City Desk

City Sits on Empty Tunnels in Dupont—Arts Coalition Says Move

The Issue: What should be done with the spooky, underground tunnels of Dupont Circle? The dismantled streetcar station has been empty since 1962—save for a failed 6-month stint as a food court in 1995—but now the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground (ACDU) proposes to use the space to exhibit art. Specifically, the coalition plans to renovate the western side of the circle, which can accommodate up to 3,000 people, and work with local groups to fill the high-ceilinged caverns with rotating exhibitions. But the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) is sitting on the space—before releasing a request for proposals on the new lease, the office announced recently it wants to schedule community forums. So far, no forums. With proposals in the past ranging from a bicycle garage to a gay club, should DMPED be waiting for something better to come along?

Embrace Underground Art! Some argue that an art exhibition would fare better than retail, due to the fact that art doesn’t require constant foot traffic.  ACDU representative Adam Griffiths told City Desk: “We see this project as a centralizing action for the local arts scene. I haven’t spoken with anyone who is completely against the idea of having an arts space down there.” Even those who think the tunnels should return to its original underground streetcar usage agree: One commenter on the blog Greater Greater Washington says, “Art space is a low-investment, high-return strategy that does not preclude transit use later on.”

Underground Fill-In-The-Blank! The chorus on the tunnels’ usage is far from unified, and DMPED may be waiting for more vocal community support. Some fear converting the space into an art gallery won’t necessarily make it more appealing: Roger, commenting on GGW writes, “The [95 opening] was a dungeon…claustrophobic and dark with little ventilation.” Todd says, “How about an underground parking facility/art gallery? I hate having to look for parking in that area. Park your car and check out some art at the same time." Additionally, the abandoned tunnels are, unsurprisingly, in bad condition—ACDU has outlined a fundraising process to fund the renovations, but the total will still come to around $600,000.

Next Step: Griffiths says, “We are still waiting on DMPED to schedule the community forums. We would like them to do this soon and announce it publicly.” In the meantime, everything remains sealed off after police reportedly found a dead body there in the late 1990s. 

Photo courtesy of Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground 

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • Mike Licht

    DC needs art production space much more than exhibition space -- visual arts galleries have been dropping like flies.

    Why not use the tunnels for performing arts rehearsal space?

  • downtown rez

    I love arts, and museums, and food courts very much.
    But what I really love is the idea that streetcars could return to those tunnels.

  • Nikki

    What about the mole people down there?!

  • Dupont Resident

    Long-term, I'd love to see streetcars return and use those tunnels on their way from K Street to Adams-Morgan.

    Short-term, if they want to put an art gallery in there, fine. Or, if they want to put Daniel Snyder down there and seal the place for a year, that's fine too. He'd probably survive, drinking fetid water and eating rats, and that might or might not be a good thing.

  • Mustafa

    The Dan Snyder dungeon idea has some legs.

  • Kate001

    I think the space should be used dually as a performance/practice place for music and arts as well. The money collected from these shows and performances in the underground can go to making it better thus allowing for even more uses. We could also turn it into a raging underground club. Actually, I am going to do that right now so let's stop discussing it.

  • Joe Schmoe

    I'd agree with Mike Licht: There is no shortage of gallery space in this area. Moreover, the very post-post-modern idea of art that exists soley to be be seen galleries (and per this proposal, one in a dungeon to boot) is a bit of an aberration. Let's keep art out where we live, eat, and breathe, where it is supposed to be. There are plenty of other things that belong in underground tunnels.

  • Jen
  • Former Staffer

    Can't we just round up the lobbyists and lock them in there to die? Or would new undead lobbyists rise up to take their place?

  • Joe Doe

    Joe Schmoe - your reasoning concerning the tunnels seems incredibly silly - art is in galleries so that artists can make a living - the more spaces we have to support art, the more artists that have opportunities to continue to support themselves in this incredibly expensive city. as an artist, i would say that there actually is a shortage of gallery space - let me you, i will show anywhere where the marketing is good and where people can see my work. there is no distinction for me concerning whether my stuff is shown in some underground tunnel, a gallery or elsewhere. it gets shown.

    also I don't know what would be considered a normative use for an unused and sealed-off underground tunnel. Except for maybe a new hideout for Ninja Turtles and Morlocks.