Explore Washington D.C.

Were You Alive in ’65? D.C. Then and Now

As Where Washington turns 50, we toast other longtimers with a look at their past and their present.

If you visited D.C. the week of June 12, 1965, you might have picked up the very first issue of Where Washington magazine. Now bound in an archival volume, it features on its cover not a capital landmark but (why, we wonder?) a black-and-white portrait of “The Sound of Music” von Trapps. That initial 24-page, weekly city guide seems quite ambitious. It lists restaurants, lounges, films, stage plays, museums and department stores, assuring hotel guests that a serious political city (even in a year of social unrest) offers both wholesome and guilty pleasures.

By the looks of seven months’ worth of print ads, readers must have been a clientele right out of “Mad Men,” the final episode. Consider local businesses and their appeals. Fine dining sites want to be “elegant” quarters like the Mayflower’s Presidential Room with a Lester Lanin orchestra, while steakhouses promise assets like a moody pianist or a “whispering trumpet.” At “supper clubs,” trios play for dancing, while cocktail lounges with names like Pink Elephant and Hi-Hat tout their martinis and entertainers. Most glam may be the Shoreham Hotel that books stars in three venues—comics like satirist Mark Russell in the Marquee Lounge, performers like Phyllis Diller, Pearl Bailey and Maurice Chevalier in the Terrace Room and Liza Minnelli in The Blue Room.

Let’s go “back to the present” with a look at some city icons, then and now.


National Geographic

Then: The society and publishing empire expands its headquarters with the 1964 opening of Explorers Hall at 1145 17th Street NW. Now: The museum there features photography by National Geographic explorers and scientists, interactive stations and exhibitions about archaeology and the world’s largest freshwater fish.

National Geographic Museum
Coming face to snout with wildlife in stunning images at National Geographic Museum (Michelle Maloney, Courtesy National Geographic)

Washington Monument

Then: November 27, thousands gather on the National Mall south of the White House on 15th Street NW between Independence and Constitution Avenues. They surround the obelisk for the March on Washington for Peace in Vietnam. Now: Government surveyors announce that the structure actually measures 554 feet, 7 and 11/32 inches from main entry floor to top. More precise measurements explain this, not the 2011 earthquake that caused cracks (now repaired). Official brochures will still say 555.5 feet.

Washington Monument
The Washington Monument, still the tallest structure in D.C. (©dibrova/shutterstock.com)

Wax Works

Then: The National Historical Wax Museum moves from its riverside site (the Heurich Brewery stables) to make way for the Kennedy Center. Reinstalled at 5th and K streets NW are tableaux like Daniel in the lions den and wax figures like Babe Ruth, George Washington, Columbus and the Beatles. (The museum closes in 1982 after a second move.) Now: Wax doppelgangers at Madame Tussauds allow for photo ops and even hugs by visitors. Highly realistic figures include all U.S. presidents, wives Hillary and Nancy, Marilyn Monroe, Brad Pitt, Tiger Woods, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.


Chez Francois

Then: Steps from the White House, François Haeringer prepares the food of his native Alsace. His all-female floor staff, a first for fine dining, hands male and female diners their menus, only his printed with the prices. Now: At L’Auberge Chez François, on a country lane in Great Falls, Virginia, chef son Jacques continues with classic provincial fare and his own Bar Rouge with brasserie beside a garden.

Iron Gate Inn

Then: A Middle Eastern restaurant, circa 1923 and tucked in a former carriage house, draws romantics through its gates to a secluded garden. Now: Reopened with Mediterranean cuisine and prizewinning chef Tony Chittum, the inn tends its century-old wisteria, which blooms again above the courtyard tables at 1734 N Street NW.

Martin’s Tavern

Then: After 32 years, still going strong on a Georgetown corner with the founder’s grandson William A. Martin (Billy III) in charge. Politicos and neighbors enjoy comfort food in booths once occupied by Truman, Kennedy and Nixon. Now: After 82 years, the 4th-generation Billy presides over the tavern, cherishing memorabilia in The Dugout room.

Martin's Tavern
The fourth-generation, family-run Martin's Tavern (Courtesy the restaurant)

Occidental Grill & Seafood

Then: The restaurant “where statesmen dine” touts its “Gypsy and Continental music nightly by candlelight.” Power diners ask for the table where ABC’s John Scali met a mysterious Soviet operative and received a proposal that de-escalated the Cuban Missile crisis, thus avoiding nuclear war. Now: Restored to clubby elegance with a serious kitchen (chef Rodney Scruggs), the restaurant once again showcases its photo gallery of celeb guests supplemented by fresh faces of the latter-day powerful.

Portraits of the powerful gracing the walls at Occidental Grill & Seafood (Courtesy the restaurant)


Blues Alley

Then: The jazz venue opens in an alley south of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Musicians who have recorded albums here include Eva Cassidy, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis and Wynton Marsalis. Now: Jazz musicians dominate most of the legendary supper club’s schedule, which runs 360 nights a year. This month 13 different acts are booked, including Irma Thomas, “The Soul Queen of New Orleans.”

Bohemian Caverns

Then: Throughout the 1960s, this venue brought in top performers like Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus and John Coltrane. Now: The subterranean club books venerable voices and young lions of jazz, some nights with an orchestra and late jam sessions, all part of the U Street nightlife revival. Bassist Ron Carter, who spans the decades, still plays semi-regular gigs.

Carter Barron

Then: The Rock Creek Park amphitheater books a range of genres—from opera with Roberta Peters and Jan Peerce to concerts like pianist Liberace with his “famous candelabra, smile and bejeweled wardrobe.” Now: Free concerts, no tickets required, feature reggae, Latin, classical, gospel, musical, pop, R&B, jazz, new age, theater and dance.

Howard Theatre

Then: The legendary “Black Broadway” hall books acts like Ike and Tina Turner, Pigmeat Markham and Moms Mabley. Now: This restored property on the National Register of Historic Places hosts a popular Sunday gospel brunch with soul food buffet and live music. Upcoming acts include bands, DJs, a comedy night, Grammy winner Jody Watley and drummer Ginger Baker.

Howard Theatre
The restored facade of historic Howard Theatre (Tim Cooper, courtesy the theater)

Kennedy Center

Then: Workers begin clearing ground for the performance center, a “living memorial” on the former site of the Heurich Brewery. President Lyndon Johnson uses the same gold-plated spade that broke ground for the Lincoln Memorial in 1914 and the Jefferson Memorial in 1938. Now: The center, under new president Deborah Rutter, looks ahead to major expansion along the Potomac River. Upcoming performances include music of Sinatra and “Fantasia” by the NSO Pops, The Royal Ballet, the Polish National Ballet and “The Book of Mormon.” 

Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center’s dramatic riverside setting (Courtesy Destination DC)

National Theatre

Then: Its busy stage operates as a major stop for pre- and post-Broadway company tours like “Roar of the Greasepaint,” “Oliver!,” “Kismet,” “Carousel” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Now: This month, the historic theater hosts 16 high-energy performances of “Newsies,” the Disney-produced musical that won Tonys in 2012 for score and choreography.

P.O.V. Lounge

Then: An open-air porch atop the Hotel Washington drew after-workers and sightseers with daiquiris (not its food) and with an amazing view of the Mall and the rooftop of the White House (armed guards often visible). Now: Turned glam by new owner the W Hotel, P.O.V. (for point of view), with its terrace and spacious cocktail lounge, has become a stylish, high-profile gathering place. 

P.O.V. Lounge
Cocktails with a view at P.O.V. (Daniel Swartz, Courtesy W Hotel)


Then: Folger Shakespeare Library welcomes scholars and fans of the Bard, but its theater modeled on the historic Globe is not equipped for stage productions. Now: Folger Theatre runs a full season of professional productions, currently Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” The Shakespeare Theatre Company, having spent its first six years at the Folger, calls Penn Quarter home. As Harman Center for the Arts, STC operates in the Lansburgh Theatre with 451 seats and Sidney Harman Hall with 774. On stage at the Harman: Molière’s “Tartuffe,” the farcical exposé of religious hypocrisy; at the Lansburgh, “Potted Potter,” a Harry Potter parody.

Sports and Activities


Then: Opening day at D.C. Stadium (now Robert F. Kennedy Stadium), LBJ throws out the ball for the Washington Senators. The struggling team (“Washington, first in war, first in peace and still last in the American League") eventually leaves for Texas and becomes the Rangers. Now: State-of-the-art Nationals Park is home to the star-studded Washington Nationals. In 2010, the 100th anniversary of President Taft’s first pitch, President Obama came here to do the same.

Nationals Park
D.C.’s beloved team at its state-of-the-art home field (©Brooke Sabin)


Then: At D.C. Stadium (now RFK), November 28, longtime Redskins QB Sonny Jurgensen pulls off a miracle, in the last six minutes turning a Dallas lead of 31-20 to a Skins 34-31 win. Now: 8,000 solar panels power FedEx Field, where no single QB rules. As pressure mounts to change the team’s name, the Associated Press and other media consider or already implement a ban on the term “Redskins.”

Mount Vernon Cruises

Then: The venerable Wilson Line (active until the 1980s) converts a steamer into the M.V. George Washington for twice daily excursions to the president’s estate and to the soon-to-close Marshall Hall Amusement Park. Now: The Potomac Riverboat Company operates a fleet that loops daily from the Alexandria, Virginia, marina to Mount Vernon, Maryland’s National Harbor and Georgetown’s Washington Harbour. Options include a bike-and-boat itinerary, a “canine” cruise, a “pirate” cruise and the daily “monuments” panorama excursion. Good idea: round-trip and one-way tickets to the Nats stadium by water taxi.

Potomac Riverboat Company
Cruisin' canines aboard a Potomac Riverboat Company vessel (Courtesy the company)

Historic Figures

36th POTUS

Then: August, five months after the march on Selma, Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the Voting Rights Act that bans poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers. Now: The LBJ Memorial Grove, a National Park Service site, seems as much a tribute to Lady Bird “beautification” Johnson as it does to her husband. The property features a meadow, white pines and sculpture along a spiral trail beside the GW Parkway in Virginia.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Then: In August, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 5,000 others march with local civil rights leaders from a playground at 11th and R streets NW to Lafayette Square opposite the White House, demanding D.C.’s right to self-government. Now: “Home rule” still lacks passage, and King is honored by the newest National Mall memorial near the Tidal Basin at 1964 independence Ave. Words from his speeches grace the walls that embrace a 30-foot carved granite likeness.