Southwest, Washington, D.C.

Southwest, Washington, D.C.

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 about three separate neighborhoods.


Southwest is actually composed of four separate sections:
*the Southwest Employment District, the area between the National Mall and the Southeast/Southwest Freeway (Interstate 395) that contains the Smithsonian Institution museums along the south side of the Mall—including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the National Air and Space Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian—as well as the United States Botanical Gardens, L'Enfant Plaza and a large concentration of federal executive branch office buildings for departments as well the House office buildings;
*the Southwest Waterfront, between I-395 and the Potomac River, a residential neighborhood that is home to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, Arena Stage, the Washington Marina, and Hains Point; East and West Potomac Park, a conjunction of two national parks between I-395 and the National Mall that contain the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (West Potomac Park continues into Northwest and includes the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial, both of which straddle the Southwest/Northwest boundary);
*the area south and east of the Anacostia River containing Bolling Air Force Base, the military installation which, together with the Naval District Washington, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant, and
*the Bellevue neighborhood, which occupies all of the Southwest land between South Capitol Street (to the east) and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers (to the west).


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 4 1/2 Street; Scotch, Irish, German, and eastern European immigrants lived west of 4 1/2 Street, while freed blacks lived to the east. Each half was centered around religious establishments: St. Dominic's Catholic Church and Temple Beth Israel 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 after his family emigrated from what is now Lithuania was on 4 1/2 Street, and Marvin Gaye was born in a tenement on First Street.)

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 that were published with captions like, "The Washington that tourists never see."

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. 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, [cite web| title = U.S. Army Corps of Engineers|publisher =| url =| accessdate = 2008-03-23] 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 [cite web| title = Pei Cobb Freed and Partners|publisher =| url =| accessdate = 2008-03-23] 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 [cite web| title = Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (HUD), Washington, DC|publisher =| url =| accessdate = 2007-04-11] (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. [cite web| title = AIA Honor Awards 1960-1969|publisher =| url =| accessdate = 2008-03-23]

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.

While many of the residential neighborhoods of Southwest remained both highly mixed-race and mixed-income through this time, around 2003, the wave of new development occurring throughout DC reached Southwest. H20, an enormously popular nightclub, opened on the riverfront, while a number of apartment buildings began extensive renovations and condominium conversions. Residential and commercial developers began to take a more serious interest in Southwest with the announcement in 2004 that the city would build the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium just across South Capitol Street from Southwest.


Politically, Southwest includes most of Ward 2, as well as parts of Wards 6 and 8. Most of the residential section of Southwest lies in Ward 6.

Current residents include U.S. Congressman John Conyers, former Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter. Former residents have included Hubert Humphrey [cite web| title =With a Good Cough|publisher =| url =,9171,843072,00.html| accessdate = 2007-12-13] and former Supreme Court Associate Justices Lewis F. Powell, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.

Southwest is accessible via the Blue, Orange, Yellow, and Green Lines of the Washington Metro. Stations servicing the quadrant include the Smithsonian, L'Enfant Plaza, and Federal Center SW stations on the Orange and Blue Lines, as well as Waterfront-SEU on the Green Line and L'Enfant Plaza on the Green and Yellow Lines. (L'Enfant Plaza is the transfer point between the Orange, Blue, Green, and Yellow Line trains.)


External links

* [ Southwest D.C. Community Website]
* [ Cultural Tourism DC: Southwest]
* [ Developments in SW DC (blog)]
* [ Southwest D.C. Real Estate Website]

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