital and interesting city in the 90s? Were you here in the 90s? Ever? Crack and crime and murders and Barry? You find those vital and interesting? Give me a break! And please don’t talk abou the thriving art scene in the 80s and 90s – there are more artists living and working in the district now than there were then. And producing far better art than the Washington Color School.

          If you think DC is the most depressing and lonely city in America, you gotta get out of NYC a little more often. Ever been to Oklahoma City? San Antonio? Toledo? Buffalo? Orlando? Phoenix? I can go on…

        • Don’t get too sad because what you are reacting to is the selective eye I had when both choosing to shoot certain subjects and then here 20-25 years later what I chose to present. You should have seen the crappy “good” photos I threw out.

  • anan

    Also can I just say Little Tavern Hamburgers were the shiiiit. BUY EM BY THE BAG! Matchbox doesn’t have a thing on them

    • JenDC


    • PG

      I don’t know about that. I grwe up eating Little Tavern burgers in Maryland. Matchbox burgers have never given me any GI problems.

  • jason

    Great job on the pics.
    Anyone else know of any other galleries/sites that have some DC pics like this (other than LOC) ?

  • Bebe

    If anyone has a photo of the 1400 block of P Street pre-Whole Foods when the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind and the mechanics school, etc. were there, please share. I’ve been looking for one because it’s a great example of how things have changed. The Vegas Lounge shot in the Flickr set gives a peek at what the block was like but an expanded view would be great.

    • Laura Palmer

      and the auto repair shop where Whole Foods is now that used to host after hours sex parties. Think of THAT the next time you are in the produce aisle.

    • For some reason I didn’t take pictures of that stretch. It could be that I passed by it too many times during the day that I ignored it. I will try to dig deeper in the archives to see what I have.

      The response so far has been thrilling. I am so glad newer residents of the city appreciate my work. I did not know it at the time when I was making these images that I was doing it for you all.


      • ET

        Keep up with documenting the change. I have been doing a history of my house/neighborhood and lament the lack of photos of the neighborhoods from days gone by (in the future there should be more photos). They old Wymer Collection photos at the DC historical society are a great source.

        Though I would suggest to anyone doing this, make some note in the file name or if you put them in flicker the description, where it is. Nothing is more frustrating than a photo you don’t know the location for.

    • rockcreek

      Here’s an early shot of the block (1909), when another market was on the Whole Foods site:

      <A href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rock_creek/583633645/"http://www.flickr.com/photos/rock_creek/583633645/

  • Ian C

    Shorpy has some great historical shots of DC, most of which date back to the Depression or further.


  • reflexive

    there are many of us that, while we enjoy new bars and safety and all these wonderfully healthy things, still have a fondness for decay and urban ruins. there is something that just sinks into your soul about it, and if you ever lived in it you simply can’t get it out of your system entirely.
    its a love that is very hard to explain and while i’m not a dc old timer, i deeply understand people when they say they miss those times.

    those times weren’t just dc, but much of urban america, and much of all america. it (hopefully) won’t come back, but its still part of us.
    it might be good for younger folk to understand that things could slip back to this very easily.
    in any case the emotions are complicated.
    and the pictures utterly fascinating.

    • stavros

      Well said, reflexive, I feel the same way. I moved to DC in 1993 and these pictures speak to me. I think about the corner of 9th & F often when I’m there, seeing it now and remembering what it used to look like. Seeing this knocked 17 years off my life:


    • Precisely so. Well spoken.

    • stavros
      • Dr Pangloss

        And of course, one of the commenters sums it up on the second photo: “I still prefer derelict to yuppie-ized…”

        Whenever anyone asks, “Do you think *anyone* would rather see things (DCPS, crime, etc, etc…) go back to the bad old days??” The answer is, sadly, ‘yes’.

      • Anonymous

        Wow what a difference 8 years can make. Makes me want to get out and paint my siding.

    • Eric in Ledroit

      Go to Detroit, Cleveland, or any number of other rust belt cities and you can see exactly this kind of decay (actually, much worse) happening right now!!

      Seriously – I hear you, and feel somewhat the same way (Detroit in particular fascinates me), but would never want DC to revert to the disaster it was in the 80s.

      • DC was insane in the 80’s I lived at 14th and T street and at Logan Circle. There were people walking up and down 14th street high out of their minds on PCP yelling and screaming.

        • reflexive

          was this when b. the dcac guy had an arts space at 14th and t?

          • Yeah, I did lights for him @ Theater du Jour and lived above the JavaRama what is now known as Cafe St Ex. It was a nightmare flophouse back then.

        • The BBQ Iguana was a “character-rich” addition to the ‘hood as well. Miss that place…

  • Ivanna Yomama

    There’s plenty of urban decay left in DC that’s pretty much just like this stuff, only it’s in NE and SE.

    • FD

      Not necessarily. Walk a block in any direction from City Vista and you’re back in 1979.

    • FD

      Also 14th and E downtown looks pretty much the same. Abandoned bank and half a block of vacant storefronts from the 1970s.

      Miss those cupcakes.

  • sheepprofessor

    I was stunned to see the picture of Rita’s Carryout. I had no idea it has been around that long. I have always loved their rotis, but now I respect them more.

  • Open letter to PoP and the readers of this blog.

    I am truly touched by the comments and response to my work on this blog. The response so far has been thrilling. I am so glad newer residents of the city appreciate my work. I did not know it at the time when I was making these images that I was doing it for you all.

    These images have never really been seen before because they needed time to ferment.

    While many of my contemporaries were busy photographing the HarDCore and Dischord music scene depicted in the book “Banned in DC” I was wandering the streets of DC taking images of things that looked like to me ready to fade away. It was very anonymous work of anonymous places.

    Believe it or not but DC was both a very sleepy southern town in the 70’s and 80’s and if it were not for the 9:30 club and most importantly DC Space there would not have been much happening. DC Space in particular was truly a place where all the fringe elements of DC culture met and cross fertilized.

    I drive around now and see the re-population of the urban environment I am am very glad that there is a new vitality in the city. Don’t forget your roots of your neighborhoods, and thank you for such insightful comments.

    Yes DC has lost some of its edge just like New York has, but it is a much more livable city now than it was back then. If only what has happened to DC could happen to our sister Baltimore.

    • JenDC

      “a very sleepy southern town in the 70′s”

      Hmm, yes, I remember.

      I knew some Horsleys a long time ago – do you have any relatives named Jill or Chris?

      • Mom and Brother

        • JenDC

          Get out. Your mother was my first grade teacher.

    • jt$

      I want to add my thank yous to your wonderful time capsule shots. I’ve been quite curious about Logan Circle’s history as a neighborhood. I’ve always heard it used to be heavily populated with prostitutes and addicts. I’d love to hear some more color that you or others familiar with it during the 70s-90s as to what caused it to be so rough.

      It must be amazing to you lifers the changes that have happened in neighborhoods like chinatown, logan, dupont, columbia heights, capital hill, etc.

      • JenDC

        It is surreal.

      • JenDC

        …but even more so for my parents, both born here too.

      • DCster

        You should, if you haven’t already, read “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears,” by Dinaw Mengestu. It describes a slowly-gentrifying Logan Circle in the 90s from an immigrant’s perspective.

        • jt$

          This sounds like exactly what I’m looking for, thank you so much. :)

      • across the line

        I used to go to Logan Park after work making time while I waited for other friends to get off work and it was CRAZY what would happen in the circle. I was never approached by anyone – OK someone did ask me to dance once – and I just laugh now when I see all these people walking their dogs and having picnics in the park – kind of crazy

    • victoria

      Nice snaps – but you’re missing a lot if you really think that “if it were not for the 9:30 club and most importantly DC Space there would not have been much happening. DC Space in particular was truly a place where all the fringe elements of DC culture met and cross fertilized.”

      There were worlds enough and time around and outside that!

    • Good points, Maestro Horsley.
      And funny thing about urban nostalgia: I had left DC in about ’91 for about 14 years. Then moved back & started visiting all my old “sacred sites” — first on the list was DC Space. I know it’s predictable to joke about everything being turned into Starbucks, but when I saw it literally true, it was very weird. Somewhere between hilarious and tragic. I spent a trillion nights in that place.

      Some neighborhoods have changed so much (or my memory faded so badly) that I can’t even find some of the old sites… like the Hung Jury Pub: where the hell was that? Judiciary Square somewhere, yeh?

      Anyway, excellent work. Thanks for sharing the film.

  • X

    Radioblue posters! Damn I feel old – I remember it all so well.

  • saf

    I moved here to start college in 1983. You’re giving me flashbacks to the city I fell in love with SO fast, despite everything, and because of everything.

    Nice pics.

  • briefly

    Kudos to the Photog! Huzzah Huzzah Huzzah!

  • Brian Kraft

    Why were American cities so decayed at that time? Here is my brief take. Two related forces drove people of means away from city centers: 1) the end of legal racial segregation that occurred in the 1950s and 60s, which accelerated 2) the suburbanization that was well underway by then and was the natural developmental response to the Automobile Age (which I think was more the result of government policy than personal preference).

    • The 1968 riots

      • Brian Kraft

        …were certainly the nadir of the whole process.

        • Anonymous

          no, the nadir was the mid to late 70’s. from 1950-1970 dc lost 50,000 people. from 1970-1980 dc lost over 100,000 people. over twice as many people in half the time. that was the death of dc.

          super shitty economy. super high interest rates. crappy president. no job growth at all. an increase in concentrated poverty. gas crisis. terrorism. post vietnam vets and hippy burnouts. post nixon. everyone knew then that the american dream was dead. lowest point in american morale ever save perhaps the civil war.

          • Mistr Knucklz

            heroin epidemic

          • briefly

            ummm and the 1968 riots which set the “get out” mentality that so many of us adhere to today. When idiots burn their own city, kill people of other races, and police are powerless that’s pretty big clue that you’re better off in VA or MD.

          • Brian Kraft

            Good points, and I’ll argue only with your rhetorical flourish about the “death of DC.” What is interesting to me is how decay and rebirth coexist. The photo of the Atlas building shows upscale 801 Penn in the background, and lower GA Ave had much nicer storefronts in the 80s than it does today. (Lower GA is our Detroit. It is gentrification-proof.)

            Even as the black middle class was rushing eastward to PG Co. in the 1970s and 80s, Latino immigrants and young professionals were taking their places, albeit at a slower rate.

            This ties into how DC is relatively recession-proof, due to its being the ultimate company town. The negative national trends you cite and the peak (I’m figuring) of anti-urban sentiment in the 1970s didn’t stop some neighborhoods from gentrifying. Think Dupont and Adams Morgan. By the 80s the hippies/hipsters could no longer afford Dupont.

            By the late 70s Mt P was a hotbed of historic preservation controversy, in which white newcomers were pitted against black old-timers, who’d only been there 10-25 years themselves. Even Logan and Columbia Heights started to gentrify in the years after the riots, the process there just took much longer.

            Anyway, thanks to MH for sharing these awesome photos. Mr. Horsley, please make certain that your work outlives you in a public archive.

          • Anonymous


            “Good points, and I’ll argue only with your rhetorical flourish about the “death of DC.”

            yeah, you got me. i couldn’t help myself. : )
            but about the revitalization efforts of the 80’s. thats why i say the worst of it was the mid to late 70’s. things changed with reagan. he uplifted the american spirit. ( not to tout other horrible things he did.. but he did create an optimism) economy improved. lower taxes. first stock boom in ages. real estate boom. percentage for the arts incentives ( see gallery place and techworld). wasnt that when they closed g street to traffic? and these things happened all across urban america. the 70’s were shit, but by 1980, the anticity sentiment was changing. obviously crack angel dust, herion had a hit too.

          • Well I lived it. To me DC had a racial divide and 16th street was the dividing line. The few white people who lived to the east ie 15th street and maybe Logan circle were gays and artists. It really was the gay community that braved the east dupont, logan and shaw areas during the 1970’s and 80’s. Another huge factor was crack, PCP and local political machine at the time that defined the unpleasantness of urban living in DC.

  • Jules

    The downtown Whitlows! Such a great place. I also miss the wig stores. There were SO many!

  • Tres

    Love this post. Such a blessing. Stunning.

  • God I miss the original Whitlows. We used to go there before shows at the original 930 Club.

  • Me

    I feel in love with this city in the early 90’s. These pictures reminded me of my youth and why I loved it so much. It may not make any sense, but the love was there.

    the fact that F st was closed off at 9th for a pedestrian zone and now is a bustling corridor just blows my mind every single time i see it.

    my friends are so sick of hearing me say, “i remember when…” at so many buildings, intersections, neighborhoods etc…

    i was a club kid, a raver, a courier and then grew into real estate in dc….i love the city

    in honor of my 20th year here i’m getting a flag tattoo shortly!

    • I arrived in ’92 and feel the same way. It’s safer, cleaner and on the whole, objectively “better” now – but I’ll always love the DC in these pics. I was a terrified 17 year old from the suburbs of Western PA when I got here, but in a way only a teenager can, I suppressed that fear and got to know this city in spite of that feat – maybe even b/c of it.

      • Brian Kraft

        I think you’ve touched on a big part of why we remember the bad old days so fondly. I remember walking out of the 9:30 club at 2 AM in the 80s, looking around, and thinking, “Holy Shit! How am I even gonna get home?”

        We felt strong and brave and we made this our place. Now we are old and soft and the city is easy. There’s no pride in deciding which of 100 joints to drink Belgian beer in.

        It’s not so much the place that we miss. It’s the feeling, the life. It’s us.

        • Yes. This, exactly. Well said.

    • The smell of urine in that patch of F street was unbearable. Poor MLK Library–a Mies van der rohe classic. Shame on our civic leaders for allowing the city to decline. Hooray for the new generation of urbanists!

  • hpa

    What is worth getting nostalgic about – big old houses for $125K. What isn’t, just about everything else. I lived up New Hampshire halfway between 16+U and Meridian Hill in the late 80’s – early 90’s and let me tell you the place was sh***y and dangerous. Its only redeeming features where that it was cheap and close to downtown.

    I know that the pictures make it look all cool and superfly and all, but was dirty, decrepid and had a real menacing edge.

    • My pictures don’t make it look “cool or superfly”, that is how people are reacting to them. I shot the city exactly as I found it then with no attempt to romanticize.

  • MichelleRD

    Wonderful trip down memory lane. Even if I can still smell the stench of that F Street pedestrian mall.

    I have to admit that what I miss is not the “character” of the city back then but rather my youth and the feeling of being intrepidly urban and tragically hip (a la St. Elmos Fire) but most of all intimately familiar with the city. I’m gladgladglad for what the city is right now but it’s nearly impossible to feel as connected to it as I did back then. I lived in neighborhoods around Howard, in Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and several places in between but I knew ALL of DC (okay, west of the Anacostia) and went everywhere all the time. Maybe because the livable pockets were fewer than they are now (?) My husband and I took a trip out of National recently and were remembering the days when one could leave home 20 minutes before a flight and make it in plenty of time. Last week it took me 35 minutes to get from the Washington Hilton to my home in Petworth. Nothing in that stretch changed much between 1988 and say 2004, but now in almost every block I could point to a place that wasn’t there five or ten years ago. It’s trippy.

  • Nora

    I grew up in Clarendon in the 80s/90s and seeing your photos of that neighborhood was a real treat. (Back when we called it “Lyon Village”). I very faintly remembered many of the old landmarks that I hadn’t thought about in years but they all came back very vividly when I saw your photos. (Sears across the street from the current Whole Foods? Classic.) Can’t wait to show friends and family from the old stomping (toddling) grounds.


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