A neighborhood with a storied history and interesting architectural details is getting a revamp.
After 26 years of living in McLean and raising a family there, empty-nesters Marlana and Michael Kain left McLean for downtown D.C. five years ago. Since Michael worked in Dupont Circle, it was a natural choice.
“It has a really neighborhoody sort of feel that you wouldn’t expect in the middle of the city,” said Marlana Kain, 56. “It’s a vibrant neighborhood that’s steeped in history. It feels very European.”
With the Phillips Collection and its modern art, the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Brookings Institution, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a half-dozen galleries within the neighborhood, cultural and intellectual life abounds. A Freshfarm farmers market draws area residents and visitors on Sundays near the Metro entrance.
Michael Kain opened a commercial real estate office in the neighborhood in 1978. These days, he manages more than a dozen properties on Connecticut Avenue. “It’s a very diverse neighborhood economically and ethnically as well,” said Kain, 70.
What his wife likes about living in Dupont Circle is the international flavor and history. “There’s just a lot going on,” she said. “I am not a city girl. I love small towns. Dupont Circle is a combination of both,” she said. She enjoys walking to the farmers market on Sunday and with their dog, Daisy, 14, to nearby parks. “It’s a busy neighborhood,” she said.
Walkability: The National Register of Historic Places and the District government list four historic districts in the neighborhood: the Dupont Circle Historic District, the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District, the Sixteenth Street Historic District and the Strivers’ Section Historic District. Housing in the area ranges from English basements and market-rate and rent-controlled apartments to condominiums and three-level rowhouses. Developers have bought some area rowhouses, turning them into four- or five-unit condominiums.
For those who live in the neighborhood, the appeal is its walkability, mix of people and grandeur of the architecture.
“It’s urban, it’s concrete yet at the same time we have a back yard and a parking place,” said Iris Molotsky, who has lived in the Strivers’ Section of the neighborhood with her husband, Irv, since 1984.
Now retired, she recalls finding needles and half-pint gin bottles near their 1906 rowhouse when they moved to the neighborhood. The appeal was that they could walk to work.
“It has the richest diversity of architecture and richest diversity of people,” said architect Michael Lee Beidler, who first moved to the neighborhood in 1984. He is a past president of the Dupont Circle Conservancy and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.
Dupont Circle is “the place that a lot of the community comes together,” Beidler said. “It’s our playground.”
Architectural styles: Dupont Circle dates from 1871, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began its construction. The circle was originally called Pacific Circle for the investors from the West whose wealth came from mining.
During the 1880s and into the 1890s, apartment buildings that resembled the style of the Queen Anne mansions on the circle were built.
The mansions and free-standing residences built between 1895 and 1910 line the diagonal streets, and three- and four-story rowhouses dot the grid streets in the Dupont Circle Historic District, closest to the circle itself, according to the National Park Service.
Railroad magnate Richard H. Townsend commissioned New York architects Carrere and Hastings in 1898 to remodel the residence at 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW, built to resemble the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Today, it is home to the Cosmos Club. Massachusetts Avenue west of 17th Street became an elegant Beaux-Arts boulevard.
Change swept through the neighborhood in the 20th century, including post-World War II attempts to rezone the residential community for high-density use. Gradually, the grand houses were sold or leased to clubs, offices and embassies, according to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. The riots of 1968 left burned buildings in their wake. Some residents fled to the suburbs.
These days, Dupont Circle community leaders want to ensure their neighborhood has a resurgence similar to others in the city.
“It used to be that Dupont Circle was THE place in Washington, D.C.,” said Daniel Warwick, 24, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B.
“Other areas have gotten a lot of attention and investment,” said Patrick Kain, 29, who moved into the neighborhood about six years ago to work in his father’s real estate business. “We’ve kind of just hummed along. Dupont Circle is a great neighborhood, but our public spaces are very run-down.” He is a volunteer with the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District (BID), which formed in the spring.
The BID, spearheaded by Michael Kain, chairman of its board; the ANC; Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets; the Dupont Circle Civic Association; and the Dupont Circle Village, a nonprofit that helps neighbors age in place, began discussing the future of the neighborhood.
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe is one of the many retail establishments in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Northwest Washington. (Justin T. Gellerson/For The Washington Post)
In the works are a public plaza to be developed above the Connecticut Avenue NW underpass between the circle and Q Street and a new streetscape to be completed by 2020-2021. Bike lanes will be added, Warwick said, “making Connecticut Avenue safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and everyone using the road.”
The proposed plaza, which has been under discussion since 2014, would provide public space for movies, music, plays and other cultural events. The District government earmarked $10 million toward the project. The Business Improvement District expects to have a budget of $1 million a year through taxes imposed on commercial property owners.
Living there: Roughly bounded by the north side of S Street NW and Florida Avenue NW to the north, the west side of 14th and 15th streets to the east, K Street on the south and 22nd Street on the west, Dupont Circle is near the center of the District. In the past 12 months, according to Kerry Fortune Carlsen, an agent with Washington Fine Properties, 620 residential properties have sold in the neighborhood.
The most expensive was a three-bedroom, four-bath contemporary penthouse for $4.75 million; the least costly was a 278-square-foot, one-bath studio for $130,000. There are 132 properties on the market. The highest-priced is a five-bedroom, eight-bath renovated townhouse listed for $7.99 million. The lowest-priced is a one-bath studio listed for $174,900.
Schools: Ross Elementary, Marie Reed Elementary, School Without Walls@Francis-Stevens, Columbia Heights Education Campus, Cardozo Education Campus.
Transit: Dupont Circle Metro station, Circulator Bus (Dupont Circle-Georgetown-Rosslyn), various Metro buses and Capital Bikeshare.
Crime: In the past 12 months, according to the D.C. police crime map, there were 46 aggravated assaults, 44 burglaries and 66 robberies.