The Washington Heights Historic District contains one of the most eclectic, yet cohesive collections of historic buildings in the Adams Morgan area. Platted in 1888, the neighborhood features intact groups of late 19th-century row houses along its grid streets, early-20th century luxury apartment houses framing the larger avenues, and an eclectic mix of commercial structures (both purpose built and modified) along both sides of 18th Street.
The development of Washington Heights illustrates the neighborhood’s architectural evolution from a streetcar suburb on the outskirts of the original city limits to a vibrant urban neighborhood and commercial corridor. Once a bucolic setting on the breezy heights at the northern boundary of the city, the area was first attractive for its easy walking distance to the horse-drawn streetcar line that terminated at Connecticut and Florida Avenues. But its major growth was spurred by the electric streetcars extended through the subdivision along 18th Street in 1892, and along Columbia Road in 1896.
Until the early 1920s, Washington Heights remained mostly white and middle-class, but in the 1920s and 1930s, European and Asian immigrants began moving into the neighborhood, many operating small businesses on 18th Street, or working for the nearby embassies. These immigrants brought slow but increasing diversity to the neighborhood. Similarly, the neighborhood’s African-American population, at first largely limited to servants or janitors living in the homes or apartments where they worked, became more diversified by 1930, with a large concentration along Vernon Street in particular.
The sweeping demographic and social changes that define the neighborhood today did not occur until after World War II, when a housing shortage in the city caused many of the single-family row houses to be transformed into rooming houses, attracting a majority African-American population. The changing demographics and the declining value of the area’s real estate spurred the departure of many middle-class white families to the suburbs.
Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, the area became increasingly attractive to Spanish-speaking residents, due in part to its affordability and to its proximity to Hispanic embassies. As political turmoil afflicted Latin American countries in the 1960s, the Latino population grew. During the 1970s, in addition to increasing numbers of African-Americans and Latin Americans, new ethnic groups, including Caribbeans, Southeast Asians, and Africans moved into the neighborhood, creating a multi-cultural and multi-national community that is part of the neighborhood’s defining character. The district includes 347 contributing buildings dating from 1891-1950.
DC designation: July 27, 2006 (effective September 10, 2006)
National Register listing: September 27, 2006