Pennsylvania Avenue: Washington, D.C.


Often called "America's Main Street" and L'Enfant's "Grand Avenue," Pennsylvania Avenue connects the corridors of power in the nation's capital, including the three branches of government and large federal agencies. Although a visual connection between the White House and the Capitol was interrupted by the Treasury Building, the view of the Capitol has been preserved and enhanced by the buildings on either side that are significantly set back from the street.

Designated Area

Pennsylvania Avenue from First Street NW to 15th Street NW.

Bicyclists riding along Pennsylvania Avenue with Freedom Plaza in the background. Photo courtesy DDOT

Planning Excellence

Today, the street contains a mix of civic spaces, public buildings, monuments, parks, local government, residences, hotels, theaters, and museums. For over 200 years, Pennsylvania Avenue has been the site of historic events such as presidential inaugurations, state funerals, and protests, marches, and celebrations. A march down Pennsylvania Avenue holds great symbolic meaning and has played a role in the fight for workers' rights, women's suffrage, and civil rights.

The Old Post Office Pavilion and the U.S. Capitol in the distance. Photo courtesy DDOT.

Defining Characteristics, Features


  • Original L'Enfant Plan called for a one-mile "grand avenue" to connect the "Congress House" to the "Presidential Palace" (1791)
  • First inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue celebrated Thomas Jefferson's second inauguration (1805)
  • Old Post Office Pavilion was part of an economic development effort to improve the character of Pennsylvania Avenue, which had fallen into disrepute(1899)
  • Congress created the United States Commission on Fine Arts and passed the Heights Buildings Act (1910)
  • Public Buildings Act authorized construction of the complex of buildings that makes up Federal Triangle (1926)
  • Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site set aside as a portion of the national park system (1965)
  • Pennsylvania Avenue listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1990)
  • Two-way protected bike lanes opened in the median of Pennsylvania Avenue running from Third Street NW to 15th Street NW (2010)

Planning and Redevelopment

  • Senate created the Senate Park Commission, also known as the McMillan Commission (1901)
  • National Capital Park and Planning Commission (later the National Capital Planning Commission) formed (1924)
  • Shipstead-Luce Act gave the Commission of Fine Arts authority to review the designs of private construction projects within certain areas of the national capital, including the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue extending from the Capitol to the White House (1930)
  • Inaugural Parade of President John F. Kennedy drew greater attention to rehabilitating Pennsylvania Avenue (1961)
  • Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation created to rejuvenate the stretch between 3rd Street and 15th Street (1973)
  • Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation released the Pennsylvania Avenue Plan to establish a framework for revitalizing the avenue (1974)
  • Commemorative Works Act passed to preserve the integrity of the L'Enfant and McMillan plans, to preserve and protect open space, and to set standards for future commemorative works (1986)
  • Monumental Core Framework Plan adopted by the National Capital Planning Commission; receives the Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design the following year from the American Institute of Architects (2009)

Events and Celebrations

  • Traditional inaugural parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue began with Thomas Jefferson's second presidential term; has continued with each President thereafter
  • Presidential funeral processions, including those of Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and John F. Kennedy, have traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue
  • Iconic site of many protests and marches

Protected bike lanes along Pennsylvania Avenue with the U.S. Capitol in the distance. Photo courtesy DDOT

Landmarks and Significant Architecture

  • Herbert C. Hoover Building completed in 1932; home to the U.S. Department of Commerce
  • National Archives opened in 1935, and remains the headquarters of the National Archives and Records Administration with a storage capacity of 900,000 cubic feet; contains original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights
  • Ronald Reagan Building is the first and only federal building to be designed for both government and private uses
  • The Newseum is an interactive news and journalism museum that features 643,000 square feet of exhibit space and television studios 
  • Old Post Office Pavilion was completed in 1899 and used as Washington D.C.'s post office until 1914; later transitioned to office and retail space; future plans include complete renovation for a luxury hotel
  • John A. Wilson Building (1904) houses offices and chambers of the Mayor and Council of Washington, DC
  • J. Edgar Hoover Building is headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (1975)
  • National Gallery of Art – East Building (1978) was designed by I. M. Pei; contains the museum's modern and contemporary art
  • Freedom Plaza (1980) was renamed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; remains a popular location for political protests and other events
  • U.S. Navy Memorial (1991) honors those who served in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine