Mapping Commonplaces: Dupont Circle and the Disappearance of the “Gayborhood”

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Dupont Circle emerged as DC’s gay neighborhood, one of the first of its kind in the United States. This emergence, however, was only possible due to the “white flight” phenomenon in which whites, who feared the cities, fled to the suburban areas. In doing so, they left Dupont Circle a very affordable place to live that was quickly claimed by “out” members of the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, Dupont Circle quickly became a safe haven for this community.

However in recent years, there has been a lot of conversation online about the disappearance of DC’s “gayborhood.” This conversation was sparked in large part by the closure of many iconic LGBTQ+ establishments that helped mark the Dupont Circle as a “gay hub,” a phenomenon that is beautifully represented in this map. Sadly, I could not embed the map within my own post, and so I had to settle for screenshots of the two periods I am most interested in: the 90’s (before the onslaught of closures of these establishments) and the 2000’s to the present (when these closures were most frequent).

A map of all the LGBTQ+-affiliated businesses in the 90’s.
A map of all the LGBTQ+-affiliated businesses from the 2000’s to the fairly-recent present.

The displacement of members of the LGBTQ+ community due to the rising prices of Dupont Circle has also added fuel to this conversation. But interestingly enough, while some may attribute these high prices solely to a shortage of supply (as can be seen in the last paragraph here), several studies, such as the one summarized here, have shown that the presence of gays in liberal areas increase property values. Thus, it is the LGBTQ+ community that has helped make Dupont Circle more attractive to outsiders, and yet it is this same group of people that are being gentrified as a result.

Additionally, some have also attributed the disappearance of this mecca for the LGBTQ+ community in part to the lack of a need for one. With the pervasiveness of digital culture, it is no longer as much of a necessity as before to have physical space to interact with fellow members of the community.

This conversation was particularly intriguing to me because the built environment that I have been studying all semester— The Dupont Circle Club — has clearly been influenced by the historical presence of the LGBTQ+ community in Dupont Circle: it not only emphasizes that “all are welcome at DCC” both on its website and in its lobby, but it also has addiction recovery literature specifically for gays and lesbians. Furthermore, one of the iconic LGBTQ+ establishments, Lambda Rising, used to be located in the building right next to the Dupont Circle Club before it closed.

Thus, I decided to focus on this for my final mapping commonplaces project. Below, I have included gifs that I made from Google Maps images comparing various locations around Dupont Circle in 2018 to the earliest image of it I could find. However, all of them came out to be from approximately ten years prior. I focused specifically on those with some sort of pride flag out at one point or another.

In the space where Lambda Rising, the first LGBTQ+ bookstore in Dupont Circle, once stood is now a Comfort One Shoe that does not display a pride outside as Lambda Rising did.
Above one can see that the Church of the Pilgrim has continued to proudly hang an “All are welcome” pride flag above its entrance over the past ten years.
Although it is hard to see, if you look closely at the small board in front of this church (the Foundry United Methodist Church), you will notice a small rainbow design at the bottom of it in the 2018 picture that is not there in the 2009 photo.
While Larry’s Lounge has always been a gay bar, it is only within the last decade or so that any sort of pride flag or rainbow design was incorporated into the storefront. Before, there was none, making the business more discrete or call less attention to itself.

I was slightly surprised to see that, while some locations no longer fly pride flags and and others continue to fly them, there were other locations that have begun to display the pride flag (or some iteration of it) in the last ten years.

I believe this, when looked at in conjunction with the reality that LGBTQ+-specific places are continually closing down, speaks to the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community within mainstream society, a fact that has helped many people accept the slow fading away of the “gayborhood.”

However, just because one is accepted in a certain space does not necessarily mean that space is FOR them. Thus, this leaves us with the question: For whom does Dupont Circle exist?

Works Cited

Fulmer, Sean, and Steven Botsoe. “LGBTQ Nightlife Dissipates in the District.” The Hoya, March 15, 2019.

Gaich, Stephen. “There Goes the Gayborhood.” Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights, December 15, 2017.

Reed, Dan. “DC’s Gayborhoods Are Disappearing. How Should We Feel About That?” Washingtonian, October 6, 2017.

Societyandcultureforward. “Re-Gentrification of the Dupont Circle.” Society Culture Forward (blog), October 26, 2014.

Built Environment: Interior

A couple weeks ago, I went into Dupont Circle to observe the outside of 1623 Connecticut Avenue NW, the building that houses the Dupont Circle Club. This week, I returned to observe the Dupont Circle Club again — but this time, I went to survey the interior of the Club’s space.

As I mentioned in my previous blogpost, the building was built in 1911, and just as the outside of the building is indicative of this fact, so is the inside. While the building’s age is much more obvious when looking at the exterior, one can also tell from certain details on the interior, such as the crown molding along the ceiling, the mantel of the fireplace, and some of the doors.

However, one thing about the inside of the Dupont Circle Club that is different from the outside of it is the tone. While the exterior of the building comes off to me as somewhat cold and intimidating, I felt like the inside gave off a very warm and welcoming feeling. This, I believe, is due to several reasons: first, a majority of the space is painted fairly warm and vibrant colors. I felt that this was particularly the case for the meeting room below.

Second, rather than using very big, bright overhead lighting, the Dupont Circle Club relies on natural light and smaller light fixtures mounted on the walls, which I felt created a much more homey and comfortable environment. Third, there were various posters and pamphlets (such as those pictured below) that indicate more than just one type of person is welcome in the Club’s space. Lastly, the people who help run the Club and who come to the Club to attend meetings are generally very welcoming people. During my time looking around, I had a number of people smile at me and greet me verbally.

Speaking of the people who make up the community at the Dupont Circle Club, I noticed that while I was there, it is primarily white and Black people in attendance. Furthermore, it seemed that the majority were male, but of course there were also a few females in attendance as well. This make up could potentially reflect the diversity levels in the larger Dupont Circle community, national statistics about who goes to addiction recovery centers, or both. However, it is impossible to say for sure with out looking further into this.

The rooms in which meeting are held more or less all look the same. All three meeting rooms have various addiction recovery related posters and other decorations on the wall and dark blue-cushion chairs lined up around the space. Additionally, all of the rooms that the Club owns and utilizes are all connected to one another, which creates a fairly open space that is very easy to navigate.

In addition to these three meeting rooms, there is also an office/reception desk area and a lobby. In the office area, there are (unsurprisingly) various business related items such as a desk with a computer and file cabinets. What was slightly surprising to see, however, was a pantry with various snacks and beverages. But for anyone who looks at the sheets of paper posted next to the reception window, they* will realize that all these items are the things the Club advertises selling. In the lobby, there is a big bulletin board with various advertisements and announcements. It is on this bulletin board that one will find the only object (that I found) that states the organization’s mission.

The only other indication of the site’s use is the piece of paper pictured below that can be found in various places that lists all of the different meeting times for all of the different groups.

However, the lobby area also has keys with name tags strung along the ceiling, which are meant to honor the Club’s key supporters, whose donations have helped keep the organization’s doors open.

*The use of “they” here is intentional because it is an all-inclusive, gender-neutral term.

The Dupont Circle Club: A Battle Against Rent

“DONATE.” This word, and various iterations of it, always seems to find a home on the websites and pamphlets of different charities and nonprofits. Understandably so, however, since these organizations rely heavily on the donations of outsiders to continue pursuing their respective missions. But the commonality of donation-eliciting tactics has, I would argue, desensitized most people to them. In other words, upon seeing something that encourages them to donate, most people will not think much of it (unless, of course, they are deeply interested in or moved by the organization’s cause), simply brushing these efforts off as “just something that charities and nonprofits do.” Yet not all organizations use the same strategies to raise capital, nor do they execute the same general strategies in the same exact way. In other words, these tactics are tailored to fit the particular needs or concerns of the organization. Thus, I propose that these tactics, such as having a donate button on the organization’s website, are not merely normative behavior expected of these types of organizations, but also useful tools that can help give clues about the external factors and forces affecting a particular organization. The usefulness of donation strategies in giving deeper insight into the larger picture can be seen clearly with the Dupont Circle Club, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization in Dupont Circle that aims to provide a safe and welcoming place for people to embark on their addiction recovery journeys. This essay, then, aims to argue that the Dupont Circle Club’s large effort in garnering donations could be in part due to a larger problem: the rising prices in Dupont Circle.

Here are some screenshots of the Dupont Circle Club’s homepage for reference

While it does seek to educate people about its mission, the Dupont Circle Club also greatly utilizes its homepage to garner donations. As with any homepage, the Dupont Circle Club homepage aims to provide people with basic information about the organization: the title informs people that the Dupont Circle Club is “Your Local Meeting Place in DC for 12-Step Recovery” and the body of text begins with stating the organization’s mission: “Improve Lives, One Person at a Time.” The homepage even provides visitors with a map of where exactly the Dupont Circle Club is located in Dupont Circle. However, these components that seek to familiarize people with the organization coexist with many other components of the website that seek to encourage people to donate. For example, the Dupont Circle Club has several modules along the sides of the webpage that link people to donation-related pages. More specifically, these modules link people to the organization’s online donation page, AmazonSmile, a website created by Amazon that “will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice,” and the Club’s donation form. Additionally, the Dupont Circle Club bolded the phrases “help us keep the doors open,” “Remember,” “501 (c) 3 non-profit,” and “tax deductible.” “Tax deductible” is particularly eye-catching due to the fact that it is also underlined and italicized. These text-style choices effectively emphasize these words to the visitor, along with the idea that ties them all together: donating. These two tactics, of course, are in addition to the three sub-pages of the “Giving” section of the website’s main menu. As a result of the sheer number of homepage aspects that focus on it, raising money has a very strong presence.

The Phoenix House’s Homepage
The very top part of MARR Addiction Treatment Center’s homepage

However, from looking at the websites of similar organizations, donation-eliciting efforts having a strong presence on the homepage does not seem to be the norm. For comparison’s sake, let us look at the homepages of the websites for the Phoenix House and the MARR Addiction Treatment Center, two other nonprofit addiction recovery centers. While they share similar features, the homepages for the Phoenix House and the MARR Addiction Treatment Center do not have nearly the same number of links that bring visitors to donation-related pages as the homepage for the Dupont Circle Club, nor is there any text present on their homepages that are dedicated to convincing people why they should donate. As a result, donation activity is not competing with the mission for attention on these two homepages in the same way it is on the Dupont Circle Club homepage. But the fact that two randomly selected organizations with similar structures and missions do not emphasize donating nearly as much as the Dupont Circle Club strongly indicates that the Dupont Circle Club is not following some sort of normative behavior or niche culture; rather it has chosen to have its efforts to bring in donations take on a fairly central role.  

One possible reason the Dupont Circle Club’s donation efforts are playing a large role is the rising prices of space in Dupont Circle. Since the early 1990s, rent in Dupont Circle has been rising. This increase in price is particularly noticeable when looking at the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005 because rent doubled, or even tripled, for some locations in Dupont Circle during that time. As a result, numerous stores, many of which helped give Dupont Circle its character, were forced to close, including Schwartz Pharmacy, Janus Theater, and Larimer’s market. But while this price trend perhaps has not been as drastically evident in recent years, it still very much exists. Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate services company, states on its blog that, “The Dupont Circle neighborhood is still affected by changes that are being seen across the DC metro region–a shortage of Class B supply due to ownership renovations repositioning has made rents steadily climb.” In other words, businesses and organizations in Dupont Circle are continually being faced with rent that is harder and harder to afford. The Dupont Circle Club, of course, is among this lot. But with a steadily rising rent expense, it is most likely becoming harder for the Dupont Circle Club to cover all of its expenses; funds that were previously enough to get it by are probably no longer sufficient. However, it is equally probable that the organization finds the thought of giving up its location in Dupont Circle for one elsewhere extremely hard since its location has played an integral role in shaping its character and identity. Dupont Circle is built into the very name, and thus fabric, of the organization, and so it does not make much sense for it to be located anywhere else but in Dupont Circle. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the Dupont Circle Club opted for the only other plausible option it had: trying to increase donations so that it can afford to remain in Dupont Circle. Such a choice would then help explain the stronger presence of donation-eliciting tactics on the Dupont Circle Club’s homepage as compared to similar organization’s homepages.

However, the increasing prices in Dupont Circle are not only affecting businesses; they are affecting people too. Although it is much harder to notice than the effects on businesses with storefronts, the effects of increased prices on people is equally important. But Dupont Circle becoming more and more expensive is not affecting just any and all groups of people; it is particularly affecting members of the LGBTQ+ community, the community for whom the Dupont Circle previously existed, who can no longer afford to live there. While LGBTQ+-identified people being pushed out from a certain DC neighborhood may not seem to have relevance to most of us at the outset, it, in actuality, does. Gentrification is not unique to DC; it is a phenomenon that is affecting cities across the country, and because it is typically a minority group being forced out by the majority group, I believe it merits a moment of our thought. Why is this occurring? How are those being gentrified affected? Should this be addressed? How so? These are the types of questions we should be asking ourselves so that we as a society can make more intentional, informed decisions in the future rather than acting as if all of our actions occur in a vacuum where no such thing as a ripple effect exist.

Built Environment: Exterior

The site that I chose to analyze as a built environment is the Dupont Circle Club, a non-profit organization that aids those struggling with addiction with their recovery. It is located at 1623 Connecticut Avenue NW, which is just one block north of Dupont Circle. While they have been in existence since 1989, the Dupont Circle Club has only been operating from its present location since the early 90s. However, the building itself has been around since 1911, and it most definitely shows its age. As seen above, the design of the building, but particularly the engravings above the largest windows, are quite dated styles. Furthermore, the fact that the bricks of the building are no longer red and show signs of having required repairs in the past also indicates that the building is fairly old. I believe that it is due to the building’s antiquated design and its overall ashen brown color scheme that I did not get a particularly welcoming or warm aura from the building, despite the possibility that such an environment exists within the organization as a result of the nature of their work.

Additionally, I found it a little difficult to actually locate the Dupont Circle Club. Aside from the Club using the space to conduct their recovery meetings, the building is also used by a psychic reading business. Furthermore, there is a vacant space on the ground level currently up for lease, a space that was formerly used by Lou Lou, a popular boutique store. However, because the Dupont Circle Club does not occupy the only street-level space in the building, the door leading upstairs to the Club is the only thing that can clue people in on their existence. But because they only have a fairly small poster on the door that says “Dupont Circle Club” and lists their phone number and website address, it is quite easy to miss. The fact that a tree covers part of the front of the building also does not really help. If anything, people will be alerted to the existence of the psychic reading business because they not only have a light up sign above the door stating, “Psychic Readings,” but they also have an A-frame sign on the sidewalk near the entrance that advertises their business. The Dupont Circle Club simply seems to lack such noticeable advertising.

However, I must emphasize again that the difficulty in finding the Club stems from a lack of clear physical markers of the organization rather than a lack of easy access to the site itself. In fact, it is actually quite easy to navigate to the building itself. The sidewalks and the streets were fairly well maintained, and it is not in a very obscure place but is rather quite centrally located. The Dupont Circle Club is located on a street that is lined with various businesses, including a lot of popular ones such as Subway, Starbucks, Loft, and Chipotle. As a result, there is quite a lot of foot-traffic in front of its building, even on a weekday when this photo was taken. But because the Club is located in such a busy place, it is quite noisy there.