A year of Living Locally – Full circle in Columbia Heights

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The Washington Post

To me, the most important thing to happen in the region this year might seem small to someone else: the unveiling of permanent heritage signs in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

In October, 19 new signs reflecting the many improvements in this neighborhood were unveiled by the group Cultural Tourism D.C., which has erected such historical markers throughout many city neighborhoods. Having attended Central High School at 13th and Clifton streets NW, and having owned and operated Smith Pharmacy at 2518 14th St. NW from 1959 to 1968, I found that the event brought back many memories — some happy, some not so happy. I was personally honored when one of the Cultural Tourism signs displayed a photo and the history of my pharmacy, right across the street from its former location.

During the riot triggered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, my drugstore was one of the many businesses that were burned down. In the aftermath, many merchants, including myself, decided not to reopen, resulting in many residents moving out of the neighborhood.

But time passed. Immigrants moved in. Social services and political organizations developed. Some rebuilding occurred. The opening of Metro’s Columbia Heights Station in 1999 speeded things up. Now, former 14th Street retailers such as Kay Jewelers, Lerner’s, Standard Drug and G.C. Murphy have been replaced by Target, Best Buy, CVS and Giant.

Thus, to me, 2009 represents the moment when a great neighborhood in the nation’s capital came full circle. Despite the persistence of occasional crime (and the notorious recent snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW), with increased police supervision, this neighborhood will thrive for years to come.

By Larry Rosen


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