Friday Question of the Day – Will DC Ever Have Something as cool as the Former Arcade in Columbia Heights?

by Prince Of Petworth April 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm 53 Comments

The Columbia Heights Heritage Trail has some great info but I was especially struck by the info on 14th and Kenyon St, NW by The Heights about the old Arcade (where DC USA/Target is today) – it had a movie theater, pool hall, dancing, sports arena, skating rink cafe and more:

Do you think DC will ever have a structure as cool as the Arcade? Perhaps one day if the Uline Arena is ever redeveloped? When the Old Post Office Pavilion is redeveloped?

It’s funny how we’ve come full circle. The Arcade which rocked Columbia Heights in 1925, I think, could be a huge success today. We’ve speculated before about the possibility of Columbia Heights ever sustaining a movie theater today. Do you think any neighborhood in DC could support a new movie theater and/or bowling alley? What about somewhere like in a “new” neighborhoods such as NoMa?

  • Anonymous

    Could we possibly fit all our modern amusements under one roof anymore?

    groovy lights!

    • PG

      Sure – all you really need is PBR and some kind of ironically cool game like bocci or skee ball.

      • Anonymous

        what is ironic about the things you mentioned?

        • yes… what is Ironic about those games?

          I love the leisure triathlon Bocci-Croquet-Badminton!

          • Anonymous

            I don’t know about skee-ball, but I suppose bocce has a stereotype that only old Italian men play it? Perhaps skee-ball is for Jersey Shore guidos?

            A bit of a stretch if you ask me. Who doesn’t like the boardwalk and relaxing lawn games?

          • I suppose they’re “ironically cool” in the sense that they are both old games that the modern-day youth culture has embraced (ironic = incongruousness between the actual and the expected). I.e., one would expect modern-day youth culture to embrace new, modern games, not old ones like skeeball and bocci.

          • Anonymous

            i grew up playing both skee ball and bocce. I’m 39 and not italian. they are not ironic games to me, whatever that means. they were part of my culture growing up.

            and cheap beer is cheap beer. how is that ironic?

            is baseball ironic too?

          • Richard Spry

            No, baseball is the National Pastime.

        • PG

          What 2b3s. Just a stupid joke about how hipsters have an ironic love for retro stuff.

          • Anonymous


        • Anonymous

          used to be. anyway, how many people do you know that play baseball?

          oh.. you mean watching baseball? i think the internet is a more popular pastime.

      • Anonymous

        god loves skee ball

  • Ace in DC

    Yep. Convert the underutilized Harrison Elementary School (13th and V St NW) into the “Columbia Heights Arcade”. See the Kennedy School in Oregon that did something similar and made a hotel/theater/bar in an old school (http://www.mcmenamins.com/427-kennedy-school-home). This way we preserve the historical beauty of the architecture but re-purpose it for something other than a under funded and under utilized school.

    • bloom

      Thought of same thing. I wish. I’ve wished for this for a long time. (My whole wedding party stayed at the Kennedy School… and ate brunch in the courtyard, and slept in classrooms, and took hot swims, and listened to storytellers, and drank fresh brews.)

      Do we have properties and spaces that are cheap like NE Portland? I am highly skeptical. Do we have generous investors like the McMenamins? Would one be enough because it would be totally jam packed. Nice vision. Thank goodness for the McMenamins and all they did out there. I wish we had some such here. It remains to be seen.

      • Anonymous

        Put a bird on it.

        • Anonymous


          • bloom

            This place is SO OVER.

  • Anonymous

    My answer is: who is to tell what people are gonna think is truly awesome in 50-100 years??! It could be Verizon Center complex for all we know, or Gtown. THings that are considered normal-ish to one generation is the next generation’s junk, than the next, next generation’s treasure. Victorian homes used to be considered unsightly and targeted for demolition, for instance. I hate 60’s and 70’s architecture, but who’s to say that it won’t be considered awesome some day, like Art Deco before it?

    • Anonymous

      Proper scale and classic design elements seam to endure. So no I don’t think we will ever have anything as cool as the arcade. Architecture or the lack there of is all about the bottom line these days.

      • bloom

        Agree. I love great buildings and beautiful bridges with pretty lampposts in DC — but it’s mostly all very old. Thank goodness for those in the old days that cared about that enough to invest in it.

  • D

    The Ontario on Columbia Road will be great again someday. A movie theater is the most obvious choice but bowling might work too.

    • Such sadness whenever I think of what a reborn Ontario could do for Adams Morgan, etc.

  • Bloomingdale

    Gallery Place (in concept) might be the closest thing to this arcade. Movie theater, restaurants, bowling alley all under one roof. One wonders if the Columbia Heights arcade was overrun with unruly youth in 1925?

    • anon

      yep, I’d guess it was overrun with youth. and they were probably better pickpockets than today’s could ever hope to be.

      I think it has to be said that a movie theater here would certainly thrive, but I’d personally never go to it. I can’t afford $10 to have people hollering and yakking the whole time.

  • jm

    I guess they should just put a dave & buster’s in the ellwood thompson’s space

    • Nikki

      Yes, but that wouldn’t be “cool” enough, even though that is exactly what we’re talking about here.

      • Anonymous

        cool enough for what? profits?

  • anan

    something like chelsea peirs in new york would be cool. That even has an urban driving range. i always said it would be cool to have mini golf and a batting cage atop dcusa. dc also needs to make a beach along the potomac like so many cities have done on parts of their waterfront

  • ptown

    It would do great in Columbia Heights, of course, there would be a shooting, fighting etc most every night. Just look at Gallery Place. God help us if we get a movie theater here that shows the same things as Gallery Place.

    • Denizen of Tenallytown

      Just wait until “You Got Served 3: Ghetto Fabulous” comes out. If you live in Penn Quarter, stay indoors the entire weekend clutching your craft beer tightly.

  • PG

    I guess Glen Echo used to be like this.

    • Glen Echo certainly was larger and connected to the train running round trip to Chesapeake Beach. I wonder if these companies were connected.


      At the beach end there was a grand amusment park on the beach.

      I believe it was all segregated or at least the beach end was.

  • Anonymous

    Moving pictures? Bowling Alleys? Cafe? Billiards?

    Substitute shuffleboard for bowling and the Columbia Arcade is basically any bar in the Bedrock/Buffalo family.

  • Ms. Pac-Man

    That Arcade building was awesome. Wonder when it was torn down? I could see it being retrofitted to house big box stores…if only they had the imagination to take that project on.

  • Richard Spry

    Indoor dog park. Kite store. Arby’s.

    • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    dave and busters is this and more.

  • I would loooove to see a movie theatre in NOMA.

  • Andy (2)

    They should turn the Ontario theater (or Tivoli) into a 2nd run movie house with drinks and food.

    • JS

      This is a great idea – a DC version of Arlington Drafthouse would be great. Good luck getting it past the NIMBYs, though.

      • bloom


      • Denizen of Tenallytown

        Wasn’t there a movie theatre in Dupont Circle that served beer? The Circle, I believe. Didn’t do so well.

        • saf

          No, not the Circle (that was at Washington Circle and did not serve beer) (although the Circle theater group owned it at one point I think.)

          Anyhow, it was originally the Embassy. That closed and it became Visions. They broke up the BIG theater into 2 small ones. Lasted a few years.

          • Anonymous

            I liked Visions and it seemed to draw a crowd – sad it’s gone..

  • Anomynous

    Those days are over for now. A place like this would be a magnet for kids looking to cause trouble.
    You’d never hear the end of people blaming gentrifiers for destroying the original flavor of the neighborhood.

    It would be awesome to have n old-timey place like that around here though.

  • Mount Pleasant’s Main Street could be RE-VAMPED!

    turn that into someplace worth visiting for the residents of the local neighborhoods!

  • ET
  • Wow. Re the last advertisement, I’m supposing the “white” meant only white people were allowed in the Arcade? Not surprising, given the times. But I suppose all of our praise of historic DC should be taken with a grain of salt.

    • Of course that is what it meant, it was 1916.

      Columbia Heights and our areas were pretty white back then I am sure.

      Wasn’t that is about the time of the Great Migration from the south.

      • Anonymous

        the first big migration from the south happened in the late 1800’s when the feds pulled troops out of the south that were in place to protect blacks. with no protection, and little aid from local law enforcement they wisely left.

  • Anonymous

    I think it would be beyond awesome if the “blue castle” at 8th and M Street SE were turned into something like this. It would be perfect for all those Hill kids.

  • U People R CraZEEE

    Horror @ hootings at 9AM at the CH Metro and now musing on how fun an “Arcade” in DC would be. DeeeLUDED!


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