From its lofty perch on wooded bluffs south of the Capitol, the west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital holds breathtaking views of the District of Columbia, the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and Northern Virginia. With restricted access, however, those are views few Washingtonians have taken in.
Slowly but surely, access to this jewel is coming back. After years of neglect, the properties on the 176-acre site, protected by their status as a National Historic Landmark, are being re-developed.
Owned by the Federal Government, St. Elizabeth will see three phases that will bring in the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies. Phase 1 is currently under way.
In conjunction with the General Services Administration, the D.C. Preservation League hosted a walking tour yesterday morning of the west campus. With a turnout of about 50, Thomas Otto of GSA gave an excellent two-hour tour.
The first stop covered the mammoth “Center Building,” the hospital built in the 1860s for mentally ill patients. Thomas U. Walter, who also designed the dome of the Capitol, designed the building in the Gothic-style. He set out a series of adjoined wings, which was inspired by The Kirkbride Plan.
Thomas told us Ezra Pound had a stay here in the 1940s. At one point, over 7,000 patients received treatment. The facility closed in the 1980s, with transfer to the East campus on the other side of Martin Luther King Boulevard.
We then walked over to the eastern edge, which sports views of Bolling AFB, National Airport and Alexandria. To our left stood the new buildings for the Coast Guard. Their hillside location is sympathetic to its surroundings, unseen from most of the rest of the grounds.
An historical marker notes some 300 soldiers are buried there. They were wounded during the Civil War and died at the hospital. Otto said his research lead him to believe Confederate soldiers are not among the remains.
With much anticipation we then approached the northern edge of the property dotted with oak trees. The capitol comes into the view, then Nationals Park and Navy Yard, and then perhaps the best view of Washington, Virginia and even parts of Maryland.
Below the steep hill lies the tracks for the streetcar that will run from Bolling AFB into the city.
All in all, a great tour. I had the pleasure of meeting John Mueller.
The East Campus is also being redeveloped. The District of Columbia plans to create a technology/innovation center, currently dubbed “1776.” A “Gateway Pavilion” at Redwood and Sycamore Street will greet visitors, host a farmers market and restaurants, and spark mixed use. With much more access, this will be the heart of the new St Elizabeths, and will help with the continuing revitalization of this part of Southeast D.C.
Not sure about the views on the east side. If and when, we stand ready for that walking tour.
Note: Otto said a museum is planned for the West Campus, as well as a book on the history of St. E’s.