John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 100th birthday is May 29. It’s hard to think of the 35th president — the youngest ever elected to the office and 46 years old when he was assassinated — anywhere near that age. Kennedy was president for just 1,036 days, but in a 2013 Gallup poll, 50 years after his death, 74 percent of Americans ranked his presidency as “outstanding” or “above average,” the highest of any president since World War II. The Kennedy centennial will be celebrated across Washington throughout the year, with exhibitions, film screenings, concerts and lectures recalling his successes as president, including the space program and the Peace Corps. The Kennedy Center, designated by Congress in 1964 as a “living memorial” to the president, will present shows with themes inspired by him. The anniversary is also a chance to remember Kennedy’s Washington — the places where he lived, ate and worshiped, and to see whether you can find your own little slice of Camelot.
Dorchester House apartments, 2480 16th St. NW
In October 1941, a 24-year-old John F. Kennedy moved to Washington to take a position in the Office of Naval Intelligence. His younger sister Kathleen was already living here, working for the Washington Times-Herald. She had an apartment in the brand-new Dorchester House apartment complex across from Meridian Hill Park. Hundreds of tenants lived there, which The Washington Post called a “modernistic and highly fashionable” building.
John joined Kathleen in Apartment 542, but he didn’t stay long: In January 1942, he was transferred to Charleston, S.C., and didn’t return to town until he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946.
2808 P St. NW
Georgetown holds a special place in the Kennedy mystique: After Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, he lived in a succession of houses and apartments in the neighborhood. He purchased the Hickory Hill estate in McLean in 1955, a few years after his election to the Senate and marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier, but he and Jackie decided to return to Georgetown a year later. They moved into a rental house on P Street NW in early 1957 and lived there for one busy year, which brought the birth of daughter Caroline and a Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage.”
3307 N St. NW
The Kennedys moved into this house, their best-known residence, in January 1958 and stayed there until moving into the White House. After winning the 1960 election, Kennedy would come out onto the front steps of the three-story townhouse and meet the press corps, even in the midst of winter. “Our next president doesn’t take the old, easy way of making his announcements about new cabinet ministers, the fate of the new frontier, etc., from his office on Capitol Hill — where, if one need edit, the corridors have steam heat,” groused Washington Post staff writer Thomas Wolfe (yes, that Thomas Wolfe) in December 1960. “He just steps right out on the old front porch at 3307 N St. NW and starts talking. And disappears back into the manse.”
The house was sold in 1961. After her husband’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jr., returned to the neighborhood, living at 3038 N St. NW and then at 3017 N St. NW. But the attention from sightseers and gawkers proved too much for the family, and they moved to New York in 1964.
Holy Trinity Church, 3513 N St. NW.
While living in Georgetown as a representative, senator and president-elect, Kennedy regularly attended Mass at Holy Trinity Church, the oldest Catholic church in Washington, including on the morning of his inauguration. He went to Mass there on Nov. 1, 1963, which was the last Mass he attended in Washington. Kennedy is remembered on a plaque outside the church, which features the presidential seal and an image of PT-109, the ill-fated boat he commanded during World War II.
The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, 1725 Rhode Island Ave. NW.
On the morning of Nov. 25, 1963, a horse-drawn caisson bearing Kennedy’s body left the White House, followed by his widow, his brothers, politicians and leaders from around the world. The destination was the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, six blocks away, where Richard Cardinal Cushing, the archbishop of Boston, celebrated the funeral Mass. A marble circle on the cathedral floor, just in front of the sanctuary, marks the spot where the coffin was placed.
After the Mass, as Kennedy’s body was being carried down the steps to the caisson, John F. Kennedy Jr. saluted his father’s coffin, which became the defining image of the funeral.
Home of Charles Bartlett, 3419 Q St. NW
Kennedy and Charles Bartlett met in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1946. Both had served in the Navy in World War II. Both were the sons of wealthy Catholic families who wintered in Florida. Different paths eventually brought them to Washington: Kennedy was elected to Congress; Bartlett became the bureau chief for the Chattanooga Times and would eventually win a Pulitzer Prize.
In May 1951, Bartlett and his wife, Martha, threw a small dinner party at their home expressly for the purpose of setting up Kennedy and a socialite named Jacqueline Bouvier, whom Bartlett had briefly dated. It wasn’t an instant success. Bartlett later told the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library: “This was an awkward time actually because, as I said, she was going to Europe and he was just getting involved in the [Senate] campaign,” which he would win that fall. But their friends persisted in matchmaking, and just over two years later, Kennedy and Bouvier were engaged. Bartlett was an usher at their wedding, and the Bartletts were godparents to John Jr.
Martin’s Tavern, 1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW
No private business pushes its ties to Kennedy like Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. Two booths remember the president: Booth 1, a narrow, rumbleseat-style booth for one, where Kennedy would eat breakfast and read the paper after attending Mass on Sundays, and, more famously, Booth 3 — “The Proposal Booth.” A brass plaque marks the spot where, supposedly, “JFK proposed to Jackie” on June 24, 1953. Martin’s even produced a witness two years ago, a former White House chief of protocol who had been dining at the restaurant that night, although he admits he didn’t see the proposal take place.
It seems strange that the location of this important moment in Camelot history is so disputed. Some sources say the proposal took place at the Parker House restaurant in Boston; others say it was done by telegram, when Bouvier was in London covering Elizabeth II’s coronation for the Washington Times-Herald. The earliest reference we found to the location of the engagement was in the June 28, 1953, Boston Sunday Globe, held at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, which reported that Kennedy had proposed the previous week at the Bouviers’ home in Newport, R.I.
Go to Martin’s, enjoy a drink and the stories, but take them with a grain of salt. One thing you can believe: Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s running mate, was a fan of Martin’s, preferring the backroom for meetings, and Richard Nixon, whom Kennedy beat in the 1960 election, liked a table up front — the one next to the “Proposal Booth.”
The Monocle, 107 D St. NE
When the Monocle opened in 1960, it was one of only a handful of restaurants near the U.S. Capitol, so it quickly became a favorite of senators, including Kennedy. The politicians were soon as much of a draw as the steaks: A name-dropping 1961 column in The Post referred to it as a “dandy place to rubberneck and dine,” and autographed headshots still cover the walls. Kennedy, for his part, favored the table in the bay window, where he’d eat roast beef sandwiches.
Capital Hilton, 1001 16th St. NW
Inaugural balls have been a fixture since George Washington’s in 1789, but Kennedy’s inauguration introduced the idea of turning the presidential swearing-in into a star-studded affair. The night before his swearing-in, Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford organized a gala at the D.C. Armory, with performances by Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly and Sidney Poitier. Sinatra had arranged for the participants to stay at the Statler-Hilton, now the Capital Hilton, which was the site of one of the official inaugural balls. The following night, Kennedy made an appearance at that ball and then slipped up to a private party organized by Sinatra, where Nat “King” Cole played piano while the boldface names mingled.