The Columbia Heights neighborhood started in 1815 as a purchase of acreage previously part of the Pleasant Plains estate. Soon after the Civil War, Columbia Heights started to develop as a suburb of Washington. The neighborhood’s past is illustrious, as it was the chosen home of many of Washington’s highly influential people. The northern portion of modern Columbia Heights was, until the 1880s, part of the village of Mount Pleasant. Named for Columbian College, now The George Washington University, Columbia Heights was targeted for upscale building around 1900 and designed to attract Supreme Court justices, high-ranking military officers and upper level Federal government workers.
By 1914, four streetcar lines gave the neighborhood access to downtown within 20 minutes ride. The popularity of the neighborhood lead to construction of several large apartment buildings, changing the character of the area from suburban to more urban and densely populated. The neighborhood retained its upscale appeal through the 1960s, until the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Much of the 14th Street Corridor was ravaged. Many homes and shops remained vacant for decades.
To many, diversity is the heart of the Columbia Heights community. In 1999, the city announced an initiative for a renaissance of the neighborhood that focused around the newly opened Columbia Heights Metro station. With the return of residents and economic development, considerable gentrification occurred quickly. In contrast to some gentrified neighborhoods, however, Columbia Heights retained its phenomenal diversity.