A treasure-trove of historic buildings, landscaped parks and specialty restaurants is hidden in Washington's neighborhoods and missed by the millions of tourists who come to the capital each year, according to a report to be released today by the D.C. Heritage Coalition.
The report, titled "Capital Assets," says Washington has more equestrian statues than any other U.S. city, the first YMCA for African Americans in the nation and the largest offering of books for gay men and lesbians in the country. City neighborhoods have bragging rights to the only national monument to black Union soldiers, the only art museum in the world dedicated to work by women and the only place a president of the United States has ever come under enemy fire.
The coalition, which is made up of 70 heritage and cultural institutions from across the city, was formed after a 1995 White House conference on travel and tourism during which new approaches to attracting visitors were discussed. Cultural or heritage tourism, defined as "travel directed toward experiencing the arts, history and special character of unique places," was identified by the conference as a priority on a national level.
The coalition's executive director, Kathryn S. Smith, said the city's neighborhoods have been missing out on the chance to show "the rich and diverse fabric of our city beyond the monuments and Mall and to have [visitors] bring their dollars into our local shops, restaurants and cultural institutions."
The cultural and historic riches in city neighborhoods are hard for tourists to find. According to the report, there is no coordinated, citywide visitor information system, and almost none of the 650 designated historic buildings, sites and parks in Washington have markers. Most guidebooks leave out neighborhood attractions, and many maps leave out entire sections of the city.
"Capital Assets" is inclusive, covering neighborhoods from Old Anacostia to Georgetown, listing the attractions of each and rating accessibility and condition. For instance, the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House in the Shaw neighborhood is identified as ready for visitors, but the historic Howard Theater is described as "empty and deteriorating."
Smith said the information is meant to inspire groups and communities to safeguard their historic assets and create their own tours. "We are in the business of helping others showcase the city," she said. "This is a gift."
The coalition is using its research to prepare walking tours of Shaw and downtown. Smith said the group has the funds to install plaques with text, photographs and maps along a trail in each of those neighborhoods.
Smith said that other groups have organized good bus and walking tours of neighborhoods but that tourists have no way to find them. They need to be marketed, she said.
CAPTION: In July 1997, Kym Elder, left, and Martha Alston, two National Park Service rangers from the Frederick Douglass Home, took a tour of the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, one of the sites listed in a report on historic and cultural treasures in D.C. neighorhoods.