WASHINGTON ITSELF: An Informal Guide to the Capital of the United States, by E. J. Applewhite (Knopf, $15.50; paperback $8.95). What is the sole building in Washington designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? What are the five buildings designed by I.M. Pei? The two structures by Frederick Law Olmstead? Architectural history forms just some of the fascinating lore about the nation's capital contained in this excellent guide, maybe the best informal guidebook to the District of Columbia ever written, meticulously researched and presented in a highly readable style. Even a longtime resident would prize this book.

EARLY RECOLLECTIONS OF WASHINGTON CITY, by Christian Hines (from the collection of the Columbia Historical Society and available from the Junior League of Washington, 3037 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007, $5; $6.50, by mail). In 1866, a very old man named Christian Hines wrote a memoir of his experiences as a young man in the brand new city of Washington between 1796 and 1814, publishing it at his own expense. Among the events Hines witnessed were the first public execution in the District and the 1801 fire that burned down the Treasury at which President John Adams joined the bucket line. The memoir is now republished and a charming stocking- stuffer for Great Aunt Agatha it is.

JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, by Brendan Gill (Harry N. Abrams, $25; paperback $12.95). Edward Durrell Stone's temple of culture opened 10 years ago this September. Why, it seems only yesterday. Before that, Washington as a performing arts town was pretty ho-hum. Brendan Gill recently commemorated the Center's decade of existence in the pages of The New Yorker. His polished history is here published in book form illustrated by color photographs of some of the great moments of each artistic season since 1971.

AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF ST. ALBANS SCHOOL, edited by Smith Hempstone, Brit Hume and Judy Frank (St. Albans Alumni Association, Mount St. Alban, Washington, D.C. 20016, $24.95). St. Albans School --please, no apostrophe--opened in 1909 under a bequest from President Buchanan's niece and hostess, Harriet Lane Johnston. Unlike many New England preparatory schools, St. Albans was never dominated by a giant figure of a headmaster--Endicott Peabody of Groton or Frank Boyden of Deerfield come to mind--but its commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship is clear enough in the pages of this authorized history. The reminiscences of alumni may not interest outsiders, but the book's pictures constitute a flawless portrait of an enclave of wealth, privilege and the love of learning.

WASHINGTON THE CAPITAL, Photography by Robert Llewellyn (Thomasson-Grant, Charlottesville, Va., $28.50). The slight text of this book frets over the question of whether Washington will be standing in 5,000 years. This problem is not high on the list of most people's worries. However, it is not for the text that we admire this work but rather for its spectacular photographs of a world capital. Robert Llewellyn has a photographic talent of a very high order.