Cape May’s Washington Street Mall is one of the shore town’s most popular destinations.
Efforts to revitalize Cape May started in 1966 when city officials worked to raise money from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to rebuild Cape May. The area where the pedestrian mall is today was in need of repair. In order to get HUD money for Washington Street and other projects, the city had to agree to build low-income housing elsewhere. This was somewhat controversial for Cape May residents, as historic buildings on Lafayette Street were torn down to make room for HUD housing.
In the eight years following, Cape May officials managed to build low income HUD housing, create a Victorian Village shopping area now known as Washington Commons, rebuild Convention Hall, and more.
In 1970, Washington Street was closed to traffic between Perry Street and Ocean Street to allow commercial development. The area was officially dedicated on Jun 24th, 1971. The city of Cape May made the area attractive for walkers and shoppers alike by adding plenty of park benches and landscaping.
In May 1976, the entire city of Cape May was designated as a National Historic Landmark District. This was thanks in no small part to the town’s efforts to revitalize Cape May that started back in 1966.
Later that year, a devastating fire destroyed one block of the Washington Street Mall between Jackson Street and Perry Street. This wasn’t the first fire to threaten the shopping area — downtown Cape May lost five blocks to fire in 1878. The 1878 fire devastated the ocean side of Washington Street; the 1976 fire (at the height of holiday celebrations in Cape May) took the opposite side of the same block.
The community moved quickly after the 1976 Christmas fire. By the following summer, the block had been rebuilt and the shops were open for business again.
In the summer of 2008, the Washington Street Mall Merchants Association and the City of Cape May formally rededicated Washington Street Mall. Local government officials, musicians, residents, and visitors came together on June 21st to celebrate the past and future of the Washington Street Mall.
If you’ll be at the Jersey Shore, make time for a stop in historic Cape May! You’ll find amazing shopping and dining, rich history, and much more.