1980s

The Jewel of U Street Reopens: The Lincoln Theatre

“The restored Lincoln Theatre, once a premier African-American entertainment venue, Washington, D.C.” (Photo Source: The Library of Congress) Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The restored Lincoln Theatre, once a premier African-American entertainment venue, Washington, D.C. United States Washington D.C, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011636050/.

After the 1968 riots ravaged U Street, the famed Lincoln Theatre fell into disrepair. On the evening of February 4, 1994, however,1,200 invited guests attended a reopening gala for the Lincoln following a massive restoration project. For the first time in over 25 years, the burgundy curtain was rising on the Lincoln’s 38-foot-wide stage, and guests in attendance that night said that entering the restored theatre was like “stepping back in time.” 

Ebola Comes to Reston

Transmission Electron Micrograph of the Ebola Virus (Reston virus strain). Hemorrhagic Fever, RNA Virus. From CDC (Source: Wikipedia)

On October 4, 1989, a primate quarantine unit in Reston received a shipment of 100 monkeys from a Philippine facility. By November, nearly one-third of the animals had died – a much higher percentage than normal – of mysterious causes. Dan Dalgard, the consulting veterinarian of the unit, was alarmed and contacted the US Army Medical Research Institute (USAMRIID). Dalgard talked to Peter Jahrling, a virologist at USAMRIID, who told him to send a few samples of the dead monkeys. Neither one of them was prepared for what they found. 

A Washington Landmark: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Facade of Ben's Chili Bowl (Photo Source: Creative Commons) https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/12/15542832_25808e5769_b.jpg

According to co-founder Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl has never been “your typical restaurant.” Unlike other diners of the 1950s, Virginia’s husband Ben thought “Washington might be hungry for the kind of spicy dishes he had known while growing up in the Caribbean,” and so he created his own recipe for chili con carne—which remains a closely guarded family secret. A unique element of the restaurant at the beginning, was that “Ben’s spicy chili was served only atop hot dogs, half-smokes or hamburgers,” and not by the bowl as the place’s name would suggest. Ben’s invention of the chili half-smoke quickly become D.C.’s staple food item, and for the next 20 years, loyal Washingtonians overcame a slew of significant obstacles to get their fix.

Ballston Common: The Birth, Death, & Rebirth of the D.C. Area's First Major Shopping Mall

Parkington during construction, shortly before completion, 1951. (Photo courtesy of Arlington Public Library Center for Local History)

“To describe this shopping center in words is a bit difficult because of its extremely high efficiency in the use of every square foot.”

While it may be hard today to imagine the shopping center at the intersection of Arlington’s Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd. as an exciting and advanced piece of architectural planning, it truly was at its opening in 1951. At the time, it was the largest suburban retail space on the East Coast, and the first-ever to be built around a parking garage (which also happened to be the largest parking garage in the United States). This sort of retail design was an absolute novelty, and an early hallmark of both the post-War evolution of the American suburb, as well as the DC area’s growing population. Its name, however, was a little on the nose: Parkington.

Prince performing at Gallaudet University on November 29, 1984 (Photo: Courtesy of the Gallaudet University Archives)

Prince's Free Concert at Gallaudet

Did you know that Washington, D.C. played host to one of Prince's most unique and inspiring performances? At the very pinnacle of his fame during the massively popular "Purple Rain" tour in 1984, Prince stopped to play a free concert for 1,900 students at Gallaudet University — the world-renowned school for the deaf — and 600 special needs students from D.C.-area schools. 

The Golden Age of D.C. Sportscasters

It was Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, California. The Washington Redskins were set to take on the Miami Dolphins in a rematch from their meeting in Super Bowl VII a decade before. Outside of a Pasadena hotel designated for the media, a group of sixteen men jovially sang and hugged each other. At their center, a recognizable voice could be heard over the merriment.  “Ladies and gentlemen this is the class of ’83. These sixteen men ran up the highest hotel bill in the history of Western civilization.”

The voice belonged to Glenn Brenner, Washington’s comedic evening sports broadcaster from Channel 9 news, celebrating with his crew. The men did indeed tally up a massive hotel bill, yet there was one detail that Brenner left out of his speech. He had charged the bill to George Michael’s room, his rival sportscaster at Channel 4.

Michael Horsley's Washington of the 1980s

Homeless people sleeping at a bus stop, 14th and P St., NW, 1986. (Photo courtesy of Michael Horsley)

From 1984 to 1994 photographer Michael Horsley walked the streets of Washington, D.C., photographing the unseen and vanishing moments at a time when many inner-city neighborhoods still showed the effects of the 1968 riots. These images were tucked away in his private collection for almost 25 years until he published them on Flickr in 2010.

Horsley's Hidden Washington, D.C. collection (check it out on Flickr!) is a rare neighborhood-oriented photo archive of the nation's capital during the 1980s. In some cases, the physical landscape is almost unrecognizable today. In others, the scene is nearly the same now as it was then. Many of the photos are featured in WETA Television's documentary, Washington in the '80s.

We recently chatted with Horsley about his experiences taking the photos and his reflections on the changes he has witnessed in the years since.

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