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45 Who Shaped Washington
Comments () | Published October 5, 2010

Walter Washington

The right time, the right place, the right name—Walter Washington had it all. LBJ appointed him as the District’s mayor in 1967. Six months later, the city was in flames after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Mayor Washington had the contacts, the gravitas, and the street cred to bring business and government together to build the coalition that would rebuild the city. By 1974, when he became DC’s first elected mayor in 104 years, 34 major building projects worth $1.3 billion were in the works for downtown.

J. Carter Brown

As the National Gallery of Art’s longest-serving director, the patrician Brown turned the museum into one of the nation’s premiere art institutions. At the National Gallery’s helm from 1969, when he was 34, to 1992, Brown expanded its collection, used his considerable charm and savvy to increase its public funding, and presided over the opening of the East Building. Brown’s introduction of blockbuster exhibitions, such as King Tut in the 1970s, brought crowds that snaked around the building and helped transform the role of museums all over.

John “Til” Hazel

It’s not a stretch to say Til Hazel did for Northern Virginia what Pierre L’Enfant did for DC. Fairfax County was farms and fields when Hazel entered the development business in the late 1960s; he went on to become the principal developer of Northern Virginia’s burgeoning suburbs. Starting in 1972 with partner Milton Peterson, Hazel developed Burke Center, Franklin Farm, and Fair Lakes. His trademark buzzcut and folksy manner belied a shrewd operator who helped create George Mason University and Alexandria’s top-performing Thomas Jefferson High School.

Oliver T. Carr Jr.

Ollie Carr planted his flag in downtown DC when other developers fled after the 1968 riots burned streets ten blocks from the White House. He pioneered the city’s rebirth by buying and restoring the Mills Building overlooking the White House. He went on to develop International Square and two anchors of Pennsylvania Avenue: a restored Willard Hotel and Metropolitan Square. With his sons in the Carr Company, he developed the city’s West End and more than 11 million square feet of District office space.

Ken Sparks and John Tydings

Since the early 1970s, if something important was getting done in DC or elsewhere in the region, all roads led to Ken Sparks, executive director of the Federal City Council, and John Tydings, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. The two always seemed to find a way to help solve problems in the most sensible way—and they did it behind the scenes and without recognition. From recruiting new civic leaders to building the Metro to helping pave the way for the Verizon Center and the revitalization of downtown DC, Sparks and Tydings used their political skills and love of community to make things better for the entire Washington area.

Bob Woodward

The Washington Post reporter and editor will go down in history for his role in uncovering, with Carl Bernstein, the real Watergate story, but his other lasting impact comes from more than a dozen best-selling books—the latest of which, on Barack Obama’s presidency, is out this fall—that offer inside accounts of major moments in history. Woodward’s long track record and relentless reporting have shown that sources and reporters can work together to benefit readers.

Charles “Mac” Mathias Jr.

In 1973, Senator Mac Mathias took a five-day tour of the Chesapeake Bay, traveling at the request of constituents concerned about the area’s natural habitat. He was shocked by what he saw and returned to Washington determined to address the problems facing the bay. Mathias pushed a $27-million Environmental Protection Agency study through Congress and used his sway to make sure the report got attention. He laid the foundation for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a multi-state cleanup effort. Mathias remained a champion of the Chesapeake throughout his nearly three-decade tenure in Congress.

Chuck Brown

In the 1970s, he created go-go, the only style of music native to Washington. Combining jazz, funk, and Latin with call-and-response choruses, go-go captured the spirit of DC. To keep people dancing, Brown never stopped between songs—hence the name “go-go.” Brown’s signature style has since been adopted by younger bands who put their own twist on go-go while staying true to its free-flowing essence. Go-go is still known as the sound of Washington.

Richard Nixon

He may be best remembered for Watergate, but the President who declared war on drugs and welcomed Elvis to the Oval Office also launched the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other regulatory bodies, increasing the power of government and forcing companies all over the country to have more lawyers and lobbyists here watching out for their interests. Nixon’s surprise opening to China in 1972 resulted in perhaps his most endearing legacy in the nation’s capital: a gift to the United States of the giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the first in a succession of pandas that have become the city’s beloved unofficial mascots.

Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn

No one man can claim to have invented the Internet—but two can. In 1974, computer scientists Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn laid the foundation for today’s Web by inventing a new way for computers to talk to one another. The precursor to the Internet had already been set up by researchers at the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, but Cerf and Kahn took it to the next level by creating the TCP/IP protocol. In doing so, they helped set the stage for Northern Virginia’s technology boom in the 1990s. Several billionaires—and ex-billionaires—owe their fortunes to these two pioneers.

Roger L. Stevens

“Whatever I get involved in,” Roger Stevens once said, “happens.” For the arts executive, producer, and real-estate broker who shaped Washington’s theater-and-arts landscape, that would include the Kennedy Center, which he helped build and guide as founding chairman; the National Endowment for the Arts, which he shepherded through Congress as a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson and then chaired; the National Theatre, which he saved from collapse in 1974; and countless theatrical shows he produced in Washington, on Broadway, and around the world.

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