1990s

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.

How the DC Improv Helped Stand-Up Grow Up

Jerry Seinfeld at the DC Improv. (Credit: DC Improv Archives)

In 1992, D.C. was rife with three “C’s”: Clinton, crack, and comedians. The first found a home in the White House, the second began to disappear from the streets, but the third—eager to make it as Stand-Ups—were left to wander in a city that offered them limited opportunities to perform. The opening of a new comedy club that July, the DC Improv, could not have come at a better time.

Mount Pleasant Boils Over, 1991

Youth clash with police during 1991 riots in Washington's Mount Pleasant neighborhood. (Source: Flickr user secorlew. Used via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.)

Angry mobs clashing with police… Looting… Flames…. It was a scene out of the 1968 riots. But this was a different time and place. The year was 1991 and D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood was boiling over.

The firestorm started at around 7pm on the evening of May 5. Angela Jewell and Girsel Del Valle, rookie cops from the Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District, were out on patrol in the neighborhood. They approached a group of men who appeared to be drinking in public at 17th and Lamont Streets, NW. Angry words were exchanged and the men supposedly became disorderly. The officers began to make arrests.

What happened next was the source of some debate.

This composite sketch of the Shotgun Stalker suspect was plastered all over Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant in 1993. (Source: Washington Post)

The Shotgun Stalker Terrorizes Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, 1993

The year was 1993. Spring had come to Washington and the cherry blossoms were blooming, but residents of Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights were on edge. For over a month, a gunman had been on the loose in their neighborhood, targeting pedestrians with a pump action shotgun. By the middle of April, the assailant – who was dubbed the “Shotgun Stalker” by local media outlets – had been linked to nine shootings, three of which were fatal.

Each incident was eerily similar: the stalker cruised the neighborhood in his car after dark, isolated a pedestrian and then fired at the person’s head. But yet it was all so… random. The victims varied in age, sex, ethnicity and occupation – there was no logic. After pulling the trigger the gunman would disappear, seemingly into thin air.

Robin Williams Crashes the D.C. Improv, 1996

As the world mourns the passing of actor-comedian Robin Williams, we thought we'd turn back the clock to happier times.

In May of 1996, the Democratic National Committee invited Williams to D.C. to perform at a party fundraiser at the old Washington Convention Center. The event was scheduled for Wednesday, May 8, but Mork came to town a day early. After dinner with Vice President Gore, the comedian made his way over to the D.C. Improv on Connecticut Ave. where he surprised the audience -- and perhaps the previously scheduled acts -- with a late-night stand up routine. As would-be headliner Tom Kenny said jokingly, movie star Williams "got off his big bag of money" to swing by the club and get some attention from a real, live audience.

Assassin's Cranium

Lewis Powell, the would-be assassin of Secretary of State William H. Seward, was prone to goof-ups. You might even say he had the tendency to lose his head.

As you know from our previous post, Powell was one of the co-conspirators in the Lincoln assassination plot. After his bloody rampage in the Seward home, Powell was tried and hanged along with three other conspirators on July 7, 1865. That should have been the end of the story, but it took over one hundred years for Powell's tale to come to an end.