1980s

Ballston Common: The Birth, Death, & Rebirth of the D.C. Area's First Major Shopping Mall

“To describe this shopping center in words is a bit difficult because of its extremely high efficiency in the use of every square foot.”

While it may be hard today to imagine the shopping center at the intersection of Arlington’s Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd. as an exciting and advanced piece of architectural planning, it truly was at its opening in 1951.  At the time, it was the largest suburban retail space on the East Coast, and the first ever to be built around a parking garage (which also happened to be the largest parking garage in the United States). This sort of retail design was an absolute novelty, and an early hallmark of both the post-War evolution of the American suburb, as well as the DC area’s growing population. Its name, however, was a little on the nose: Parkington.

Prince performing at Gallaudet University on November 29, 1984 (Photo: Courtesy of the Gallaudet University Archives)

Prince's Free Concert at Gallaudet

Fans all over the world are mourning the sudden death of Prince Rogers Nelson on April 21, 2016, the singular musical genius who masterfully blended rock, R&B, jazz, funk and pop. But did you know that Washington, D.C. played host to one of his most unique and inspiring performances? At the very pinnacle of his fame during the massively popular "Purple Rain" tour in 1984, Prince stopped to play a free concert for 1,900 students at Gallaudet University — the world-renowned school for the deaf — and 600 special needs students from D.C.-area schools. 

The Golden Age of D.C. Sportscasters

It was Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, California. The Washington Redskins were set to take on the Miami Dolphins in a rematch from their meeting in Super Bowl VII a decade before. Outside of a Pasadena hotel designated for the media, a group of sixteen men jovially sang and hugged each other. At their center, a recognizable voice could be heard over the merriment.  “Ladies and gentlemen this is the class of ’83. These sixteen men ran up the highest hotel bill in the history of Western civilization.”

The voice belonged to Glenn Brenner, Washington’s comedic evening sports broadcaster from Channel 9 news, celebrating with his crew. The men did indeed tally up a massive hotel bill, yet there was one detail that Brenner left out of his speech. He had charged the bill to George Michael’s room, his rival sportscaster at Channel 4.

Michael Horsley's Washington of the 1980s

Homeless people sleeping at a bus stop, 14th and P St., NW, 1986. (Photo courtesy of Michael Horsley)

From 1984 to 1994 photographer Michael Horsley walked the streets of Washington, D.C., photographing the unseen and vanishing moments at a time when many inner-city neighborhoods still showed the effects of the 1968 riots. These images were tucked away in his private collection for almost 25 years until he published them on Flickr in 2010.

Horsley's Hidden Washington, D.C. collection (check it out on Flickr!) is a rare neighborhood-oriented photo archive of the nation's capital during the 1980s. In some cases, the physical landscape is almost unrecognizable today. In others, the scene is nearly the same now as it was then. Many of the photos are featured in WETA Television's new documentary, Washington in the '80s.

We recently chatted with Horsley about his experiences taking the photos and his reflections on the changes he has witnessed in the years since.

Rayful Edmond III's extensive cocaine network and ties to Colombian drug cartels marked a shift in D.C.'s drug trade, which had previously been dominated by small-time dealers in constant search of supplies. (Photo courtesy of May 3rd Films)

1989: Bringing Down D.C.'s Drug King

April 15, 1989 – almost “go time.” A joint force of DEA, FBI and D.C. Police officials had spent nearly two years building their case against the District's largest drug network, and a series of coordinated raids had been carefully planned for the next day.

But then rumors began to circulate that word of the impending raids had leaked out onto the streets. Worried that their opportunity would be lost, authorities hurriedly put their plan into action, early.

At 5:30pm, officers arrested Tony Lewis at his home in Arlington. A few hours later, they nabbed the big prize – alleged ring leader Rayful Edmond III –  at his girlfriend's house in the 900 block of Jefferson St., NW. With the two biggest targets in custody, officials launched searches at more than a dozen other addresses in the District and Maryland, including Edmond's grandmother's rowhouse at 407 M Street, NE, which was thought to be the headquarters of the operation.

And what an operation it was.

1987: The Blizzard of Discontent

Washington remained buried in snow two days after the Super Bowl snowstorm. Credit: National Archives

On the morning of January 22, 1987, Washington was hit by a massive snowstorm that, in some ways, might have been the beginning of then-Mayor Marion Barry's ignominious downfall. A sudden storm quickly dumped 14 inches of snow upon hapless Washingtonians, forcing the federal government, the District government, and businesses to shut down and send hundreds of thousands of workers home. That exodus, combined with the rapid snow buildup, quickly threw its transportation system into chaos. Ice built up on the third rail from which Metro trains draw power, by afternoon, officials had to shut down 37 miles of the 70-mile rail system, as they stuggled to free six trains that were stranded for several hours on the Red Line. Police had to be called in to manage the overflow crowds of stranded commuters at stations. 130 buses became stuck in the snowy roads, including 17 that were jammed up on one stretch of Massachusetts Avenue alone. Cars couldn't get anywhere either.

As residents pushed their cars down District streets and stranded commuters searched for somewhere to bed down for the evening, recently re-elected Washington mayor Marion Barry had it considerably easier. As the Post later reported, Barry was 3,000 miles away, playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton in California, where he had come to see Super Bowl XXI between the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. Most politicians might have rushed home to lead the response to such a crisis, or at least to get in front of the TV cameras and reassure the public that they were in control. But Barry wasn't like most politicians. As the District struggled for several days to dig out from the ice that had set in as temperatures dropped to 10 degrees, Barry chose to remain in California. Even after weather forecasters predicted on Friday that the District might be hit be a second, even bigger storm that weekend, he stayed to attend the big game.

How Union Station was Saved in the 1980s

Union Station in 1963, prior to a botched 1970s repurposing that nearly destroyed the building. Credit: National Archives

 

When Union Station opened in 1907, the white granite Beaux-Arts train terminal designed by architect Daniel H. Burnham set a new standard for District's monumental architecture, setting the stage for landmarks such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Federal Triangle, the Supreme Court Building and the National Gallery of Art. The $25 million project was inspired by classical Roman architecture--the Baths of Diocletian and Caraculla and the triumphal Arch of Rome--and incorporated flourishes such as Ionic columns, chiseled inscriptions. Niches that held carved figures representing fire, electricity, agriculture and mechanics. Inside, the main hall, with its dramatic barrel vault and ornate plaster ceiling. It all created a feeling of grandeur that reflected the economic power and prestige of the rail companies--the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltmore and Ohio Railroad--which had erected it.

But by the mid-1960s, the railroads' fortunes had faded, and they were eager to unload Union Station, and there was talk of demolishing it.

The Epicenter of the 1980s Alternative Music Scene in DC

The entrance to the original 930 Club in the Atlantic building at 930 F Street NW. Credit: Library of Congress

 

When the Atlantic building at 930 F Street NW was completed in 1888, it was on the cutting edge. Designed by James Hill Green, the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, its eight stories made it the biggest commercial structure in the District and one of the first to feature a passenger elevator. Inside, the Atlantic Building had two big assembly rooms, which made it the location of many important public meetings, including one in 1889 at which the National Zoo was founded. In 1890, the top floor served as the headquarters for President Benjamin Harrison's inaugural committee. The Washington Post hailed it as a "handsome" building.

In the decades that followed, the Atlantic — one of the last tall structures in the city to be built with only masonry walls, rather than a steel inner frame — gradually was overshadowed by newer, flashier modern buildings, and it became a largely-forgotten bit of the District's architectural history. That is, until the 1980s, when the building achieved a different sort of notoriety as the the epicenter of the District's alternative music scene.

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