Washington, D.C., has always been a great city for walkers–rich with monuments, parks and circles, streets wending gracefully from one vibrant neighborhood to the next. It should come as no surprise that in 2011, Washington was ranked in the top ten most walkable cities in the United States, (seventh), with the Dupont Circle neighborhood coming in as its most walkable neighborhood. For countless people, both in and out of Washington, The Phillips Collection is one of Dupont Circle’s highlights, and for many of us who work at the Phillips, the walk to work through the manifold seasons of the year is a beautiful way to start the day. The walks are varied, both in topography and timbre, provenance and pace.
My days begin with the sun illuminating the tall chimney of Garnet-Patterson Middle School and glancing off the windows of Duffy’s Irish Tavern below. At this time of year, the new cold air paints the sky in morning’s amaranthine waves. I walk the first block down Vermont Avenue and turn right onto U Street, where art abounds in many forms.
The U Street neighborhood is nearly as alive in the morning as it is at night. Duke Ellington grew up here, and I often think of him along this walk and how everyone’s syncopated footfalls, strides, and toe-taps at the corners could play counterpoint to his music. There is a nice mural of Duke Ellington by Byron Peck on the west face of the True Reformer building on U Street, where Duke Ellington had his first paid performance. Across the street, I pass Ben’s Chili Bowl, already filling with customers at the early hour and sometimes snap a picture or two for a tourist. Then it’s past the famed Lincoln Theater to the corner of 13th and U. Here I always glance to the right to admire the peaked rooftops of the old Victorian homes that colorfully line 13th Street.
One block ahead at 14th Street, the intersection has a more smeared lipstick kind of beauty to it, but it doesn’t take long for the grime of the corner to give way to art. Halfway up the block above the store Good Wood is where Sam Gilliam had his studio for many years. At U and 15th Streets, more art appears with the gagged George Washington mural by Nigerian-American artist Aniekan Udofia and Liz Brown, sister of CakeLove’s Warren Brown who contributed a 90th Anniversary cake design to the Phillips earlier this year. Just down the same block, I find the always affable Kevin Lee, a homeless man who faithfully sells the Washington Post every morning, rain or shine, to all passersby who want a newspaper.
The walk soon crosses 16th Street, past Engine Company No. 9, and the neighborhood begins its shift to Adams Morgan. At 18th Street, Florida Ave, and the end of U Street, I reach the snarl of construction that has made crossing dodgy for the past year or so, but holds an eventual plan to improve the once aesthetically lacking intersection with new, attractive streetlamps and sidewalks.
Onward along Florida Avenue, past the Washington Hilton Hotel on the right (of Hinckley fame and a once considered site for the Phillips). At 20th Street, on the left, sits the American Geophysical Union building, whose sharp glass postmodern insert spectacularly juts out of its surrounding art deco carapace. Here along the sidewalk, the planets are caught in their orbits . . . even the sadly demoted Pluto. It’s always fun to traverse the cosmos here.
The final neighborhood awaits, with Connecticut Avenue just a few steps ahead, rolling downward in an open-mouthed yawn toward Dupont Circle. I carefully cross Connecticut and turn left down 21st Street for two more blocks. In late March, moments after crossing R Street and before reaching the art inside the Phillips’s doors, I always pause to admire a very famous cherry tree, showing off its resplendent wares in proudly saturated blossoms.
From the architecture to the people and the way the sky is painting itself, the walk to such a grand destination is always a joy and a sacred rite for me. Whether you work at The Phillips Collection or like to visit, we would like to know about your jaunt down the via appia. In D.C., all roads lead to the Phillips.
-Martín Paddack, Museum Shop Book Buyer