A quirky and endearing Barbie doll art installation, a beer-inspired castle, a memorial honoring the late Sonny Bono, an art museum’s bizarre art heist, and a Hindu Goddess showering love and admiration for our forty-fourth president are just some of the incredible and lesser-known stories just waiting to be explored in in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
Below are five fascinating sites and stories to uncover as you set out to explore around the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Check out local DC author JoAnn Hill’s book Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure to learn more about the hidden histories below as well as to discover dozens of additional gems and off-the-beaten path locales in and around the Washington, DC area.
Barbie Pond on Avenue Q
“Living in a DC Barbie World”
Welcome to DC’s Barbie Pond on Avenue Q, a quirky, odd, and sometimes even provocative attraction prominently displayed along a charming tree-lined street.
The Barbie Pond is a collection of Barbie dolls positioned around a pond in the anonymous artist’s front yard. The whacky and revered installation rotates monthly, often reflecting pop culture trends, seasons and holidays, and of course DC’s pervasive political scene. The unconventional artist clearly devotes a great amount of thought, time, and energy to create topical, progressive, and engaging displays.
While all themed presentations are creative and zany, some are more elaborate and eccentric than others. Themes run the gamut, ranging from holiday-themed dioramas depicting Valentine’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Halloween to more politically charged themes like welcoming the Obamas when they moved into the neighborhood post-presidency.
Read All About It: Learn more about this offbeat art installation and feel-good attraction on pages 34-35 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Barbie Pond is easily seen and enjoyed from the sidewalk. It’s free and open to the public all day, every day.
Where: Barbie Pond is located at 1454 ½ Q St. NW.
“Prost: A Brewmaster and His Castle”
DC’s burgeoning craft beer and brewery scene has become a welcome mainstay of late. The art of brewing, however, is nothing new to the city. The palatial Christian Heurich House, better known as the Brewmaster’s Castle, is
the District’s original brewery, and arguably one of the most resplendent in the nation. Situated on a tree-lined residential street in DC’s affluent Dupont Circle neighborhood, the chocolate- colored castle is often overlooked by passersby. Many are unaware of its rich and fascinating history tracing back to German beer brewer Christian Heurich.
In the 1890s, Heurich created an enormous, incombustible brewery where the famous Kennedy Center stands today that could produce over half a million barrels a year. Heurich became the second largest employer in DC, surpassed only by the government. Heurich used his abundant wealth to build a palatial home with his second wife. The imposing Victorian home served as his home until his death in 1945 at the age of 102.
Heurich’s opulent home is now a national historic landmark where individuals can tour the home’s beautifully preserved first two floors.
Read all about it: Learn more about the history of the Brewmaster’s Castle and its museum and events on pages 130-131 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: While the building remains closed due to Covid-19 precautions, the lovely garden is open to the public and beer and cider are available for purchase and pick-up. Visit their website for hours and additional information.
Where: Brewmaster Castle is located at 1307 New Hampshire Avenue NW.
Sonny Bono Memorial Park
“I Got You Babe”
Think every national memorial needs to be majestic, made of marble or stone, and teeming with tourists? Think again. Some memorials are tiny, tranquil, and quite easy to miss if you don’t know where and what you’re looking for.
In 1998, long-time DC resident and real estate developer Geary Simon dedicated an 800-square-foot triangular patch of grass as a memorial to late legendary singer Salvatore Bono, known to millions around the world as Sonny Bono.
Following Bono’s fatal ski accident, Simon contacted the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and took advantage of DC’s Adopt-a-Park program to convert an overgrown and unkept traffic triangle near Dupont Circle into an urban shrine commemorating his dear friend.
Simon contributed tens of thousands of dollars of his own money and was the leading force behind the memorial’s design. Sonny Bono Memorial Park features underground lights, stone benches, imported Kentucky bluegrass, and a tree from Bono’s congressional district in Southern California. The peaceful park is a loving reminder that DC’s got you, Sonny. Today and always.
Read all about it: Learn more about this small but charming park on pages 8-9 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Sonny Bono Memorial Park is less than a 5-minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro station, which services the red line.
Where: Sonny Bono Park is located at intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, 20th Street, and O Street, near Dupont Circle.
The Phillips Collection
“Sorry, For Stealing, But Please Tighten Your Security”
Mention the words “art heist” and there’s a good chance that a
slew of action-packed movies like The Thomas Crown Affair and Entrapment conjures up to mind. Well, it turns out that art museum thefts aren’t exclusive to Hollywood films; sometimes they occur right in your neighborhood, sometimes the stolen masterpieces turn up in unexpected places, and sometimes the thefts are executed to teach the museum a lesson.
Located in DC’s prestigious Dupont Circle neighborhood, The Phillips Collection is home to more than 5,000 pieces in styles ranging from French impressionism and American modernism to contemporary art. It is regarded as the nation’s oldest modern art museum.
In January 1983, the typically quiet museum was anything but; instead, it became the center of an art heist, bustling with commotion and confusion. A museum guard became suspicious when he noticed a man leaving the museum with his arms wrapped around a bunched-up tweed coat. It didn’t take long for the museum to realize that the man, accompanied by a female companion, had stolen “Virgin Alsace,” a 1920 statue by Antoine Bourdelle valued at $35,000.
Read All About It: Learn more about this bizarre art heist on pages 46-47 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: The Phillips Collection is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Timed tickets are required for entry and can be reserved on their website.
Where: The Phillips Collection is located at 1600 21st Street NW.
Saraswati Statue at the Embassy of Indonesia
“Hindu Goddess and President Barack Obama”
Expressions of respect, love, and admiration can come in many forms. In a city like Washington, DC, it’s not uncommon for that type of expression to come in an overt form, like by erecting a monument or statue. The Indonesian Embassy chose to do just that when they unveiled a statue of Saraswati, the epochal Hindu representation of education, on their grounds, simultaneously declaring their partnership with the United States while expressing their adoration of the United States’ 44th president.
The predominantly white statue stands 16 feet tall and features gold accents. The Goddess has four arms. Her front left hand plays a musical instrument, her back right hand holds a manuscript symbolizing knowledge, and her back-left hand holds akshamala, or prayer beads, which represent the continuous process of learning. The centerpiece is a sizeable swan, reminding onlookers the difference between right and wrong. Arguably the most notable art of the statue is the three young children sitting at its base reading a book. The child seated on the left is a young Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia from ages six to ten. The sculpture depicts Obama reading with his classmates during his time in grade school in Indonesia.
The majestic statue stands on top of a lotus in front of the Indonesian Embassy a block from the Indian embassy and a mile from the White House.
Read All About It: Learn more about the Saraswati Statue and its meaningful tribute to President Obama it on pages 106-107 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: The statue is outside and free to view.
Where: The Embassy of Indonesia is located at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue NW.