On this ride I visited the only public park in D.C. that occupies a city street. Located on what would be 22nd Street in the Kalorama neighborhood of northwest D.C. (MAP), are the Decatur Terrace Steps and Fountain, known colloquially as the Spanish Steps. Instead of continuing 22nd Street, the steps were constructed in 1911 by the District of Columbia Municipal Office of Public Works and Grounds as a solution to a topographical predicament involving a slope which was too steep for carriages, and to provide a pedestrian link between S Street and Decatur Place.
What most likely would have been a simple staircase in any other era, the steps were built at the height of what is known as the “City Beautiful Movement.” This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. However, it promoted beauty not only for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations.
So the ornate concrete staircase was designed to include narrow bands of steps that flank wider central steps, planting beds, and an oval-shaped basin and lion-head fountain on an upper terrace. Two graceful sets of stairs then curve around the fountain to meet at the top, which consists of a broad brick terrace and balustrade. The entire area is lined with a mix of magnolias, eastern red cedars, oaks, and other flowering trees, and there are two lamp posts at the bottom. The steps are so elaborate that they are actually listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing feature in the Sheridan-Kalorama Historic District, designated in 1989.
When viewed from Decatur Street to the south, the Spanish Steps appear imposing and impressive. However, when approaching from S Street to the north, they are fairly well hidden. Their secluded location and cloak of lush greenery give the steps an intimate, almost secret feeling, making it seem as though you have discovered a hidden treasure in the middle of the city.