Every day, Dupont Circle comes alive. Cars, taxis and buses round the curves that merge P Street, 19th Street and Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire avenues in Northwest D.C. Impatient drivers stop at crosswalks for commuters on foot, and bikes whiz among the traffic.
The busy scene is reduced to a faraway din when standing in the Dupont Underground, the trolley station built in 1949 that is 25 feet below the road surface of the circle and bounded on the north and south by R and N streets NW.
After years of abandonment, interrupted by short-lived stints as a fallout shelter in the late 1960s and 1970s and a food court in the 1990s, the more than 75,000 square feet of tunnels and platform will be transformed into a huge arts and architecture space.
The Dupont Underground, a private-public collaborative organization that bears the name of the station, will lead the project.
The road to reopening will start with more than 650,000 translucent balls sourced from the National Building Museum’s “The Beach” exhibit, according to George Washington University senior Daniel Warwick, an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) in the Dupont Circle neighborhood and a member of the Dupont Underground Board of Directors.
“The National Building Museum was looking for a way to reuse the balls from the exhibit, and we thought they would be a great fit for us,” Mr. Warwick said last Thursday as he walked along the dimly lit length of track bordered by seemingly endless stacks of boxes filled with balls.
“The idea is to use the balls for an arts and architecture competition in the space—it’s the type of event that shows the possibilities of a space like this and fits our mission to create a place for dialogue for arts and architecture in D.C.”
Hundreds of volunteers helped to move the “The Beach” to its new home last month, Mr. Warwick said. The Dupont Underground organization signed a five-year lease on the space in 2014, and the fundraising event will be their first attempt to “prove to the city that the space will work,” he said.
The organization also refurbished the entrance at New Hampshire Avenue NW in June. The hatch to the stairwell is bight red and emblazoned with the words Dupont Underground in white letters. The style is reminiscent of the London Tube logo.
The eastern track and platform includes original caged metal light fixtures, surprisingly well-kept tile on the walls and original signs for the New Hampshire Avenue NW and Massachusetts Avenue NW exits, which give the tunnels an attractive, contemporary, industrial quality.
Minimal graffiti mark the walls. An etched mural of a young boy and an older man playing chess adorns the far wall of the eastern platform by the Massachusetts Avenue NW entrance.
“The western platform has been remodeled somewhat because it was used as a food court for a while, and we plan to renovate and use that for bigger events,” Mr. Warwick said. “The eastern platform will retain more of its original look and serve as community space for pop-up shops, art shows and other events.”
Possible uses for the space include film shoots and commercial photography, rental space for private events, community and educational events, art and design exhibitions and public arts performances. Mr. Warwick said that the goal is to partner with local organizations to provide a space that can adapt to community needs. The eastern platform will open first, he said.
Mr. Warwick stands outside the Dupont Underground New Hampshire Avenue NW entrances that was refurbished in June. (William Atkins/GW Today)
Mr. Warwick is a self-proclaimed geek about urban development and cultivated a fascination with reclaimed spaces while attending high school in the “other Washington” in the northwestern United States. He moved to Dupont Circle and interned for the ANC before being elected to a seat on ANC 2B last year. The position landed him a spot as the liaison to the Dupont Underground.
“I would read blogs like “Greater, Greater Washington,’ ‘The Urbanist’ and other urban development websites before coming to GW, so I knew about Dupont Circle long before I moved here for school,” Mr. Warwick said. “This area was a nationally recognized neighborhood because it was on the cutting edge of the arts and culture— and now it’s exciting to see the energy around reusing the Dupont Underground.”
Mr. Warwick said that the space comes with challenges of modernization such as heating, cooling and fire safety. City codes restrict the amount of space that can be used. Before the Dupont Underground team can reopen the space, they must raise funds to meet the city’s codes. The team will require creative solutions to maximize use of the tunnels, he said.
Past efforts to revive the Dupont Underground have failed, some even before getting a real start, but Mr. Warwick and his fellow board members are confident that new efforts will pan out if they can rally the community around the project.
“There is definitely a demand for this type of space in D.C.,” Mr. Warwick said. “Just consider the success of Capital Riverfront or Union Market—those areas have character because they build on D.C. history and local interests. Dupont Underground will be an important example of adaptive reuse if D.C. residents continue to show their support of interesting community spaces.”
With fundraising underway and momentum growing, Mr. Warwick said that the most difficult part of the process is dealing with the anticipation.
“It is such an ‘Only at GW’ moment to be involved in Making History by urban rejuvenating. Even now, you can see that this is going to be a great space,” Mr. Warwick said, his voice echoing against the curved ceiling as he walked along the tracks.