Dupont Circle is a vibrant, diverse neighborhood considered by many to be the heart of Washington, DC’s nightlife. It boasts some of the DC area’s finest historic homes, foreign embassies and museums. You will also find a large variety of ethnic restaurants, art galleries and bookstores. What is Dupont Down Under? Read on.
The old Dupont Circle Subway Station lies below Dupont Circle and above the Dupont Metro Station. It was built in 1949 to relieve traffic congestion on Dupont Circle created by the old trolley system. In 1962 the station was closed when the trolley system was shut down. It remained closed for over 30 years.
Then in 1992, entrepreneur Geary Stephen Simon approached the city with a proposal to turn the space into high-end retail. In 1993, he was granted a lease for the 26,000 square foot station by the DC government. Instead, by 1995, the station, called Dupont Down Under, was opened as a food court which failed shortly thereafter.
In September of 1996 the District evicted him for failure to pay rent and other alleged breaches of contract. Simon had previously been convicted three times of fraud or other business crimes. He sued the city, challenging the eviction. During the long course of litigation, his ownership entity, United States First National FSHC, eventually filed for bankruptcy, listing the Dupont Down Under lease as its only asset. Unknown to the District government, United States First National FSHC was owned by Simon. The court ruled that his lease was invalid. He appealed that ruling but he eventually gave up and dropped his appeal.
One of Simon’s former sub-lessees, the Washington Sports Clubs fitness chain, is owned by Kalorama Sports Management Associates. Part of their deal with Simon was that if Simon defaulted on the main lease, the fitness company would keep its rights to its space and would have the option of taking over the west tunnel. Kalorama Sports stated its intention to work with the community to determine what it wants to see in the station and to bring in a mix of tenants that will draw people back to the site.
There has been much speculation as to what will happen to the site and a lot of suggestions from residents. One interested citizen suggests using it as a bike station. His rationale is that people don’t seem to like to eat, live or work underground, and a bike station would be a great alternative.
There is currently a movement by The Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground to turn the station and tunnels into a gallery for DC’s art community. It would need new lighting, heat and humidity controls and air conditioning according to Adam Griffiths, a coalition ad-hoc committee member. He says they wouldn’t use the track portion but would use the one platform which is in “pristine condition.” The other portion is still full of rotting debris from the food court. It would have to be thoroughly cleaned and aired out. According to Julian Hunt, the architect on the project, it would cost $50,000 to do this. With just over 3 years left on the original lease, the city needs to gain control of the lease before handing it over for the project.
The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has not yet scheduled any community meetings. So the coalition is still waiting for the opportunity to bid and begin fundraising. Should their plan come to fruition, they hope to raise $100,000 for the initial renovation of a small portion of the space. Since the total Phase One cost will be about $500,000, they will then begin a capital campaign to fund the rest. What is your opinion on how this space should be used?