This Week: The Past Is Present
Hosted by Michael Farquhar
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 24, 2002; 1 p.m. ET
The massive new Washington Convention Center occupies just one small page in the storied history of Mount Vernon Square. Dinosaurs once roamed there. A river wider than the Mississippi flowed, plantations thrived, insurrection burst forth, blood ran, squalor gave way to luxury, hope to despair, and back.
Michael Farquhar, whose article "History Squared" appeared in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, was online Monday, March 24 at 1 p.m. ET, to field questions and comments about the article.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Washington, D.C.: Would you say the Mt. Vernon Square area is on the upswing or downturn?
Michael Farquhar: Well, if you look at the resources being poured into the area--from the new city museum to the convention center to office and retail development--I would say the area is most definitely on the upswing. However, you can never be sure how it will ultimately turn out.
Arlington, Va.: How did you get interested in the history of Mt. Vernon Square?
Michael Farquhar: I have always been a student of Washington history, and have written about it often in The Post. But I didn't know much about Mount Vernon Square when this story was assigned to me. I passed the Carnegie Library every day on my way to school, and wondered why such a beautiful building seemed all but abandoned. I was too lazy to look into it, though.
I was happy with the assignment, as it finally gave me a good reason to look into the library and the square on which it was built. I was amazed at all the history I ended up discovering. It's kind of interesting to think how many overlooked places in the city might have a similarly rich history.
McLean, Va.: Great article! Hope we will have more in-depth local history. One question: Now that we have this six-square block convention center, what has or is to become of the "old" convention center that was built in the 90's?
Michael Farquhar: There are different proposals being floated. Some want new facilities for the D.C. Public Library to be built there. Others envision commercial and residential development. It will certainly take some time for the site's fate to be decided, but one thing seems certain: The concrete convention center building, scorned by so many, will be torn down.
Washington, D.C.: Do you know when the City Museum will open? What its content will include?
Michael Farquhar: The new museum is set to open in mid-May. The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., which is spearheading the project, has big plans for it. There will be interactive displays, rotating exhibits on the city's history and neighborhoods, a research library, a theater, and many other state-of-the-art features. You can learn more about it on the society's Web site
Washington, D.C.: For someone who would like to learn more about D.C. history, what three books would you recommend?
Michael Farquhar: There are some really terrific books about Washington history...too many to name off the top of my head. I suggest you contact the D.C Public Library's Washingtonian Division at the Martin Luther King Library downtown. They're a great resource, and can give you lots of ideas. Also, many bookstores in the area have a section of local interest. You can check there too.
Washington, D.C.: When is the new convention center scheduled to open and are there any events already lined up?
Michael Farquhar: The new convention center is set to open next week, but I don't know what's been lined up there.
Washington, D.C., Capitol Hill: Great article. I've always found it hard to get good information about local D.C. history (especially about neighborhoods and things not necessarily related to the monuments, etc.). Do you have any good comprehensive books or sources you can recommend?
Michael Farquhar: Again, I highly recommend the Washingtoniana Room at the MLK Library. It is underutilized treasure. Also, once the new city museum opens in May, their extensive research facilities will be available. In terms of books, there are many, many good ones.
Bethesda, Md.: Thanks for the interesting history on Mt. Washington Square. For over a year, I worked at NPR at the Mass. Ave. location, overlooking the Square, and I found it interesting what had happened before the library became a homeless hangout. I also watched the new Convention Center take shape over the course of 16 months or so. I had a fantasy of buying two of the old buildings across from the square and restoring them into the latest, place-to-be-seen in restaurants. Please tell me that block of buildings on 7th and NY will not be torn down.
Michael Farquhar: I haven't heard any plans to tear those buildings down. If you're looking to buy, be prepared to pay top price. This is prime downtown real estate remember.
Michael Farquhar: Thank you all for your feedback and questions. I enjoyed it.
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