Unless you’re intimately familiar with turn-of-the-century urban hydrotechnology, there are few clues on the 25 acres located southwest of the intersection of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue to tell you just why those rows of stark brick silos are there, surrounded by chain-link fence. From 1905 until 1985, those towers held sand through which, in the catacombs below, the city’s water supply slowly filtered. The 25 years since the Army Corps of Engineers shut down the facility have found it in a state of increasing obscurity and decrepitude. (In 2000, a City Paper
writer found the body of a homeless man in one of the silos.) Prior to World War II, the vast lawn above the catacombs was a park; these days it is a public landmark of a different sort—a masterpiece of municipal sculpture, a civic talisman even. The District government now owns the property, has awarded development rights, and neighbors are currently tusseling over redevelopment plans, which could include mixed-income housing, office space, park land, restaurants, a grocery store, and other stores. Until then, enjoy the mystery.