1980s

A Christmas Benefit at the Height of an Epidemic

The Whitman-Walker Clinic's Original Location. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In December of 1986, parents were rushing to the stores to snatch a Cabbage Patch Kid, G.I. Joe or Teddy Ruxpin off the shelf before they were all gone. That same month, the generosity of a local benefactor was a touching reminder of what the holiday season is really about. On Dec. 21, 1986, Robert Alfandre welcomed 30 people infected with AIDS into his home in northwest Washington for a Christmas party.

Remembering Kit Kamien

Kit Kamien at the recording studio (Source: Kit Kamien and the Backroom Players)

“I personally want to try and change the stereotype of what somebody in a wheelchair is like… I want to be judged not on my disabilities but on my abilities. I think people get frightened by the wheelchair… It’s a powerful visual symbol, but it’s not a symbol of defeat. It’s a tool I use to help me accomplish my goals. Just by climbing into the wheelchair, I don’t have to surrender my sexuality, my sensuality, my good sense of humor, or anything," said Kit Kamien, a Bethesda musician who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 26, to The Washington Post in 1987.

The Birchmere Gets Its Start

Exterior of the original Birchmere location

Gary Oelze purchased a Shirlington restaurant called the Birchmere in the mid 1960s. At the time, he wasn't planning to get into the music business. But soon, the Birchmere became a hub for bluegrass music in the nation's capital. Today, it is an internationally renowned music hall that draws fans of every musical genre. 

End of an Era: The Evening Star Fades in Washington

“There is a great silence today in Washington. A fine newspaper is gone and a noble tradition ended.”

Ronald Reagan’s words appeared on the front page of the August 7, 1981, issue of the Washington Evening Star. The biggest piece of news that day was the end of a 128-year-old Washington institution—the story of the newspaper’s own demise.

Fighting for D.C.'s Homeless: Mitch Snyder and CCNV

Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder, Actor Martin Sheen, Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, January 1987 (Source: Boston Mayor's Office, via Wikipedia)

“Anyone who thinks anyone is on the streets by choice is saying that out of a bed; a warm, comfortable home with a roof over their heads, money in their pocket and food in their stomachs.” - Mitch Snyder

Faced with a growing homeless crisis, the Reagan administration made a surprising policy decision in 1983.  Vacant federal buildings became available to “local governments and charitable organizations” for use as emergency shelters at a “cost basis.”  The properties included thousands of HUD and Department of Defense owned structures across the country, and one particularly notable building in the shadow of the United States Capitol. But while the new policy seemed to be a step forward, Mitch Snyder's fight for D.C.'s homeless was just beginning.

Washington Confronts the AIDS Crisis

March participants view the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on October 11, 1987. (Photograph courtesy of The NAMES Project.)

On October 11, 1987, Washingtonians woke up to an elaborate quilt blanketing the National Mall, with 1,920 panels stitching together the memory of thousands of individuals who had succumbed to the AIDS epidemic in America. The AIDS Memorial Quilt helped push the disease into mainstream America's consciousness. But for Washington's gay community, the battle against AIDS had been raging for almost a decade.

Metro: It's Not Easy Being Green

“DCSubwayConstruction, August 1989” (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DCSubwayConstruction.jpg

December 28, 1991 marked an important milestone for the Metro and for Washington: the long-awaited Green Line finally opened for business. On that Saturday, complete with official speeches, balloons and plenty of pomp and circumstance, the Anacostia, Navy Yard and Waterfront stations opened their fare gates for the first time. Getting to this celebration was anything but easy, however. For many years, it had seemed that the Green Line would never become a reality, as the last color of the Metrorail project faced countless setbacks due to budgeting, route disputes, and construction methods.

A New Time for 9:30

“9:30 Club Washington DC 1990” (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:9-30Club_WashingtonDC_1990.jpeg

The 1995 rumors were true. The famed 9:30 Club was gearing up to move from its downtown F Street location, to its new home at 815 V St. NW, formerly known as the WUST Radio Music Hall. While the club was known as a destination for alternative music in the 1980s, it had just as strong a reputation for being cramped and dirty. Owners Seth Hurwitz and Rich Heinecke, hoped to create a larger and cleaner space, while keeping all of the 9:30’s atmosphere and character. And on January 5, 1996, the reborn 9:30 Club opened with a concert from the Smashing Pumpkins.

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