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Before Metro, Washington Had Underground Trolleys

Now, an arts nonprofit is drawing up new plans for the abandoned trolley tunnels.
Heidi Swift and Lisa Goldsmith of HKS architects, Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground founder Julian Hunt, managing director Braulio Agnese, and (at rear) design coordinator Monling Lee. Photograph by Dan Chung.

Long before Metro, Washington’s trolleys dipped underground to navigate Dupont Circle. When the city began digging in 1948, shop owners complained about the disruption and newspaper heiress Cissy Patterson applied leverage to stop a planned stairway at her mansion’s doorstep.

Fifteen years later, with the end of DC’s trolley era, the station was mothballed, then briefly served as a fallout shelter and, in the mid-’90s, a short-lived food court.

Now a nonprofit called Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground has leased the former station with plans to turn the 75,000-square-foot concrete cave into a rental space for exhibits, concerts, and other events. An opening date depends on fundraising, but with the current vogue for transforming public infrastructure, hopes are high that this latest reuse will redeem the underpass’s checkered past.

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