Walk down M St. today and you’re treated to a nearly endless string of moderate to expensive clothing stores, carefully planned to target the regional and international visitors who populate the brick-lined sidewalks alongside you. Dig a little further back into history and those same blocks were populated much more by moderate to rowdy bars and restaurants, representing one of the only such dining destinations in the Capital.
But dig even further back into the 20th century, and you’ll discover an M St. that is almost unrecognizable to the M St. of today. That’s because in the middle part of the 20th century, M St. was extremely car oriented.
GM was struck by this fact recently while perusing a collection of photos published by DDOT. Many of the photos GM had seen before, but seeing them all together in succession really hit home how dominated M St. was by a thick collection of gas stations, car dealerships, service stations, and other businesses built entirely around the car.
A few years ago, GM recounted how many gas stations once lined M St. But it went far beyond just a place to get gas. You can see them in the DDOT photos. Above is 30th and M, and shows the used car lot that once stood where, well, the Latham Hotel once stood.
Here are the others (in no particular order):
This is just east of 33rd and M, with Sunoco gas station, a used car lot, and a Chevron billboard (to boot) on the left. Another used car dealership in on the right in a building that no longer exists.
Here’s another shot from 30th and M, showing that there was a Sinclair gas station next to the used car lot. A bit further back, you can just make out the Ford dealership that once occupied the Nike Store building.
This photo, again from the same intersection, gives you a slightly better view of the Ford dealership on the left.
Here’s 34th and M. In the center, you can see the Esso station, an Amoco, and a Chevy dealership at Bank and M.
Here’s a better view of the Amoco and the Chevy dealership.
At the other end of M, you can see a service station and a used car lot at 29th and M. You also can just make out the gas station at Pennsylvania and M that only closed a few years ago.
Here’s an auto glass shop at 34th and M, where the Ukrainian embassy is.
Here’s a slightly better view of the used car lot at 33rd and M, on the left.
Of course there was the Sinclair gas station at the site of the former Key Bridge Exxon.
And while it isn’t from DDOT’s archives, the above photo from the Library of Congress shows how the old Georgetown Market was an auto parts store.
This collection of photos doesn’t even capture all the auto-oriented establishments on M St. But it should suffice to demonstrate how much M St. was changed in the middle part of the 20th century to service the booming auto industry. But, like building parking lots, ultimately it was futile for a central business district to try to provide what came so easy to the suburbs. These gas stations, auto parts stores, and service stations eventually closed up shop, and the street was slowly converted back to its prior use as a wholly retail and restaurant center.