Friday, October 5, 2012

The Origins of Penn Quarter

Reporter Jonathan O'Connell tweeted at us yesterday to ask when the term "Penn Quarter" first came into being.  We didn't immediately know, but he piqued our interest and we started poking around a bit.

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?


  1. The term "Penn Quarter" was invented by a developer in the 1990s. It was unheard of before that.

  2. I contacted Jonathan O'Connell at the Post as I do know the history of the Penn Quarter name, having helped to create that history.

    Contrary to the preceding post, it was not invented by a developer and its use began prior to the 1990s. But like many if not all other neighborhood names in this city, it was "invented." Other relatively recent "invented" neighborhood names I am aware of include Adams Morgan (the names of the two schools in the "study" area), the West End, Mt. Vernon Triangle, and NoMa. (Ironically I blurted out "Oh NoMa" referring to the area east of Mt. Vernon Square and north of Mass Ave, NW (get it, North of Mass/NoMa, a rif on SoHo), to relieve the somber tone of a meeting that DHCD called to publicize the need to receive applications for some $30 million in CDBG funds that HUD was going to reclaim if DC did not use the funds in short order. Only later did it migrate east across N. Capitol Street.

    I'll be happy to speak with anyone interested in finding out more about Penn Quarter's origin.

    Laughter is great medicine,

    Jo-Ann Neuhaus
    Executive Director
    Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association