Historic Downtown and Chinatown

This tour explores the diverse collection of buildings, memorials, and monuments located in Washington’s historic commercial core. Downtown Washington is a large area stretching west from Judiciary Square to Farragut Square and Foggy Bottom, and north to Massachusetts Avenue NW and Dupont Circle. It is not necessarily a clearly defined area, and Washingtonians may have differing opinions on where Downtown's edges are. Regardless, Downtown is known for its historic sites (most notably, the White House), office buildings, hotels, restaurants, entertainment and sports venues, and parks.


The historic core of Downtown is located east of the White House and north of Pennsylvania Avenue — rather than along K Street and Connecticut Avenue NW, where many office buildings were constructed in the postwar years. Historic Downtown lies at the heart of the federal city, as laid out in 1791 by the French engineer and planner Pierre L’Enfant. This area is traversed by Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street NW, which have been important transportation routes since Washington's beginnings. Pennsylvania Avenue, between the city's two most important points, Capitol Hill and the White House, quickly became a thriving thoroughfare. This stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue is especially significant, as every four years it is the focal point of the presidential inauguration route. 7th Street became an important commercial corridor thanks to the north-south thoroughfare's connection to points north of the city, both in the District and in Maryland.


F Street also became an important center of commerce and entertainment, and some of the city's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, designed in a Greek Revival/Neoclassical style, can be found along and near this street: the Old Patent Office, General Post Office, and U.S. Treasury Building. Next to these government buildings are clusters of smaller, historic commercial and residential buildings designed in various styles that were popular in the years right before and following the Civil War. In addition to these smaller buildings are some of the city's early "skyscrapers" dating to the 1880s and 1890s, such as the Atlantic and Sun buildings, and the Washington Loan & Trust Company. Over the years, many historic buildings (and facades) have been incorporated into new construction, giving the neighborhood layers of history that are quite visible to pedestrians. Chinatown, centered along H Street, adds additional character to Historic Downtown, with its specific design elements. This particular Chinatown dates to the 1930s, as the community was forced to move from the Judiciary Square-Federal Triangle area to accommodate new federal office building construction. The buildings, many of which predate the 1930s, were repurposed and altered by the Chinese American community, with the 1843 Mary Surratt House as a prime example of new uses and layers of history.


It is important to note that only a portion of this area falls within the Downtown Historic District, which is generally centered along 7th Street and F Street, east of 11th Street, as well as the Financial Historic District along 15th Street. Nonetheless, there are many historic landmarks that fall within and outside the historic districts' boundaries.

The White House

The White House is recognized around the world as the symbol of the presidency. It is associated with countless occasions of state, has housed the president’s staff and visiting dignitaries, and has served from its earliest years as a place for the…

Treasury Department

Built between 1836 and 1869, the Treasury Department building is the work of five major American architects—Robert Mills, Thomas U. Walter, Ammi B. Young, Isaiah Rogers, and Alfred B. Mullett. Conceived and built in the Greek Revival style that…

National Savings and Trust Company

The National Savings and Trust Company is a historic bank building, known also as the National Safe Deposit Company and the National Safe Deposit Savings and Trust Company. The National Safe Deposit Company was chartered in 1867 through an act of…

Bond Building

The Bond Building has been a pivotal structure in downtown DC’'s business and financial district since it was constructed in 1901. The seven-story Beaux Arts office building, designed by architect George S. Cooper (1864-1929), stands as a landmark to…

Western Union Building (Commercial National Bank)

The Commercial National Bank, designed by noted Washington architect Waddy B. Wood in 1917, is an excellent early example of the simplified and stylized classicism that distinguishes some of DC’s most noteworthy early-twentieth century buildings.…

Colorado Building

Constructed in 1922, the Colorado Building was designed by architect George S. Townsend. In designing the nine-story office building, Townsend adapted the style of the Italian Renaissance. Marble, stone and brick went into the construction. The…

Federal-American National Bank (and Interiors)

Following the merger of two banks, this building operated as headquarters for the new Federal-American National Bank. The bank was designed by architect Alfred C. Bossom (1881-1965), in association with Washington’s leading Beaux-Arts practitioner,…

Garfinckel’s Department Store (Julius Garfinckel & Co.)

While department stores had originated in fashion-forward cities like Paris, the United States did not lag far behind in adapting and creating their own retail hubs across the country. In DC, this commercial hub sprouted around 7th Street and…

Riggs Building (Keith-Albee Building)

Erected in 1912, the Riggs or Albee Building and the adjoining theater were built on a site formerly occupied by the Riggs House, a large hotel demolished in 1911. Originally, the building was known as the Riggs Building, and the adjoining theater as…

National Metropolitan Bank

The distinctive Beaux Arts facade of the National Metropolitan Bank Building forms a strong architectural unit with the adjacent Riggs Building, balancing Robert Mills’ east side of the Treasury Department and complementing it in scale, style, and…

Rhodes' Tavern (1799-1984)

Built in 1799 by Bennett Fenwick (ca.1765-1801)—and, most likely, his enslaved work force—Rhodes' Tavern opened as a tavern and inn in 1801 under the management of William Rhodes. In 1805, Rhodes sold the tavern to his future brother-in-law, Joseph…

Hotel Washington

Designed by the architectural firm Carrère and Hastings, the ten-story, Beaux-Arts hotel is the only commercial building designed by the New York firm in Washington, DC. Completed in 1918, Hotel Washington’s facade features cream colored sgraffito…

Willard Hotel

Designed by New York architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (1847-1918), the Willard Hotel opened in 1901 as DC’s first skyscraper. The building successfully adapts the eclectic Beaux Arts vocabulary of French domestic architecture to the rigors of…

Baltimore Sun Building

The Baltimore Sun Building (also known as the Sun Building or American Bank Building) was designed in 1885-87 by nationally recognized architect Alfred Bult Mullett for A.S. Abell, publisher of the Baltimore Sun, as the paper's Washington news…

Harris & Ewing Photographic Studio

Built in 1924 by architects Sonnemann and Justement, the Harris and Ewing Photographic Studio was home to the nation's largest early‑20th century news photo service, official White House photographer, and Washington's most noted portrait…

Brownley Confectionery Building

Constructed in 1932 as Brownley's Confectionery, the building was designed by the locally prominent architectural firm of Porter & Lockie, notable for its use of Art Deco design motifs in commercial and institutional buildings. The building is…

Homer Building

The Homer Building appears to have been named for Homer Guerry, a Washington lawyer who had previously owned much of the property on which it was erected. It was opened for occupancy during World War I, which created a shortage of office space in the…

Warner Theatre Building (and Interior)

This ten-story theater and office building, originally known as The Earle and now currently known as the Warner Theatre, was designed in 1924 by noted theater architect C. Howard Crane and his New York partner Kenneth Franzheim. Originally, the Earle…

Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site

Contained within the irregular bounds of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site is a rich selection of building types and styles, statues, memorials, and parks. Additionally, the area features many prominent elements that date from Pierre…

Evening Star Building

Constructed between 1898 and 1900, the Evening Star Building is notable for its association with the Evening Star Newspaper Company, which occupied the building from 1900 to 1959. The paper’s tenancy in this building largely coincided with its…

Petersen House

Located directly across the street from Ford's Theatre, the Petersen House was built in 1849. On April 14, 1875, doctors and soldiers rushed to find a comfortable place to tend to the dying President Lincoln after he had been shot and found the house…

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Ford's Theatre is best known as the site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and actor. Originally named Ford's New Theatre, Ford's was built by Baltimore theater…

Atlantic Building

When the Atlantic Building was completed in 1888, it was the largest commercial structure in the city and one of the first with a passenger elevator. Located on F Street in the heart of downtown, the speculative office building was designed in a…

Saint Patrick’s Church

This parish was established by Bishop John Carroll in 1794. The initial meeting place of the congregation was a house at the corner of 10th & E streets NW. The congregation worshiped at three other locations until this location, designed by…

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (and Interior)

The Martin Luther King Memorial Library (MLK Library) is a four-story steel and glass International-style building in downtown DC, designed by world-famous German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and completed in 1972. The modern…

Old Masonic Temple

Designed by Cluss and Kammerheuber, the Old Masonic Temple enjoyed early prominence due to its important location across 9th Street from the old U.S. Patent Office. In scale and dignity it complements its prestigious neighbor, a symbol of awakening…

Equitable Co-Operative Building Association (and Interior)

The Equitable Co-Operative Building Association is a monumental, one-story bank building in the Classical Revival style located on F Street NW in the Downtown Historic District. Designed by both Arthur B. Heaton and Frederic B. Pyle and built in…

National Union Building

The National Union Building is a narrow office building built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1890. Designed by famous architect Glenn Brown (1854-1932), the building remains the most important property in Washington associated with his career.…

Washington Loan and Trust Company

The Washington Loan and Trust Company Building is prominently situated across from the Old Patent Office. It was home to the city's first trust company, originally organized in 1889 by Brainerd H. Warner, and acquired by Riggs Bank in 1954. The…

LeDroit Block (F Street, NW, South Side of 800 Block)

The LeDroit Block was built after the completion of the large-scale municipal improvements undertaken by the Board of Public Works ibetween 1871 and 1874. It illustrates the renewed civic aspirations of the post-Civil War era with rich, animated…

Old Patent Office

While it’s currently the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Old Patent Office reflects an era when scientific invention propelled the American economy and began to mold the national character. Although more than a…

General Post Office (General Land Office)

This beautifully scaled and finely detailed building, with exceptionally fine interiors, is a tour de force of restrained neo-classical design and an outstanding example of American civil architecture. The design of the building, based on a…

Temperance Fountain

Having made his fortune in dentistry and San Francisco real estate, Dr. Henry D. Cogswell (1820-1900) used his fortunes to advance the temperance cause, or the movement to curb alcohol consumption throughout the United States. Cogswell in particular…

National Bank of Washington

The National Bank of Washington was organized under the name “Bank of Washington” in 1809. It was the first Washington bank of purely local origin and interest, being preceded only by a branch bank of the First Bank of the United States. Throughout…

Central National Bank (Apex Building)

The Central National Bank, also known as the Dorothy I. Height Building or Apex Building, is now the national headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women. The twin-turreted, former bank was one of a cluster of financial buildings that…

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock Statue

This bronze equestrian statue honors Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886), a career US Army officer who served during the Mexican-American War and Civil War. He is remembered in particular for his leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he…

Oriental Building Association

The five-story Oriental Building Association building of buff brick and limestone houses a ground floor banking hall and leasable upper floors. A notable work of the German-American architect Albert Goenner, the building is located in the midst of…

Downtown Historic District

DC's old downtown area is centered along the historic commercial arteries of 7th and F Streets, which intersect at the monumental Greek Revival Old Patent Office. The Downtown Historic District offers a rich variety of commercial buildings, including…

The Bulletin Building

Erected in 1928, the Bulletin Building housed the offices and printing press of the United Publishing Company, publisher of The Bulletin. The Bulletin, founded in 1894 by Thomas C. Noyes (1868-1912), was a large, single-sheet tabloid posted at…

Mary Surratt House

The Mary Elizabeth Surratt Boarding House is an 1843 vernacular Greek Revival dwelling that Mary Surratt operated as a boarding house from September 1864 through April 1865. During this period, John Wilkes Booth visited the boarding house both…

On Leong Chinese Merchants Association

The On Leong Chinese Merchants Association building is significant as the long-time home of On Leong Tong (from 1932 to 1997), the city’s preeminent Chinese benevolent association. Mutal aid organizations like On Leong Tong played a critical role in…

Central Public Library

Built between 1899 and 1902 by architects Ackerman & Ross, who had been selected in a national design competition, the Central Public Library was the first public building in DC to be built in the Beaux Arts style. The library is one of 1,679…

Greyhound Bus Terminal

DC's old Greyhound Bus Terminal, built between 1939 and 1940, is a classic Art Deco landmark, whose streamlined 1930s aesthetic epitomizes the promise of the industrial age as the hope for the future and the savior of civilization. The stepped…

Masonic Temple (Museum of Women in the Arts)

Designed by Wood, Donn and Deming between 1903 to 1907, the grand Masonic Temple served throughout most of the twentieth century as the headquarters of DC’s Grand Lodge, which counted many important national figures among its members. Situated on a…

Real Estate Trust Company (Continental Trust Building)

The Real Estate Trust building stands out among DC’s early-twentieth century office buildings. The building is a steel and concrete frame structure, sheathed in ivory-colored terra cotta with poly chrome accents. Its ground floor is clad in white…