Dupont Circle is a traffic circle, neighborhood, and historic district in Northwest Washington, D.C. The traffic circle is located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue NW, Connecticut Avenue NW, New Hampshire Avenue NW, P Street NW, and 19th Street NW. The Dupont Circle neighborhood is bounded approximately by 15th Street NW to the east, 22nd Street NW to the west, M Street NW to the south, and Florida Avenue NW to the north. The local government Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2B) and the Dupont Circle Historic District have slightly different boundaries.
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. Improvements made in the 1870s by a board of public works headed by Alexander "Boss" Shepherd transformed the area into a fashionable residential neighborhood. Some of Washington's wealthiest residents constructed houses in the neighborhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1871, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the traffic circle, then called Pacific Circle. In 1882, Congress authorized a memorial statue of Samuel Francis Du Pont, in recognition of his service as a rear admiral during the Civil War. The bronze statue was erected in 1884 in a park at the center of the circle. In 1921, the current double-tiered white marble fountain replaced the statue. Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, the co-creators of the Lincoln Memorial, designed the fountain, which features carvings of the three classical nudes symbolizing the sea, the stars and the wind on the fountain's shaft.
In 1949, a traffic tunnel for was constructed as part of the now-defunct Capital Transit streetcar project. The streetcar system featured an underground station beneath the circle to help alleviate traffic by allowing trams and vehicles traveling along Connecticut Avenue to pass through unimpeded. When streetcar service ended in 1962, the entrances to underground station were filled in and paved over, leaving only the traffic tunnel. In 1995, developer Geary Simon renovated the streetcar station as a food court called "Dupont Down Under"; the project ultimately failed, and was shut down a year later.
In 2007, plans circulated to transform the underground area into a number of adult clubs, possibly to replace several gay bars that were forced out by the building of the Nationals Park baseball stadium. However, opposition from the community largely stalled any further planning, and the space remains unused. The Dupont Circle Metro Station is completely separate from the abandoned underground streetcar station; Metrorail trains operate nearly 200 feet underground, far deeper than the original streetcars.
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 a gay area. Along with The Castro in San Francisco, Hillcrest in San Diego, Greenwich Village in New York City, Boystown in Chicago, 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 has since 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.
Rowhouses built primarily before the end of the 19th century feature variations on the Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque revival styles. Rarer are the palatial mansions and large freestanding houses that line the broad, tree-lined diagonal avenues that intersect the circle. Many of these larger dwellings were built in the styles popular between 1895 and 1910.
One such grand residence is the marble and terra cotta Patterson house at 15 Dupont Circle (currently the Washington Club). This Italianate mansion, the only survivor of the many mansions that once ringed the circle, was built in 1901 by New York architect Stanford White for Robert Patterson, editor of the Chicago Tribune, and his wife Nellie, heiress to the Chicago Tribune fortune. Upon Mrs. Patterson's incapacitation in the early 1920s, the house passed into the hands of her daughter, Cissy Patterson, who made it a hub of Washington social life. The house served as temporary quarters for President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge in 1927 while the White House underwent renovation. The Coolidges welcomed Charles Lindbergh as a houseguest after his historic transatlantic flight. Lindbergh made several public appearances at the house, waving to roaring crowds from the second-story balcony, and befriended the Patterson Family, with whom he increasingly came to share isolationist and pro-German views. Cissy Patterson later acquired the Washington Times-Herald (sold to The Washington Post in 1954) and declared journalistic warfare on Franklin D. Roosevelt from 15 Dupont Circle, continuing throughout World War II to push her policies, which were echoed in the New York Daily News, run by her brother Joseph Medill Patterson, and the Chicago Tribune, run by their first cousin, Colonel Robert R. McCormick.
Strivers' Section was historically an enclave of upper-middle-class African Americans — often community leaders — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including a row of houses on 17th Street owned by Frederick Douglass and occupied by his son. It takes its name from a turn-of-the-century writer who described the district as "the Striver's section, a community of Negro aristocracy."
Today, the Strivers' Section is still largely occupied by the Edwardian residences that have populated the area since its historical roots, along with a number of apartment and condominium buildings and a few small businesses.
The neighborhood is centered around the traffic circle, which is divided between two counterclockwise roads. The outer road serves all the intersecting streets, while access to the inner road is limited to Massachusetts Avenue traffic. Connecticut Avenue passes under the circle via a tunnel; vehicles on Connecticut Avenue can access the circle via service roads that branch from Connecticut near N Street and R Street.
The park has also been the location of political rallies, such as those supporting gay rights and those protesting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. The park is maintained by the National Park Service.
The Dupont Circle neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is home to numerous embassies, many of which are located in historic residences. Located nearby on Massachusetts Avenue in Embassy Row are the Christian Hauge House, which houses the Embassy of Cameroon, the Thomas T. Gaff House, home to the Colombian ambassador, the Joseph Beale House, which houses the Egyptian embassy, and the Walsh-McLean House, which is home to the Indonesian embassy. Nearby, on R Street, the Charles Evans Hughes House now is occupied by the Chancery of Burma. Located east of Dupont Circle on Massachusetts Avenue is the Clarence Moore House, which used to house the Canadian embassy, and the Emily J. Wilkins House, which formerly housed the Australian embassy and now is occupied by the Peruvian Chancery. The Chancery of Iraq is located in the William J. Boardman House on P Street.
Other historic places include the Friends Meeting House on Florida Avenue, the Codman-Davis House on Decatur Place, the Christian Heurich Mansion, and the Barney Studio House on Massachusetts Avenue. The Phillips Collection is located on 21st Street, between P Street and Massachusetts Avenue. The Textile Museum is located on S Street NW, in the Martha Tucker House and George Hewitt Myers House. The Woodrow Wilson House is also located on S Street. The Richard H. Townsend House on Massachusetts Avenue now houses the Cosmos Club. The Embassy Gulf Service Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A statue of General Phillip H. Sheridan is located in Sheridan Circle, which is located on Massachusetts Avenue, near the Dumbarton Bridge (also known as the Buffalo Bridge). The bridge, constructed in 1883, carries Q Street over Rock Creek Park and into Georgetown.