The neighboring areas of Dupont Circle and Kalorama are both official Historic Districts. They are located in Northwest Washington, D.C., approximately 1 ½ miles north of the Lincoln Memorial end of the National Mall. Like many city neighborhoods, the boundaries are not agreed upon, but the center of Dupont Circle is very easy to find; it is the large traffic circle of the same name. Kalorama is the neighborhood just to the northwest, with the dividing line being Florida Ave. The easiest access point is via the Dupont Circle Metro station (Red) located at the traffic circle.
This entire area underwent a housing boom following the end of the Civil War, when there was an influx of residents to the District. Many of the middle and upper class made their homes here, some building fabulous mansions. The Dupont Circle traffic circle was begun in 1871 (then called Pacific Circle) and named for Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, whose statue once graced its central park (it was moved by his family in 1921 – the same family that started the DuPont corporation and was profiled in the Academy Award-nominated film Foxcatcher). The circle now surrounds a double-tiered marble fountain.
At one time stately mansions lined Dupont Circle, the last of which is the Patterson Mansion found at 15 Dupont Circle (at its intersection with P Street). This Italianate house was built in 1901 and served as temporary quarters for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 while the White House was being renovated.
Approximately 3 ½ blocks northeast of Dupont Circle’s traffic circle – at 1811 R St NW – sits the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, which highlights the contributions of Jewish Americans to the military actions of the United States stretching all the way from 1654 to today. This museum works to educate the public in the hopes of combating anti-Semitism. It is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
Moving west along R Street, and passing about ½ block north of the Phillips Collection on 21st Street, you will start noticing more large houses, some of which have flags. These are some of the many foreign embassies that blanket these neighborhoods. Turning right onto 22nd Street and crossing Decatur Place brings you to something you don’t expect to find in the middle of a street…stairs. Called the Spanish Steps, this wide, lavish, Italianate staircase was built in 1911 to allow pedestrians access to a street that was simply too steep for a carriage.
Cresting the top of the steps bring you to S Street which is lined with gorgeous residences, a few Embassies (namely Lao at 2222 and Myanmar at 2300) and the quaint Mitchell Park. At 2340 S St, you will come upon the Woodrow Wilson House, President Wilson’s post-presidential residence. Continuing out to Massachusetts Ave brings you right into the heart of Embassy Row, the section of Massachusetts stretching from Dupont Circle all the way up to the Naval Observatory. This segment of Massachusetts Ave and the surrounding streets is where most of the foreign embassies to the United States are located.
The draw of this premier neighborhood brought numerous wealthy residents, many of which were forced to sell during the Great Depression. A ritzy neighborhood with an abundance of large, unoccupied houses became the perfect spot for foreign dignitaries. There are too many to list, but you will undoubtedly see several walking along any section of Massachusetts Ave. Trying to identify the flag before reading the signs is part of the fun.
For one day each year, usually in early May, many embassies open their doors to visitors. Quite a few even have demonstrations of cultural dress, dances, food, fashion, and other skills. Truthfully, there are two different days: one for European Union countries, and one for all others. For more information, check the Passport DC section of CulturalTourismDC.org.
Walking southeast down Massachusetts Ave, at 2118, is where you will find the Society of the Cincinnati – the nation’s oldest patriotic organization. Further down Massachusetts Ave – along the 1500 block of 20th St – the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market operates every Sunday, offering fresh foods, flowers, and herbal products. At this point you are almost back to Dupont Circle, but if you continue south on 20th St until you come to its intersection with New Hampshire Ave, you will see the fortress-like Heurich House Museum, also referred to as the Brewmasters Castle.
A few blocks away at 1725 Rhode Island Ave NW – near the intersection of M St and Connecticut Ave – is the deceptively plain Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. What is deceptive is that this 1890s church only seems plain on the outside. Meanwhile, the recently restored interior is mesmerizing with decorative mosaics, polished marble, and murals painted from floor to the top of its dome – 200 feet off the floor. St. Matthew’s Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Washington and was the site of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral mass on November 25, 1963. Self-guided tours of the church are allowed at any time, although it is not generally respectful to interrupt an ongoing mass.
Further south – and probably not quite in the Dupont Circle neighborhood anymore – is the National Geographic Museum at 1145 17th St NW. Sitting right on the corner of 17th St and M St, this museum features many frequently changing exhibits that are interactive and feature the photographic work of National Geographic. The displays are usually in-depth looks at specific places (such as Jerusalem 3D, running through March 31, 2016) or nature exhibits (Pristine Seas runs through March 27, 2016). The cost is $15 for adults and the museum is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. If you are visiting, the Farragut North Metro station (Red line) is much closer than Dupont Circle.