Streets of Washington, written by John DeFerrari, covers some of DC’s most interesting buildings and history. John is the author of Historic Restaurants of Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats, published by the History Press, Inc. and also the author of Lost Washington DC.
Washington Circle is the westernmost of the many public spaces laid out in L’Enfant’s plan for Washington City, and it was designed as a circle from the start. To the south in the early days was the low-lying area known as Foggy Bottom, a desolate, semi-industrial neighborhood. Little of the land to the north was developed. While many Washingtonians passed through the circle as they traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue between Georgetown and Washington, few stopped here. Known as the “Round Tops” for the high cupolas on a pair of houses located just to the northwest, the neighborhood around the circle had a reputation for being dangerous. It is usually mentioned in early newspapers in connection with petty crimes. The circle itself was simply a large open area in the middle of the street.
The statue of George Washington in Washington Circle (photo by the author).
Meanwhile, sculptor Clark Mills created a sensation with his tour-de-force statue of Andrew Jackson on a rearing steed, which was unveiled in Lafayette Square in 1853. Proud of this American-made monument, Congress responded by immediately commissioning Mills to create another statue to honor George Washington. Everyone expected the new memorial to be even more stunning than the Jackson statue. The princely sum of $50,000 was authorized to pay for it.
It’s unclear when or how the decision was made that the new Washington statue would be placed in the circle at Pennsylvania Avenue and K Street NW. Perhaps that decision led to the sprucing up of the circle in 1855, when a wooden fence was built around the central part of the circle, thus forming the city’s first traffic circle. But by all accounts the improvements were minimal; the circle remained a wasteland until the arrival of the Washington statue. (more…)