Explore the rich history of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and our nation’s capital while enjoying fun facts about our venue and past events.
Built in 1874, the city's first convention center extended the length of 5th Street between K and L Streets, and was known as the Northern Liberty Market.
In 1893, the building was renamed "Convention Center" and popularly known as "Convention Hall."
By the early 1930's, Center Market, the city's largest building was located at Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street. It was later demolished for the government's Federal Triangle construction project. Many of that market's vendors moved a half-mile north to the Convention Center building, which was renamed "New Center Market."
In 1946, the building continued to be used as a marketplace until a huge fire nearly destroyed the entire structure, collapsing the great roof. It was later rebuilt with a flat roof. In the late 60’s the facility was converted for use by the National Historical Wax Museum. After the museum relocated, the old market stood vacant for several years and was eventually torn down in the mid-1980’s.
In 1969, plans were developed by the pre-home rule administration of the District of Columbia to build the “Eisenhower Civic Center” downtown. The plans included a 17,000 seat arena on the west side of 9th Street between New York Avenue NW and H Street NW, and a convention center on the east side of 9th Street In 1976, Mayor Walter E. Washington, the city’s first home-rule mayor, endorsed a new downtown convention center as his administration’s economic development priority.
In 1978, a compromise was struck between the DC City Council and Congress- the requested amount to finance the Center’s start-up is reduced, and the city agrees to institute special hotel taxes and secure development commitments to raise the remaining funds.
In the late 60’s the facility was converted for use by the National Historical Wax Museum.
In 1983, the Washington Convention Center opened its doors and became the 4th largest convention center in the United States.
The Washington Convention Center Authority was established in 1995 to operate and manage the convention center.
Less than 15 years after it opened, the Washington Convention Center ranked as the 30th largest facility in the U.S. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Washington Convention Center in 1998.
In 2003, the new Washington Convention Center, just two blocks from the city’s original 1874 site, opened to tremendous fanfare located in the heart of downtown. In the first year of operation, the new Washington Convention Center collected many accolades throughout 2004 – such as being named Best New Convention Center by Meetings East Magazine. The facility hosted nearly 1 million visitors and generated $426.5 million in delegate spending.
In 2005, the old Washington Convention Center was imploded and a parking lot was erected in its place, which today hosts special events.
The Washington Convention Center and its design team received the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards for the most successful urban development project in 2006. The Convention Center project was the first to ever receive the prestigious awards.
In 2007, in honor of the District’s first Home Rule Mayor, the city government renamed the building the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Late Mayor Washington’s last public appearance was at the new Convention Center’s grand opening in 2003; he passed a few months later at the age of 88.
In 2009, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center kicked off the New Year by hosting six official presidential inaugural balls.
President Barack Obama addressed the 65th annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in 2009.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center received a Guinness World Record for hosting the largest sit down dinner when it hosted the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Centennial Boule Dinner, serving 16,206 guests in 2009.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center launched a public art tour series in 2010, featuring the $4 million art collection housed inside the Convention Center.
In 2010, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority hosted world leaders for the Nuclear Security Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Big-time championship boxing returned to Washington, DC in 2011 after nearly 20 years – featuring the “Capital Showdown” at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
In 2012, the Walter E. Washington Convention hosted the return of the International Fancy Food Show presented by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT).
In July 2012, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center welcomed the International AIDS 2012 Conference to our nation’s capital. This meeting marked the first time that the International AIDS Society has held its global conference in the United States since 1990, when a ban against HIV-positive travelers forced the Society to stop organizing conferences in America.
On March 14, 2013, Walter E. Washington Convention Center celebrated its 10 year anniversary. For a decade, the Convention Center has hosted nearly 1,800 events and welcomed almost 10 million visitors and residents with world-class service and cutting-edge technology, helping to power the District’s hospitality industry.
In 2013, Events DC hosted the 57th Presidential Inauguration Balls, including the Inaugural Kids’ concert, the Commander-in-Chief Ball, and the Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden along with VIPs and about 40,000 guests filled the great halls of the Convention Center.
In 2014, the Marriot Marquis Washington, DC the official convention center hotel for the District, opened its doors with more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space. At 1,175 rooms, the Marquis became the largest hotel in the city, and the only hotel connected to the Convention Center through an underground pedestrian connector.
In 2015, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center became the first convention center to implement mobile ordering capabilities for exhibitors, using a mobile application called Dasdak. Dasdak is an on-demand mobile ordering platform that provides Convention Center clients and their attendees with food and beverage delivery services to exhibitor booths.
The largest and only national science festival, USA Science & Engineering Festival, has grown significantly every year—and in 2014, shattered attendance records at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. There were more than 350,000 attendees engaging in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related activities.
In 2014, the National Book Festival transitioned its location from the National Mall to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. This was the first time the festival was able to offer space for nearly 100,000 attendees.
To read more, view our timelines for each venue listed below.