Dupont Circle is a feast for the senses
By Eliza McGraw,
Walking down bustling Connecticut Avenue, it’s easy to forget that Northwest Washington’s Dupont Circle is a residential neighborhood as well as a lively and historic strip of galleries, restaurants, offices and shops. Locals cherish that variety.
The neighborhood fans out from its namesake circle, where Connecticut and Massachusetts avenues meet. Rental and condominium buildings and single-family homes line the streets. People picnic and play chess in the circle’s park, and Dupont hosts many traditions. Its Sunday farmers market is one of the area’s largest, and Capital Pride, the celebration of the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, takes place in the neighborhood each June. Every fall, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association holds a house tour and tea.
Resident Ruth Horn says the diversity of Dupont Circle’s architecture suits the history buff in her. In 2009, she was shopping for a condominium in Georgetown, but a home in Dupont caught her eye. She owns a triangular yellow house with a brilliant-green tile mansard roof pierced by a turret, two projecting bays and ornately carved gutters. “My business partner describes it as a children’s playhouse on a Russian estate,” she said. “I like things that are profoundly unusual.”
Horn attributes the design heterogeneity of her neighborhood to its early residents. “Newly rich Gold Rush types decided they wanted to buy up all this land,” she said. “The result of that is we have half a dozen different styles of architecture in Dupont, from Italianate to quasi-Oriental, and it all can be very outlandish. They were not constrained by old-money standards like the people in Georgetown were, and the result is we have a splendidly beautiful neighborhood.”
Evan Johnson is a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. He sells many properties in Dupont and agrees that the neighborhood “definitely has a unique feel to it. I think that is kind of the best part. It’s extremely close in to many places of employment, where Logan Circle, just to the east side, is definitely a lot more residential, even though it has some restaurants. Dupont Circle has more older buildings with a lot more character, and then the newer properties are just infill and renovations.”
Dupont has represented different things during different periods, Johnson says.
“Dupont historically has been more of a hub for the LGBT community, which I don’t think it is that focused on anymore. It’s really an extremely diverse community,” he said. “There are definitely younger families that are moving in, but it’s also very populated with single-income homeowners.”
Lee Granados represents a small group in often-transient Washington: She grew up in Dupont Circle and has returned to raise her family here. Her family has lived in the neighborhood since the 1930s, she says. Most of them started as immigrants working for the embassies or the very wealthy who lived in Dupont. She says that many of the owners of mom-and-pop shops got their start working as chauffeurs or housekeepers.
Granados’s uncle was a chauffeur, and her aunt was the housekeeper for a wealthy man who lived on Q Street. When he died, he left the majority of his estate to them and their two boys. When she was growing up, she said, “15th and 16th streets were very unsafe, and my parents wouldn’t let us out after 5 p.m. And in the 1980s, when more of the LGBT community moved into the area, it became a lot cleaner, and a lot safer.”
Granados and her husband lived in Portland, Ore., but the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks provided a catalyst for her to move back across the country. She wanted to be close to her family and the old neighborhood. “My great-aunt, who is in her late 80s, still lives on Church Street, and the people who watched me grow up are the people who help me with her when I go out of town,” Granados said.
Doug Rogers is president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association. He has lived in the neighborhood since 1998 and sees that kind of camaraderie today. “I was sort of surprised at how friendly everyone is. . . . ,” Rogers said. “It creates more opportunity for interaction with people when you are in a walkable environment. You’re not in a car having an impersonal interaction with your neighbors when you drive by.”
Navigating the domestic and commercial sides of the neighborhood has led to some tensions between residents and the bars that provide the area with its vibrant nightlife. Some locals have installed windows of the sort used at airports to keep noise out, and negotiations are ongoing between citizens groups and bar and restaurant owners, as all try to reach a compromise so that businesses can succeed and residents can sleep.
“I personally like all the restaurants and nightlife, and I moved there knowing there would occasionally be noise and you would be woken,” Rogers said. “I have earplugs next to my bed that I have put in before, but it doesn’t bother me overall.”
For Granados, too, Dupont suits. “It has evolved into this extremely eclectic and diverse community, so it really has become a small, amazing world that I find remarkable and enjoy. It’s why we decided to raise our children here.”
Others are making the same choice. Raising a child in the neighborhood, Rogers said, “was great because he could walk to the pet store or grocery store and he wasn’t stuck in the house, like he would be if he lived in suburbia.” Granados adds that there were more than 500 children on a pre-kindergarten waiting list for Ross Elementary School alone. Five years ago, there was no waiting list. “The younger generations of parents have decided we don’t want to flee the city, so we’re going to fight for our school,” she said.
“Dupont really is the heart of the city,” Horn said. “And we are very proud of that fact.”
Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.
ZIP CODES: 20008, 20009, 20036, 20037. BOUNDARIES: Swann Street NW to the north, Rhode Island Avenue NW and M and N streets NW to the south, 16th Street NW to the east, and Florida Avenue NW to the west. SCHOOLS: Ross Elementary School, Shaw Middle School, Cardozo Senior High School. HOME SALES: Thirty homes are now for sale, at prices ranging from $199,999 to $10.9 million, according to real estate agent Evan Johnson. In the past year, 202 residences have sold, at prices ranging from $172,000 to $2.69 million. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Rock Creek Park, the White House, the National Zoo, many stores and restaurants. WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Arlington National Cemetery, Nationals Park, Virginia, Maryland, the Southwest waterfront. TRANSIT: Dupont Circle Metro station several Metrobus routes.