The Absolutely True Story of How Metro Center Got Its Name

When Metro first came around — back when it was still being dug out of the ground and there was only the Red Line and some people still thought bulldozing large tracts of the District for freeways was a better idea than a rapid transit system — the organization’s first General Manager was an actual former General of the Army Corps of Engineers, a man by the name of Jackson Graham.

One day, a WMATA planner named William Herman went to Graham to complain about the system’s transfer station: it was called “12th & G.” Graham thought about what Herman said, and offered to let him rename the station. Herman said sure! “I’ll let you know.” Graham said: “No, I’ll give you twenty seconds.” Herman blurted out “Metro Center”, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the absolutely true story of how Metro Center got it’s name.

I learned this fact, and many other cool things, from Zachary M. Schrag’s “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” The book is a wealth of information on the Metro system, and I gotta tell you, some of those early sections — in the fight between rapid transit and freeways — I would sometimes imagine so concretely that freeways would win out and Metro would never exist. And, I should admit, these nightmare scenarios would be developing in my head as I was reading the book on the Metro.

One of the things I remember very clearly was how WMATA wanted nice, clean, simple station names. And yet local communities and politicians wanted to steer crowds to their neighborhoods. That’s why we have station names like Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter. Adams Morgan got added to Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan (originally just Zoological Park) because Jim Graham thought it would encourage visitors to that area to ride Metro and not drive.

Look: I’m all in favor of shorter Metro station names. I think U St./African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo could most, absolutely for certain be shorter. But I really don’t want to see Gallery Place-Chinatown replaced by Verizon Center Metro Station, y’know?

According to WTOP, that’s a possibility:

Metro is discussing some pretty creative — and some may say drastic — measures as it looks to close a looming budget gap.

The transit agency is considering selling the naming rights to stations as it tries to fix a $72.4 million budget gap for the next fiscal year.

“An example of naming rights would be like (taking) Metro Center and calling it something else,” Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal said outside a board meeting Thursday.

While it is just one of many options being considered to close the gap, Kissal says selling naming rights would work just like it does with sports arenas.

“The Verizon Center is called the Verizon Center, and I’m sure they paid for that,” Kissal says.

I quite honestly have no idea if William Herman is still alive. I don’t know how he feels about that twenty seconds that resulted in 12th & G being Metro Center, but I’m sure even if he thinks that’s the worst possible name he could’ve possibly come up with, and even if he’s spent every night of the last few decades turning over in bed because he thinks everyone hates him for that name I am sure, certain, one hundred percent positive that he hates — like, also absolutely hates loathes and despises — the name McDonald’s Center.

(Also: “An example of naming rights would be like (taking) Metro Center and calling it something else” — this actually had to be said? Who doesn’t understand the concept of naming rights?)

Haven’t been writing much lately

It’s nothing personal. I’m just swamped. And if there’s one blogging rule I live by this, it’s the rule found in this quote:

“Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”

— Cyril Connolly

I gotta find my self, y’know?