The topic of this Off the Beaten Turf is the tour offered of a subterranean space that most DC residents have not seen: The Dupont Underground.
Approximately every other Wednesday, a group meets at the Cosi on the corner of R and 20th Street NW and heads down the narrow sidewalk bordering the roadway that goes under Dupont Circle…to actually take a tour of what lies below the circle. Architect Julian Hunt leads tour-goers around the cavernous 75,000 square-foot space, explaining its history and discussing its future.
Built after World War II, the Dupont Underground was a streetcar station that was eventually designated as a bomb shelter. In 1995, it re-opened as Dupont Down Under, a 12-tenant project that largely consisted of a food court with establishments like Sbarro Pizza. Problems ranging from unfinished construction to broken air conditioners plagued the project, and unbeknownst to the city, Geary Stephen Simon, the head of the effort, had been convicted at least three times of various business crimes. In September 1996, the city evicted Stephen Simon and Dupont Down Under was officially deemed a failure. It has been vacant since that time.
Now, Hunt and The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground have an exclusive rights agreement with DC for the space, and are exploring the many ways that the interestingly laid out space can be designed and what type of tenants could occupy it.
The tour takes groups up and down the eight-block long stretch, illustrating the unique and complicated layout of the space. After entering through a small door just below Q Street, Hunt leads people north along old streetcar tracks in a space that is about 1,000 feet long and 20-feet wide. The group then comes back along the tracks to where the underground goes under the Circle itself, and the path begins to curve. Hunt provides a short presentation on what the space could look like and the retailers that might be attracted to it (a winery, bookstore, restaurant, and art gallery have all been thrown out as possible tenants). He also discusses the architectural and financial complications associated with the space, all which make it difficult to provide a firm timeline as to when things might get moving down there.
The whole tour takes about 45 minutes, and it is a fascinating look at a space not often seen by many city residents. For more information, visit the Dupont Underground website.