This active waterfront community offers restaurants with river views; a colorful, historic Fish Wharf; the award-winning Arena Stage; and plenty of boating activity. You can also visit Fort Lesley J. McNair, a Southwest landmark established in 1794 and one of the nation's oldest military posts.
In Washington's early years, Southwest was referred to as "the island," cut off from the city by the old Washington Canal, which followed the route of today's Constitution Avenue. You can still see a Lockkeeper's House at 17th and Constitution Avenue.
Southwest evolved as a multi-ethnic working-class community.Anthony Bowen, an educator and former slave, made this a stop on the Underground Railroad. Entertainer Al Jolson, whose father was the rabbi at one of the immigrant synagogues, learned African American dialect playing in the neighborhood streets. And many prominent Washington families got their start in the modest houses that once lined Southwest's shaded streets.
In the 1950s most of old Southwest was leveled by urban renewal. The unique street layout and housing arrangements of the new Southwest present a dramatic example of the vision of post-World War II urban planners and architects. The River Park and Tiber Island apartment complexes, and the townhouse courts, greenways, walkways, and plazas offer excellent examples of urban renewal's promise.
But you can still find remnants of the old Southwest not far from the waterfront. On a walk around the neighborhood, you'll see St. Dominic's Church, an inspiring gothic structure; Wheat Row, the earliest rowhouses built in Washington; and, nearby, a few significant late-18th- and early-19th-century structures. Most notable are two Federal-era residences: Thomas Law House, once home to Martha Washington's granddaughter; and the Duncanson-Cranch House.