The Dupont Underground
Long-abandoned trolley tunnels just a mile away from the White House are turning into an art space.
Underneath the bustling streets of Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. there’s a long-abandoned trolley station and tunnels that have found fresh use as an art space.
For nearly 100 years, a network of streetcars ferried Washingtonians around the city, originally drawn by horses and later powered by elevated electric cables. The Dupont Circle station was constructed in 1949 and was unique in the streetcar system for being the only station that was built underground. It was in operation until the system was shut down and replaced by bus lines in 1962 and with plans for the Metro train system on the horizon.
The discontinued streetcar station was briefly set up to be a fallout shelter in the case of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, but even that function was ended in 1975 and the tunnels were sealed off and abandoned.
In 1995, a developer bought the abandoned tunnels from the city and built an ill-fated food court, called Dupont Down Under, on the abandoned tracks, with a dozen fast food vendors all operating out of spaces designed to look like the old streetcars. The project was short-lived, however. Ventilation and lighting were poor, employees were miserable from working in the dank and windowless area all day, and customers were hesitant to go underground into abandoned tunnels for a bite to eat. Dupont Down Under was shut down in only a few months and the tunnels were abandoned once again.
The tunnels were reopened to the public in late 2016, however, and the 75,000-square-foot former streetcar station is in the process of being converted into an artistic space. Local artists have begun transforming the tunnels into installations, including pieces that incorporate light and sound with the acoustics of the tunnels. Graffiti adorns the concrete walls and artistic pieces are tucked away in corners among the rubble of the abandoned food court.
Update as of August 2022: The entrance is now gated.
Know Before You Go
Easily accessible from the Dupont Circle metro station. Mapping apps show an incorrect location, the entrance is on 19th street between Starbucks and Cafe Dupont. Tickets for a guided tour of the tunnels can be purchased on the Dupont Underground website. Much of the tunnels are still in a state of disrepair and the floor in some areas have broken glass, rusted metal, and muddy puddles, so wear closed-toe shoes.
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