In October 1965, when Washingtonian launched with a 68-page edition, the Washington Post pronounced it “likely to succeed.” Fifty years later, I’m thrilled that assessment was right.
Our magazine was founded in the 1960s when Laughlin Phillips, a longtime CIA agent, decided that he no longer wanted to globetrot and spy but preferred to stay in this remarkable city. He had seen a new kind of magazine—a city magazine—rising in places like Philadelphia and San Francisco and wondered: Why not Washington?
A direct-mail campaign brought in 12,000 subscribers at $3 a year, and for a half century we’ve honored that rate for those who took a chance on us. Of the original subscribers, 2,035 still receive the magazine monthly—and enjoy it along with 300,000 other readers.
In 1969, Laughlin hired Jack Limpert as editor. In a city and a business not noted for long tenures, Jack defied the odds. He headed the magazine for 40 years—becoming, we believe, the longest-serving magazine editor ever in the United States. Jack remains part of our family. (For his own look back on the past five decades, see page 218.)
In 1978, Laughlin decided to devote himself full-time to his family’s art museum, the Phillips Collection, and in spring of the following year, my father, Philip Merrill, bought the magazine. I was ten years old and used to come into the office and color with markers while my dad worked. When I got older, I ventured from our downtown offices to go shopping at local landmarks such as Garfinckel’s, Woodies, and Britches. It’s always been a wonderful city to explore.
My father ran the magazine for 27 years. My mother, Ellie Merrill, took over as publisher on occasions when he served our country in a variety of government roles. When he died in 2006, I became the third owner and publisher. My brother, Doug, and sister, Nancy, have supported me every step of the way. We’re very proud to be a woman-owned family business.
As a native Washingtonian, I’ve watched our city grow—not from the sleepy Southern town it was so often labeled but from a nice government-focused city to a thriving international one with world-class restaurants, a lively theater and arts community, a booming real-estate market, fantastic sports teams, and so much more. We now feel like one of the cool cities on the block.
Washingtonian has changed, too, growing from one magazine to a media company with multiple publications, large web traffic, a social-media presence, an events division, and a custom-media unit.
Like all Washingtonians, I cherish some things that haven’t changed. The place I grew up in is still—in fact, is more than ever—a city of lovely neighborhoods and parks, of cherry blossoms and circles and squares and great museums. Most of all, it’s full of people who deeply care about those less fortunate and give time and money to make our community and our nation better than they were yesterday.
In 1990, my father had the idea to mark Washingtonian’s 25th anniversary by giving $25,000 to local charities. We’ve continued that tradition quietly every five years. This year, we’re donating a total of $50,000 to five nonprofit organizations that have served our community for 50 years or more. Washington has so many terrific nonprofits—one of the reasons our region is so special and why I love living here so much.
We chose organizations that have worked tirelessly, day in and day out, for a half century or more: the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Children’s National Health System, Ford’s Theatre, and Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. These donations represent our ongoing commitment to the community and the pride we feel in representing such a great region.
Washingtonian will continue in our mission to help readers get the most out of living in this great city. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy it and give us your feedback.
It has been a 50-year love affair. Here’s to another 50.