Downtown (September 30, 2020)
Today marked our hundredth exploring the streets of Washington D.C. by foot. So far, we have walked for over three hundred miles. To put that in perspective, if we were walking from Washington D.C. to Boston, we would already be well past New York City. During our days of urban hiking we have come to realize how much we have previously missed when traveling by car or even by bike. There really is something to be said for slowing down and smelling the roses. Every day we come across something of interest. It might be a particularly captivating house or beautiful garden. Sometimes it’s a school named after an interesting person that we knew nothing about until we got home and did some googling. Getting out on the streets has also helped us to counter the feeling of isolation that these pandemic days have caused.
Speaking of which, nowhere is the effect of the pandemic more visible than downtown. Today we walked along the K and L street corridors. The two streets are the homes of numerous legal, consulting and lobbying firms. In fact, some would argue that the true power in Washington resides on these two thoroughfares rather than on Capitol Hill. Normally, on a Wednesday afternoon downtown would be bustling with suits but on this day there was barely anyone to be seen.
It didn’t help that many of the restaurants and stores were closed and some were still boarded up after the recent riots.
The streets are not very interesting visually, consisting mainly of modern concrete and glass buildings. However, every once in a while you across something more interesting. Such a building is the Almas Temple, a Masonic building with a beautiful Moorish facade facing Franklin Square. The building was constructed in 1929 and moved a hundred feet westward to its current location in 1987 to make way for a new office complex.
Another fascinating building overlooking Franklin Square is the Franklin School. Built in 1869, the school was the flagship building of eight modern urban public school buildings constructed in the District during 1860s and 1870s. Unexpectedly, the building has an important place in the history of telecommunications. On June 3, 1880, Alexander Graham Bell sent the world’s first wireless telephone message from the top floor of the building to his nearby laboratory on L Street.
Follow K Street east from downtown and you eventually run into Mount Vernon Square. Sitting in the middle of the square is beautiful Carnegie Library. Built in Beaux-Arts style, the library was donated by Andrew Carnegie and was opened in 1903. It operated for almost seventy years as a public library before it became overcrowded and the central library moved to the nearby MLK Memorial Library. The building now contains what may be the world’s most lavish Apple Store.
Across the road from the Apple store is the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The 2.3 million square foot convention center was opened in 2003 and is named for the District’s first (and aptly named) home rule mayor.
Next to the Convention Center is Washington’s largest hotel, the Marriott Marquis, with 1,175 rooms. It was another woeful reminder of the effects of the pandemic to see no sign of life outside of what is normally a hectic hotel.
Walking along L Street we passed the iconic Post Pub that recently closed its doors. For many years the pub had been a favorite of Washington Post journalists who worked just around the corner. However, the pub found it hard to survive the impact when the Post moved its headquarters in 2015 and the advent of the pandemic led to its ultimate demise.
We passed numerous newly constructed buildings along L Street that appeared empty. Somehow this lonely tree appeared symbolic of the quiet times downtown.