Sunday, October 02, 2016

Trivoli Theater: Washington, DC

 The Trivoli Theater is one of the wonderful, historical architectural sites in Washington, D.C.  And inside the current Theater (GALA Hispanic Theater) in the lobby are a series of beautiful placards outlining it's history...and pre-history.
 Even at the time of the Civil War, the area north of U-Street was pretty much still farm pasture where dairy cows and sheep outnumbered people.  The first structure on the site was a military Hospital for Civil War soldiers.
 One of the first commercial structures was an auditorium space called The Arcadia.  The Arcadia rose from the ashes of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and ironically featured all manner of illicit gambling and entertainment considered risky in the Roaring 20's
 Plans for the largest theater in DC were drawn up during the Great Depression and assigned to architect Thomas Lamb.  A scant decade earlier the former "largest" theater in DC, the Knickerbocker, became the site of an horrific tragedy when a roof burden by snow suddenly collapsed killing dozens of the helpless patrons.
In 1934, the Trivoli opened for the first time.
 What a wonderful picture of the first band of ushers!
 Not only the site of the first sound motion picture projection in Washington, D.C. a site of personal events like the wedding of the financier who backed it's constructions daughter.
For 30 years, the Trivoli was the toast of the town, and then in 1964 the riots came to Columbia Heights.  Many neighboring structures were damaged and destroyed in the civil unrest, and although the Trivoli was spared the torch, it could not survive the massive economic downturn that followed.  It closed it's doors in 1976.  This is pretty much the way it looked when I moved to DC.  And safe to say that the neighborhood was a poster child of urban blight.

Then a couple of things happened.  The Metro system completed it's Green Line between U Street and Fort Totten including a station one block south of here.  By then, the neighborhood had become an affordable destination for the cities burgeoning Hispanic population--mostly from war torn El Salvador.  With the influx came an entrepreneurial spirit that foster local small businesses and attracted a larger interest in economic development.  Ironically, this interest has also led to a degree of gentrification, but one can't deny the vibrancy of the redevelopment--and surge that began with the Trivoli Theater.
The end result was a tailored back theater space in favor of commercial real estate, but it spurred the re-imagining of the entire neighborhood for a good square mile, and continues to attract residents and investment.
Redevelopment grew beyond the Trivoli to include A major Grocery Store in a former food desert, a series of national retailers including Best Buy, Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Petco.  There are also a host of banks: BB&T, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and two Federal Credit Unions. Also two Starbucks! and over 20 restaurants.
The park and fountain at the pinwheel intersection adjacent to the Trivoli.

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