16th Street Northwest is a prominent north-south thoroughfare in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. Part of the street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Sixteenth Street Historic District.
Part of Pierre L'Enfant's design for the city, 16th Street begins just north of the White House across Lafayette Park at H Street and continues due north in a straight line passing K Street, Scott Circle, Meridian Hill Park, Rock Creek Park, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center before crossing Eastern Avenue into Silver Spring, Maryland, where it ends at Georgia Avenue. From K Street to the District line, 16th Street is part of the National Highway System. The Maryland portion of the street is designated Maryland State Highway 390. The entire street is 7 1⁄2 miles (12.1 km) long.
Early in the city's history, many foreign countries opened their embassies on 16th Street because of its proximity to the White House. Many religious denominations followed with churches, earning the street the nickname "Church Row." These include Foundry Methodist (attended by Presidents Hayes and Clinton), First Baptist (attended by Presidents Truman and Carter), the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church which was originally named the First Colored Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. (visited twice by President Barack Obama), St. John's ("Church of the Presidents"), All Souls Unitarian, Universalist National Memorial Church, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, founded in 1949 and built in 1958, and Third Church of Christ, Scientist, which was designed by an associate of I.M. Pei in 1972. Shrine of the Sacred Heart is located just off of 16th Street. After most of the embassies moved to Embassy Row and other parts of the city, the churches became more prominent in 16th Street's identity.
Other notable buildings include the Scottish Rite Masons' House of the Temple, Carnegie Institution for Science, Robert Simpson Woodward House, the Warder Mansion, Carter Barron Amphitheater, the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, and the Toutorsky Mansion.
The AFL-CIO, American Trucking Association, National Education Association, American Chemical Society, National Geographic Society, and Benjamin Franklin University have prominent buildings on 16th Street. The National Rifle Association was until the late 1990s headquartered on the street.
The northern and central portions of 16th Street — and the Crestwood neighborhood, in particular — have for a half century been the chosen neighborhood of accomplished African Americans in Washington. Known colloquially as "The Gold Coast", these sections of 16th Street are lined with early 20th-century Tudor mansions.
The street's proximity to Rock Creek Park and importance as a thoroughfare has made it a natural dividing boundary for Washington neighborhoods. Outside of the downtown area, no neighborhood in the city falls on both sides of 16th Street; the neighborhoods that surround it have 16th as either their eastern or their western boundary. For many years, the wide street was the de facto boundary between Caucasian and African-American neighborhoods of the city, especially in the tense years after the 1968 race riots; today this is less true.
A pair of similarly named streets, 16th Street Northeast and 16th Street Southeast, are three miles (5 km) away in the northeast and southeast quadrants of Washington. They are contiguous with each other and parallel to 16th Street NW.
In July 2005, just before Congress's summer recess, Texas Republican congressman Henry Bonilla quietly introduced resolution H.R. 3525 to rename 16th Street NW "Ronald Reagan Boulevard" in honor of the former president of the United States. Mayor Anthony A. Williams objected on the grounds that the proposal changes Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 design for the city and would have cost an estimated $1 million for new signs and maps. The plan was ultimately quashed by Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee and a fellow Republican representing Washington's Virginia suburbs.