Columbia Heights

IMG_1999Once farmland on the estate of the Holmead family (called “Pleasant Plains”), Columbia Heights was part of Washington County, District of Columbia (within the District but outside the borders of the city of Washington). In 1815 an engraver from England, William J. Stone, purchased a 121-acre estate — east of Seventh Street Road (present-day Georgia Avenue), and north of Boundary Street — and established his own estate known as the Stone Farm. Nearby, construction of the first building for Columbian College, now The George Washington University, was completed in 1822. The area began developing as a suburb of Washington soon after the Civil War when horse-drawn streetcars delivered residents of the neighborhood to downtown.


The northern portion of modern-day Columbia Heights was, until the 1880s, a part of the village of Mount Pleasant. The southern portion still kept the name of the original Pleasant Plains estate, though it was also known as “Cowtown. In 1871, Congress passed the D.C. Organic Act, which eliminated Washington County by extending the boundaries of Washington City to be contiguous with those of the District of Columbia. Shortly afterward, in 1881–82, Senator John Sherman, author of the Sherman Antitrust Act, purchased the land including Stone Farm, developing it as a subdivision of the city and calling it Columbia Heights in honor of Columbian College.

The federal government also purchased some of the college’s land and built Meridian Hill Park in the early 20th century. The park, also known as “Malcolm X Park”, contains many statues including those of Joan of Arc, Dante and James Buchanan. In 1999, the city announced a revitalization initiative for the neighborhood focused around the Columbia Heights Metro station that opened that year. The opening of the Metro station served as a catalyst for the return of economic development and residents. Within five years, it had gentrified considerably, with a number of businesses (including a Giant Food supermarket and Tivoli Square, a commercial and entertainment complex) and middle-class residents settling in the neighborhood. However, unlike some gentrified neighborhoods in the city, it had not become homogeneous: as of 2006, Columbia Heights is arguably Washington’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood, composed of high-priced condominiums and townhouses as well as public and middle-income housing. On March 5, 2008, DC USA, a 546,000 square-foot  retail complex across the street from the Columbia Heights Metro station opened. The space is anchored by retailers Target and Best Buy.  The shopping center also includes 390,000 square feet of underground parking.  A number of bars and restaurants have since opened in the neighborhood, including Pho 14, which was voted best pho in Washington City Paper’s Best of DC 2010 poll.