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First Posted: July 13, 2012
Jan 31, 2015

Dupont Circle History

"...Dupont Circle is located in the "Old City" of Washington, D.C. - the area planned by architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant - but remained largely undeveloped until after the American Civil War, when there was a large influx of new residents. The area that now constitutes Dupont Circle was once home to a brickyard and slaughterhouse. There also was a creek, Slash Run, that ran from 16th Street near Adams Morgan, through Kalorama and within a block of Dupont Circle, but the creek has since been enclosed in a sewer line. Improvements made in the 1870s by a board of public works headed by Alexander "Boss" Shepherd transformed the area into a fashionable residential neighborhood.

In 1871, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the traffic circle, then called Pacific Circle, as specified in L'Enfant's plan. On February 25, 1882, Congress renamed the circle to 'Dupont Circle', and authorized a memorial statue of Samuel Francis Du Pont, in recognition of his service as a rear admiral during the Civil War. The statue, sculpted by Launt Thompson, was erected in 1884, and the circle was landscaped, with exotic flowers and ornamental trees. In 1921, the current double-tiered white marble fountain replaced the statue, which was moved to Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware.Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, the co-creators of the Lincoln Memorial, designed the fountain, which features carvings of three classical figures symbolizing the sea, the stars and the wind on the fountain's shaft.


Dupont Circle Fountain

Image: Wiki Commons
Dupont Circle in 1900, with a statue of Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont at its center. The statue was replaced in 1921 with the fountain that exists today.

During the 1870s and 1880s, mansions were built along Massachusetts Avenue, one of Washington's grand avenues, and townhouses were built throughout the neighborhood. In 1872, the British built a new embassy on Connecticut Avenue, at N Street NW. By the 1920s, Connecticut Avenue was more commercial in character, with numerous shops. Some residences, including Senator Philetus Sawyer's mansion at Connecticut and R Street, were demolished to make way for office buildings and shops. In 1933, the National Park Service took over administering the circle, and added sandboxes for children, though these were removed a few years later.

Connecticut Avenue was widened in the late 1920s, and increased traffic in the neighborhood caused a great deal of congestion in the circle, making it difficult for pedestrians to get around. Medians were installed in 1948, in the circle, to separate the through traffic on Massachusetts Avenue from the local traffic, and traffic signals were added.In 1949, traffic tunnels and an underground streetcar station were built under the circle as part of the now-defunct Capital Transit project. The tunnels allowed trams and vehicles traveling along Connecticut Avenue to pass more quickly past the circle. When streetcar service ended in 1962, the entrances to the underground station were filled in and paved over, leaving only the traffic tunnel. ...

The neighborhood began to decline after World War II and the 1968 riots, but began to enjoy a resurgence in the 1970s, fueled by urban pioneers seeking an alternative lifestyle. The neighborhood took on a bohemian feel and became an area popular among the gay and lesbian community. Along with The Castro in San Francisco, Hillcrest in San Diego, Greenwich Village in New York City, Boystown in Chicago, Oak Lawn in Dallas, Montrose in Houston, and West Hollywood in Los Angeles, Dupont Circle is considered a historic locale in the development of American gay identity. D.C.'s first gay bookstore, Lambda Rising, opened in 1974 and gained notoriety nationwide. In 1975, the store ran the world's first gay-oriented television commercial.

Gentrification accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s, and the area is now a more mainstream and trendy location with coffeehouses, restaurants, bars, and upscale retail stores. Since 1997, a weekly farmers market has operated on 20th Street NW.


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