As franchise departures go, this is Baltimore losing the Colts, but in Opposite Land: The Wendy’s at Dave Thomas Circle in Washington, D.C., has been shut down. There is so much joy in Mudville.
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday night that the D.C. government will use its powers of eminent domain to take over the title to the despised 18,374-square-foot property, which has hosted various retail and service outposts over the past couple hundred years, including a Wendy’s for the last four decades. The despicability has nothing to do with the food or service offered there; all the hatred comes from the traffic surrounding the restaurant.
In a city full of landmarks, the vehicular mixing bowl unofficially and mockingly named after the Wendy’s founder stands out as a monument to horrendous urban planning. Everybody who has ever driven into the nation’s capital from the east or north, or driven around Capitol Hill for even one afternoon, is likely to have had an awful encounter with the infamous spot just off North Capitol Street where lots of streets, most notably Florida Avenue NE and New York Avenue NE, intersect. There’s no such thing as a good encounter.
No accident or construction project has ever been necessary to cause all traffic to stop at Dave Thomas Circle (though I can’t swear I’ve ever been there when there wasn’t an accident and/or construction). Gridlock was somehow just built into the design. The layout of the nearby streets and the presence of the massive railyard adjacent to Union Station means there’s no shortcut or escape of any kind short of abandoning your vehicle and fleeing on foot. Motorists typically used the unscheduled downtime to curse life and curse Wendy’s and wonder when the city would come in and raze the place and start over.
That day has nearly come. In a “Declaration of Taking” filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine in Superior Court for the District of Columbia on January 8, the city argued that the use of eminent domain was necessary in this matter to “protect the health and safety” of drivers and pedestrians who would otherwise find themselves caught in the shitty vortex of Dave Thomas Circle. (Though not mentioned in the filing, ridding the neighborhood of the 1570-calorie Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple seems like a safety upgrade also.)
In 2017, the Washington Post ran a fabulous feature on the history of the circle, which is actually a triangle that held various business establishments, among them a flower shop, a body shop, and a gas station, before becoming a Wendy’s in the 1980s. The piece had Pierre L’Enfant biographer Scott Berg concluding the problematic plot was simply a byproduct of the allegedly brilliant Frenchman losing focus as he finished designing the federal district for our fledgling country. So many of the city’s street and avenues and circles were wondrously conceived by L’Enfant, Berg said (including D.C.’s official Thomas Circle, located at 14th and Massachusetts Ave. NW, to honor George Henry Thomas, a Union Army general in the Civil War). But nothing from L’Enfant’s portfolio can explain Dave Thomas Circle and its convergence of so many major thoroughfares in such unworkable fashion.
“It feels like he just gave up,” said Berg.
One portion of the Post story had a resident of a nearby high-rise recount looking down on a “caravan of emergency vehicles” speeding east on Florida Avenue NE, only to hit the same wall that everybody in a wheeled vehicle hits upon arrival at Thomas Circle. Calamity ensued.
“And they split apart like a herd of cheetahs trying to get some prey,” the witness said. “One drove over the median and through the bushes of the Wendy’s. One circled around New York Avenue, and the other one turned left and went into oncoming traffic.”
The takeover plan has been rumored for years. According to an October 2020 report in Washington Business Journal, the city’s fiscal budget for 2021 budget included $35 million to pay for the Wendy’s and rid the city of the clusterfuck. About $13 million of that will go to the owners of the Wendy’s. Lots of money could have been saved had the city acted quicker. The property was last up for sale in 2006, and real property tax records show it sold then for $2,327,400. Current tax records have the Wendy’s and land together currently appraised at $7,979,920 (the land takes up about $7.3 million of that sum).
Wendy’s communications office did not respond to a request for comment on the government’s hostile takeover of Dave Thomas Circle. But it’s likely that nobody in D.C., not penny-pinching taxpayers or government-fearing opponents of eminent domain transactions or even Double Stack fetishists, will mourn this particular Wendy’s going away. Renowned D.C. photographer Darrow Montgomery captured the bliss of the local populace with a tweet upon hearing the news: “See you later, Baconator!”
Back to me: My most damaging encounters with Dave Thomas Circle came a decade ago, when we “won” a lottery that allowed my elder son to enroll in a school in the neighborhood. Getting into any decent public school in D.C. requires luck or a more moneyed address than ours, and this particular school was one of the most well-regarded charters in town. So my wife and I felt very fortunate when our number came up, and parents of kids who weren’t picked in the random drawing told us how lucky we were. But then the school year started, and I began having to look at that Wendy’s every morning while trying and often failing to beat the first bell, and feeling lucky was no longer part of my existence. I dreaded each day more than the last. After a month of soul-crushing commutes, we pulled our kid out of that school and took a slot that opened up at a school that was less coveted, but came with a less hellish commute.
The whole experience was enough to make me hate the chocolate Frosty. Anything that makes anybody hate the chocolate Frosty has to go.