Spread across 15,000 square foot of tunnels beneath Dupont Circle, the art space is today Washington's answer to Leake Street Arches. Concerts, drag nights, art shows and discos are frequently hosted between its graffiti covered walls. This hasn't long been the case however. Prior to 2016 the space was derelict and deserted and had been so for the best part of 40 years.
The Story of Dupont Underground
An Underground Innovation
In 1890 Washington's transit system was revolutionized by the introduction of electric streetcars. These were faster, cleaner and sleeker than the horse-drawn alternatives that had proceeded them. They exploded in popularity.
The people of Washington used them so much in fact that by the early to mid-20th century the streetcar network had begun to buckle under the weight of their demand. Congestion, delays and breakdowns became frequent problems, and this only worsened following the end of World War Two.
A solution was needed and, after some discussion, the authorities decided to build an underground station in Dupont Circle. In 1949, the new station opened complete with 75,000 square foot of tunnels to connect it to the existing streetcar network. Washington had its first (and only ever) underground streetcar station.
A Depont Underground Disaster
Unfortunately, it had arrived a few years too late. Cars were already growing popular, lessening the demand on public transport. Although the underground station did serve a limited purpose, it was in 1962 closed down and replaced with a bus service and a planned subway.
The Cold War in Dupont Underground
Following this, it was briefly set-up as a fallout shelter to be used in the case of the outbreak nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Here too its usefulness was short-lived. In 1975 the shelter was discontinued, and the tunnels were sealed off and abandoned.
A Dupont Underground Food Court
In 1995 a developer bought the tunnels from the city to turn into a food court. This later opened under the name of 'Dupont Down Under' and featured several fast-food outlets, serving their wares out of kitchens made to look like old streetcars.
A few months later the shiny new food court closed down. What had seemed like a good idea had in practice turned out to be riddled with issues: customers were reluctant to had into the poorly lit, badly ventilated tunnels for a meal; workers were unhappy working in the gloomy and often dank conditions; and to top it all off the developer in charge of the project was a bit of a conman. He had been convicted several times for fraud and, in the case of Dupont Down Under, had soon fallen behind $200,000 on his bills.
Dupont Underground is Reborn
In 2016 a project spearheaded by architect Julian Hunt saw a 15,000 square foot section of the tunnels reopened as a place for creative exchange and contemporary arts. Having recently moved to the area, Hunt had come across the tunnels and been struck by the idea that they could provide a very unique and inspirational space for artists.
Six years down the line and this has proved to be the case. Artworks cover the tunnel walls, some of which incorporate the peculiar lighting and acoustics into the pieces. On top of this, events are regularly hosted in the revitalized space. A visit to the website will reveal a host of exciting, creative and fun shows in any given month. Find out more here.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our DC Scavenger Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Washington DC.