A federal judge proposed renaming DC’s lettered streets after presidents, judges, and cabinet members in 1897, Ghosts of DC explains. If his proposal had taken hold, we might go to movies at the Landmark Ellsworth Street Cinema downtown today.

1864 map of DC’s streets.

According to Tom of Ghosts of DC, Alexander Burton Hagner, a judge of the federal district court in DC, said that naming streets G, H, I, and so on conveyed a “poverty of conception and of taste, a lack of dignity, and a want of appreciation of the importance of the city among the great capitals of earth.”

Instead, he wanted to change the lettered streets both north and south of the Capitol to the names of presidents, if ones had that letter, followed by vice-presidents, Supreme Court chief justices, Speakers of the House, cabinet members, military heroes, and so forth. Here’s the list he came up with:

Images from the Columbia Historical Society via Ghosts of DC.

Tom also points out that, if we had this scheme, some members of Congress might have wanted to change Rutledge Street (now R Street) into Reagan Street (one member did try to rename 16th Street NW for the former President). This plan never came to pass, but when the city expanded beyond its original borders, the streets did get the names of important historical figures. We now have Otis Place and Upshur Street just about 1.7 miles north of where Hagner would have placed them.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.