In 1984, Margarita Diloné opened an insurance agency in a tiny office on Columbia Road NW, in the very center of Washington’s Latino community at the time.

Margarita Diloné

Each year, elaborately decorated floats competing in the Latino festival would parade down the street outside. Operating within a few blocks were some of D.C.’s first health and social service agencies catering to Latino residents.

“[B]eing in Adams Morgan-Mount Pleasant was very central to the Latino market” at the time, says Diloné, president and CEO of Crystal Insurance Group, Inc.

Francisca Dilone -- Shooting the Breeze in Mt. Pleasant
Diloné’s mother Francisca, chatting with a neighbor at the family’s store in nearby Mt. Pleasant. Photo courtesy of Margarita Diloné

She was well acquainted with the local community having grown up helping out at her parents’ business, Casa Diloné, one of D.C.’s first Latin American grocery stores that operated for decades in neighboring Mount Pleasant. By the 1980s, D.C.’s Spanish-speaking community had a growing contingent of young people like Diloné, who grew up in the area and were establishing themselves in the professional world.

Diloné recalls being the first Latina property casualty insurance agent in the entire D.C. area. In those days, she says, “a good 80 percent” of her business came from Latino residents and businesses.

After 34 years, Crystal Insurance is still going strong in Adams Morgan with roomier offices just a few blocks away on Belmont Road NW. Today, however, her Latino clients represent less than a third of her business. Her building, meanwhile, has a chi-chi nail salon on the ground floor and sushi bar across the street—signs of changing times in the neighborhood.

Diloné is one of the few remaining neighborhood establishments operated by Latinos. While Adams Morgan is often still seen as the center of Latinidad in the District, the Latino presence that defined the neighborhood for decades seems all but extinguished today. The steady decline of Adams Morgan’s Latino population is apparent in the U.S. Census data and was corroborated by the longtime residents who we interviewed over the summer as part of an Hola Cultura special research project.

Then & Now

ENDANGERED! The Unity Mural, created in 1982 by a diverse group of African-American and immigrant youth from Latin America and the Caribbean, is now scheduled to be torn down. Hola Cultura is working on a plan to save the legacy of this historic mural. 1982 photo courtesy of muralist Ligia Williams.

Adams Morgan has been home, at one time or another, to a diversity of Washington’s Hispanic diaspora. Several waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants have settled in the neighborhood dating back at least as far as the first half of the 20th century. Some came to work at the Latin American embassies that once lined 16th Street NW, moving with their families into the apartments and row houses in nearby neighborhoods. Others were fleeing human rights abuses, wars, natural disasters and economic turmoil. While the District was one stop along the way to suburban living for many, Adams Morgan still has vestiges of the Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican communities that were among the first to settle the Adams Morgan-Mount Pleasant area.

Until the mid- to late-1980s, Afro-Latinos from Caribbean countries made up a much larger proportion of the District’s Spanish-speaking population.

“There were Latinos but there were a lot of young people who identified themselves as Afro-Latino because of the African slave trade that ended up in Panama and the Dominican Republic or Cuba or Puerto Rico,” Lori Kaplan recalls.

Kaplan, the former president of the Latin American Youth Center, told Hola Cultura in an oral history interview that the Caribbean-dominated local community began to change after Central Americans began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s. U.S.-backed civil wars and unrest in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras in the 1980s sent people fleeing their homelands for their lives.

Today Washington, D.C.’s Latino population is estimated at 10.5 percent of the city’s nearly 694,000 people. Salvadoran residents make up largest segment of D.C.’s Latino community to this day. More than 20,000 Salvadorans live in D.C. proper, while the greater Washington region is home to about 200,000. The city also has sizable Guatemalan and Honduran communities today that are linked to the violence and war in Central America during the Reagan administration four decades ago.

In 1980, 3 percent of the District’s population was estimated to be Latino, according to the U.S. Census. At the time, a third of all D.C. Latinos lived in Ward 1, which includes Adams Morgan. By 2000, Latinos District-wide represented 8 percent of the city’s total population; 40 percent lived in Ward 1 at that time, according to a 2009 Urban Institute report based on census data.

Distribution of Latinos by Ward in the District

DC Latinos by Ward
Screenshot from “State of Latinos in the District of Columbia,” a 2009 Urban Institute report commissioned by the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs.

While the Adams Morgan-Mount Pleasant area was once the epicenter of District Latinidad, today less pricey neighborhoods like Brightwood, in Ward 4 in the city’s northern reaches, have attracted sizeable Latino populations. Ward 1’s percentage of the Latino residents, today is 21 percent, or about 17,000 people out of the ward’s total population of about 82,000, according to the D.C. Office of Planning and census data.

Ironically, however, Adams Morgan’s “commercial area still retains an identification as a location for Latino-oriented businesses”  despite the neighborhood’s waning Latino presence, according to one D.C. Office of Planning report. Citing census data, the report estimates that just 11 percent of households in Adams Morgan are Latino, compared to 21 percent of households District-wide that “self-identified as Latino.”

Adams Morgan’s racial diversity is also steadily eroding. Today, the neighborhood is 68.6 percent white, significantly higher than in other parts of the District. Citywide, white residents represent 45.1 percent of the total population, according to a 2017 population estimate from the Census Bureau. As one former Adams Morgan resident we interviewed sees it, the neighborhood has become more “white, young and millennial.”


Neighborhood residents have been concerned about gentrification forcing them out of their homes at least as early as the 1970s, when rundown apartments that rented for as little as $400-a-month were being revamped into luxurious condos. In sight of a fading Latino presence and rising rent prices, gentrification continues to be a pressing concern in Adams Morgan today.

“In the District of Columbia, housing is probably the second largest issue,” after immigration, that Latinos are facing today, says Abel Nuñez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, also known as CARECEN.

D.C.’s rent control regulations sheltered some low-income residents from dramatic rent increases for decades, allowing them to remain in their apartments even as the neighborhood changed around them. But as the city’s stock of rent-controlled houses has diminished over time, more rent-control tenants have been forced to move to lower-cost D.C. neighborhoods or to the suburbs, tenant advocacy groups say.

Adams Morgan Home Sale Prices
Sources:The Washington Post, Lusk’s D.C. Assessment Directory and

In 1970, property values in the neighborhood averaged $27,116. By 1979, they had increased to $123, 362, according to a 1984 Washington Post story. Real estate prices continued skyward, more than doubling between 1978 and 1983, according to an analysis of the Adams Morgan market by Lusk’s D.C. Assessment Directory. By ’83, the average-sized row house was valued at $187,768.

Olivia Cadaval, a retired curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a former Adams Morgan resident, recalls those days. In the ’70s and ’80s, she says group houses were popular and people would often band together and buy an entire house in the neighborhood for $100,000 or less. Today the same houses can go for $1.5 million a piece.

According to a recent article published by Greater Greater Washington, Adams Morgan has moved from gentrified to exclusive. In this case, “exclusion” is considered an advanced form of gentrification combined with a lack of affordable or high-density housing development. Only 57 new housing units were built from 2008 to 2015, according to the author, which represented “a mere 0.5% of the total new units in the city, despite the fact that the neighborhood holds 2.6% of DC’s population.” That’s a much lower rate of new construction than in Columbia Heights and other nearby neighborhoods.

But renovations of existing apartments and single-family houses continue propelling properties values even higher, pushing out residents who can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood. More affluent, usually white, residents move in to take their place.

“Our neighborhood is a case study of how gentrification can still happen without development, not because of it,” according to

Even Diloné, whose business is located in Adams Morgan and who grew up in neighboring Mt. Pleasant, had to look beyond the neighborhood when she was ready to purchase a home.

“I couldn’t afford Adams Morgan or Mount Pleasant when I wanted to buy. There was no way,” she says with a chuckle. She moved to the Petworth neighborhood instead.

The Line hotel
The recently opened Line Hotel

Gentrification concerns continue to flare today on neighborhood online forums and community meetings. The Line Hotel, which recently opened on Columbia Road, is one of the more recent examples of a controversial development in the neighborhood. Built on a site first proposed for affordable housing more than a decade ago, the project has been at the center of heated debates about local government development priorities. According to its critics, the city not only missed the opportunity to add more affordable housing but the new hotel is expected to contribute to rising real estate prices and even more exclusivity.


Last summer the controversy continued with reports that The Line had not complied with the requirements of its $46-million tax abatement deal with the District government. The developer committed to hiring 300 D.C. residents for construction jobs, and reserving 51 percent of its permanent positions for D.C. residents, among other things, but has failed to meet those targets, the City Paper reported. In response, Ward 1 councilmember Brianne Nadeau has asked city officials to investigate.

Community Issues in the 1980s

While private, nonprofit agencies provided health, youth services and other types of assistance to the Latino community, the available resources were not adequate to cover the growing community’s needs, which led to protests.

In the 80s decade, La Clinica del Pueblo, which translates to The Town’s Clinic or the Clinic of the People, treated about 4,000 Latino patients a year, charging accessible fees. Roughly 60 percent of patients had no health insurance and could not afford other medical care.

La Clínica began to treat minor health needs, but physicians quickly realized that the immigrants they were treating also suffered from post traumatic stress disorder linked to their experiences in the civil strife back home that complicated their health problems, “manifesting in their physical illness,” says Alicia Wilson, La Clínica’s executive director. As a result, La Clínica began adding new services.

“Our second service after primary care was mental health counseling,” Wilson says.

MaryC First site 1988
Mary’s Center started in a basement on Columbia Road in 1988. Photo courtesy of Mary’s Center

Education and social services were among things Latino activists fought for and gained in the ’80s.

“Marion Barry, who was the mayor at the time, really helped us to kind of make sure that the Latinos were integrated and that there were programs whether it’s daycare centers, or schools, or health services were all easily approachable to the Latino community,” recalls Maria Gomez, the founder of another local Latino health agency, Mary’s Center.


While not everyone likes how Adams Morgan has changed, some current and former residents, who Hola Cultura interviewed, also spoke of positive changes in the neighborhood.  Racial and political tensions have subsided  as neighborhood demographics have changed, according to several people we spoke with. Services available to the Latino community have also grown.

“There is so much for the youth–there are new libraries, parks so that young people have a place to distract themselves,” one longtime resident told us. “I also believe that because of crime in the past, maybe they [local government] thought of ways to keep these kids busy.”

Many Latino residents have also prospered. Diloné is an example of how Latinos have branched out and are in a variety of professions not limited to manual labor; and have become part of the region’s economic engine.

Other positive changes include the expansion of services for the Latino community. Several cornerstone Hispanic institutions including the Latin American Youth Center, CARECEN, and the GALA Hispanic Theatre originated or operated at one time or another in the neighborhood and continue to provide services to Latinos in Adams Morgan and citywide.

One former Adams Morgan resident remembers the institutions and gathering places in the neighborhood including the school founded by the late community leader Carlos Rosario, where she took English classes in the ’80s and is now working towards her GED.

“Thank God for these schools. Carlos Rosario (for instance) now has its own buildings, when before it was renting…” she says. “Just as we’ve improved ourselves, these schools have improved themselves as well.”

1989 OLA newspaper
This front page shot of an 1989 Office on Latino Affairs newsletter was provided courtesy of Mary’s Center.

Mary’s Center, founded in a basement clinic on Columbia Road in 1988, is one of the few institutions that started and stayed in Adams Morgan. Today, it is located on Champlain Street, a dozen or so blocks away from its original location across the street from where the Bank of America is today. But it and most other D.C. flagship Latino organizations have since opened offices in other D.C. neighborhoods and followed the Latino community into the suburbs.

Though services available to Latinos District-wide have expanded, the community is facing other, less tangible challenges today, says Maria Gomez, the founder of Mary’s Center.

“At this point, we have some very strong organizations like Carlos Rosario, Latin American Youth Center, CARECEN, Mary Center, and we’re doing all these things,” Gomez says. “But there isn’t someone who is bringing us together to fight for the causes that need to be fought, that need to be dealt with. There isn’t that sense of community that I think was here in the ’80s and ’90s.”

-Delia Beristain Noriega and Gisell Ramírez