City Desk

Today in D.C. History: Renaming of 16th Street NW for Reagan Shot Down by Residents

On July 28, 2005, a Republican congressman from south Texas quietly introduced a bill to rename D.C.’s 16th Street NW in honor of former president Ronald Reagan. Local uproar from D.C. residents and political leaders caused Rep. Henry Bonilla’s bill, H.R. 3525, to go nowhere.

The conservative out-of-towner’s plan was squashed by the overwhelmingly Democratic city, which was (and is) no stranger to Congress meddling in local affairs, against the will of its some 600,000 residents.

The bill called for "any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States or the District of Columbia" to 16th Street NW to be renamed "Ronald Reagan Boulevard.” The street, which is 7.5 miles long, runs north from the White House and is one of the city’s most prominent strips.

The Washington Post reported that Bonilla introduced the 106-word resolution just before Congress entered the summer recess.

“Regardless of your political affiliation, most people agree that Ronald Reagan was an American icon," Bonilla, a former TV news broadcaster, said in a written statement, reported the Post. "He was a president of national significance and for that reason he deserves an honor in the nation's capital."

D.C. residents turned to online forums, raging against the proposed Reagan tribute—almost like the local hardcore scene had during the Reagan administration. In this case, they took action through telephone, letter-writing and petitioning efforts to lobby against the bill.

If the bill passed, some said Congress should be required to rename a highway in the Texas Republican’s district in honor of former mayor and current Ward 8 councilmember Marion Barry or former president Bill Clinton.

Bonilla’s bill was referred to the committee of Government Reform, headed by Virginia Congressman Thomas M. Davis III, a fellow Republican. Davis told WTOP that he thought the bill was “ridiculous” and promised to put it in the “appropriate file.”

Davis said Reagan Washington National Airport and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue NW were more than enough homage to Reagan’s legacy in D.C.

"[I]f Congressman Bonilla wants to name anything else, he has to look at his own district in San Antonio," Davis told WTOP.

D.C. officials spoke out as well. According to the Post, then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams, "It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a plan that made so little sense." Because the legislation did not include any funding. Williams said it would cost D.C. taxpayers about $1 million to have maps, street signs, and addresses changed.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, said she insisted, "home rule be respected on the streets where our residents live and pay taxes."

Adrian Fenty, then-D.C. councilmember and future mayor, was equally miffed at the thought of another Texas politician trying to make decisions for the city. He told WTOP, “Not only does this 11th hour piece of legislation attempt to change the cultural landscape of one of the District's most historic and diverse roadways, it also neglects to take into consideration the wishes of thousands of those who live, work and go to school on 16th Street."

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