Columbia Heights Heritage Trail
3 A City in Itself
Columbia Heights by the mid 1920s was a center of white elite activity and commerce. The elegant, Neoclassical style Riggs Bank branch and the Italian Renaissance style Tivoli Theater opened to great acclaim. Soon after, radio station WRC moved into the bank building, its rooftop tower advertising the wondrous new technology.
Harry Crandall's Tivoli was among the largest and grandest theaters in Washington. People literally danced in the streets the day it opened. The 2,500-seat theater hosted live shows as well as films. It was Washington's first movie house equipped for "talkies," movies with sound.
With these two anchors, Columbia Heights in 1928 was "practically independent of downtown Washington," proclaimed the Washington Post. Then the housing demands of the Great Depression and World War II led some to subdivide the larger houses. New residents in the 1950s demanded more affordable goods and services. Soon the discount department store Morton's arrived, and the number of night spots increased.
Like many other DC theaters, the Tivoli was segregated until forced by the Supreme Court in 1953 to desegregated. In the 1960s its programming shifted to attract local audiences in the now-predominantly African American community. Children enjoyed Saturday matinees for 25 cents, with 15-cent popcorn and 10-cent sodas. Despite the civil disturbances of 1968, the Tivoli remained a neighborhood anchor until it closed in 1976. Thanks to preservationists and area residents, the landmark was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and was carefully restored in 2006.