Brief History of the Georgia Ave. Metro Station
With as much time and energy that has been focused on Metro Stations this year, particularly with names, I thought it would be interesting to dig into the history of the Georgia Ave-Petworth station. While there are many who feel that there was a missed opportunity by not changing the name of the Georgia Ave-Petworth station name to something better and representative of its location, the WMATA board did approve five other name changes. I’m willing to wager, however, that most residents debating the merits of the station’s name may not be aware that the location of the Georgia Avenue station was not originally to be at New Hampshire Avenue, or there was once a Petworth station planned as well as a Georgia Avenue station.
As Zachary M. Schrag outlines in his book on the Washington Metro, the Green Line would take more than two decades before the first stations were opened in May 1991 and it would be another decade before it was completed. The delay, Schrag continues, resulted as much from extreme sensitivity to inner-city demands as from official disregard.
The Red line was authorized in 1965 and remained largely as planned during its construction. The trunk portion of the Blue and Orange lines was approved by Congress in 1967. The Green line was not authorized until December 1969 after substantial work had already been done on the other trunk lines. While the Green line from its conception was scheduled for a late start, late originally meant September 1977.
Metro was not able to hold its original schedule. Metro encountered physical obstacles, lawsuits, and appropriation problems. The Green line itself had its own hurdles. The D.C. government was determined to avoid the top-down planning that had displaced tens of thousands of people in Southwest. All of this further delayed construction of the Green line and left the route open to continual modification and uncertainty.
From the earliest drawings, Metro was determined to serve Georgia Avenue. But how and where were constantly in flux. A 1966 map recommended by the National Capital Planning Commission shows a spur off of the Red line that would run up Columbia Road and Park Road to Georgia Avenue, where several stations would be located between New Hampshire Avenue and Maryland. This alignment was short lived. By 1968 Metro adopted a fully independent Green line that would cut through the mid-city along 7th Street, then to Logan Circle where it would travel north along 13th Street to Kansas Avenue and eventually intersect the Red line at Fort Totten.
This plan placed the Georgia Avenue station at the intersection of Upshur. It also included a planned Petworth station at Sherman Circle. Commitment to build a station at Sherman Circle was sacrificed in May 1969 to cut costs so that the line could be rerouted beneath the 7th, U and 14th Street thoroughfares badly damaged during the 1968 riots. This design would hold for the mid-city section south of Columbia Heights. But the solution also created new problems.
With the alignment moved west from 13th Street, there was no longer an easy connection to Kansas Avenue. To make this connection, the route would have to run diagonally under five residential squares beneath or near houses facing on Newton Street, Meridian Place, Oak Street, Otis Street, Parkwood Place, Holmead Place, and Spring Road.
At first, Metro engineers hoped the subway could be bored deep enough underground that few if any homes would be disturbed. However, they discovered that soil conditions and planning considerations would dictate that the line should be dug shallow, through dirt rather than rock, with the top of the tunnel not more than 15 feet beneath the surface.
Metro’s solution was to purchase the affected properties and either raze them or allow them to sit vacant, hoping to renovate them at some future date. This enraged the Columbia Heights community which rallied to save the neighborhood.
With Kansas Avenue looking less and less likely, alternative routes needed to be considered. The leading contender was New Hampshire Avenue. A close second was Rock Creek Church Road. Of the two, New Hampshire Avenue was the easier and less costly choice since it is a wider thoroughfare and would be the least disruptive to businesses and property owners.
For the next nine years, residents on New Hampshire Avenue, led by Benjamin L. Spaulding of the 4100 block (among others), would oppose the New Hampshire alignment. They contended that the rail line would disrupt their communities for the benefit of suburban commuters and be better if placed on Georgia Avenue. Similarly, Rock Creek Parish opposed the New Hampshire plan because the line would tunnel under its historic cemetery.
Ward 4 Coucilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis also wanted the line to be shifted to Georgia Avenue to help revitalize the commercial corridor. Metro officials rejected a Georgia Avenue route as being too costly and likely to siphon off riders from the Red line.
In response, Metro hired a consultant to examine 37 possible routes between Columbia Heights and Fort Totten. After reviewing the study, Metro continued to endorse the New Hampshire route, which would finally get approval in April 1985.
Opposition from the Petworth community again flared up the spring of 1992 when Metro’s study of the New Hampshire route indicated that 93 homes and 32 businesses could be taken during construction. The battle to stop Metro was unsuccessful and the plan for the station at New Hampshire was approved in November 1992.
In reviewing the maps, the use of Georgia Avenue as a Metro station name has all the indications of a selection of convenience — used to show a location more-so than an intended station name. In several instances, early Metro maps list streets to show station locations from a planning perspective. Examples include Nicholson Lane (White Flint), Michigan Avenue (Brookland), and Alabama Avenue (Congress Heights).
In the case of the Green line this was true both for Georgia Avenue and the line south of the Anacostia — in both cases areas where definite station locations were unsettled well into the late 1980s. Metro, unable to authoritatively say where on Georgia Avenue the station would be, it seemed logical and practical to simply list the station as Georgia Avenue — allowing for the station to move without requiring a change in the name.
Criticism of Georgia Avenue as the name of the station was not long in coming once Metro began to operate in 1976, leading Metro to consider renaming the station “Petworth” in December 1978. While renaming the station for the surrounding community was in keeping with the other changes Metro embraced that year, the better known Georgia Avenue and uncertainty that the station would remain in Petworth worked against it.
It was not until 1989, with New Hampshire Avenue looking promising but still not a done deal, that the Metro board, acting upon a request of the District government, changed the name of the station to Georgia Ave-Petworh. By this time Metro riders, the D.C. government, and the Metro Board had become accustomed to 13 years of maps in rail cars and 20 years of published plans listing a Georgia Avenue station. While adding neighborhood identification was important, apparently no one questioned the appropriateness of “Georgia Ave” remaining in the moniker of the yet unbuilt station — having become accustomed to the unintentional institutionalization of “Georgia Ave.”
The station was completed at the end of 1997 and opened for service on September 18, 1999.
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Miller, Bill. “Residents Take Green Line Complaints to Court.” The Washington Post, Apr. 18, 1998, E1.
“Name That Stop/Stop That Name.” The Washington Post, Dec. 24, 1978, D6.
Schrag, Zachary M. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2006), 213-220.
Williams, Juan. “Budgets, Politics Threaten Green Line.” The Washington Post, Feb. 25, 1982, DC1.
Yodaiken, Ruth. “Petworth Metro Plan Approved: Traffic Will Detour Around Open Pit.” The Washington Post, Nov. 26, 1992, J1.History, Metro, Transportation comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.