There’s no feeling like rediscovering something that you had no idea you forgot about. For D.C. natives of a certain age, the mention of certain buildings, events or street corners triggers it every now and then. Sometimes, if the memories are collected in one place, it can be overwhelming.
Prepare to be overwhelmed.
‘Old Time D.C.’ — a Facebook page started by D.C. native Timothy MacKinnon earlier this year — is a collection of photographs and ephemera from a decidedly pre-development boom District that looks back at the history of the city through sharing. More than a trip down memory lane, it’s a full-fledged dive down a rabbit-hole of nostalgia chronicling some of our city’s most easily forgotten haunts and highlights.
For MacKinnon, 38, the site represents a feeling that many of his generation can understand. A city that you might not have truly appreciated until you left. “Quite frankly, when you’re younger, you almost want to run away. And you run away, then you realize, ‘oh no, that place is pretty cool,’ the Field School graduate said. “I tried to move back in 2008, but the housing market had changed so much.”
MacKinnon now lives in New Jersey with his wife and two kids and the site is a way to reconnect with home. He also happens to be a planning and policy PhD student at Rutgers, so the project was a natural fit.
“I study neighborhood change and transformation. So D.C., to me, is naturally completely interesting, besides being a home town,” he said.
Another administrator, Jon Wilson, still lives in the city and always has. Wilson, 38, who grew up on Capitol Hill before moving uptown and attending Wilson Senior High School, takes pride in the collection of people the site has drawn.
“Our core audience is probably early 30s to maybe mid-40s, but you’ve got great-grandmothers on there and younger folks on their as well. Black, white and everything in between,” Wilson, who was born at George Washington University hospital said. “What I really appreciate with the site is, the interaction of folks that wouldn’t normally interact. And maybe there’s people that grew up in Anacostia when it was predominantly white and even Jewish, and I see these older folks commenting. And then I see younger folks mostly black that are saying we grew up there as well, and it’s very cool to see that. [The site]’s really resonated with a lot of people of different backgrounds.”
The third admin, Ryan Shepard a Montgomery County native who’s lived in Mt. Pleasant since 1999, is a former librarian at the Historical Society of Washington. For him, it’s also a labor of love. “Documenting local institutions, events, and landscape – especially those that are more strictly local and so often less/poorly documented resonates the most for me personally,” Shepard, 40, said via email. “Those that have ended or been razed, especially.”
There are old black and white shots from the 30s like the Red Circle Food Shop on Massachusetts Ave. and North Capitol St., NW, ca. 1937 right alongside gritty Kodak prints from the 80s such as the Sunny’s Surplus on the corner of 9th and E Streets across from the FBI building. Videos from a musical era of yesteryear and tickets stubs from venues that are long closed down. All the material comes from items the admins find themselves and plenty reader submissions.
But the best part, easily, are the comments.
Old friends reunite. Former customers praise business that they used to support that were shuttered years back.
“Oh now you got [me]!! I bought all my kids clothes at Beydas (kept in touch with the lady who worked there till she died-Ethel Price) 5&10, I had my first job – sales at Christmas time. They trained me how to count back change. It stayed with me forever,” Linda Tavenner commented on a photo of the West side of 14th Street between Park and Irving, circa 1950.
It’s like a virtual neighborhood tavern: Readers stretch their memories and discuss the locations of buildings and events of nearly every post. Folks argue about which block is which, using landmarks to compare notes.
Whether native or newly arrived, everyone can learn something from Old Time D.C.
It’s a truly interactive historical document and maintaining it is a responsibility the three take seriously. “We’re doing this because we really love D.C. We love what it once was and we still love the area,” Wilson said. “That’s why I still live here.”