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Washington, D.C., Embassy Row Walking Tour
Excerpt from National Geographic Traveler: Washington, D.C. guidebook
Text by John Thompson     Photo by Christina Barany
Photo: Lincoln Memorial
Tourists take photos at the Lincoln Memorial, one of D.C.'s famous monuments.

Walking west from Dupont Circle along Massachusetts Avenue takes you past the affluence and glamour of the early 1900s, when this was the fashionable neighborhood for Washington tycoons. After the Great Depression, many of the grand residences were sold to foreign delegations. Today the triangle formed by Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues and Rock Creek holds more than 50 embassies, or about one-third of the city's total. It's about a mile from Dupont Circle to the Islamic Center, at the end of the walk, but you'll probably spend at least a good half day here if you stop for the museums. For a coffee or lunch break, you need to return to the circle; Connecticut Avenue on either side of Dupont has several good cafés and restaurants.

*Bolded names and numbers in the text below correspond with our map of this walking tour.

Download Walking Tour Map
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Buy the National Geographic Traveler: Washington, D.C. guidebook
 
Start your walk a block east of Dupont Circle and take a look at the kind of structure wealthy people had in mind when they thought of the term "apartment building." On the northeast corner of 18th Street and Massachusetts Avenue stands the National Trust for Historic Preservation (1), a beaux arts palace originally built in 1915 as the McCormick apartment building. The first floor contained two apartments, while five floors above each held an 11,000-square-foot (1,022-square-meter) apartment with six bedrooms and 14.5-foot (4.42-meter) ceilings. The most famous tenant, Andrew W. Mellon, founder of the National Gallery of Art and a U.S. secretary of the treasury, lived on the top floor from 1921 to 1937. In 1936 he paid 21 million dollars for paintings and sculptures owned by Sir Joseph Duveen, an art dealer leasing the apartment below; at the time, it was the largest art transaction on record. Robert Woods Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks, also lived here in the 1920s.
 
Head west to the circle, where you can see more fine examples of turn-of-the-20th-century mansions that never became embassies. Now housing the Sulgrave Club (private), a stalwart sorority of socially prominent Washington ladies, the circa 1900 Wadsworth House (1801 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.) was the winter residence of landowners Herbert and Martha Wadsworth of upstate New York. With a bow window facing the circle like the prow of a ship, the house is an early illustration of how a large building could be designed to fit the triangular lots around the circle.
 
Taking a different approach to the same problem, the Wadsworth's neighbor to the north, the ornate Washington Club (private), fits into its wedge at 15 Dupont Circle with symmetrical wings and a concave front. Now a women's social club, the 1903 house was designed by Stanford White for Robert W. Patterson, publisher of the Chicago Tribune.
 
Standing in Dupont Circle (2), you can see a striking example of how Pierre L'Enfant's city plan works, with grand avenues vectoring out from the central green. In the middle of the circle is a marble fountain designed in 1921 by Daniel Chester French, who is also known for the giant statue of Lincoln in the memorial. Spilling into a large pool, an upper basin is supported by a central column surrounded by three allegorical figures representing the sea, wind, and stars—elements that Civil War naval hero Samuel Francis du Pont would have known well. Benches around the circle and grassy plots under trees are constantly in use for lounging and informal lunching. Tables with built-in chessboards draw an egalitarian cross section of suits, uniforms, jeans, and cutoffs for serious games.
 
A block southwest, at 1307 New Hampshire Avenue, the Heurich House Museum (3) preserves a piece of the 1890s and now houses the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
 
Now head north 1.5 blocks to 2000 Massachusetts Avenue. This brick Victorian mansion was built in 1881 for Republican presidential candidate James Blaine, who lost in 1884 to Grover Cleveland. Shops occupy its first floor, with offices above.
 
On the same side of the street, the curving sweep of the Indonesian Embassy (4) (2020 Massachusetts Ave.) makes an impressive sight. Featuring marble columns, arched windows, and a red-tiled mansard roof, the mansion was built at the turn of the 20th century by Irishman Tom Walsh, who struck gold in a Colorado mine. He moved to Washington, built his dream house, and became part of the new moneyed class. His daughter, prominent hostess Evalyn Walsh McLean, was the last private owner of the Hope Diamond (now in the National Museum of Natural History); in 1951 she sold the mansion to the Republic of Indonesia.
 
At 2100 Massachusetts Avenue, the building housing the Westin Fairfax, dating from 1927, gives Embassy Row a European-style hotel flair. Al Gore lived here when his father was a U. S. senator. Across Massachusetts, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi stands in front of the Embassy of India. A block north on 21st Street, the Phillips Collection (5) is one of Washington's most cherished museums.
 
If Latin American art interests you, continue north another block to Fondo del Sol Visual Arts Center (6) (2112 R St., tel +1 202 265 9235, closed Sunday-Monday, $), which helps preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the Americas with exhibits, concerts, poetry readings, and lectures. A permanent collection of pre-Columbian and folk art is on display.
 
Back on Massachusetts, the double-winged mansion at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue is the Anderson House (7), headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati. Across the avenue, at 2121 Massachusetts, stands the exclusive Cosmos Club (private), completed in 1902 as the home of Richard Townsend, president of the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad. The fabulous limestone mansion was sold in 1950 to the club, whose members have earned recognition in the arts and sciences.
 
A number of embassies edge Sheridan Circle, named for Union general Philip H. Sheridan; the 1908 equestrian bronze in the center is by Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Among the impressive buildings nearby are the Turkish Ambassador's residence (1606 23rd St.), built in the 1910s for industrialist Edward Everett. A block south, the 1914 Dumbarton Bridge—often called the Buffalo Bridge for its bronze bison—carries Q Street over Rock Creek into Georgetown.
 
Back on Massachusetts, at the corner of Massachusetts and 24th, is the château-style Embassy of Cameroon. It was built in 1907 to house Norway's ambassador and legation, but it was never used as such because the ambassador died.
 
Turn up 24th Street, then go east on S Street. Compared to many area houses, the Woodrow Wilson House (2340 S St., tel +1 202 387 4062, closed Monday, $), designed in 1915 by Waddy B. Wood, has a modest appearance. The president spent the last three years of his life in this Georgian Revival brick town house after leaving the White House in 1921; his wife stayed until her death in 1961.
 
Next door, the Textile Museum (8) (2320 S St., tel +1 202 667 0441, donation) was founded in 1925 by President Wilson's neighbor, George Hewitt Myers, to house a collection of rugs and other textiles. The museum incorporates Myers's residence and the adjoining house he bought as his collection grew; John Russell Pope designed the latter house in 1913. The collection numbers over 17,000 carpets and textiles, dating from 3000 B.C. to the present.
 
About four blocks away is the Islamic Center (2551 Massachusetts Ave., tel +1 202 332 8343), a mosque richly embellished with tile work, arches, and pillars; in the carpeted sanctuary, shoes and shorts are not allowed, and women must cover their heads. The network of streets to the east is the prestigious Kalorama neighborhood, which holds several embassies and large houses.




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