Look Out Below


Everyone’s been talking about streetcars this week. The vehicles got top billing Monday at a D.C. Council hearing, where the big question was when we can expect to see them finally cruise down H Street. (The answer: maybe this year.) At an open house at Wydown Coffee Bar on U Street on Sunday, the hot topic was the old streetcar tunnels that run beneath Dupont Circle. The big question there: When we can expect to see them at all?

Architect Julian Hunt, who founded the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (dupontunderground.org), has been lobbying for the reopening of the 75,000-square-foot space for years. After the streetcars stopped running in the 1960s, it turned into a bomb shelter, and then a short-lived disaster of a food court. But Hunt’s certain the boarded-up site could turn into so much more. And it seems his devotion — or “bullheadedness,” as he calls it — is about to pay off.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been before. We’re nearing the end of a plan to engage the space,” revealed Dupont Underground board member Braulio Agnese, although he was mum on the details (“I can’t say when or in what capacity”).

What he could offer Sunday to anyone who wandered in hoping to get more information was a rundown of the basics. The Dupont Underground group has a partnership with the city to secure a financially viable plan. Under the deal with D.C., public tours are not allowed, which has hamstrung efforts to get residents to rally behind the idea. Even if they know the tunnels exist, they often don’t have a sense of the scope.

“It’s the equivalent of a seven-story building underground,” stretching from N Street to S Street, Agnese explained. The list of possibilities for the space is somewhat limited by the shape — a concrete shell can’t be altered the way a traditional building can be. But there are still plenty of options. Renderings posted on the walls of the Wydown depicted the curved lobby of a museum and a wine bar, both buzzing with hip clientele.

The drawings show how the dank, dark tunnels could be transformed into a point of pride for the city, said Monling Lee, who organized Sunday’s event and wants to launch a series of similar hangouts to pique the public’s curiosity about the project. Tables covered in paper invited coffee drinkers to scribble what they wished for — a cinema, light installations, experimental theater.

“What to do with it, I have no idea,” said Marty Gallagher, 35, eyes wide at the diagrams on display. The Capitol Hill resident had never known the space was down there, despite driving past the site “all the time.”

But Jennifer Whitworth, who lives in Chinatown, has a very clear idea of what she wants. “It wouldn’t be bad waiting for 30 minutes for the Metro if there was a bar there,” she said.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFit columnists and the Fit editor for Express.
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Vicky Hallett | July 5, 2013