1980s

How Union Station was Saved in the 1980s

Union Station in 1963, prior to a botched 1970s repurposing that nearly destroyed the building. Credit: National Archives

When Union Station opened in 1907, the white granite Beaux-Arts train terminal designed by architect Daniel H. Burnham set a new standard for District's monumental architecture, setting the stage for landmarks such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Federal Triangle, the Supreme Court Building and the National Gallery of Art. The $25 million project was inspired by classical Roman architecture--the Baths of Diocletian and Caraculla and the triumphal Arch of Rome--and incorporated flourishes such as Ionic columns, chiseled inscriptions. Niches that held carved figures representing fire, electricity, agriculture and mechanics. Inside, the main hall, with its dramatic barrel vault and ornate plaster ceiling. It all created a feeling of grandeur that reflected the economic power and prestige of the rail companies--the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltmore and Ohio Railroad--which had erected it.

But by the mid-1960s, the railroads' fortunes had faded, and they were eager to unload Union Station, and there was talk of demolishing it.

The Epicenter of the 1980s Alternative Music Scene in DC

The entrance to the original 930 Club in the Atlantic building at 930 F Street NW. Credit: Library of Congress

 

When the Atlantic building at 930 F Street NW was completed in 1888, it was on the cutting edge. Designed by James Hill Green, the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, its eight stories made it the biggest commercial structure in the District and one of the first to feature a passenger elevator. Inside, the Atlantic Building had two big assembly rooms, which made it the location of many important public meetings, including one in 1889 at which the National Zoo was founded. In 1890, the top floor served as the headquarters for President Benjamin Harrison's inaugural committee. The Washington Post hailed it as a "handsome" building.

In the decades that followed, the Atlantic — one of the last tall structures in the city to be built with only masonry walls, rather than a steel inner frame — gradually was overshadowed by newer, flashier modern buildings, and it became a largely-forgotten bit of the District's architectural history. That is, until the 1980s, when the building achieved a different sort of notoriety as the the epicenter of the District's alternative music scene.

Would-be Presidential Assassin John Hinckley, Jr., in a mugshot taken after his arrest. (Photo credit: FBI)

March 1981: The Tourist From Hell

As the sun rose over Washington, DC, on the morning of March 30, 1981, in room 312 of the Park Central Hotel on 705 18th Street NW, a guest lay in bed, anxious and wired after a mostly sleepless night. He had arrived the night before on a Greyhound bus, and like many other tourists who visit Washington from afar, he had a big day ahead. But unlike most of them, he didn't plan to see the Lincoln Memorial or the Capitol dome, or to peruse the exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution's various museums. No, this visitor had something different in mind. His name was John Warnock Hinckley, Jr., and he was going to try to kill the President of the United States.

Len Bias

Remembering Len Bias

The court was closed off to students like it always was after basketball season was over. A sign over the floor read “Keep Off” and there was a still darkness inside of Cole Field House.

Students sat quietly in the top rows of the yellow seats in the arena, thinking, wondering. While some stared down at the court with wide eyes, others leaned back in their seats with their eyes closed.

Raw emotion spread across the arena as they came to remember the Maryland Terrapin legend, Len Bias.

Just a few days before, Bias had been on top of the world, the second pick in the NBA draft by the famed Boston Celtics.

As the Thunder Rolls into DC

You've probably seen the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day commemoration before. And if by some miracle you haven't seen it, you've almost assuredly heard it. But do you know the history behind it? (Photo by Cristiano Del Riccio. Used via CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)

You can hear the rumble from miles away, a deep roar of engines joined together for a cause. This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of motorcyclists will ride in unison across Memorial Bridge, a moving force of memory and action for POW's and soldiers listed as Missing in Action. Rolling Thunder, as the demonstration is called, has been a Washington Memorial Day tradition since 1988. But do you know the history behind it?

The Music Behind the Corcoran's Pump Me Up Exhibit

Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, Minor Threat, SOA.

If you lived in DC in the 1980s, you probably recognize these as local Go-Go and hardcore bands. If that's the case, the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s exhibit, Pump Me Up, is sure to invoke nostalgia. For those who have come here more recently, the exhibit offers a rare opportunity to see how much DC has changed in the last thirty years. (You definitely get a different image of the 80s than at a Legwarmers concert at the State Theatre!) Either way, it's worth a visit.

To put it mildly, the 1980s was a tumultuous period for the District of Columbia. There was a lot going on and homegrown music was right at the center of the city's experience.

Two Tragedies in One Day

It was snowing on the 14th Street Bridge and traffic had ground to a standstill as thousands of federal workers and other rush-hour commuters tried to get home ahead of a major storm. With an awful metallic crack, a blue-and-white jet swept out of the swirling snow at 4 p.m., smacked against one of the bridge's spans, sheared through five cars like a machete, ripped through 50 feet of guard rail and plunged nose first into the frozen Potomac River.

Moments later in a crowded subway car underneath the National Mall:

The train reversed direction.... with a loud popping and crunching sound and a sudden showering of sparks and electrical arcing.... Dozens of people of both sexes screamed. Slowly, surrealistically, the concrete abutment grew larger, closer and actually pressed the left center-rear of the car. The side and roof slowly caved in, almost as a foot crushes a tin can. More screaming, arcing, then silence.

It sounds like a scene in a Hollywood movie right before the hero or heroine springs into action. Tragically, however, this was no movie. It was real life in Washington on January 13, 1982.

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