Urban Renewal Era


The charming Victorian rowhouses you see along 18th Street are an Adams Morgan signature. But they were nearly lost in the 1960s in the name of progress.

During World War II, thousands flooded Washington to work for the government, seriously overcrowding existing housing. Afterward, planners and citizens considered how to repair Washington's beaten-down neighborhoods. In Southwest, they chose wholesale "urban renewal." Nearly all of Southwest was razed for new construction. Some 23,500 residents were forced out. Many came to already crowded Adams Morgan.

Citizens and planners agreed: Adams Morgan would not be another Southwest.

So in the early 1960s citizens formed the Adams Morgan Planning Committee to work with federal agencies to improve the neighborhood. With much debate, they first called for better shopping and community facilities, and less traffic. Early plans called for paved plazas and high-rises on 18th Street and Columbia Road. Reed-Cooke's industrial buildings (auto dealerships, power plants, and warehouses) and deteriorating housing would have been razed or re-used.

But then residents realized that plans would displace thousands of Reed-Cooke residents and dozens of businesses. And private restoration efforts were already underway. So in 1965 the National Capital Planning Commission rejected urban renewal for the area.

At the same time, many residents joined other Washingtonians to stop plans for a freeway alongside Florida Avenue to the south that would have cut off Adams Morgan from Downtown Washington.

The neighborhood's ongoing citizen participation is an important legacy of urban renewal debates and highway battles.

The Adams Morgan story begins with its breezy hilltop location, prized by Native Americans, colonial settlers, freedom seekers, powerful Washingtonians, working people, and immigrants alike. Unlike most close-in neighborhoods, Adams Morgan has never been dominated by any of these groups. Today's rich diversity is the legacy of each group that has passed through.

Follow the 18 signs of Roads to Diversity: Adams Morgan Heritage Trail to discover the personalities and faces that shaped a community once known simply as "18th and Columbia." Along the way, you'll learn how school desegregation led to the name Adams Morgan, and you'll meet presidents and paupers, natives and immigrants, artists, activists and authors.

Roads to Diversity: Adams Morgan Heritage Trail, a booklet capturing the trail's highlights is available at local businesses. To learn about other DC neighborhoods, check out City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail, beginning at 16th and U streets, and visit: www.CulturalTourismDC.org

On 18th Street NW, Adams Morgan, (On the right when traveling south)
Cultural Tourism DC.(Marker Number 17.)
Official (Historical Marker Database)
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