South by West – November 2017

A bar across from the InterContinental Hotel adjacent to the Washington Channel on the Wharf Street promenade was popular during Pumpkinpalooza on Oct. 21.

Open Spaces Key to Wharf Appeal
In the first few weeks since The Wharf held its grand opening celebration, thousands have flocked to the Southwest waterfront to take a stroll along Wharf Street promenade and make contact with the District’s riverfront. The half-mile-long, 60-foot-wide cobblestone promenade is a prominent feature of District Wharf, with separate zones for cafe seating, limited mixed traffic, and a pedestrian promenade. Kiosks are located along the promenade, including Florentjin Wafelhuis and Red Hook Lobster Pound. A bar on the Washington Channel side of the promenade with cafe seating under a trellis was a popular hangout on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Wharf Street’s design is inspired by the “woonerf,” a Dutch concept giving equal access to automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. While popular in Europe, this style of street is not as common in the United States. At The Wharf, the texture of the pavement is designed to make cars slow down and gives pedestrians cues where to cross the street. The street is curbless, by design.

Four Public Piers Await
Market Pier is located closest to the Municipal Fish Market, itself undergoing a transformation that will debut next spring. Once the improvements to the Municipal Fish Market are complete, an area called Market Square will include a rum distillery, Rappahannock Oyster Company, and other establishments to complement the fish market. The pier can be used to access the market docks, with slips available for short-term visits.

Transit Pier is where visitors can catch a water taxi to Georgetown or Alexandria offered by Potomac Riverboat Company. Future destinations will include National Harbor and Navy Yard. A new fleet of yellow water taxis was designed to move faster in the water but not cause waves, since most of the waters along the Washington Channel and the Potomac River are no-wake zones. The water taxi fare is $12 one way or $20 roundtrip. Cantina Bambina, which is a mini version of Cantina Marina with limited food service, is also located on Transit Pier. In the wintertime, the pier will convert into an ice skating rink.

The largest pier at The Wharf is District Pier, which stretches 650 feet into the Washington Channel. This is where most of the large festivals and events will take place and is designed to be a civic gathering space. For instance, this is where the grand opening festivities for The Wharf were held on Oct. 12. At the far end of the pier is the Dockmaster Building, which directs traffic in the Washington Channel. Visiting tall ships can dock alongside the pier. On the land side of District Pier is District Square, the main arrival point from the parking garage to The Wharf. The square is lined with shops, and a large fountain is visible from Ninth Street. The restaurant Requin by Mike Isabella is prominently located within District Square.

On Recreation Pier next to Seventh Street Park, visitors can catch a jitney ferry to East Potomac Park for a round of golf or tennis; rent kayaks and paddleboards or launch their own; or gather by a fire sculpture at the far edge of the pier and watch the sunset. Swings set up along the pier were large enough for adults to use, but after some people were injured using them, they were taken out of commission. It’s unknown whether the swings will be redesigned or replaced with something else.

Adjacent to Recreation Pier is Seventh Street Park, an oval-shaped open space located at the terminus of Seventh Street. This space is more formal in nature and contains walking paths with trees and grass. A water feature on the side closest to Wharf Street has become popular with kids.

Other open spaces of various size are scattered throughout the development, such as Sutton Square, a plaza located next to the VIO condominiums used by music performers. Waterfront Park, a three-acre park adjacent to 525 Water condos near Pier 4, where the cruise ship operators launch their vessels, was completed in the spring. It is a tranquil open space away from the more commercialized portions of The Wharf.

More Open Spaces Planned in Phase II
By far the largest open space planned in the second phase of The Wharf is M Street Landing. The nearly two-acre landscaped plaza will be located across from Arena Stage and will maintain the view of the Washington Channel for theater patrons from inside the facility. The park is planned to include an interactive fountain, shade trees, and seating areas in a series of “outdoor rooms” which allow for programming such as farmers’ markets and performances. A variety of plantings will give the area life throughout the year.

Between a new office building planned next to Seventh Street Park and a hotel, an area called The Grove will contain a grove of Kentucky coffeetrees set among seat walls, offering a shady respite for those walking along Wharf Street promenade.

Another planned open space, located near Waterfront Park, called The Terrace, will act as a buffer between the more commercial areas of The Wharf and the tranquil Waterfront Park. Some design cues from Waterfront Park will continue at The Terrace, such as a green lawn, plantings, and pathways. It will also contain seating for adjacent restaurants.

These public areas continue the tradition of providing significant open space in Southwest development projects, albeit more accessible to the public. Many of the mid-century modern buildings in Southwest were designed around open spaces, such as courtyards, plazas, and large buffers from the street. Over the years, fencing blocked off access in certain areas while other spaces were reserved for building residents. Hopefully the open spaces at The Wharf will remain open for all to enjoy.


William Rich is a blogger at Southwest … The Little Quadrant that Could (