captured by Jackson during the War of 1812. West of the White House, at New York Avenue and 18th Street NW, is one of Washington’s oldest landmarks, the Octagon. Completed in 1801, the Octagon houses a museum dedicated to architecture and the early history of Washington, and is also home to the American Architectural Foundation. It was one of the first residential structures built according to L’Enfant’s plan. During the War of 1812, British troops set fire to the White House, destroying its interior. President James Madison and his family lived in the Octagon while the White House was being rebuilt.
South of the Federal Triangle is the Mall, a narrow park stretching roughly 1.6 km (1 mi) from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. Although the Mall officially ends at 14th Street, landscaped greenery extends to the Potomac. The Washington Monument, whose marble shaft dominates the skyline, stands 169 meters (555 feet) high near the center of this parkland. The interior of the monument is hollow, and visitors may either climb its 898 steps or ride its elevator 150 meters (500 feet) for a magnificent view. A height restriction law enacted by Congress in 1899 ensures that no private structure in Washington, D.C., will extend higher than the monument or the Capitol.
Beyond the monument in West Potomac Park, still in a straight line from the Capitol, is the massive Lincoln Memorial. This monument’s 36 columns represent the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death in 1865. Its interior contains a great stone seated figure of Lincoln carved by sculptor Daniel Chester French. Nearby, the Arlington Memorial Bridge spans the Potomac and connects the Lincoln Memorial with Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Located at the cemetery are the Tomb of the Unknowns; the Arlington House, home of Confederate general Robert E. Lee; and, on the slope directly below that, the grave of President John F. Kennedy.
Close to the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This memorial commemorates the American men and women who died during the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Southeast of the Lincoln Memorial is the Tidal Basin, framed by Washington’s famous Japanese cherry trees. The government of Japan gave the cherry trees to the United States in 1912. Reflected in the water of the Tidal Basin is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This circular, colonnaded marble memorial contains a bronze standing figure of Thomas Jefferson by sculptor Rudolph Evans. Roughly halfway between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which opened in 1997.
The once-premier neighborhoods near early federal activity, notably Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and Capitol Hill, all declined over time. Although they were rediscovered and restored in the second half of the 20th century, in the interim newer communities became popular. In the mid-19th century streetcars began to offer easy commutes to areas outside the city core. At this time, Anacostia’s Uniontown section, where abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass settled after the American Civil War (1861-1865), and LeDroit Park, near Howard University, developed as Washington’s first suburbs.
In the early 20th century, Mount Pleasant, a few miles north of the White House, became popular. With the availability of automobiles, first Cleveland Park and subsequently Wesley Heights and American University Park emerged as preferred residential destinations. Just above the old downtown, the area known as Shaw emerged as the most prominent black section of the city. The concentration of theaters and other social activities there gave U Street the nickname of Black Broadway. Somewhat further above the old city, the Adams Morgan section emerged in the 1960s as one of Washington’s most diverse neighborhoods, with large populations of Latin American and Caribbean immigrants.
Over the years, the suburbs outside the city have grown rapidly. In addition to older areas such as Arlington, Virginia, and Chevy Chase, Maryland, new suburban office and retail complexes have emerged at Tyson’s Corner and Pentagon City in Virginia and Freedom Plaza in Maryland.
Washington, D.C., grew slowly from the time of its origins until the Civil War. Its founders expected it to emerge as a great city because of its favored trading site along the Potomac River. However, the city proved incapable of fully exploiting its opportunities—due to, among other things, a lack of federal funding for development—and it lagged behind other major port cities along the eastern seaboard. Washington’s population boomed during the Civil War, rising from a modest population of 61,122 in 1860 to 109,199 only a decade later. During the first half of the 20th century, the federal presence in the city expanded, and population grew with it, reaching a peak of more than 800,000 in 1950.
The city’s population dropped thereafter, as it lost residents to the suburbs. Nearly 69 percent of the metropolitan population lived in Washington in 1940; by 1960 that number had fallen to 37 percent, and to less than 16 percent in 1996. In 1998 the population of the city was 523,124. In contrast, the population of the metropolitan area in 1996 was estimated at 4,563,000.
Partly because the District of Columbia was originally formed from slaveholding states, the national capital has always had a significant black presence, approximately 25 percent of the population from its origins until World War II. After the war, many white families relocated to the suburbs, and the city’s demography changed. In 1957 Washington became the first major city in America with a black majority. Between 1950 and 1960 Washington’s black presence grew by nearly 50 percent, from 280,803 to 411,737, while the white population declined by one third.
Until recently the great majority of the black population was located inside the city. But like an earlier generation of whites, the black middle class began to leave the city and move to the suburbs. In 1990, when the city’s population was 606,900, blacks constituted about 66 percent, compared with about 30 percent white. Hispanics, who may be of any race, constituted about 5 percent of the population. The city had about 400,000 black residents; however, just the two surrounding counties of Prince George’s, Maryland, and Fairfax, Virginia, contained a combined population of about 430,000 black residents.
During the early 19th century, Washington lacked the industrial base that drew immigrants to other cities, and so the population retained its largely native-born character. In the late 19th century, small Italian and Eastern European Jewish communities formed, creating their own churches and synagogues and associated ethnic institutions. Many descendents of these immigrants left the city for the suburbs in the 1950s, along with much of the rest of the white population. While the Italian Roman Catholic Church, Holy Rosary, still functions near Union Station, few of its parishioners still live in the city. Most of the early synagogues near downtown have left, replaced by black Protestant congregations.
A small Chinese community formed in Washington in the late 19th century. Originally concentrated downtown along Pennsylvania Avenue, Chinatown moved several blocks north to make way for completion of the Federal Triangle office complex in the 1930s. Chinatown still exists along H Street NW, but only about a third of Washington’s 3000 Chinese listed in the 1990 census live in that area. An additional 37,000 Chinese live in surrounding suburbs. In the suburbs, they are joined by more recent immigrant groups from Asia, most notably Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Lao. Both suburban Maryland and northern Virginia support Asian populations of about 100,000 each.
Hispanics form the other major immigrant group in the area. Although the District of Columbia’s population is about 5 percent Hispanic, the largest number of these immigrants are located in the suburbs: an estimated 90,000 in Maryland and 100,000 in Virginia. In 1991 the Washington metropolitan area ranked tenth in the nation as a destination for new immigrants.
IV EDUCATION AND CULTURE A Institutions of Higher Learning
It was George Washington’s dream that the capital city host a national university. Congress, however, was reluctant to fund such an entity. As a result, while a number of institutions have aspired to national roles, none has been favored with a national mandate. Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is the oldest Roman Catholic college in the United States. George Washington University was founded in 1821 by Baptists as Columbian College. Gallaudet University is the only liberal arts university in the world specifically for deaf and hearing-impaired students. Former Union General Oliver Otis Howard founded Howard University as a predominately black university after slavery was abolished in 1865. The two other private universities in the city are the Catholic University of America and American University. Also, the city opened the University of the District of Columbia with congressional approval in 1977 by consolidating a teacher’s college, a city college, and a technical institute.
In the Virginia suburbs are George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College; in the Maryland suburbs are the University of Maryland at College Park, Montgomery College, and Prince George’s Community College. The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area links most of the area’s public and private institutions of higher learning. Through the consortium, a student enrolled in one institution may take courses provided at another institution.