On a Sunday afternoon in 1969, 10 years after he had left West End, Colby King drove his wife and children from their Rockville home back down to the neighborhood near Washington Circle where he had grown up.
Where King's house had once stood near the corner of 24th and L Streets NW, he found a city library. Where there had been a neighborhood grocery at which King had bought popsicles, potato chips and Mary Jane candies he found a police station. Where the homes of his boyhood friends had stood, he found parking lots.
"The only thing I could find that I remembered," King said, "was the fire hydrant that stood in front of our house and the utility pole in the alley where I played my first basketball game. I wanted my kids to see the old neighborhood and there was nothing to show them."
King, who is now the deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs in the Treasury Department, had remembered a West End filled with brick Victorian town houses sheltering close-knit working class black families. The West End he found on his return was a collection of parking lots and scattered business establishments.
The story of what happened during the 1950s and 1960s in West End - where parking lots and warehouses will now give way to huge new office and apartment complexes - is the story of change that has come to several once predominantly black neighborhoods here in recent years.
Like Georgetown Foggy Bottom before it and Capitol Hill and Adams Morgan since, West End lost most of its black residents when the land speculators moved in. In the case of West End, many of the Victorian town houses were bought, demolished and replaced with parking lots until the time came for the redevelpment that is beginning now.
West End's black residents were powerless to stop the change because they did not own the houses in which they had been living for generations.
"Everybody rented," said Frank Wilson, 47, who grew up in West End and now lives far northeast of there on Kansas Avenue NW. "They didn't have the money to buy - you couldn't get a decent job," Wilson said of the days of rigid segregation in the District.
Reginald F. Martin, 69, who was born in West End, still lives there. He has refused to sell his home in the 2400 block of M St. NW. His house is one of only two left on a block that once was all residential.
"We begged the Negroes not to sell because we wanted to stay," said Martin, who is black himself. He was sitting in the gas station he still owns at the corner of 24th and M Streets NW. "We knew if we stuck together and didn't sell we'd still be here."
But white businessmen offered most black residents what appeared to be good prices for their homes and everyone sold, Martin said.
"Unfortunately, sooner or later I'll have to sell," he added. "I like over here. I'm comfortable over here and satisfied over here. There's no place for the little man. Your home isn't your home. Your life isn't your life. It's might that's right and you have to accept it whether you like it or not."
Barbara Williams, 80, lives in an apartment in the 1100 block of 25th St. NW, the last intact block of houses in West End above L Street NW. She has lived in West End for 37 years and remembers the area before the parking lots came.
"Colored people used to live along here but they were moved out and the houses were remodeled and white people moved in," the black woman recalled recently during a walk down L Street.
"Lord, L Street from here all the way down to Connecticut Avenue there was nothing but colored people," she said, "but look at those (office) buildings now.
"Where that big building is, colored people used to lived there. I knew some of them," she said, pointing to the present site of the CIrcle One apartments on the southeast corner of 23d and L Steets NW.
Another West End native, radio personality Petey Green, also remembers that corner.
"We called it Little Korea," Green said, "because somebody got killed there every night." One night there was a guy lying on the floor and we stepped over him all night, yelling at him and telling him to get up, thinking he was drunk. In the morning we saw a dagger was stuck in his neck."
From the 1930s to about 1950, the neighborhood had four black doctors, one black Methodist church, one black-owned drugstore, several small Jewish-owned grocery stores and several workplaces like the dairy at 26th and Pennsylvania Avenue. There were homes with outdoor toilets and bins in front yards for coal deliveries.
"Kolodny's grocery store was on the corner of 23d and L and everybody was his customer," recalled Isaiah King, Colby King's father. "You bought everything on time and nobody ever finished paying it."
Three generations of King family grew up in West End. Colby King's grandparents both died there and his parents met at Stevens Elementary School.
Before World War II some whites lived in the neighborhood, Reginald Martin recalled. But after 1945, he said, "the whites moved out and the Negroes moved in. Negroes didn't take over Washington, whites people gave it up."
"On our block was Eddie Jones and Eddie Corely," Colby King remembered. "We called one white Eddie? While we could play together on the streets in the summer in September, Eddie, the white one, would go to the white school and we would go to Stevens."
One of the few whites to move into the neighborhood after the war was a young GI named Ulysses "Blackie" Augur, who opened a small white-only luncheonette on 22d Street between M and N Streets. It served the white employees of nearby businesses like McArdle's Printing.
"I had just come out of the Army and I bought the place (adjacent to Capitol Cadillac) for $6,000," he said recently. "It was the last outpost (for white patrons) from Connecticut Avenue" (until Georgetown).
Auger, whose Blackie's House of Beef is now located across the street from his first luncheonette, recalled West End "a slum area. It was just a rundown neighborhood that's all there was to it." When told that West End's black residents remembered it as a pleasant neighborhood, Auger added, "at the time, we didn't think it was a slum. It was a community. You'd sit out front and jib-jab with them."
"People sold cola and wood and ice from wagons," Reginald Martin said. "There were Negro barbershops and pool rooms and restaurants. These were the primary jobs for Negroes."
There were summer baseball games on a small field near Francis Junior High, which was built for blacks during segregation. There were houses next to the school with black porches that became grandstand seats overlooking the playing field. A parking lot has since replaced those houses.
There was also a movie theater on the 26th just south of M Street. It was first called the Blue Mouse and then the Mott. The theater was owned by whites but was operated by Reginald Martin's father."The movie was the second best community gathering place, next to the church," said Colby King. "Whenever there was a Fred Astaire movie with 30 seconds of Lena Horne," King recalled, "the movie marquee would say the title of the movie starring Lena Horne."
The theater and a barbership, poolroom and luncheonette that once stood next to it have been replaced by an office building and another parking lot.
As for the Union Wesley Methodist Church at 23nd and L Streets, "we knew the inside of the church like the backs of our hands," King said. "It was a gathering spot a source of information about what was going on in the community. It was the place where we went to cope with things."
The church was one of the first black institutions to leave the community in the mid-1950's as its parishioners moved away. The church building is now the West End Theater.
Change in West End began in the early 1950s after blacks first were pushed out of Foggy Bottom just to the south Pennsylvania Avenue. This worried people in the West End. "We started watching the creep (of whites) northward and we knew they would cross the Avenue," King said. "We sensed that changes were taking place. It was something I heard my parents and other adults whispering about."
A 1958 decision by the city government to allow office buildings on land zoned for light industrial use - as was much of West End - apparently triggered the demise of the neighborhood as a predominantly residential area.
"When I came back from the Army in 1953, Dr. Henry's (a pharmacy) had gone, and it had become Blackie's (House of Beef)," Petey Green recalled. "Across the street from the (Capitol) Cadillac showroom, where many black families lived," there was a parking lot.
"All of a sudden, houses became empty and were boarded up and the word "condemned" went up in them," Green said. "Then the Ace Wrecking Co. would come and tear them down."
Developers had started assembling land parcels. Houses were torn down and the land paved for parking to generate money while developers waited for the march of office buildings westward from Connecticut Avenue to reach West End.
At the same time, several industries in the neighborhood left for more space in the suburbs - the Sealtest Dairy, the McArdle Printing Co., Safemaster, the ironworks, and Call Carl auto repair.
Middle calss families like the Kings left voluntarily, selling their homes to move to middle-class coumunities. Poorer families simply scattered across the city after receiving their eviction notices.
"About 10 years ago I realized they were going to tear it down and turn it over to whites," said Bessie O'Neal, 74, who has lived in the West End since 1922.
"I guess they'll move us out when they finish this office building on the Chestnut Farms (Sealtest) site," she said. Bessie O'Neal, 74, lives at 2502 M St. NW. At the end of her block a three-story brick house similar to the one she rents has been demolished as part of the coming development of an office on the site of the old dairy.
"It's sort of insulting that they say they are discovering the West End," Colby King said recently. "They dismiss the civilization that was there as unimportant. A whole culture and way of life gets destroyed in the name of progress."