Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Washington DC's Elusive Visitors Center

Have you ever tried to take visitors to the Official Washington DC Visitor Center?   In my experience every major tourist city has a prominently placed tourist and visitors information center,centrally located for visitors to get up-to-date brochures and maps of tourist attractions. I've usually found its location on the Internet.

Thus I began my search for DC's Center and learned of two locations for the site in D. C.
  • White House Visitors Center at the corner of 15th St.& Pennsylvania Ave NW,  and
  • Destination DC at 901 7th Street NW #400
Since I volunteer at the White House Visitor Center, I knew we were not the place to get general tourist information. Our location is perfect, just one block from the White House, one of the most highly visited places in the city. However as a National Park we do not distribute commercial material. Ours is a recently remodeled facility telling the history of the White House and in my opinion a place EVERY one should visit.  It is also a place where we are deluged with questions about other sights in the city.

Thus 901 7th St. NW #400 must be the place!  Being a rather experienced traveler and one well acquainted with the city's attractions, it seemed like a rather strange location to attract an anticipated throng of visitors - a 4th floor somewhere between Chinatown and the Convention Center. Yet driving down Seventh Street I saw nothing on 7th Street but a bank and an underground parking garage. Disappointed, I returned home, found their telephone number and was told the entrance was actually on I Street?!  

And there, some fifty or so feet from 7th Street, halfway between the Goethe Association and 6th and I Historic Synagogue was the entrance that took me to their very attractive office.  They seemed rather surprised by my intrusion, and in response to my questions about its remote location, I was told that they serve downtown tourists and the convention center.

But where does that leave the visitor to who comes to the major attractions in the city, unattached to a convention, who wants information on the city sights?  As a volunteer at the White House Visitors Center I know there are thousands of visitors who want maps, brochures, advertisements about the city's attractions. I doubt there is an area more visited than around the White House. Ours would be a perfect spot for a Center  - Near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue!

Eureka - there is a such a spot.  It's extremely easy to spot a vastly under-used area even closer to the White House than our Visitors Center, and that is Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park

Having spent 15 years of weekly attendance in that area I can attest to its under use. Rarely (except when there are special events) are there more than a very few people taking advantage of the enclosed gazebo or the seats in the area. Undoubtedly there would be complications from the various governmental agencies that have an interest in the site. I'm sure historians might find a Visitor Center a desecration to the memory of  General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing of World War I fame an improper homage to the man.   Although a plaque with the current statue could bring even greater attention to his past contributions to our country.

While this rant of Ron seems rather pedestrian, I hope it might alert appropriate authorities to the need for establishing a first-class visitors center in a first-class city.

 Issuing this rant a week early enables me to have a vacation in Michigan. The regular schedule is the 2nd and 4th Monday of the Month.  I hope you can check them out at http://www.ronlehkersrants.blogspot.com


  1. Hi Ron! So I work in the convention industry - Destination DC is more set up to help interface with the planners of large-scale meetings. They promote the benefits of the city to these planners in hopes of luring in meetings that generate millions of dollars in economic impact to the city through hotel stays, food and beverage purchases and obviously tourism as well.

    So they're not really a destination for rank and file tourists, more of a high level group that does an amazing job of promoting the interests of DC to bring in corporate money. It's a vital service to the city! Thanks for the awesome blog, as always!

  2. A VERY valid point, however, it does not negate the need for a CENTRALLY LOCATED, EASILY ACCESSIBLE venue WHEN VISITORS ARE HERE IN DC to get the materials. The materials they have are splendid - they just need to be available in an accessible place. THAT is the problem that needS attention. It was quite dramatic that so often at the White House Visitors Center we have had to play that role rather than educating the public on the history of the White House.