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Southwest, Washington, D.C.


Southwest, Washington, D.C.

Color-enhanced USGS satellite image of Washington, DC, taken April 26, 2002. The "crosshairs" in the image mark the quadrant divisions of Washington, with the U.S. Capitol at the center of the dividing lines. To the west of the Capitol extends the National Mall, visible as a slight green band in the image. The Northwest quadrant is the largest, located north of the Mall and west of North Capital Street.

Southwest (SW or S.W.) is the southwestern quadrant of Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, and is located south of the National Mall and west of South Capitol Street. It is the smallest quadrant of the city. Southwest is small enough that it is frequently referred to as a neighborhood in and of itself. However, it actually contains five separate neighborhoods.


  • Geography 1
    • Transportation 1.1
  • History 2
    • Prior to 1950 2.1
    • 1950s rebuilding 2.2
    • Recent revival 2.3
  • Famous residents 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Southwest is actually composed of five neighborhoods:


The Blue, Orange, and Silver lines of the Washington Metro have the following stations in the Southwest Federal Center: Smithsonian, L'Enfant Plaza, and Federal Center SW. The Yellow line also stops at L'Enfant Plaza.

The Green line has a stop in the Southwest Federal Center at L'Enfant Plaza and in the Southwest Waterfront at Waterfront; additionally, the Navy Yard – Ballpark stop is one block outside the eastern boundary of the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood.

Bolling and Bellevue have no Metrorail service, although the DC Council has considered some versions of the Anacostia streetcar that would extend to Bolling.[4]


Prior to 1950

Southwest is part of Pierre L'Enfant's original city plans and includes some of the oldest buildings in the city, including the Wheat Row block of townhouses, built in 1793, and Fort McNair, which was established in 1791 as "the U.S. Arsenal at Greenleaf Point."

Prior to 1847, much of the Virginia portion of the District of Columbia, including the town of Alexandria, was included in Southwest.

After the Civil War, the Southwest Waterfront became a neighborhood for the poorer classes of Washingtonians. The neighborhood was divided in half by Fourth Street SW, then known as 412 Street; Scotch, Irish, German, and eastern European immigrants lived west of 412 Street, while freed blacks lived to the east. Each half was centered on religious establishments: St. Dominic's Catholic Church and Talmud Torah Congregation on the west, and Friendship Baptist Church on the east. (Also, each half of the neighborhood was the childhood home of a future American musical star — the first home of Al Jolson, whose father was the cantor of Talmud Torah Congregation,[1] after his family emigrated from what is now Lithuania was on 412 Street, and Marvin Gaye was born in a tenement on First Street.)

12th St. tunnel under I-395 in Southwest Washington

Waterfront developed into a quite contradictory area: it had a thriving commercial district with grocery stores, shops, a movie theater, as well as a few large and elaborate houses (mostly owned by wealthy blacks). However, most of the neighborhood was a very poor shantytown of tenements, shacks, and even tents. These places, some of them in the shadow of the Capitol Building, were frequent subjects of photographs highlighting the stark contrast.[5][6]

1950s rebuilding

In the 1950s, city planners working with the U.S. Congress decided that Southwest should undergo a significant urban renewal — in this case, meaning that the city would declare eminent domain over all land south of the National Mall and north of the Anacostia River (except Fort McNair); evict virtually all of its residents and businesses; destroy all streets, buildings, and landscapes; and start again from scratch. The seizure of the entire area, including well maintained properties, was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Berman v. Parker. Justice William Douglas emphasized the squalor and segregation the area suffered, noting that the area was 98% black while 58% of dwellings had outside toilets.[2]

Only a few buildings were left intact, notably the Maine Avenue fish market, the Wheat Row townhouses, the Thomas Law House, and the St. Dominic's and Friendship churches. The Southeast/Southwest Freeway was constructed where F Street, SW, had once been.

The rebuilt Southwest featured a large concentration of office and residential buildings in the brutalist style that was then popular. It was during this time that most of the Southwest Federal Center was built. The heart of the urban renewal of the Southwest Waterfront was Waterside Mall, a small shopping center and office complex, which housed satellite offices for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The Arena Stage was built a block west of the Mall, and a number of hotels and restaurants were built on the riverfront to attract tourists. Southeastern University, a very small college that had been chartered in 1937, also established itself as an important institution in the area.

Following a proposal by Chloethiel Woodard Smith and Louis Justement,[3] renewal in Southwest marked one of the last great efforts of the late Modernist movement. Architect I. M. Pei developed the initial urban renewal plan [4] and was responsible for the design of multiple buildings, including those comprising L’Enfant Plaza and two clusters of apartment buildings located on the north side of M St. SW (initial termed Town Center Plaza). Various firms oversaw individual projects and many of these represent significant architectural contributions. Noted modernist Charles M. Goodman designed the River Park Mutual Homes complex. Likewise, Harry Weese designed the new building for Arena Stage and Marcel Breuer the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building [5] (located at 451 Seventh Street, SW) to house the newly established United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Federal Building. The Tiber Island complex (the design of which was essentially replicated in the adjacent projects that are now termed Carrollsburg A Condominium and Carrollsburg Square), which was designed by Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon, won an American Institute of Architects Honor Award in 1966.[6]

However, urban renewal did not fully succeed in Southwest for many of the reasons that plagued other Modernist renewal efforts. Areas of the neighborhood remained run-down, low-income, and somewhat dangerous. This situation intensified in the 1980s and the 1990s, when Washington had among the lowest per capita incomes and highest crime rates in the nation.

Recent revival

While many of the residential neighborhoods of Southwest remained both highly mixed-race and mixed-income, around 2003, the wave of new development occurring throughout D.C. reached Southwest including a number of apartment building renovations and condominium conversions. On March 30, 2008, the Nationals Park stadium, located on the east side of South Capitol Street and thus in Southeast, was opened for the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team. The construction of the stadium cost more than $611 million. As part of the Capitol Riverfront revitalization efforts, high rise office buildings and condominiums have been constructed. Developers have created a waterfront greenspace The Yards,[7] and a waterfront bike trail is planned. Public Housing projects continue to occupy the area between the Waterfront metro and the Nationals Park stadium.

On April 16, 2010, the new Waterfront Safeway (including a sushi bar) [8] and a Starbucks opened for business. Along Water Street, The Wharf is a planned initiative to include restaurants, shopping, and housing.[9]

L'Enfant Plaza is also undergoing a facelift, with many new retail, hotel, and office renovations.[10]

Famous residents

Current residents include U.S. Congressman John Conyers. Former residents have included Vice-President Hubert Humphrey,[11] Police Chief Charles Ramsey, and Supreme Court Associate Justices Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, David Souter, Senators Paul Simon, Strom Thurmond, and Kay Bailey Hutchison,[12] Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, entertainers Al Jolson and Marvin Gaye,[13] and opera star Denyse Graves.


  1. ^ Olitzky, Kerry. The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 92. 
  2. ^ , 384 U.S. 26 (1954).Berman v. Parker
  3. ^ "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-04-09. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  4. ^ "Pei Cobb Freed and Partners". Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  5. ^ "Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (HUD), Washington, DC". Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  6. ^ "AIA Honor Awards 1960–1969". Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Waterfront Safeway Open for Business". NBC Washington. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "With a Good Cough". 1966-11-25. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  12. ^ "Kay Bailey Hutchison Sells Her Southwest Digs". UrbanTurf. 2 November 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  13. ^ "Southwest Neighborhood - Fun Facts". 1966-11-25. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 

External links

  • Southwest D.C. Community website
  • Southwest D.C. real estate website
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