Southwest: D.C.’s Forgotten Quarter Deserves Another Look

Smithsonian Institution

If only it had a moat: The regal Smithsonian Castle, which graces the Southwest Federal Center neighborhood, is one of the more eye-catching buildings in the Southwest quadrant.

Out of all the areas in Washington, D.C., the Southwest quadrant is the least well-known. But that’s about to change. Let’s get some particulars out of the way first.

As of July 1, 2009, Washington, D.C., the Big Kahuna, all that is capitally holy, had just a shade under 600,000 people at 599,657 residents. Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Using data from that same census count, a recent article by The Washington Post put the metro region’s population at just under 5.5 million.

Just think about it: Washington is one big city where a credible number of people probably commute to the suburbs for work. If anything, that shows you the vibrancy of the region, the fastest growing metro area on the East Coast. Recession or no recession.

Let’s get back to the Southwest quadrant. Some people outside the city (and more than a few inside its borders) may not even know there is a Southwest quadrant, because you rarely hear about it given the popularity of its neighbors, especially a certain quadrant whose initials are “N” and “W.”

The quadrants, of course, all meet at the United States Capitol, the physical seat of legislation in our nation, so Southwest can always claim at least a quarter of that.

[ Related: From Chinatown to Georgetown, Northwest Offers the Best of D.C. ]

Southwest is D.C.’s smallest quadrant by quite a lot. When you factor in the presence of Fort Lesley J. McNair (both the Joint Forces Headquarters National Capital Region and the main campus of the National Defense University are located here) and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (the recent combining of Anacostia Naval Base and Bolling Air Force Base) – all of which take up a lot of space – you can see why it’s not exactly on everyone’s lips as a usual place to live. (The U.S. Coast Guard’s headquarters are here as well.)

In fact, Southwest is intimately tied to the U.S. government in many aspects. The area directly below the National Mall in Southwest is home to a regular phalanx of federal buildings, and many of the museums on the Mall have Southwest addresses themselves. But what some people don’t know is that there are actual neighborhoods in Southwest, and things are starting to look up “down south.”

Gone is the old Waterside Mall, and in its place is Waterfront Station, which features a Safeway with an underground parking garage. It’s also next to one of the quadrant’s four Metro stops: Waterfront-SEU on the Green Line. Waterfront Station is actually a mixed-use development that features seven new buildings with more than two million square feet of space, including office space, residential units and neighborhood-oriented retail.

While Waterfront is still under construction, it offers hope for a new, modern future for Southwest, all in close proximity to Washington Nationals Park in nearby Southeast. In fact, the fates of both Southeast and Southwest along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers may be tied together, as shown by the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly. In that vein, this site from the developers of the Southwest Waterfront Project shows you what’s hopefully in store for the future renter here. That future consists of a waterfront lined with cafes and restaurants, and infused with public art; a place where boating, bicycling and retail outlets all mix together in one happy milieu, and who wouldn’t wanna be part of that?

You can already check out the waterfront at the Gangplank Marina, a 309-slip marine facility (transient slips are limited; would-be sailors should contact the marina ahead of time) where you can take an Odyssey Cruise and explore the city’s sites by water.

The famous Arena Stage – which, after a decade hiatus, recently reopened as the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater – is located in Southwest, too.

Finally, the quadrant features East Potomac Park, famous for being home to the Jefferson Memorial. The rest of the 328-acre island features a public swimming pool, tennis courts, picnic tables and playgrounds.

Also located on park grounds is the East Potomac Golf Course, one of three city courses that are part of the U.S. National Park System. East Potomac Golf Course features three distinct courses (one 18- and two 9-hole courses) and was rated one of Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play” in 2008 and 2009. Also onsite are the Potomac Grille, three practice holes (complete with bunkers), miniature golf, both a driving range and putting area, and the Capital City Golf School, where you can sharpen your skills.

See, Southwest has more to offer the apartment renter than you thought. Visit Apartment Showcase for more information.

Scott D

Scott D

Scott is a local writer and has been with the Apartment Showcase blog since its inception in 2010.

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