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Neighborhood Narratives: Columbia Heights

Neighborhood Narratives:  Columbia Heights

The Columbia Heights neighborhood, which was started in 1815 as a purchase of 121 acres of the Pleasant Plains estate, began to develop as a suburb of Washington soon after the Civil War. The northern portion of modern Columbia Heights was, until the 1880s, part of the village of Mount Pleasant. Named for Columbian College, now The George Washington University (which moved its major operations to Foggy Bottom by 1912), Columbia Heights was targeted for upscale development circa 1900 and designed to attract upper level Federal government workers, Supreme Court justices and high-ranking military officers. At that time, Columbia Heights was the chosen area for some of Washington’s most influential people.

By 1914, four streetcar lines provided transportation to downtown Washington in twenty minutes. The popularity of the neighborhood allowed for the construction of several large apartment buildings, changing the character of the area from suburban to more urban and densely populated. The neighborhood retained its upscale appeal through the 1960s, until the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Much of the 14th Street Corridor was ravaged, resulting in many homes and shops remaining vacant for decades.

In 1999, the city announced an initiative for the revitalization of the neighborhood that focused around the newly opened Columbia Heights Metro station. It served as a catalyst for the return of residents and economic development and within five years, considerable gentrification had occurred. Unlike some gentrified neighborhoods, Columbia Heights retained its phenomenal diversity. To many, this diversity is the heart of Columbia Heights’ community.

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