What’s Doing in Washington, D.C.

By Paul Riegler on 7 February 2012
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As well known as Washington, D.C. is, it didn’t exist until it was created by an act of Congress in 1790.  Today, D.C. as it is known (it is also referred to as “Washington” and “the District”) is home to over 600,000 people, and, thanks to commuters from nearby Maryland and Virginia, the population during the workday expands to over one million.

Washington is a planned city and, from its start (the city’s original layout was overseen by George Washington), it had broad streets and avenues in a grid pattern and lots of open spaces and landscaping.

Washington has warm and pleasant springs and falls, cold and snowy winters, and hot and humid summers.

In addition to the White House, the residence of the president of the United States, the Capitol, home of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court, Washington hosts 176 foreign embassies (many on “Embassy Row” on Massachusetts Avenue) as well as numerous national monuments and institutions.


The one-mile (1.6 km) long National Mall is a large open park in the center of the city.  The Washington Monument (pictured above and photographed from the Lincoln Memorial) and the Jefferson Pier Stone (which marks the country’s second prime meridian) are close to the mall’s center. The Lincoln Memorial, National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are all located on the mall.

At the southwestern tip of the mall, the Tidal Basin is the home to Japanese cherry trees that blossom every spring and are a major tourist attraction.  The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912.

Many of Washington’s museums are affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, a federally chartered foundation.  Its museums are open to the public free of charge.

Some of the most popular Smithsonian museums include the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the Sackler and Freer galleries (focused on Asian art and culture), and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The National Gallery of Art, located near the Capitol on the National Mall, is owned by the U.S. government as well and features American and European works of art.  The National Building Museum focuses on architecture, urban planning, and design.

The Phillips Collection, in Washington’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, was founded in 1921 by Duncan Phillips, an art collector whose grandfather was a pioneer in the steel industry in Pittsburgh.  It features numerous and impressive collections of modern artists including Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pierre-Auguste-Renoir, and Mark Rothko.  The paintings are displayed in Phillips’ former residence, which makes for a very intimate atmosphere to view the art.

The museum’s Phillips After 5 program offers visitors live jazz, gallery talks, and drinks, and Sunday Concerts offer classical music programs in the elegant Music Room.  A highlight in the permanent collection of over 3,000 is Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.”

The Newseum, a relatively new museum focusing on news and journalism (it opened in its present location in 2008), engages the visitor with 15 theaters and 14 galleries.  Exhibits focus on news history and journalism including the First Amendment (the 45 words of the First Amendment are etched onto the building’s exterior) and the history of television, radio, and the Internet.  The Newseum also has the largest display of sections of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany.

One large gallery is devoted to displaying thousands of historic newspapers, from an early copy of the London Gazette (the oldest continuously-published English language newspaper in the world, having commenced publication in 1665) to Publick Occurrences, the first multi-page newspaper published in the U.S. (it lasted for only one issue until it was shut down by the government in 1690), to a copy of the November 3, 1948 Chicago Tribune with the famously inaccurate headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” While the Newseum is viewed by some as a monument as much to its corporate sponsors as to the topic, its interactivity and content are nonetheless unparalleled.

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