Designed in the mid-19th century as one of the first suburbs in DC, Anacostia was built for the working class, many of whom worked at the nearby Navy Yard. The neighborhood's homogeneous Victorian and Federal homes feature subtle differentiating details, but you must admire them from afar because most are private residences. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue has long been the commercial hub of the neighborhood. Visit the World's Largest Chair, an Anacostia favorite, and meeting point that went up in 1959 at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and V Street in front of the now-closed Curtis Brothers Furniture Store. Originally made of solid mahogany, the Duncan Phyfe dining room chair was replaced in 2006 by an aluminum replica to prevent decay. As you marvel its 19.5 foot-tall stature, imagine it in 1960, when the company hired a model to live in a 10x10 cubicle on the seat for 42 days.
In between visits to historic sites, stop into this bright and cozy cafe for a macchiato or a salmon burger. Full of decorative art and comfy, velvety chairs and couches, you'll likely be greeted by the warm and cheery manager, Banti Yimenu or owner Ayeaqbizu Yimenu. Their sole purpose is to ensure Big Chair is one of the most memorable places you'll visit in DC. Across from the Big Chair landmark, the coffee shop features bright orange décor, art covered walls and a dark wooden espresso bar that releases a warm aura. Stay a while. The cafe serves breakfast sandwiches and caters corporate events, too.
Known as the “Sage of Anacostia,” Frederick Douglass' former home is perched atop grassy Cedar Hill, from which the house takes its name. In 1877, Douglass bought the property once owned by the developer of Anacostia, then named Uniontown and forbidden to African Americans. In the visitor's center, view artifacts like Douglass' death mask, the first book Douglass learned how to read (the Columbian Orator), and President Lincoln's walking cane. Taking a formal, 30-minute tour of the 21-room mansion is the only way to see inside. Sneak a peek at a reconstruction of the famed abolitionist's “Growlery” onsite, the one-room building where he went to retreat, release tension and “growl.” Tickets are available by reservation on a first-come, first-served basis. It is 85 steps from the street to the front door. Reward your effort with a sweeping view of downtown Washington monuments while sitting with a picnic lunch under a tree.
Walter Shaw founded the 10-acre, manmade water garden on original tidal wetlands in the 1800s out of love for his native Maine's lily pads. The park, which helps filter the Anacostia River, wasn't open to the public until the early 20th century, when Shaw's daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, saved the gardens from destructive dredging. Kenilworth Park remains a popular attraction for amateur photographers, lotus and flower lovers, who reap the fruits of the Shaws' labor with a half-mile River Trail walk for a view of the Anacostia River, or a peaceful read on a seat at the end of a quarter-mile garden boardwalk. Flowers are in their most open state during the spring and summer between 6:30 and 9 a.m. You'll may also spy beaver, heron, frogs, turtles and other wildlife. Free guided tours are available at 9 and 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Pets are welcome.
Keep your mind a blank slate before entering this museum, as its purpose to challenge your definition of the word “community.” Exhibits combine visuals with outreach, change often, and are guided by staff and guest curators who work hard to feature the work of local artists and thought leaders. Don't be surprised if you happen to meet one of the artists on any given day.