Explore the Past. Experience the Present. Imagine the Future.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center and its surrounding neighborhood are steeped in a rich history that has made DC what it is today. The District’s first convention center has come a long way since its early days as the city’s marketplace.
From Northern Liberty Market to The Walter E. Washington Convention Center: A History
1874 - Northern Liberty Market is built as the city’s first convention center, extending the length of 5th St. NW (between K & L).
1893 - The building is renamed “Convention Center” (aka “Convention Hall”).
1930s - Market vendors migrate from the nearby demolished Center Market (the city’s former largest building) to the newly minted “New Center Market.”
1946 - A huge fire nearly destroys the marketplace and causes the great roof to collapse.
1960s - The building is rebuilt with a flat roof and converted for use by the National Historical Wax Museum. Once the museum relocates, the building stands vacant and is eventually torn down in the mid-80s.
1969 - Development plans begin to build the “Eisenhower Civic Center” downtown, including a 17,000 seat arena on the west side and a convention center on the east side of 9th Street NW.
1976 - Mayor Walter E. Washington, the city’s first home-rule mayor, endorses a new downtown convention center as part of his economic development priority.
1978 - The DC City Council and Congress strike a compromise, resulting in a reduced amount needed to finance the start-up and special hotel taxes from the city to secure development commitments to raise the remaining funds.
1983 - Washington Convention Center opens, becoming the 4th largest convention center in the country and within 15 years of opening, it ranked as the 30th largest facility in the country.
1998 - Groundbreaking ceremonies are held for the new Washington Convention Center.
2003 - The new Washington Convention Center opens (two blocks from the original 1874 site). In its first year, it earns many accolades such as being named “Best New Convention Center” by Meetings East Magazine. The facility hosted nearly a million visitors and generated $426.5 million in delegate spending.
2005 - The old Convention Center is demolished and a parking lot erected in its place, where special events are now hosted.
2006 - The 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 - the first ever convention facility to receive these prestigious awards.
2007 - The city government renames the facility “Walter E. Washington Convention Center” in honor of the District’s first Home Rule Mayor (whose last public appearance was at the 2003 grand opening).
2009 - The Walter E. Washington Center hosts six official presidential inaugural balls. President Barack Obama also addresses the 65th annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner at the Convention Center. This is also the year the Convention Center receives a Guiness World Record for hosting the largest sit down dinner, serving 16,206 guests for the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Centennial Boule Dinner.
2010 - A public art tour series launches, highlighting the $4 million art collection housed within the Convention Center - the largest collection in any convention center in the nation. World leaders gather here for the Nuclear Security Summit.
2011 - The Convention Center hosts the “Capital Showdown,” marking the return of big-time championship boxing to the District after nearly 20 years.
2012 - The International Fancy Food Show presented by the National Association for the Speciality Food Trade (NASFT) returns to the Convention Center. In July, the Center welcomes the International AIDS 2012 Conference to the nation’s capital, marking the first time the International AIDS Society had held a global conference in the US since 1990, when a ban against HIV-positive travelers forced them to stop organizing conferences in America.
2013 - On March 14th, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center celebrates its 10th anniversary. Over the past decade, it hosted nearly 1,800 events and 10 million visitors and residents with world-class service and cutting-edge technology, solidifying its role in powering the District’s hospitality industry. Later that year, Events DC hosts the 57th Presidential Inaugural Balls, where President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden joined VIPs and nearly 40,000 guests in the great halls of the Convention Center.
2014 - The Marriott Marquis Washington, DC (the official convention center hotel for the city) opens its doors with over 100,000 square feet of meeting space and 1,175 rooms. It becomes the largest hotel in the city, and the only one connected to the Convention Center through an underground pedestrian connector. This year, USA Science & Engineering Festival (the largest and only national science festival) also shatters attendance records by hosting over 350,000 attendees at the Convention Center to engage in STEM related activities. Another record is broken when the National Book Festival transitions its location from the National Mall to the Convention Center, offering space for nearly 100,000 attendees for the first time in its history.
2015 - The Walter E. Washington Convention Center continues to lead the industry with innovative technology by becoming the first convention center to implement mobile ordering capabilities for exhibitors, using Dasdak, an on-demand mobile ordering platform that provides clients and their attendees with food and beverage delivery services to exhibitor booths.
2016 - Events DC offers expanded free Wi-Fi services at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
2017 - The Walter E. Washington Convention Center welcomes exterior retail partner tenants, including Unconventional Diner, Union Kitchen Grocery and Morris American Bar.
2018 - The Walter E. Washington Convention Center hosts GEICO All-Star FanFest, a weeklong celebration of baseball featuring daily giveaways, interactive games and prizes, MLB legends autograph signings, photo opportunities, Nationals artifacts and MLB trophies and awards on display, traditional ballpark food, vendor booths, and official 2018 MLB All-Star Game souvenirs.
2019 - Events DC unveils interior redesign of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, featuring 237 new furnishing arrangements in public lounge areas throughout the Convention Center and interactive surfaces created to enhance event experiences.
2019 - Events DC celebrates the 20th annual Safeway Feast of Sharing at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Together with partner Safeway, Inc. and organizations such as the Department of Employment Services, Centerplate/NBSE, WPGC-FM, Salvation Army, SunTrust Bank, Metropolitan Baptist Church and the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network, Events DC serves meals and provides access to city services and employment opportunities at this local Thanksgiving tradition.
2019 - Events DC breaks ground on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center streetscape project, featuring lighting, art, new retail kiosks, digital signage, planters and furnishings to reactivate the exterior of the Convention Center and reinforce the Shaw neighborhood as Wasjhington, DC’s new convention and entertainment district.
2020 - As part of Washington, DC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center transforms into an alternate care site with 437 beds to care for up to 100 patients.