As DC’s neighborhoods expanded farther out from the city center, many residents felt disconnected from the downtown commercial district. While public transportation expanded – first through streetcars, then through buses – with the development of these new neighborhoods, automobile access also grew, spurring many to seek out new places to shop in their own personal vehicles. The Park n’ Shop in Cleveland Park revolutionized suburban shopping as it brought stores to residential neighborhoods and condensed essential businesses into one small area. The Spring Valley Shopping Center drew directly from the Cleveland Park model, and is one of the oldest shopping centers in the DC area.
Completed in 1936 under the architectural guidance of E. Burton Corning, the Colonial Revival style building occupies the north side of Massachusetts Avenue NW and takes on a rough U-shape. Originally meant to house ten businesses, the building now houses six individual businesses and a gas station. The Spring Valley development was highly controlled through zoning and land ownership that dictated the building’s use.
The Spring Valley Shopping Center marked a new era in market and shopping trends in DC, due to the expansion of new neighborhoods and suburbs. With the conclusion of World War I and the growing federal bureaucracy, the need to accommodate shoppers living further from the city center became of utmost importance for retailers. While the Spring Valley Shopping Center catered to residents’ daily needs, other shopping centers began offering stores for clothing and other specialty goods that would bring the city center to the suburbs.
Across the street, a similar shopping center began construction in 1939, three years after the opening of the Spring Valley Shopping Center, and would continue to be developed until 1950. This shopping center, formally known as Square 1500 but called the Spring Valley Village shopping center, would house the first branch store for Garfinckel’s in the area. Known for their high-end luxury merchandise, the opening of this Garfinckel’s branch signified the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, and the stores’ products matched the local consumers’ needs accordingly. This shopping center also included National Metropolitan Bank and Mayer & Co. Furniture Store (both at 4301 49th Street NW).
While both shopping centers’ stores have continually changed over the decades, their lasting imprint as retail centers is key to these neighborhood commercial areas. Their introduction into expanding DC neighborhoods followed housing trends that had to accommodate their customer base, and these northwestern retail outposts were convenient for the neighborhood and its residents.
DC Inventory: July 19, 1989
This site is a stop on the “Finding Style in DC: Navigating DC’s Shopping Scene” tour.