499 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m Professional History Nerd Rachel Tracey, and I’m excited to share the historic highlights of downtown Washington DC with you. This complimentary experience is provided by the Hotel Harrington, and our tour begins right here.
The Hotel Harrington is one of the oldest in the city. Washington DC became the permanent capital of the United States in 1790, but 100 years later, the city was only just beginning to shake a reputation of being a sleepy southern town. When the Hotel Harrington opened in 1914, DC was finally coming into its own. Elegant new office buildings rose amidst 19th century theaters, shops, saloons, and newspaper offices. Nine department stores drew crowds of shoppers.
A few blocks away, local Washingtonians and an increasing legion of tourists, marveled at the wonders on display in the Smithsonian's brand new Natural History Museum. Over the last 100 years, the hotel has been witness to, and made history. A skyscraper by DC standards, was home to the city's first television station and transmission tower.
DuMont Corporation's W3XWT (soon renamed WTTG-TV and now known as Fox Channel 5) set up shop on the upper floors and in 1946 began broadcasting about 20 hours of programming a week. The popular and pioneering Milt Grant Show, a daily dance party featuring local teenagers and a virtual Who's Who of national stars, was transmitted live from the WTTG studios between 1956 and 1961. While some aspects of the property seem frozen in time, the harrington welcomes modern solo travelers, families, and bus loads of budget minded groups. The oldest continuously operating hotel in the city, it’s a family business that has stood the test of time, still in the hands of third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation descendants of the founders.
The 242 room hotel is flanked by Harriet’s Family Restaurant on the 11th Street side, and Harry’s Bar on the E Street side of the building. Harriet’s is big enough to host large groups and offers catered events for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Head to Harrys for pitchers of beer, classic American bar food, free peanuts and friendly service. Tell your server you took this audio tour, and you’ll receive a QR code for a trivia challenge. The trivia questions are answered in this tour of Pennsylvania Avenue, so pay attention–Correct answers to Trivia at Harry’s earns you drinks and discounts!
527 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20463, USA
You’re standing in front of historic Ford's Theatre. On April 14th 1865, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was watching a play here when he was assassinated. The long and bloody American Civil War was over; just 5 days earlier at a courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia, General Grant accepted General Lee’s surrender. Washington DC was jubilant, the union preserved, the war over. Parades and parties and the promise of peace.
Amidst the celebration, American actor, confederate sympathizer and white supremecist John Wilkes Booth, along with other co-conspirators, hatched a plan, not just to kill the President, but also targeted the Vice President and Secretary of State, the ultimate goal was to destabilize the entire federal government.
Booth entered Lincoln's theater box, crept up from behind, and fired at the back of Lincoln's head, mortally wounding him. Lincoln's guest, Major Rathbone, momentarily grappled with Booth, but Booth stabbed him, swung down onto the stage and yelled Virginia’s state motto "Sic Semper Tyrannis!," he knocked a guy out, stole a horse, and rode off to Maryland. The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history, and Booth would meet his own death by bullet twelve days later in a burning Virginia barn. The co-conspirators were tried, and hanged.
When Lincoln was shot, he didn’t die immediately, he was taken across the street to the Peterson House, the pinkish red brick row house across the street with green shutters. A crowd gathered to hold vigil, growing in size as the night gave way to morning's light. Lincoln died at 7:22 AM the following day, April 15th 1865. Secretary of War Stanton was by his side, he came out and told the crowd, "Now he belongs to the ages."
Here on this block where Lincoln’s life was cut short, his legacy lives on. Ford’s Theatre and museum, as well as the Peterson House, are open daily with ticketed entry. Historic America also offers a Lincoln Assasination walking tour, please visit our website for details.
When you’re ready, use the built-in navigation to meet me at our next stop.
429 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20535, USA
This is the headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has divided its investigations into a number of programs, such as domestic and international terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, cyber crime, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime/drugs, white-collar crime, violent crimes and major offenders, and applicant matters.
From the agency's inception in 1908 until 1975, the main offices of the FBI were housed wherever the Department of Justice was operating from at the time. The first request for a separate FBI building occurred in 1939, but it took decades for any actionable results. This site was selected in 1963, but building did not begin until 1971. President Nixon named it after controversial FBI Director J Edgar Hoover in 1972, and President Gerald Ford dedicated the building in 1975.
Do you see what looks like peg holes in the concrete? The original design called for marble slabs to be affixed on the exterior, like so many government projects, this one was under time and over budget, so this brutalist eyesore is what we ended up with.
As you cross Pennsylvania Avenue, don’t forget to look to your left and enjoy a grand view of the United States capitol building.
1000 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20224, USA
This is the main headquarters of the Department of Justice. The DOJ is a federal executive department tasked with the enforcement of federal law and administration of justice in the United States. Their mission is to uphold the rule of law, to keep our country safe, and to protect civil rights. President Hoover presided over a cornerstone laying ceremony for this building in 1933. For the next stretch of our tour, we'll be walking along the Inaugural parade route.
Every four years, after the election ballots are counted and certified, the President elect takes the Oath of Office on the West lawn of the Capitol building, The former President boards a marine helicopter on the East side of the Capitol, and the newly sworn in President makes their way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. A grand display of our peaceful transition of power, makes its way down America’s Main Street. Take in the view, take some pics, and I’ll meet you at our next stop.
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
You’re looking at a fella we normally associate with Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is here, because he was the first PostMaster General for the United States, and this Romanesque Revival structure was built to be the Post Office. When it opened in 1899, it was state of the art–the first building in the district with a steel frame, and the first with electrical wiring incorporated into the design. The 315 ft (96 m) high clocktower dominated the skyline then, and still does today. In 1914, however, DC’s General Post Office moved, and although this building was only 15 years old, it quickly gained a moniker it has yet to shake–the Old Post Office.
When the post office moved out, federal office workers for other agencies moved in, and when new federal office buildings were built right across the street, the space transitioned again. Fast forward a few decades, and the building, saved from demolition on many occasions, was in dire need of repairs and renovation. The building was eventually leased, and converted to a luxury hotel, opening as Trump International Hotel in 2016, with the clocktower still operated by the National Park Service. The lease was sold, and in 2022, the hotel reopened as a Waldorf-Astoria.
The historic clocktower is still the third tallest structure in the city, excluding transmitter towers. Self-Guided Tours of the clocktower are free and available daily. Visitors gain access to the 270-foot level, offering breathtaking views of the city. On the way to our next stop, we’re walking through Federal Triangle, the federal office space complex I mentioned earlier. Seven of the 10 buildings of Federal Triangle were built by the U.S. federal government in the early and mid-1930s as part of a coordinated construction plan that has been called "one of the greatest building projects ever undertaken" See you at the next stop!
1350 13 1/2 St NW, Washington, DC 20229, USA
You’re standing in front of the Wilson Building, kind of like DC’s City Hall. Not a state, it’s a district, and so the residents here don’t have congressional representation like states. As the federal capital, the Constitution grants the United States Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District in "all cases whatsoever". The passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 gave citizens of the nation’s capital the right to vote for a commander in chief and vice president, and in 1964, residents of the District of Columbia cast their ballots in a presidential election for the first time.
Since 1973, Congress has allowed certain powers of government to be carried out by locally elected officials. DC now has an elected mayor and city council. However, Congress maintains the power to overturn local laws and exercises greater oversight of the district than exists for any state. Furthermore, the District's elected government exists at the pleasure of Congress and could theoretically be revoked at any time.
The district's unique status creates a situation where District of Columbia residents have neither complete control over their local government nor voting representation in the body with complete control, residents collectively pay more in federal tax dollars than some states, and yet lack voting representation in Congress.
Why then is DC not a state? Why is it a Federal district? In the early years of our experiment in self governance, the founders were very concerned with one state having more power than another, and so, this federal district was meant to be neutral ground, where the business of government happens. Let’s make our way to the next stop.
14th St @ Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
The newest of our national memorials in Washington DC, the World War I Memorial opened in 2021 to honor the 4.7 million Americans who served, including over 100,000 soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice. WWI was fought between two coalitions, the Allies and the Central powers. This was a global conflict that changed humanity forever. The first tentative efforts to comprehend the meaning and consequences of modern warfare began during the initial phases of the war, and this process continues, still underway, more than a century later, as we grapple with its consequences.
The memorial is fittingly located at former Pershing Park, in fact the new memorial incorporates the existing statue of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during the Great War. The memorial also includes Peace Fountain, a cascade of water behind an excerpt from the poem “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak” by Archibald MacLeish; engraved quotes and references to theaters, campaigns and battles in which American forces participated; and exhibits about the role of the United States in World War I.
A final component, a 58-foot-long bas-relief sculpture by Sabin Howard will feature 38 figures depicting the journey of a recurring American soldier and representing the larger American experience of World War I. What we see now, is a rendering of what will eventually be installed. Starting from the left, the soldier takes leave from his wife and daughter, charges into combat, sees men around him killed, wounded, and gassed, and makes it out alive, he comes home to his family. Due to the size and complexity of the casting process, the sculpture will not be installed before 2024.
You can explore the WWI memorial at your leisure. Please also note the tall white building with the flag on top across the street. Sometimes referred to as the crown jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Willard Intercontinental Hotel is an excellent example of French-inspired eclectic Beaux Arts classicism, perfectly suited to the dominating position it occupies on ceremonial Pennsylvania Avenue.
When The Willard opened its doors in 1818 as a simple two-story row house, the city was in its infancy. Established as the capital of the United States by the Constitution just 28 years prior, lodging accommodations in the federal district were sparse, and most often communal boarding houses. Electricity had not been invented yet, and the sewage system, one of the oldest in the United States, was brand new. Dust storms were common along the wide dirt road that led from the grounds of the Capitol Building to the lawn of the White House.
Guests of the Willard were warned to be mindful of hunters, who in the evenings, would shoot their shots in the game in marshes that bumped right up to the developing Main Street. As DC grew up, so did Willard. By 1847, the little row house was a bustling 150 room hotel. The prime location helped establish the Willard as one of the best hotels in the city, and over the next 200 years, it’s still considered one of the finest luxury hotels in Washington DC.
No stranger to famous guests, the Willard hosted President elect Abraham Lincoln the week prior to inauguration in 1861, activist and writer Julia Ward Howe in 1862 (she actually penned Battle Hymn of the Republic in the hotel, on hotel stationary), and Dr Martin Luther King Jr gathered in the lobby with other Civil Rights Activists in 1963, staying here the night before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he would deliver the “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to over 250,000 people.
Feel free to pop inside the lobby for a look, strut your stuff down Peacock Alley, or check out the classic round robin bar which opens daily at noon Nicknamed the "Oval Office of Bars", does classic cocktails really well. It’s best known for the Mint Julep. Supposedly, Senator Henry Clay brought Kentucky Bourbon north with him in the 1830’s, and that's how the julep was popularized here. The Round Robin bar has been a lively meeting place for the political and social elite since it was established in 1847. They sell 20,000 juleps a year!
You can walk through the Willard Hotel, or up 15th Street, to get to our next stop.
15th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Just ahead and on your right, is the Old Ebbitt Grill. Founded in 1856, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who's Who of American History, and each table in the Ebbitt is graced by a card that reads: "Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house." Old Ebbitt has had many locations over the years, settling here in the 1920s. Highly recommend the crab cakes.
On your left, is the Treasury. The Treasury Department is the executive agency responsible for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the financial security of the United States. The Department is responsible for a wide range of activities such as advising the President on economic and financial issues, encouraging sustainable economic growth, and fostering improved governance in financial institutions.
The Department of the Treasury has multiple bureaus including the bureau of printing and engraving, the Mint, and the IRS. The bureaus maintain our financial infrastructure, through production of coin and currency, the disbursement of payments to the American public, revenue collection, and the borrowing of funds necessary to run the federal government.
The Department works with other federal agencies, foreign governments, and international financial institutions to encourage global economic growth, raise standards of living, and to the extent possible, predict and prevent economic and financial crises. TheTreasury Department also performs a critical and far-reaching role in enhancing national security by implementing economic sanctions against foreign threats to the U.S., identifying and targeting the financial support networks of national security threats, and improving the safeguards of our financial systems.
Our next and final stop is a view of the most famous residence in Washington DC–the White House!
1492 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA
You’re looking at a pedestrian-only stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue, on the north side of the White House. The north side doesn’t necessarily offer the view you're most familiar with, most folks come looking for the south lawn portico, the rose garden, the landing pad for the President’s helicopter; Marine One. All that is on the other side, but due to security, we can generally get much closer on this side. If the street is open, go ahead and walk towards the White House and Lafayette Park while I talk, if not, you can also access views of the White House by walking up to H St, from either the Hay Adams Hotel or St John's Church. Either way, we made it, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
The White House is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. Construction began in 1792 but the first president to live here was actually the 2nd President; John Adams, in 1800. Designed by Irish born architect James Hoban in the neoclassical style, builders used local Aquia creek sandstone and painted it white. In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior.
Reconstruction began almost immediately, and it was largely rebuilt by 1817. Exterior reconstruction continued with some iconic additions, including the South Portico in 1824 and the North Portico in 1829. The West Wing was added in 1901. The White House has gone through many changes and renovations over the years, adding things like indoor plumbing, electricity, and wifi. Stroll through Lafayette Park and imagine the hundreds of years of American history that has unfolded right here.
I hope this tour has sparked your interest, and you’re ready for a deeper dive in the unique history and culture of Washington DC. Want to know more about the White House, download our President’s Neighborhood audio tour and begin now! Ready to see another part of DC? Browse the menu! Wherever your travels take you next, we’re glad you joined us. Thank you!
This complimentary audio tour is a Historic America and UCPlaces production. To learn more about our trip planning services, public & private tours and digital content make sure to visit us at www.historicamerica.org and to find more audio tours visit UCPlaces.com.