It wasn't until January 2004 that WMATA announced its intent to amend the metro stop to include Penn Quarter with "Archives-Navy Memorial," which implies it was in use for a spell before that - though this September 2004 Washington Post article written by Eve Zibart uses the term as if it was relatively new:
"Now, in what sometimes feels like a development abracadabra! D.C. is Downtown Chic. Penn Quarter, as the neighborhood is now called, is packed with restaurants and nightclubs, bars and brewpubs -- all of them full at once, it seems..."In a somewhat recent article by the folks at InTheCapital which focuses on this very naming issue, a bit more light is shed:
"Interestingly enough, the name Penn Quarter is relatively new and has only been around for the past few decades. It was originally referred to as Old Downtown until it experienced a massive rejuvenation phase spearheaded by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation in the 1990's. The name Penn Quarter sprung up due to the neighborhood's border running along Pennsylvania Avenue."We know that the PADC certainly helped to change the landscape of our neighborhood - using millions of dollars appropriated by Congress and billions garnered from private industry - but the PADC was dissolved in 1996, and we can't find any reference of "Penn Quarter" dating back that far.
Long-time residents: what say you? When was the first time you heard the term?