Urban Renewal

Encore: How the Tivoli became the Epicenter of a Debate over Urban Renewal

The revitalized Tivoli Theater in Columbia Heights, with tan walls and a red roof in an Italian architectural style. There is a large marquee, and signs with the word "Tivoli."

The Tivoli Theater's grand opening in 1924 was heralded by a grand parade and a carnival which attracted hundreds of Washingtonian's to the Golden Age movie theater. Yet, just over 50 years later, the Tivoli had its windows bolted up and doors closed, no longer the shining light in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. What followed afterwards was a dramatic decades-long fight over the fate of the Tivoli, bringing up questions surrounding urban renewal and the future of the neighborhood, which had suffered greatly after the 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

A view of Southwest from above. This is from pre-urban renewal circa 1939. Crowded streets full of buildings are in the foreground and the Capitol building is visible in the background.

The Cost of Urban Renewal in Southwest DC

After World War II, Southwest Washington, DC, underwent a bout of complete urban renewal to clean up the blighted neighborhood. But was it worth it? New buildings went up, but a community was torn apart, economic segregation ensued and the project failed to deliver on many of the promises that were made.