The Wash
Construction is underway for the redesigned project at Florida Avenue and New York Avenue intersection. View from 1st St and New York Ave. (Kaishi Chhabra/The Wash)

D.C.’s Dave Thomas Circle Renamed Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson Plaza: A Community Tribute

In a tribute to a beloved D.C. resident, the iconic intersection in NoMa, informally known as Dave Thomas Circle, is officially renamed Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson Plaza through a community-driven initiative.

One of the city’s busiest intersections, located in the Northeast quadrant at Florida Avenue and New York Avenue in the NoMa neighborhood, is undergoing a transformative reconfiguration and receiving a new name in tribute to a prominent D.C. resident. 

The intersection that has been informally long referred to as “Dave Thomas Circle” by the locals will now be known as Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Plaza, following a community-driven initiative in naming the public space.

“I love the new name,” expressed Natalie Meyer, a Black NoMa resident, with enthusiasm. “It’s a homage to my culture, and (Mamie Johnson) has been an inspiring female figure for Black women in sports.”

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was the first woman to pitch in the Negro League. A longtime resident of Northeast D.C., she graduated from Long Branch High School and was a dedicated advocate for youth sports. 

Design plans for the Florida Avenue and New York Avenue intersection intersection provided by NoMa BID.
Public spaces vision for Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Plaza provided by NoMa BID.

The renaming of this iconic intersection was not a swift decision. The NoMa Business Improvement District (NoMa BID) received a staggering 1,200 name suggestions from the community throughout the summer following the reconstruction project announcement in April.

“We’re excited about the name,” said NoMa BID President Maura Brophy. “We’re also really excited about the overwhelming response that we got from the community when we invited them to submit names and then to cast the final vote.”

With no official name before this initiative, the intersection had long carried the theme of confusion, mirroring the complexities of the space. Brophy said it was also consistent with the lack of clarity around the space’s identity. 

The renaming process aimed to eliminate this ambiguity and formally identify the space. In collaboration with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the NoMa BID invited members of the NoMa community in April, to propose a name for the evolving intersection, set to include protected bicycle lanes and create three new public park spaces.

These public spaces will be situated at the circle where a famous Wendy’s restaurant was before it shut down in 2021, often having residents refer to the intersection as “Wendy’s Circle” as well.

Dave Thomas Circle in Sept., 2018

Dave Thomas Circle in Sept., 2023

Following the suggestions from the community, a diverse panel of community stakeholders, encompassing residents and local business owners from NoMa, carefully reviewed all submissions and narrowed the selection down to five choices. 

After DDOT’s approval, these name options were put up for voting in July, allowing the public to vote on their favorite name until late August.

Out of more than 4,300 votes cast, 40% of respondents chose to honor Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, making it the winning name.

The other names up for voting included “Douglass Crossing,” referring to social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass; “Three Stars Plaza,” denoting the three stars in the DC flag and reflecting the three green public spaces in the project; “Tiber Gateway” representing Tiber Creek that ran near First Street NE and was important to the early development of D.C.; and “People’s Plaza.”

“We’ve undergone several community gaming processes in the past,” Brophy said, referring to Alethia Tanner Park and other parks in NoMa. “And one thing that we’ve learned from them is that people really do see these as an opportunity to tell stories to reflect history.”

With the community vote determined, the next step is to introduce formal legislation before the DC Council to officially recognize the name for the new trio of public spaces.

Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed her excitement and gratitude for the community’s involvement in the renaming process in a statement last week.

“Our community is ready to start a new chapter at this intersection, and we are off to a strong start by naming it after such an iconic woman,” she said. “Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson was a pioneer. Now, it is fitting that her name will represent these new spaces where residents and visitors can rest and play.”

The intersection, notorious for its complexity and confusion, has posed challenges for both drivers and pedestrians over the years. The new $41 million infrastructure project launched by Mayor Bowser in July aims to enhance safety for all road users. It involves realigning and adding two-way traffic to First Street NE and restoring two-way traffic on Florida Avenue NE.

The final design for the project was shared at a virtual public meeting on November 15, 2021. Photo courtesy: DDOT
(Design plan for Protected Bicycle Lanes that will be constructed as part of the project (in green) connecting to the larger Protected Bicycle Lane network. Photo courtesy: DDOT

“One thing about this particular intersection is it really does serve as a point of connection between neighborhoods, a point of connection to D.C., it is very heavily traversed,” Brophy said. “So a lot of people interact with it and experience it. And because of its former configuration, despite the fact that it sat at the crossroads of neighborhoods, it could and it did serve as somewhat of a barrier between them.”

Having lived in NoMa for over a year, William Baker said the intersection has always frightened local and visiting drivers alike.

“It’s exhausting when you’re in a rush,” he said. “Usually, I would drive the opposite way to avoid the intersection.”

However, the new design and the changing traffic pattern have given him “new hopes”, he said, adding that he voted for the new name of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Plaza.

Another NoMa resident, Jonathan Spiers said while he initially voted for Douglas Crossing, the winning name was his second choice and he is excited to explore the park spaces.

“We expected that we would get a lot of attention and a lot of responses from the community, given the high-profile nature of this space, and that definitely proved to be true,” Brophy said, describing the naming process. “We really had fun with this.”

The construction phase for the infrastructure project began in July. The estimated completion of the project is set to be in December 2024. According to NoMA BID, the signage indicating the new name is expected to be installed close to the delivery of the project. It will be designed by an award-winning landscape architecture firm, SWA Balsley.

Kaishi Chhabra

Kaishi is a multimedia journalist specializing in political and human rights reporting. Having a diverse cultural and global background, she is especially interested in amplifying the voices of marginalized communities such as women of color and LGBTQIA+ groups. Kaishi is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at The American University.


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