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.