Western Avenue
Western Avenue NW
Former name(s)Columbia Boulevard, Boundary Avenue
OwnerDistrict of Columbia
Maintained byDDOT
Length3.5 mi (5.6 km)[1]
LocationNorthwest, Washington, D.C.
Nearest metro stationFriendship Heights
Coordinates38°58′00″N 77°04′41″W / 38.966735°N 77.078174°W / 38.966735; -77.078174
West end MD 396 (Westmoreland Circle)
MD 355 (Wisconsin Avenue)
MD 185 / Chevy Chase Circle
East endOregon Avenue NW
CommissionedJanuary 1893[2]
Construction startc. 1900
Completionc. 1931
DesignerU.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Western Avenue is one of three boundary streets between Washington, D.C., and the state of Maryland. It follows a southwest-to-northeast line, beginning at Westmoreland Circle in the south and ending at Oregon Avenue NW in the north. It is roughly 3.5 miles (5.6 km) in length.[1] First proposed in 1893, it was constructed somewhat fitfully from about 1900 to 1931.


Western Avenue passes through largely residential neighborhoods on its journey north until it reaches the retail-heavy Friendship Heights neighborhood, where it crosses Wisconsin Avenue NW. After a short distance north through more residential areas, it passes through Chevy Chase Circle, where it crosses Connecticut Avenue NW. Its remaining length is again residential, passing through Pinehurst Circle until it reached Oregon Avenue NW. For most of its length it is a two-lane street with curbside parking, although it widens to four lanes around the traffic-heavy Friendship Heights area. The street lies entirely within the District of Columbia and is itself not the boundary of the city, which "runs right through the front lawns of the houses on the Maryland side of Western Avenue."[3]


Originally, government officials did not foresee that the city of Washington would expand to fill the boundaries of the entire District of Columbia. The "Federal City", or City of Washington, originally lay within an area bounded by Boundary Street (northwest and northeast), 15th Street (east), East Capitol Street, the Anacostia River, the Potomac River, and Rock Creek.[4] "Boundary Street" was the original name for Florida Avenue, but the name was changed in 1890 as the city rapidly began expanding outward into the rural areas of what was then known as "Washington County".[5]

In January 1893, the Anthropological Society of Washington issued a report calling for a "grand avenue or boulevard to form the boundary of the District of Columbia on the three land sides".[2] The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey map for 1894 shows no street having been constructed along the District's northwest boundary.[6]

But 10 years later, in 1903, a real estate atlas of the area showed a "Columbia Boulevard" beginning just northeast of 48th Street NW and continuing northeastward along the D.C. border to approximately the nine-mile boundary stone (just short of Rock Creek itself). The street's name was "Columbia Boulevard" near the circle, but changed its name at about Chevy Chase Circle to "Boundary Avenue". Boundary Avenue resumed at the intersection of the D.C. border and what is now Parkside Drive NW, and continued uninterrupted to the North Corner Boundary Marker.[7] This street must have existed at least by early 1901, if not much earlier, as the Commissioners of the District of Columbia (the city's federally appointed government) ordered that Boundary Avenue's name be changed to "West Avenue" in August 1901.[8]

Press reports made it clear, however, that Western Avenue did not exist along the entirety of its current full length and was not completely finished. In January 1905, local citizens asked that Western Avenue be created and macadamized from Westmoreland Circle to Chevy Chase Circle.[9] The United States Army Corps of Engineers, which had authority over public works in the city at the time, approved the request in August.[10] But not much of Western Avenue existed along the planned route yet. In October 1906, the Corps created a graded section of unpaved road along the two blocks from Chevy Chase Circle to Rittenhouse Street NW.[11]

By 1907, much but not all of Western Avenue from Chevy Chase Circle to Rock Creek had been cleared of trees and brush but not graded.[12] Grading had still not occurred all the way to Westmoreland Circle, and city officials asked that the Corps do so in October 1911.[13] But the following year, Corps officials declined to condemn any more land between 41st Street NW south to the Receiving Reservoir (now known as Dalecarlia Reservoir) to complete the avenue.[14]

By 1915, however, some extensions of Western Avenue had occurred. The United States Geological Survey reported that Western Avenue now extended from Davenport Street NW to River Road NW, from 41st Street NW to Rittenhouse Street NW, and from Broad Branch Road NW to Pinehurst Circle NW.[15] Thus, only about 45 percent of the future avenue had been created. By 1918, portions of Western Avenue near Rock Creek Park were at least planned if not completed. A survey of the area in 1918 shows the block between Oregon Avenue NW and 31st Street NW, with an extension moving southwest.[16]

As more development occurred in the area, more segments of Western Avenue were finished. In May 1924, the Corps of Engineers announced that property owners along 75 percent of the Western Avenue route had willingly sold land for the street. The government had been forced to seek condemnation proceedings against the remaining landlords.[17] Two months later, the city purchased the tract bounded by 41st Street NW, Livingston Street NW, and Western Avenue NW for a city park (now Chevy Chase Recreation Center).[18] By December 1924, Western Avenue between Westmoreland Circle and 41st Street NW had been completely cleared and graded, and was due to be paved.[19] Portions of the avenue had still not been purchased from private landowners by September 1925, however, and the city government asked Congress for legislation that would provide a faster way to condemn land for the street.[20]

The city continued to maintain and even upgrade those portions of Western Avenue which were complete, however. Although the avenue between Tennyson Street NW and Pinehurst Circle was still a dirt road, the city regraded it in December 1925 to keep it in good shape.[21] The avenue from Tennyson Street NW to 43rd Street NW was graded in August 1926,[22] and the Corps paved the two blocks of Western Avenue between 41st Street NW and Chevy Chase Circle in February 1929.[23] The city was also pursued major improvements to the avenue. In 1925, the city asked that a "monumental treatment" of the junction of Eastern and Western Avenues be approved. The United States Commission of Fine Arts, which had statutory authority to review such designs, gave its approval to the idea in March 1926.[24] No such junction was ever created, however.

By 1929, Western Avenue existed as an all-weather road from Westmoreland Circle to Pinehurst Circle.[25] The following year, the National Capital Planning Commission approved the construction of a traffic circle at Friendships Heights to allow a more pleasing mix of traffic where Western Avenue, Military Road NW, and Wisconsin Avenue NW came together.[26] By 1931, the final portions of Western Avenue had still not yet been completed, but Montgomery County citizens were pressing for it.[27]

Notable attractions

Fort Bayard, an American Civil War fort listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located on Western Avenue NW between River Road NW and 47th Street NW.[28] As of 2011, Friendship Heights — which is largely bisected by Western Avenue — has become one of the most fashionable places in Maryland and the District of Columbia to live and shop.[29]


  1. ^ a b Google (December 1, 2016). "Western Avenue (Washington, D.C.)" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Geographic Nomenclature of the District of Columbia: A Report." American Anthropologist. January 1893, p. 42.
  3. ^ John Kelly, "Clarifying the D.C.-Md. border," Washington Post, September 15, 2012 Accessed 2013-09-23.
  4. ^ Hagner, Alexander. "Street Nomenclature of Washington City." Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 7 (1904), pp. 237-261, 257; Hawkins, Don Alexander. "The Landscape of the Federal City: A 1792 Walking Tour." Washington History. 3:1 (Spring/Summer 1991), p. 10-33, 16.
  5. ^ Williams, p. 9; Scott, p. 84.
  6. ^ Coast and Geodetic Survey. "District of Columbia." Washington, D.C.: Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1894, Sheets 1, 11, 21, 31, 41, and 51. Archived 2024-02-25 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2013-02-27.
  7. ^ Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia. Volume 3: West Washington and the County. Philadelphia: G.W. Baist, 1903, Plate 20, 22, and 23 Archived 2024-02-25 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2013-02-27. The existence of Boundary Avenue above Rock Creek appears unlikely, as there is no record of any road removal by the National Park Service. See: Bushong, William. Historic Resource Study: Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. August 1990 Archived 2012-07-28 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2013-02-27; Mackintosh, Barry. Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History. History Division, National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. 1985 Archived 2011-12-29 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2013-02-27. This road would have to cross Fenwick Branch, a tributary of Rock Creek. There is no record of a bridge over Fenwick Branch within the Rock Creek Park limits until 1926. See: Spratt, Zack. "Rock Creek's Bridges." Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 53/56 (1953/1956), 101-134, 105.
  8. ^ "Streets Named Anew." Washington Post. August 15, 1901.
  9. ^ "Hearing on Avenue Bill." Washington Post. January 11, 1905.
  10. ^ "New Street Extensions." Washington Post. August 19, 1905.
  11. ^ "Plan Street Improvement." Washington Post. October 18, 1906.
  12. ^ Woodward, Fred E. "A Ramble Along the Boundary Stones of the District of Columbia with a Camera." Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 10 (1907), pp. 63-87, 72; Baist, George William. Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia. Volume 3: N.W. Section, North of Florida Ave. Philadelphia : G.W. Baist, 1907, Plates 31, 33, 34, 35 Archived 2024-02-25 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2013-02-28. The Baist map continues to show a section of Western Avenue beginning at the border of Rock Creek Park, crossing Fenwick Branch, and connecting with Eastern Avenue NE at the northern tip of the District of Columbia.
  13. ^ "Ask for Street Extension." Washington Post. October 1, 1911.
  14. ^ "Disapprove Street Opening." Washington Post. December 17, 1912.
  15. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. Washington and Vicinity, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia. Surveyed in 1913-1915. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, 1917. Archived 2024-02-25 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2013-02-28.
  16. ^ Olmsted Brothers. "Diagrammatic Plan for Landscape Units. Rock Creek Park. Washington, D.C." In Rock Creek Park. December 1918, p. 56 Archived 2013-01-14 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2013-02-28. The same map shows no Western Avenue north of Rock Creek Park, however.
  17. ^ "New Boulevard Nearer." Washington Post. May 11, 1924.
  18. ^ "District to Buy Land for 6 Small Parks." Washington Post. July 27, 1924.
  19. ^ "Estimates Provide in District Streets." Washington Post. December 3, 1924.
  20. ^ "City Development Hampered By Laws Limiting Streets." Washington Post. September 2, 1925.
  21. ^ "$35,636,579 Is Total In District Budget Sent to Congress." Washington Post. December 10, 1925.
  22. ^ "Contracts Are Let to Grade Streets in Northwest Area." Washington Post. August 6, 1926.
  23. ^ "Senate Bill Gives Extra Million for Funds of District." Washington Post. February 6, 1929.
  24. ^ "Arts Commission Approves Project for New Parkway." Washington Post. March 30, 1926.
  25. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. Washington and Vicinity, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, 1929. Archived 2024-02-25 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2013-02-28.
  26. ^ "Wisconsin Avenue Portal to Receive Circle Treatment." Washington Post. November 23, 1930.
  27. ^ "Civic Federation Pushes Road Plan." Washington Post. September 15, 1931.
  28. ^ Cooling and Owen, p. 153.
  29. ^ Zibart, p. 22.