A City of Contradictions: The Penn Quarter

On April 14th, 1865 President Abraham Lincoln was shot, by John Wilkes Booth, at Ford’s Theater during a performance of Our American Cousin. He became the first President in United States history to be assassinated.

In 1892 construction began on a new post office building for the District of Columbia. It became the first government building to include its own power plant. 15 years after its completion the post office was considered old and shabby and new one was built by Union Station.

With its completion in 1867, after 31 years of construction, the Patent Office Building filled one city block worth of space. It was the home of scale models sent in by inventors hoping to obtain patents for their work. Even before its completion the building gained renowned as being the location of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball.

Today all these historical landmarks can be seen in one corner of DC: The Penn Quarter. Visitors can take tours through Ford’s Theater and witness where President Lincoln met his fate. Those wishing to beat the crowds and still see the iconic theater by taking in a show. Though no longer a post office, the Old Post Office Pavilion is still standing. You can take a tour up the clock tower for a view of the city, or find a seat in the giant food court for a bite to eat. While patents may not be filing into the Old Patent Office Building, paintings and photographs are as the building is now the home of the National Portrait Gallery.

Besides these attractions the area is home to several other theaters, the National Archives, and the Spy Museum. It is one of the oldest areas of the city. None of the buildings match. All are laced with their own unique architecture and design.  You’ll be hard pressed to find any uniformity in the streets or identical buildings standing next to each other.

On a typical 3-day trip to Washington, DC the Penn Quarter usually doesn’t make the cut. Tourists are generally more concerned with the Smithsonian, the Mall, the Capitol Building, and…oh yeah the White House. It’s a shame. The history that so many come to DC to explore isn’t what they are going and seeing. Tourists go to the monuments and the memorials to see history, but what they’re really seeing are just that, monuments and memorials to history, not history itself. The Penn Quarter lets the tourist see history. While they may not house the same culture or environment they did when they were built, many of the oldest buildings in DC that line the streets of the Penn Quarter, are open to the public. In many ways it is the one chance you have to walk in the steps of those that have come before you, without the hassle of getting a special government authorized pass.

In my eyes, besides the amazing history issuing from every corner of the quarter, the amazing thing is how unique every building, statue and street light are from each other. For a photographer who likes capturing what’s different and likes capturing detail, it becomes poetic. It becomes a place where every photograph can tell its own story, without having to force the image to do so.

The Penn Quarter may often be forgotten, but its rich history allows it to constantly keep telling its story.


Old Post Office Pavilion


Ford's Theater


Downtown Penn Quarter: Madame Tussauds


Government Building: The Penn Quarter


Window Framing: The Penn Quarter


The National Portrait Gallery


Street View of the Penn Quarter





The Penn Quarter


The Penn Quarter




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