Latinx Heritage Tour

Urban buildings live many different lives—rented space is chameleon-like, changing color to match its surroundings and fill external needs. New communities create spaces that reflect their cultural heritage, religious values and personal desires. The legacy of DC’s Hispanic community can be seen in the businesses, organizations, and public spaces in the contiguous neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights. DC’s Latino/a/x* community is a prime example of the collective shaping of the built environment—as early as the 1930s, Spanish-speaking Caribbean migrants established homes, cultural connections, and community spaces in the District.

In the 1940s, Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans arrived in the capital to obtain work in the expanding federal bureaucracy. In the 1950s and 1960s, Latin American diplomats brought embassy staff to Adams Morgan, moving in alongside an influx of Dominicans and Cubans entering America for economic opportunity and an escape from political conflict in their home countries. By the 1970s, the city considered rebranding Adams Morgan as “The Latin Quarter,” due to the prolific number of Spanish-speaking and Latin-owned businesses, restaurants, and shops. The growing Latin-American community continued its expansion into Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights through Salvadoran and Central American immigration in the 1970s and 1980s, as civil war and domestic unrest unfolded in various nations.

The intersection of Columbia Road and 18th Street became an epicenter of Hispanic culture and business, with various shops, restaurants, and organizations catering to the Latino/a/x population. Buildings constructed in the first decade of the 20th century saw revitalization in the sale of pupusas and traditional Latin-American cuisine, the opening of Spanish bodegas that supplied common foods and conversations in native languages, and the creation of non-profits to provide health care, legal advice, and support to incoming immigrants. Family networks, community connections, and a cultural reconstruction of shared space transformed the built environment into a reflection of Hispanic residents.

This tour is designed to explore the evolution of Latino DC’s built environment throughout the latter half of the 20th century. This tour does not claim to tell a complete story—much of the history of this area is layered and scattered across different decades, buildings, and neighborhoods. Additionally, this tour does not claim to be solely focused on traditional historic preservation—this tour is a celebration of intangible cultural heritage and an exploration of the recent legacy of Latino/a/x DC in the latter half of the 20th century.

This ten-stop tour will explore influential sites of Hispanic community, cultural expression, and collective activism in the nation’s capital. Additional resources are provided per site at the bottom of the individual webpages. For further resources, the final “stop” of the tour provides a conclusion and clickable links to other tours, exhibits, and oral histories.

*In this tour’s written content, Latino/a/x and Hispanic are used interchangeably as most Mount Pleasant immigrants and current residents referenced here are from Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

La Clinica Del Pueblo

In 1982, a joint venture between Plenty International (a commune on 16th St NW) and CARECEN (Central American Refugee Center) launched a joint venture to provide bilingual medical care to the undocumented immigrants who were pouring into DC (for…

CARECEN (Latino Resource & Justice Center)

Founded in 1981 by lawyers Patricia Perillies and Joaquin Dominguez Parada, the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) got its start defending the legal rights of Central American immigrants in the United States. With a tight budget and small…

Latin American Youth Center

In 1968, a growing need for accessible youth services in the neighborhood resulted in the founding of the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). Only ten years after its establishment, the Center had received enough funding to become an official…

GALA Hispanic Theatre

Established in 1976, GALA (Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos) initially emerged as an eclectic group of artists, dancers, writers, and performers operating out of a townhouse in Adams Morgan. The ultimate goal of the original group was twofold: "to…

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

Many of the immigrants who transformed Mount Pleasant in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s relocated from primarily Catholic countries. Catholic churches provided places of refuge for newly arrived families and individuals seeking religious guidance and…

Spanish Catholic Center

In the late 1960s, growing numbers of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking immigrants of Catholic faith began to arrive in Washington upon fleeing civil unrest, war, and poverty in their home countries. Many settled in the contiguous neighborhoods of…

Businesses in El Barrio

In the 1960s, businesses and shops catering to Hispanic and immigrant customers developed alongside the Latino presence in Washington, building in the former streetcar suburb and creating new cultural spaces. In 1962 DC’s first bodega, Casa Dilone,…

Kenesaw Apartment House Co.

Designed as a luxurious apartment home with a café, spacious parlors, dining rooms, and retail space on the ground floor, the Kenesaw initially housed members of Congress and wealthy Washingtonians in the early 20th century. By the 1960s, a…

Wilson Center

In 1968, Reverend Antonio Welty reopened the former National Presbyterian Church (where President Woodrow Wilson preferred to worship while in the White House) to Hispanic community members. Two years after this initial contact, the…

Centro De Arte

In 1975, a small group of artists established the Spanish-American Community Arts (SACA) Project as part of the umbrella organization Fondo Del Sol. By 1976, the SACA Project renamed their group El Centro De Arte Inc. (commonly referred to as El…

Latinx Tour: Further Resources

Books, Articles, & Dissertations: Cadaval, Olivia. Creating a Latino Identity in the Nation's Capital: The Latino Festival. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.  Chacko, Elizabeth. “La Fiesta DC: The Ethnic Festival as an Act of Belonging…
DC Preservation League would like to acknowledge and thank Patrick Scallen for his contribution to this tour, both as an academic and Mount Pleasant resident. His expertise on Latino DC and detailed reviews of written content were essential and valued aspects of this tour's creation.