Editors' pick

Meridian Hill Park


Editorial Review

It's a romantic setting, Meridian Hill Park. Following the city's neoclassical architectural theme, the grounds resemble a Renaissance villa landscape. A statue of Italian poet Dante stands near the Eastern edge of the park and winding paths lined in shrubs and vines lead to a waterfall and a reflecting pool that blooms water lilies in the summer months. Symmetrical staircases flank the stepped waterfall, rising to a French-style terrace where a bronze copy of the equestrian statue Joan of Arc by Paul Dubois stands between two bowl-shaped fountains. The terrace also offers a panoramic view of city panner Pierre L'Enfant's Federal City.

The park's name comes from its hilltop location and its western boundary of 16th Street, the official baseline that L'Enfant used in orienting Washington on a north-south axis. A gathering point for many of Washington' s political rallies and protests, Meridian Hill Park is also referred to as Malcolm X Park. On Sunday afternoons, people collect in the upper park to play in a drumming circle and serve food to homeless people. The drum circle meets from 3-9 p.m. every Sunday, weather permitting. It has been going a park staple since the late '50s and often attracts professional drummers.

Lined with tall oak trees and park benches, the central grassy mall of the park is also a popular spot for soccer games. A marble allegorical figure of Serenity watches over the activity. Joggers, bike riders and dog-walkers populate the field's periphery.

At the east end of the lower park, the President James Buchanan Memorial serves as a stage and backdrop for outdoor performances. The National park Service and the community organization Friend's of Meridian Hill Park sponsor concerts, theatrical performances and poetry readings.

Originally, a mansion erected by John Porter in 1819 occupied park grounds. John Quincy Adams moved there after leaving the White House in 1829. Later in the 19th Century, the mansion grounds became home to George Washington University's precursor, Columbia College. By 1910, the government purchased the grounds to turn it into a public park, which officially opened in 1936: a 12-acre site bounded by 15th, 16th and Euclid streets and Florida Avenue NW.

Although the park officially closes at midnight, park officers patrol the gounds from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

-- Erin Hartigan