The President’s Neighborhood

Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a volatile French architect who had shivered with George Washington at Valley Forge, designed a grand capital for the fledgling republic. His 1791 plan (detail, at left) set the President’s house overlooking a park and a canal. House and park have endured in modern Washington (right); the canal was filled in during the 1800s. Today office workers—and the homeless—are the President’s nearest neighbors.

Click items in red on the map at right to learn about them.











Blair House

Overshadowed by its large white neighbor, Blair House, built in 1824, has seen its share of history: the ponderings of Dred Scott’s attorney,Montgomery Blair; Robert E. Lee’s refusal to lead the Union forces; and an assassination attempt on Harry Truman. (The Trumans lived here while the White House was renovated in the early 1950s.)











Constitution Hall

1776 D Street N.W. is home to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their domain includes a museum, a genealogical library, and the largest auditorium in Washington, D.C.. Once infamous for barring African-American performers, Constitution Hall has since hosted such entertainers as Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, and Eddie Murphy.











Department of the Treasury

Washington, D.C. legend blames Andrew Jackson for the placement of the Treasury, which hulks right where Pennsylvania Avenue should be heading grandly toward the Capitol. Never famed for his patience, Jackson grew tired of dithering over the site choice. He reportedly marched out his gate, stuck his cane in the ground, and barked “Build it here!”











Lafayette Park

Named for the French aristocrat who helped the American colonies win their independence, Lafayette Park once served as a front lawn for some of the capital’s toniest homes. Famous residents have included Dolley Madison, Daniel Webster, Stephen Decatur, and Henry Adams.











National Aquarium

Established in 1873, the oldest public aquarium in the U.S. moved to the basement of the Commerce Department in 1932. Watching piranhas and sharks get fed serves as a gentle alternative to Congressional hearings.











New Executive Office Building

A modern brick monolith, the New Executive Office Building hints at the fate that nearly befell Lafayette Square as urban planners dreamed of replacing townhouses with tidy office buildings. Lobbying from the President and Mrs. Kennedy helped save the Square’s history.











Old Executive Office Building

At its completion in 1888, this monolith was the nation’s largest office building. It housed the State, War, and Navy departments. Now it forms part of the President’s office complex.











St. John’s Church at Lafayette Square

Dolley Madison was baptized at St. John’s—the “church of the Presidents.” Every President since James Madison has made a visit to this Episcopal house of worship. Designed in 1815 by noted architect Benjamin Latrobe, St. John’s is older than all its neighbors but the White House.











The White House

Both mansion and monument, the White House has sheltered First Families since 1800. In the 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy transformed the mansion into a live-in museum of American art and history.











White House Wings

Huge though it seemed to its earliest occupants, the White House was bursting with both family and staff by the late 1800s. The East and West Wings were added in 1902, the Oval Office in 1909.