Gone, But Not Forgotten

DC is a city with many layers of history, as illustrated by the built environment's many architectural styles. As the city grew and changed, so did its buildings, many of which were altered or simply demolished. Sometimes architectural tastes were a factor, but often times economic pressures brought about demolition. Because of this, Washington's built environment is a mix of both old and new construction in a variety of styles and materials.

Before the 1960s, historic preservation laws were rare, with historic preservation ordinances in place in only a handful of cities (Note: the Old Georgetown Act was passed in 1950). Federal efforts had been focused on sites of national historical significance, as well as historic documentation through the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), established during the New Deal Era. However, even when a building was documented, there was a good chance that it would still be demolished, as cities changed and the federal government promoted urban renewal.

In 1966, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). This law encourages the preservation of historically, architecturally, and archaeologically-significant places. This is done through the Section 106 process, which focuses on federal "undertakings," and the law's promotion of state and local preservation efforts. NHPA also established the National Register of Historic Places, which has grown to include almost 100,000 listed places.

Shortly thereafter, in 1971, Don't Tear It Down (DC Preservation League's original name) was founded to save the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. By the end of the decade, in 1978, DC had passed a local preservation ordinance, the DC Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act, which established the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and a local process for preserving historic landmarks and districts. Despite these protections and processes, demolition may still occur, and some of the sites on this tour were demolished after the federal and local laws were established.

This tour includes historic sites in DC that were recognized for their historical and/or architectural significance, but were still demolished. Some of these lost places went down with a fight, but all of these losses reflect a constantly changing city. The list includes: Western Market, The Six Buildings, Church of the Covenant, McGill Building, the old Dunbar High School, and several more. Also, sometimes a loss occurs through fire, which is what happened to the Dry Barn at St. Elizabeths in 2022.

Ray's Warehouse (1855-1974)

A Georgetown flour mill built in 1847 by Alexander Ray (1799-1878) and his two sons, Andrew Ross Ray (1826-1886) and Albert Ross Ray (1829-1882) made use of the hydroelectric power from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The location was ideal not only…

Western Market (1872 - circa 1966)

Early on, three public markets were envisioned for the city: Center (Downtown), Eastern (Capitol Hill), and Western (Foggy Bottom/West End). Of these, only Capitol Hill's Eastern Market is still standing.Established in 1802-03, Western Market was…

The Six Buildings (1795 - 1985)

The Six Buildings, located from 1205 to 2117 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, were an image of the early days of the Republic. Failed to be completed by James Greenleaf, the Six Buildings would be passed into the hands of Mr. Isaac Polock, who completed them…

Nineteenth Street Baptist Church (1871-1976)

The Nineteenth Street Baptist Church is considered to be the first and oldest Black Baptist congregation in DC. The First Baptist Church, where Nineteenth Street Baptist Church finds its roots, initially described the congregation as interracial.…

The Seven Buildings (1796 - 1960)

The remnants of this row of Federal style buildings date back to the 1790s. The Seven Buildings, which sit just northwest of the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue, figure extensively into the early history of, not only Washington, DC, but also…

Tuckerman House (1886-1967)

Built by the DC based architectural firm Hornblower and Marshall, the Tuckerman House featured red brick with smoothly cut red sandstone. The house was built in a similar style to architect H.H. Richardson's (1838-1886) work; some of his commissions…

Rhodes' Tavern (1799-1984)

Built in 1799 by Bennett Fenwick (ca.1765-1801)—and, most likely, his enslaved work force—Rhodes' Tavern opened as a tavern and inn in 1801 under the management of William Rhodes. In 1805, Rhodes sold the tavern to his future brother-in-law, Joseph…

Palais Royal (1893-1987)

Founded by Abram Lisner, Palais Royal expanded from its beginnings as a specialty store to a successful department store. Lisner operated the store as a cash-only business that offered low-price merchandise, attracting customers to shop there with…

The Velatis Caramel Company (1866-1970)

Italian immigrant Salvator Velati opened the first Velatis candy shop in Richmond, Virginia in the 1850s. This store burnt to the ground just prior to the end of the Civil War. In 1866, the Velatis Caramel Company moved to DC and reopened for…

McGill Building (1891 - 1973)

Designed by Paul J. Pelz (1841-1918), this Romanesque Revival style building was demolished just as the plan to preserve it was beginning. Built in 1891, the McGill Building (named for Architect James H. McGill (1853-1908), who is known for the…

Northern Liberty Market (1875-1985)

The physical structure of Northern Liberty Market came as a result of the 1870s development initiatives of then DC governor, Alexander Shepherd (1835-1902). An earlier incarnation of Northern Liberty Market existed in Mount Vernon Square starting in…

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (1916-1977)

Founded in 1870 as the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth in the basement of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, the school became the country's first public high school for African Americans. By 1891, the school became known as M Street High…

Providence Hospital (1861 - 1964)

Providence Hospital opened just six weeks after the start of the Civil War, and was one of the longest running hospitals in the city, operating from 1861 to 1961. Opening on the corner of Second and D streets SE, the hospital’s mission of serving its…

Dry Barn (1884-2022)

Farming was an integral part in the treatment of patients at Saint Elizabeths. It also carried out the hospital's goal of producing as much of its own food as possible. During his time as the supervisor, Charles Nichols was very interested in…