Friday, October 26, 2012

Case Study 5.3: Dupont Circle

From Capitol Hill we head northwest to Dupont Circle, which borders previous case study Logan Circle. This is a neighborhood altogether far more urban than those, and much more densely populated due to the popularity of high-rise apartment blocks, most of which are not very attractive. Especially to the south, Dupont Circle blurs with the downtown business district, with very few single family homes. The nicest streets are in the northwest of the neighborhood, closest to suburban and ritzy Kalorama. There's also a lot more commercial activity than we've seen before, with shops, hotels, and offices on several streets, not to mention the multitude of embassies scattered throughout the area. 

Like much of the city, the area was largely unpopulated until after Civil War. It's been a popular and affluent residential area since the 1870's. Many of the original late 19th century mansions build along Massachusetts Avenue still stand, though largely converted into embassies years ago. It'a a recurring theme that like many urban neighborhoods throughout the country, white flight was common after the 1968 riots, and Dupont Circle has never fully recovered its exclusive character, but luckily the low period didn't last long. Starting from the 1970's, it was popular among the LGBT community but today is more mainstream. 

Unsurprisingly, the central location alone explains home prices in the area. A townhome can easily cost $1-2 million, though the most expensive currently on the market is a 1911 12,000 sq. ft home for $10.9 million.

16th Street, which divides Dupont Circle and Logan Circle
17th Street, a busy commercial corridor with just a few residential pockets like these townhomes
Embassy of Montenegro on 18th Street
The northern half of 18th starts to have a more residential character
19th Street is one of my favorites in Dupont Circle
The overhanging roofs lend an almost human like quality to these homes
The overgrown nature of these front lawns turns the walk to the front door into an enjoyable journey
One of the diagonal streets, New Hampshire Avenue mostly consists of embassies and institutions, though often housed in old homes
Just brilliant how this corner is cut, revealing the intersecting street beyond
This 1883 Victorian, all 10,000+ sq. ft, is currently on the market for $6 million
21st Street is one of the more upscale streets, being as it is quite close to Kalorama
These townhomes were built around 1900
As seen from 22nd Street, the Miller House, built in 1901, is one of the most spectacular buildings in the city, today split into apartments
This 1906 corner building recently sold for $2.15 million
Massachusetts Avenue is a good place to see what lavish properties governments spend money on. Here the Indonesian embassy, the 50-room Walsh-McLean House, built in 1903, sold to Indonesia in 1951 for far less than the original construction cost
This home was originally built in 1901, by architects Carrere and Hastings, today the exclusive Cosmos Club
Not necessarily a great streetscape, but the regal architecture somewhat overcomes that
A small but welcome bit of greenery improving home fronts on Willard Street
T Street
These townhomes were built in 1905 and I really like the processional quality lent by the dual level of stairs
Among the monumental Victorians, these rowhomes are refreshing and quaint
Swann is a tree-lined street with modest rowhomes
This looks to be a modern conversion, with a pleasant looking roof terrace
An unusual stoneclad building on S Street
The 1890 home on the right, once listed for $1.9 million, is fantastic, as are the charming rowhomes on the left
Some more examples of well done front lawns
Riggs Place
R Street
These homes are exceptional, with highly complimentary lawns. The one on the right was built in 1887
Corcoran Street
Streets like Corcoran, which don't follow the normal grid, are more narrow than average
No two homes on Corcoran are alike
Hillyer Place. Looking at a scene like this, it's important to note the borders between the homes and sidewalk and road, the width of these, the proportions of scale, and amount of greenery. All these play a very important part in a successful streetscape
Looking at an image like this, I take in the main home, but also the rhythm of the other homes, the stairs, sidewalk, etc. 
Grand home on Q Street, today used as offices
Amazing what a difference the choice of cladding material makes
A very vibrant streetscape
These bay windows are very unique, like a storybook
Church Street
P Street
N Street
These are widely considered to be among the best examples of Second Empire architecture in the city
And finally, some nice rowhomes on Jefferson Street
This concludes our look at Dupont Circle. I tried to avoid it, but you could occasionally see the large office or apartment blocks creeping into the images, as in the image above. Dupont Circle is a far busier, and generally less residential neighborhood than many others in the city. As you can imagine, there are a host of services which cater to the diplomatic crowd, with dozens and dozens of embassies and missions crowded into a relatively small area. That's probably a large part of the appeal of the neighborhood, but it doesn't always guarantee the most beautiful streetscapes and has unfortunately resulted in many demolitions throughout the years. Around the neighborhood's namesake in particular, the large traffic roundabout Dupont Circle, there has been a lot of destruction. Once the location of the most grand mansions, just one now remains, currently home to yet another of the city's exclusive clubs. All others are long gone to make way for bland office buildings. 

Dupont Circle's central location is a mixed blessing, responsible for over development but also to some of DC's best nightlife. Connecticut Avenue in particular has a host of restaurants, bars, and clubs. Residents throughout the city patronize these establishments, thus enhancing the vibrancy of street life.  

Dupont Circle is much more expensive than Logan Circle or Capitol Hill, though it doesn't necessarily have nicer or larger homes, or more pleasant streets. Here it's a case of location, location, location, in addition to the area's history as a favorite among the wealthy. Still, it would have been nice to see the reputation justified more consistently. I hadn't expected to see so much mediocre high-rise construction, which greatly detracts on some streets. Logan Circle and Capitol Hill are blessed in that high-rises have so far been kept at bay. Still, as anywhere else in the city, it is thanks to historical rowhomes that the neighborhood's charm and popularity have remained, and we must be thankful that more were not destroyed. Whether young professionals or old money, Dupont Circle's popularity spans the spectrum, and has resulted in a diverse, vibrant neighborhood that is often called the city's trendiest. I hope you enjoyed this case study. 

Some related links:
Urban Turf
Dupont Circle Conservancy photo gallery

My favorite DC neighborhood, Georgetown, is next in line.