Historic Sites, Monuments & Memorials in DC Metro Region

Travel back in time when you visit historic sites in DC as the past comes alive when you tour them and see their collections. All feature special programs throughout the year. Check below for information about tours and site events.

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Tour: Library of Congress - Thomas Jefferson Building

Library of Congress
Thru Jun. 30, 2022
Take a free one-hour walking tour of the historic Thomas Jefferson building to learn about its symbolic art and architecture.


More on This Topic · Historic Sites, Monuments & Memorials in DC Metro Region

Everything Old is New Again

Tom Mayes

Gala Hispanic Theatre

What makes DC such a cool place to live, work, and play? And why do people from all walks of life, from hipsters on scooters to silver-haired opera-goers, love to visit and stay? Yes, there is the United States government and those cool non-profit and tech jobs. And yes, there are policy think tanks and lobbyists offices. And yes, DC is full of way interesting people and great places to eat.

But one answer may surprise you. DC is cool because it’s old. Most of the hippest, fun, and cool places in DC are old. Whether going to theatre, or hearing music, eating out, or going to a cutting-edge exhibition, the old places of DC provide the texture, scene, grit, and real history that adds character and depth to every experience.

Let’s take a quick tour of some of the coolest places to hear music. In historic U Street corridor alone, there’s the Lincoln Theatre and the Howard Theatre, both thrumming with the legacy of famous past performers and the most up-to-the-minute sounds of musicians today. On H Street, the historic Atlas brings new performing arts – and new life -- to a historic corridor. DAR Constitution Hall, famous for who did NOT sing there, remains an amazing historic place to hear music. Even the Kennedy Center, nearly 50 years old, conjures the memory of Camelot for every person who walks those red carpets to the Washington National Opera, or fosters new memories with a lineup of current comedians, hip hop artists, dance companies and more. And while some people may not think of the Cathedral Choral Society as cool or hip, I like nothing better than hearing soaring and deeply moving music in that glorious forest of stone columns at the Washington National Cathedral.

Then there are the theatres. Studio Theatre, long an anchor on 14th Street, adapted old buildings for cutting edge plays. People can still attend a play at Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated. GALA Hispanic Theatre, housed in the historic Tivoli theatre, very nearly lost, which now presents classical and contemporary plays in Spanish and English. Few theatre experiences are as intimate as the Folger Shakespeare Theatre on Capitol Hill, which keeps Shakespeare alive for a new generation. And then there’s the experience of emerging from a new play at the Keegan Theatre onto the quiet shadows of historic Church Street. That’s life in DC – today’s events against a backdrop of history.

Art. DC is rich in art – contemporary and ancient – in all media --presented in old and historic places. From the juxtapositions of art being presented in that quirkiest of spaces – the Dupont Underground, to the mid-century Philip Johnson designed Kreeger Museum, to the magnificent National Gallery of Art by John Russell Pope. And a wealth of DC area house museums insist on relevance – and just plain fun, such as Twilight Tippling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House or contemporary music inspired by astronomy at Dumbarton Oaks or Vintage Games Night at Woodrow Wilson House. Tudor Place preserves precious green space in the heart of Georgetown while interpreting generations of George Washington’s family. All old places.

Best gyms – old buildings. Best restaurants – old buildings. Best small stores – old buildings. Best bars (and there are a lot of them!) – old buildings. Many of us live in old Wardman apartment buildings, or in the blocks of distinctive Victorian bay-fronted row houses. Even the many new residences going up all over town often take advantage of the old and historic context, like the historic district on 14th Street, which has been transformed with new places like West Elm and gallery neptune & brown, while retaining the old buildings.

It stuns me to walk out of a bar after listening to music and see the skylighted building that was the site of the Civil War era daguerreotypist Matthew Brady’s studio near Pennsylvania Avenue; to admire the brilliant new portraits of Michelle and Barak at the National Portrait Gallery building, where Walt Whitman nursed Civil War soldiers; to attend a wedding at Woodlawn Plantation, home of George Washington’s adopted daughter; or to meet friends for drinks across the street where Clara Barton searched for lost Civil War soldiers.

These old places matter. They are not only the background of our lives, they are part and parcel of our lives. They tell us that we’re in the nation’s capital; they trigger our memories and give us new memories; they give us a sense of identity (how many DC logo tattoos have I seen?); they place us in time, giving us a sense of continuity with the past and the future. Sometimes gritty and graffitied, sometimes awe-inspiring, sometimes moving, sometimes challenging, sometimes simply fun, these old places are where we eat, drink, learn, work, live, and play.

For more about why old places matter to people (and some places in DC), see my new book:Why Old Places Matter

About the Author

Tom Mayes is Vice President and Senior Counsel at National Trust for Historic Preservation. His book Why Old Places Matter reveals the fundamentally important yet under-recognized role old places play in our lives. While many people feel a deep-seated connection to old places -- from those who love old houses, to the millions of tourists who are drawn to historic cities, to the pilgrims who flock to ancient sites throughout the world -- few can articulate why. The book explores these deep attachments people have with old places –the feelings of belonging, continuity, stability, identity and memory, as well as the more traditional reasons that old places have been deemed by society to be important, such as history, national identity, and architecture.



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