Day 107

Shaw / Chinatown / Penn Quarter (October 21, 2020)

Today we mainly walked along 7th and 9th streets running through Shaw, Chinatown and the Penn Quarter.

Recently, we discussed Banneker High School when we were walking through Columbia Heights. What we didn’t mention is that Banneker is scheduled to move to a new location in Shaw. After a fierce debate, Washington D.C.’s Council voted to swap the locations of Banneker and Shaw Junior High and renovate or rebuild them both. We walked by the construction of new Banneker and it looked very impressive.

Recently, we posted about 12th Place, a pretty and colorful block-long street in Columbia Heights. We came across a similar block-long street during today’s walk. French Street may not be quite as colorful as 12th Place but it is just as beautiful.

It is not just the school’s that the District has been feverishly renovating and rebuilding but also the libraries. We passed Shaw Library which was extensively renovated in 2010. With its distinctive translucent facade, glass enclosure, and light flooded interior, it has been hailed as a model for future libraries.

At the moment, you can see large white boxes outside the District’s libraries. They are for District residents to drop off their ballots for the upcoming election. Please vote everyone!

Walking down 7th Street we crossed from Shaw into Chinatown / Penn Quarter. At the center of Chinatown on the corner of 7th and H Streets is a traditional Chinese gate also known as the Friendship Archway. Designed by local architect Alfred Liu, the archway was built in 1986 to commemorate the newly-established sister cities relationship between the District and Beijing, China. The arch has been very recently renovated so the colors are particularly popping.

Next to the archway and anchoring the neighborhood is the Capital One Arena, where Washington D.C.’s professional basketball (Wizards) and ice hockey (Capitals) play.

The Arena was built in 1997 and was the impetus to a complete turnaround for the surrounding area. Mal used to work near the center and can remember 7th Street being mostly boarded up buildings, with the occasional adult video store and Chinese restaurant. The area is unrecognizable from those days. It is now a vibrant area full of restaurants, bars, theaters and apartment buildings.

We were joined on today’s walk by our good friend Ross. Here he is standing in front of a sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky aptly named “Man with a Briefcase”.

Down on Pennsylvania Avenue we passed by the National Archives Building.

Like many of the buildings along this part of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Archives building was built during the 1930s as part of a massive public buildings program. It holds the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; and the Bill of Rights. All three are on display in the building’s main chamber, called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

Next to Archives and also built during the 1930’s is the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. Comprising seven floors and 1.2 million square feet, it houses the headquarters of the Department of Justice (DOJ), including the office of the United States Attorney General.

Directly across from the DOJ Building is the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is named for former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.

Although it was widely praised when it was first completed in 1975, the brutalist building has subsequently become one of Washington’s least loved buildings. Among other things, it has been called “Orwellian”, “an urban sin”, “disastrous”, “insensitive”, “hostile” and a “dreary 1970s behmoth”. Currently, the FBI is searching for new headquarters, so the building’s future is uncertain.

By this stage, it was after five which pre-pandemic would see the streets jammed with the cars of workers heading home. Instead, this is what we saw.

To our minds, a much more successful Washington landmark is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The library was designed by legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was completed in 1972.

The building was recently re-opened after an extensive renovation. Before the renovation, there was some talk about pulling it down and rebuilding a new library. Fortunately, the building survived. It has now been designated a historic landmark and is a rare example of modernist architecture in the District.

Just up from the library and perhaps the foremost symbol of the resurgence of the area is the City Center mixed-use development. Covering more than five blocks, it include four residential buildings, two office buildings, a luxury hotel and some of the fanciest stores you will find in the District.

Having worked up an appetite, we headed back to Shaw where we had an enjoyable meal on the terrace of a Japanese restaurant with the unlikely name of Zeppelin. By the time we had finished dinner, the terrace was packed with young diners, many who had brought their dogs along. Walking though these trendy areas, we have noticed that millennials appear to have an affinity for dogs. It is almost Paris like, the way they take their pets with them everywhere.

We finished the evening on the roof deck of Ross’s building which offered a great view over the surrounding area.

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