Welcome to Where We Live: Dupont! Dupont Circle is one of the District’s best-known neighborhoods, and there’s so much history and beautiful architecture to love here. Dupont is home to everyone from recent grads in group houses to young professionals in condos to well-off diplomats with kids, and yes, even some new stars. I know I’m probably supposed to be unbiased in my descriptions of all these neighborhoods, but to be honest, Dupont’s my favorite. Read on to find out why.
History: Not much was really going on in the Dupont area until the Civil War. Up until then it was a rural backwater, but a massive modernization program built streets and sewers in the 1870s, making the area a fashionable new residential district. In 1871, the circle itself (then known as Pacific Circle) was constructed, and in 1882 Congress decided to use the circle to honor Civil War admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont. A statue of Du Pont was erected in 1884, and replaced in 1921 with the fountain that we all know and love today. The traffic signals in the circle were added in 1948 to make it easier for pedestrians to cross, and in 1949 the Connecticut Avenue tunnel was built to separate thru traffic and build a streetcar station.
By the 1870s and 1880s, impressive mansions were built along Massachusetts Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue had more shops and offices. Much of the area was developed with rowhouses, many of which remain today. The neighborhood began to decline after the 1968 riots, but in the 1970s some urban pioneersmoved in. Dupont Circle took on more of a Bohemian character, and the area became a gay enclave. It is considered the historic center of the gay communityin DC, though many of those original urban pioneers later moved on to Logan Circle or Shaw. The 1980s and 1990s saw more reinvestment in the neighborhood, and today Dupont Circle is again one of DC’s most desired neighborhoods.
Neighborhood Character: Much of Dupont is within the Dupont Circle Historic District, which is typically tree-lined streets with rowhouses. Connecticut Avenue is predominately office buildings with ground floor retail, while Massachusetts Avenue is home to more embassies and institutions and less retail. P Street is a neighborhood commercial strip on both sides of the circle, and 17th Street in between Dupont and Logan is full of restaurants and small shops.
Transportation: Dupont has one Metro station with two long escalators, and it’s within walking distance to every line (Farragut West on orange and blue is five blocks to the south, U Street on green and yellow is about eight blocks to the northeast). There’s great bus service in the area, a crazy number of Zipcars (I lost track counting at 25), lots of bike racks, and it’s the District’s most walkable neighborhood.
What to See: There’s a lot to see in the Dupont area, and one could even spend a whole day just people-watching in the circle itself. According to resident Davis, “My favorite part of living in the area is just walking through the circle. There’s always something happening, whether it’s a drum circle or a homeless chess game or a demonstration of some kind.” Here’s what else to check out:
- There are so many museums and art galleries in the area: the Phillips Collection, the Textile Museum, the Woodrow Wilson House, and the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. Check out a First Fridays reception at one of the many art galleries in Dupont. And definitely stop by the Mansion at O Street sometime– it’s an amazingly cool and quirky museum/hotel/art gallery with secret passageways and hidden doors, and they serve a fantastic brunch.
- Stop by the Dupont Farmer’s Market on Sundays from 9 AM to 1 PM. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, cheeses, breads, and meats, and a great people-watching environment.
- I’ve got so many favorite restaurants in Dupont I can’t even name them all. But I love Zorba’s Cafe for casual Greek food, Pizzeria Paradiso for the best pizza, Sakana Japanese for good sushi, and the Brickskeller for a crazy selection of beers. And for at-home libations, check out 1 West Dupont Circle Wine and Liquor, with its amazing selection, regular tastings, and neighborhood delivery.
- Grab a book and a blanket and head to the circle to read. There are bigger stores like Kramerbooks on Connecticut, and smaller used book stores like Second Story and the excellent Books for America bookstore.
- Walk through Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue, and find public events and open houses happening at embassies throughout the year.
Neighborhood Links: Dupont Circle doesn’t have the glut of neighborhood blogs like other established neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, but there’s still an online presence.
- The Dupont Circle ANC also has its own website with information on community meetings. The Dupont Circle Citizens Associationworks to keep Dupont clean, green, neighborly, and safe. The Dupont Forum is an online discussion group that covers all sorts of neighborhood topics.
- The Dupont Circle Update is posted semi-regularly to a list-serv and includes information on new development, neighborhood events, and crime/safety. Archives of previous years are also available.
- There’s the Anti-Real World blog and the Pro-Real World blogto keep tabs on Dupont’s newest residents. There’s a lot more going on at the Anti blog, and since the authors live across the street to chronicle their distaste, there’s more of an on-the-ground feeling.
- Borderstancovers that not-quite-Dupont, not-quite-Logan area around 15th Street NW. Lots of good crime information and neighborhood updates to be found there.
Why We Love Dupont Circle: It’s really got it all. A commercial district with great shopping and restaurants, a variety of housing types from historic rowhouses to newer condos and apartments, and a truly walkable character. Most Dupont residences are within a short walk to neighborhood restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets, museums, galleries, and parks. And honestly, there’s nothing like the feeling of walking through Dupont Circle on a sunny day when it’s filled with people reading, dancing, singing, whatever– it’s just an ideal public space in the middle of the city.