Pictures 1 through 3, The Washington area's changing face: Roller skating at 18th and S Sts. NW, sprucing up downtown Silver Spring, and the interior of I. Magnin at White Flint.By James A. Parcell and Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post; and the Planning & Design
The decade read like a tale of two cities -- and both of them were Washington. It began with a hangover from one of the sadder chapters in Washington history and sped to a shimmering, somewhat storybook finish.
There was something for everyone and lots that no one wanted.
Chills: haunting cries of crime captial and hopelessness for the city's business district, high real estate prices, low civic pride, the slow eviction of the District's poorer residents and sluggish, delicate ventures on the Virginia Beltway, great abandonment of properity and abandoned people.
Thrills: the rebuilding of the downtown sector, recognition of international business, influx of Bloomingdales, I. Magnin, Neiman-Marcus, and exit of the farmers, Richard Nixon and Districts school Superintendent Barbara Sizemore, flourishing of the arts, and flashiness of neo-celebrities, lower-than-national unemployment (2.3 percent when decade began), high incomes, Carter staffers, peace demonstrations.
And something for the family Downtown roller skating, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, Amy Carter in public school, the Metro subway, increased tourism, Saturday afternoons at shopping malls, Redskins at the Super Bowl and the Bullets' national championship.
All of this has made Washington an exciting city, better in some ways -- particularly in the business and economic spectrum -- and worse in others.
To some it is Tinsel Town East. What other locality could place so much importance on Iran's ambassadors and caviar one month and its ayatollahs and students the next?
"Not only has Washington changed physically, there's a real change in the personality of the town," a long-time Washingtonian said not long ago. "Ten years ago you never would have imagined people roller skating down K Street. The town closed up at 6 p.m. Washington is evolving along the way of the great European capital cities, London, Paris; they're social, financial captials. The United States is a young country, and Washington is a young capital city."
Still, there are those who don't see the city that way. They could be the city's black youths with regular positions in the unemployment lines. They see many entry-level jobs moving farther beyond the Beltway and beyond their abilities.
Others are the poor renters being forced from the city to double up with relatives and friends because of of condominium conversions or row house renovations for the rich. And don't forget the elderly who at the beginning of the decade bought steak at 89 cents a pound, now about the price of canned dog food.
"Ten years ago it's hard to believe it, but I sensed a real feeling of concern that the city was heading in the wrong direct on a lot of things," Ken Sparks, executive vice president of the privately run city Federal City Council said recently. "It was a year or two after the riots. There was a concern about crime here. There was still a feeling that the city was not the place to be. The future of the city, many felt. Was in doubt."
It's hard to tell what turned the city around. Some people credit the onslaught of federal regulations which deluged some businesses but delivered a new set of white collar workers with high incomes and tastes to match. In 1960, some 28 percent of the jobs in the area were held by professional, technical, administrative or managerial persons, a share that expanded to 35 percent in 1970, 37 percent in 1974 and will hit about 40 percent by next year.
There's also been an avalanche of hungry business that grow with other enterprises and government regulations, most notably the three As: accountants, attorneys and associations.
New York had 31 percent of national headquarters of associations in 1970 compared with 21 percent for Washington, 18 percent for Chicago and 30 percent elsewhere. This year Washington is number one, with 28 percent of trade association headquarters compared with 23 percent in New York, 13 percent in Chicago and 36 percent scattered elsewhere.
More than 9 million square feet of office space, or 40 percent of downtown offices, are occupied by the three As. Trade associations have grown from about 21 relocations to the city a year a 1970 to about 50 last year. In 1970, about 15 law firms relocated offices here. Last year, that jumped to about 80. And although only 15 accounting firms relocated to the city in 1970, about 40 came here last year.
Even drowsy domains like Silver Spring have found it is no longer quaint, or profitable, to be tacky. They are cleaning up their acts. New shopping malls are created almost as fast as old structures are destroyed. And during the trashing, sometimes treasures like the Trans Lux movie theater and the McGill Building on G Street NW are turned to rubble.
Downtown has spread from Washington to Crystal City and Rosslyn, almost to Georgetown, and is creeping past the formerly forbidden 14th Street.
Washington, once thought of as dominated by government, now has more than half of its leased office space occupied by private industry Washington has a higher percentage of office buildings erected on speculation rather than actual construction orders than any other city in the country. And more of those workers in those buildings are white-collar women, blacks and other minorities. All of their incomes have led to the increase in restaurants and night clubs and the purchase of Mercedes Benz automobiles and homes in the country.
But a lot of the excitement of the "Boom Town on the Potomac" has not spread to all area residents. Parts of Prince George's County do not reflect its name, and the District's home rule government has had its ups and downs.
And even the area's most serious bossters acknowledged that Washington may feel the expected economic crunch and have to tighten its belt a little.
But the expectation is that the tighter belt will probably be a new one, purchased for the occasion at Hect's or Woodies or Bloomies.