The city Marion Barry inspired, infuriated and disappointed is gone, replaced by the city he always said he wanted to build — solvent, solid, sizzling with life. And the city Barry commanded for longer than any other mayor remains saddled with the same woes he sought to eradicate — poverty, racial division, hopelessness.

Marion Barry’s Washington was always two cities, rhetorically and in the grim demographic dichotomies of east vs. west, black vs. white, poor vs. rich. For his 16 years as mayor and for decades before and after as street agitator, scold, strategist and sage, Barry, who died Nov. 23 at 78, left his mark in almost every neighborhood. Here are eight pieces of his city that describe how he flourished and failed and what he left behind:

On May 13, 1969, a D.C. cop was ticketing cars outside the U Street NW headquarters of Pride Inc., an organization that Barry, freshly arrived from Mississippi, had set up to train young people for jobs. In its first two years, Pride had scored multimillion-dollar grants from the federal government, but now Barry, believing that the officer was targeting his group, stormed outside to confront the cop: “If you put a ticket on my car . . . I’ll kill you,” he said, according to the police report. Barry, now joined by Pride colleagues, ripped up a ticket, then scuffled with one officer and hit another.

Charged with assaulting a police officer, Barry stood trial and got off when the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Pride received more than $20 million in federal grants, got hundreds of young blacks their first jobs and repeatedly got in trouble for mismanaging public dollars.

Barry defended the group’s tactics: “What people may be reacting to is that black people are now playing the same game that other people have been playing for the past 100 years.”


People walk past the old Pride Inc. headquarters at 1536 U St. NW. (J.M. Eddins, Jr./For The Washington Post)

Today, the old Pride building is the home of the Center for Community Change, a nonprofit that works on behalf of poor people to boost wages and find jobs. But the rest of the block has been transformed in recent years from struggling and shuttered shops to a colorful string of boutiques and high-end specialty stores selling vintage clothes, collectors’ comic books and fashion services.

This is a Washington of young, mostly white recent arrivals, a place where Barry’s name is not necessarily familiar. “I don’t know him,” said Pratima Sharma, who sells traditional Indian clothes at Threads, next door to the old Pride building.

In some of these shops, Barry is best known for his infamous 1990 arrest for smoking crack cocaine. At Joint Custody, which offers records and vintage clothing, the late mayor has long been an effective selling point. T-shirts from Barry’s summer youth employment program, circa 1980s, sell for $39.99, and they go quickly, especially to people who got their first jobs via the mayor’s initiative, said the manager, James Gianello.


James Gianello, 32, is the manager of Joint Custody, a vintage boutique and record store, which is two doors from the old Pride Inc. headquarters at 1536 U St. NW. Gianello displays a T-shirt from Barry’s summer youth employment program from 1987 for sale at $39.99. (J.M. Eddins, Jr./For The Washington Post)

“Growing up in California, I definitely knew about the whole hotel crack incident but not really anything else about him,” said Gianello, who is 32 and came to the District three years ago. Since then, he’s learned about the summer jobs program and the city’s battles over gentrification — a debate that focuses on blocks like this.

“It’s good and bad,” he said. “You can see a culture is lost, but you can’t help but see the positives for the neighborhood — it’s safer, more jobs, more people.”

‘It didn’t just impact him’

Clear across town, in the leafy, quiet Hillcrest section of Southeast, Mesha Moody-Pratt, a lifelong Washingtonian, looks up at a well-kept, white-columned brick house on a ridge above Suitland Road. “I know that house,” she said. “It was Marion and [his third wife] Effi’s house when he was mayor. He always wanted to be with the people.”

Barry chose to live in the community he represented, on a street of comfortable suburban-style houses when he was mayor and in later, troubled years, in a walk-up apartment in a rough part of Ward 8. Having the mayor in the neighborhood was always a point of pride, Moody-Pratt said.

She was talking to her 16-year-old daughter about Barry one morning this past week, and the teen had seen comedian Chris Rock talking about Barry on TV. “She said, ‘Wow, he was that known?’ ” the mother recalled.

“You can thank Marion Barry for your summer job,” Moody-Pratt told her daughter, “and I showed her pictures of him in the civil rights movement. I hope he’ll be known for what he actually did for the people and not for his own problems. But even for me, seeing that all go public, the drugs and the women, was an embarrassment. It didn’t just impact him, it hurt every one of us.”

In his early years as mayor, Barry argued that the best way to tackle overwhelming unemployment in black Washington was to revive downtown, then a sad, empty reminder of the 1968 riots, which burned many buildings and chased more owners and employers to the suburbs. Barry dubbed himself the “Mayor of K Street,” and in his first term, he wined and dined developers, who started to reinvest in the city’s core.

But nearly from the start, Barry’s own nocturnal wanderings gave some investors pause. In 1981, Barry attended a Christmas party at a 14th Street NW sex club called This Is It?. Confronted with the fact that a number of people at the party had been seen snorting cocaine, the mayor said: “First, it was not a strip club. It was an erotic club. And, second, what can I say? I’m a night owl.”

A couple of years later, the club was stripped of its liquor license as Barry’s administration moved to dismantle the downtown “combat zone” of porn shops and topless clubs. In 1986, the club Barry had visited from time to time fell to the wrecking ball; so did Benny’s House of the Porno Stars, the Gold Rush, the Cocoon and other seedy spots.

Today, a granite-and-marble 12-story office building on the site is home to a fitness center, a Segway store and lots of lawyers, including at least two firms with black managing partners — exactly the kind of change Barry said he wanted for downtown.

Two miles to the north, on narrow Bates Street NW, what was three blocks of boarded-up houses and open mounds of trash in the 1970s has been transformed into a charming set of pastel-painted rowhouses, home to whites and blacks alike. This was Barry’s first major housing initiative in his early years as mayor, and for nearly a decade, it looked like a swindle, as more than $4 million in federal money went missing and at least three agencies mounted investigations into the project.

The work was eventually finished, and houses that sold for an average of $67,000 each in 1979 have lately been selling for well more than $600,000. “Mayor Barry always looked out for us,” said Lou Holt, 33, who has lived most of his life on Bates. “He made this place better, and he made me better, kept me out of trouble, got me summer jobs in the rec centers, at the zoo.”

‘Looked out for the poor’

At the Reeves Center, the D.C. government office building at 14th and U streets NW that was Barry’s signature effort to jump-start development along the District’s main riot corridor, nearly every conversation about the mayor’s legacy starts with a love song to the jobs program.


Barry and his third wife, Effi, at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in 1990. (James A. Parcell/The Washington Post)

“There were no jobs until Barry came in and did for the people,” recalled Charlie Malloy, 50, a janitor at the Reeves Center who grew up in the District and moved to Prince George’s County when members of his family got jobs through Barry’s initiatives. “My oldest brother got training and a job from Pride Inc., and now he has his own cleaning company. I got a summer job from the mayor.”

Although Malloy and his fellow janitor, Manny Yesehak, said they cannot afford to live in the area around the Reeves building, they’re glad it’s now surrounded by high-ticket restaurants and fancy condos because “every one of those places means jobs,” Yesehak said.


The Reeves Center in 2014. The D.C. government building was Barry’s signature effort to jump-start development along a corridor that had been hit by the 1968 riots. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Across from the Reeves Center, a new eatery, Tico, offers $14 glasses of Chardonnay and a $26 piece of salmon, while a 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in the building above is available for $10,242 a month.

Across the Anacostia River, Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center, the school where Barry, who had a graduate degree in chemistry, would occasionally teach a science class while he served as mayor, is available for something, but no one knows what. The building is shuttered, last used as a temporary home for H.D. Woodson High School, which has a sparkling new building thanks to former mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s school-rebuilding drive.

On Benning Road NE, the hulking Fletcher-Johnson remains “an eyesore, just empty, because nobody cares what happens here,” said Sharon Brown, who stood across from the school with four other women one morning this past week, all of them drinking malt liquor out of cans in brown paper bags. A few feet up, along a trash-ridden alley, young men exchanged small packets for cash from people who drove up for quick transactions.

“Marion Barry looked out for the poor,” Brown said. “He was like us. Everybody’s got demons or something from the past. He helped us get housing, jobs, help for seniors. There’s still a lot of people struggling, but you got to do for yourself, too, you know.”

If Barry and his successors were unable to ease poverty in some sections, other parts of Washington have moved from urban decay to dramatic upswing in recent years. Barry spent his last years as the D.C. Council member from Ward 8 inveighing against the extremes of gentrification, searching for safeguards for those who were pressured out of their homes by soaring prices.

Post staffers discuss the impact and legacy of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, who died early Nov. 23 at age 78. (Jackie Kucinich and Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)

Across from Clifton Terrace, a housing complex in Columbia Heights that was infamous for its dangerous elevators and drug-infested hallways during Barry’s mayorship, Brisa Cruz, 40, an immigrant from Mexico, is near the end of her rope. She’s lived in her apartment for 20 years but says she is being forced to move because her landlord plans to renovate his building and multiply the rents.

“It’s better here now than when Barry was mayor,” she said, “safer, less drugs, but we can’t stay. It’s all for the rich. The poor people, the Spanish people — who cares?”

From his beginnings in the civil rights movement through his years as mayor and on to his last act, as a ward council member at the lower rung of politics, Marion Barry cared.

He took pride in the strides the city took under his watch, and while he refused to take blame for the corruption that surrounded him or the intense poverty and crime that persisted through his decades in power, he never hid from that reality.

He spent his final days in a little white clapboard house half a block from a corner where idle men stand and drink, day and night, in front of a store called Service Quik. Barry’s house on a hill in Anacostia was in a place where few politicians would live, a spot where at any moment, the Mayor for Life could look down toward men who had nowhere to go or cast his eyes up at a breathtaking view of the city he once commanded, a shining vista of monuments and construction cranes — two cities, both Marion Barry’s.