1980s

The Birchmere Gets Its Start

Exterior of the original Birchmere location

Gary Oelze purchased a Shirlington restaurant called the Birchmere in the mid 1960s. At the time, he wasn't planning to get into the music business. But soon, the Birchmere became a hub for bluegrass music in the nation's capital. Today, it is an internationally renowned music hall that draws fans of every musical genre. 

End of an Era: The Evening Star Fades in Washington

“There is a great silence today in Washington. A fine newspaper is gone and a noble tradition ended.”

Ronald Reagan’s words appeared on the front page of the August 7, 1981, issue of the Washington Evening Star. The biggest piece of news that day was the end of a 128-year-old Washington institution—the story of the newspaper’s own demise.  

 

Fighting for D.C.'s Homeless: Mitch Snyder and CCNV

Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder, Actor Martin Sheen, Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, January 1987 (Source: Boston Mayor's Office, via Wikipedia)

“Anyone who thinks anyone is on the streets by choice is saying that out of a bed; a warm, comfortable home with a roof over their heads, money in their pocket and food in their stomachs.” - Mitch Snyder

Faced with a growing homeless crisis, the Reagan administration made a surprising policy decision in 1983.  Vacant federal buildings became available to “local governments and charitable organizations” for use as emergency shelters at a “cost basis.”  The properties included thousands of HUD and Department of Defense owned structures across the country, and one particularly notable building in the shadow of the United States Capitol. But while the new policy seemed to be a step forward, Mitch Snyder's fight for D.C.'s homeless was just beginning.

Washington Confronts the AIDS Crisis

March participants view the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on October 11, 1987. (Photograph courtesy of The NAMES Project.)

On October 11, 1987, Washingtonians woke up to an elaborate quilt blanketing the National Mall, with 1,920 panels stitching together the memory of thousands of individuals who had succumbed to the AIDS epidemic in America. The AIDS Memorial Quilt helped push the disease into mainstream America's consciousness. But for Washington's gay community, the battle against AIDS had been raging for almost a decade.

Metro: It's Not Easy Being Green

“DCSubwayConstruction, August 1989” (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DCSubwayConstruction.jpg

December 28, 1991 marked an important milestone for the Metro and for Washington: the long-awaited Green Line finally opened for business. On that Saturday, complete with official speeches, balloons and plenty of pomp and circumstance, the Anacostia, Navy Yard and Waterfront stations opened their fare gates for the first time. Getting to this celebration was anything but easy, however. For many years, it had seemed that the Green Line would never become a reality, as the last color of the Metrorail project faced countless setbacks due to budgeting, route disputes, and construction methods.

A New Time for 9:30

“9:30 Club Washington DC 1990” (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:9-30Club_WashingtonDC_1990.jpeg

The 1995 rumors were true. The famed 9:30 Club was gearing up to move from its downtown F Street location, to its new home at 815 V St. NW, formerly known as the WUST Radio Music Hall. While the club was known as a destination for alternative music in the 1980’s, it had just as strong a reputation for being cramped and dirty. Owners Seth Hurwitz and Rich Heinecke, hoped to create a larger and cleaner space, while keeping all of the 9:30’s atmosphere and character. And on January 5th, 1996, the reborn 9:30 Club opened with a concert from the Smashing Pumpkins.

The Jewel of U Street Reopens: The Lincoln Theatre

“The restored Lincoln Theatre, once a premier African-American entertainment venue, Washington, D.C.” (Photo Source: The Library of Congress) Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The restored Lincoln Theatre, once a premier African-American entertainment venue, Washington, D.C. United States Washington D.C, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011636050/.

After the 1968 riots ravaged U Street, the famed Lincoln Theatre fell into disrepair. On the evening of February 4th, 1994, however,1,200 invited guests attended a reopening gala for the Lincoln following a massive restoration project. For the first time in over 25 years, the burgundy curtain was rising on the Lincoln’s 38-foot-wide stage, and guests in attendance that night said that entering the restored theatre was like “stepping back in time.” 

Ebola Comes to Reston

Transmission Electron Micrograph of the Ebola Virus (Reston virus strain). Hemorrhagic Fever, RNA Virus. From CDC (Source: Wikipedia)

On October 4, 1989, a primate quarantine unit in Reston received a shipment of 100 monkeys from a Philippine facility. By November, nearly one-third of the animals had died – a much higher percentage than normal – of mysterious causes. Dan Dalgard, the consulting veterinarian of the unit, was alarmed and contacted the US Army Medical Research Institute (USAMRIID). Dalgard talked to Peter Jahrling, a virologist at USAMRIID, who told him to send a few samples of the dead monkeys. Neither one of them was prepared for what they found. 

A Washington Landmark: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Facade of Ben's Chili Bowl (Photo Source: Creative Commons) https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/12/15542832_25808e5769_b.jpg

According to co-founder Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl has never been “your typical restaurant.” Unlike other diners of the 1950’s, Virginia’s husband Ben thought “Washington might be hungry for the kind of spicy dishes he had known while growing up in the Caribbean,” and so he created his own recipe for chili con carne—which remains a closely guarded family secret. A unique element of the restaurant at the beginning, was that “Ben’s spicy chili was served only atop hot dogs, half-smokes or hamburgers,” and not by the bowl as the place’s name would suggest. Ben’s invention of the chili half-smoke quickly become D.C.’s staple food item, and for the next 20 years, loyal Washingtonians overcame a slew of significant obstacles to get their fix.

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