Old Street Names
Careful observers occasionally spot the old street signs adorning a few of the light poles in LeDroit Park. When the neighborhood was originally planned, most of the streets were named after trees. LeDroit Park’s street system didn’t fit with the L’Enfant Plan in either name or alignment—much to the dismay of the District commissioners—and the street names were eventually changed to fit the naming and numbering system.
A perusal of old maps reveals that the street names changed over time, not all at once. Elm Street is the only street that has retained its name. Since your author lives on Elm Street he has learned to respond to puzzled faces that know that Elm doesn’t fit the street naming system: “It’s kinda like U-and-1/3 Street”.
Anna J. Cooper Circle didn’t have a name at all until 1983, when it was restored to its circular form after a decades-long bisection by Third Street.
Just outside of LeDroit Park, the city renamed a few streets as well: 7th Street Road became Georgia Avenue and Boundary Street, the boundary of the L’Enfant Plan, became Florida Avenue.
Here is a table matching the current street names with their previous names.
|Old Name||Current Name|
|Le Droit Avenue||2nd Street|
|Harewood Avenue||3rd Street|
|Linden Street||4th Street*|
|Larch Street||5th Street|
|Juniper Street||6th Street|
|Boundary Street||Florida Avenue**|
|7th Street Road||Georgia Avenue**|
|Oak Court||Oakdale Place|
|Maple Avenue||T Street|
|Spruce Street||U Street|
|Wilson Street||V Street**|
|Pomeroy Street||W Street**|
|(unnamed before 1983)||Anna J. Cooper Circle|
|* For a short period, 4th Street was called 4½ Street.
** Though these streets were just outside the original LeDroit Park, we have included them for reference.
Signs bearing the old street names have reappeared in the neighborhood, and according to the Afro-American, were put up in 1976: “The LeDroit Park Historic District Project was instrumental in getting the D.C. Department of Transportation to put up the old original street names for this Historic District Area under the present street name signs”.1
Unfortunately, some of the signs are showing their 33 years of weather, as this sign at Third and U Streets shows.
Eventually these signs will have to be replaced, but rather than placing the old names onto modern signs using a modern typeface, we suggest something that evokes the history without being mistaken for the current street name:
White text on a brown background is the standard for street and highway signs pointing to areas of recreation or cultural interest. Seattle started using the color scheme to mark its historic Olmsted boulevards and New York has long used the combination for street signs in its historic districts. The adoption of this style of sign would alert visitors and residents to the neighborhood’s historic identity while the different color and typeface would prevent confusion with the actual street names (U St NW in this case). Typographers would be pleased by the use of Big Caslon Medium, a serif typeface based on the centuries-old Caslon typeface.
- Hall, Ruth C. “Historic Project”. Washington Afro-American. 1 May 1976.