Best Murals In Washington DC

September 30, 2013 8:00 AM

Murals add an unexpected jolt of color, spice and beauty to our lives. They often pop up when you least expect them. Turn a corner and there one is on the side of a brick building, beautifying a concrete wall and bringing life to an otherwise drab cityscape. Murals celebrate everyday life, history and culture. As you make your way through the DC metro area, keep an eye open for these beautiful creations.

Air Shaft Mural
3rd and H Sts. N.W.
Washington, DC

Enjoy the mind-bending perspective of this mural which covers a tall concrete air shaft and gives the illusion of being able to see through the rectangular mass. Completed in 1998 by artist Val Lewton and his assistants, the seemingly three-dimensional black-and-white square images of the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building and its circular porch are accomplished with the use of exterior acrylic house paint. The finished effect makes the viewer feel as though they were peering through cut-outs in the concrete. Originally sponsored by DC Arts and the DC Office of the Mayor, this mural is reminiscent of the work of famed artist and illusionist M.C. Escher and is an eye-twisting treat. It is a pleasant and unexpected pop of creativity in an otherwise industrial-looking location.

Mural At Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U St. N.W.
Washington, DC

One of the Nation’s Capitol’s best-known culinary landmarks dons a mural with equally iconic figures. The mural at Ben’s Chili Bowl, created in 2012 by Nigerian artist Aniekan Udofia and his apprentices, celebrates some of the restaurant’s well-known and longtime patrons. The likenesses of television and comedic personality Bill Cosby, the late singer and entertainer Chuck Brown and President Barack Obama grace an outdoor wall at the restaurant. The mural captures the jubilant essences of its subjects. In 2013, Ben’s Chili Bowl celebrated its 55th anniversary of service.

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Duke Ellington Mural
1200 U St. N.W.
Washington, DC

Get a glimpse of the “Duke” himself when you pass the True Reformer Building in the U Street/Shaw neighborhood. This colorful mural, completed in 1997 by G. Byron Peck and nine students, uses Keim paint on concrete panels to capture a mature and candid portrait of legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington. Ellington, whose full name is Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, once said, “Music is my mistress.” The historic jazz figure’s piercing gaze, tousled hair and turned-up collar reveal a certain vulnerability. Ellington’s informal image is in stark contrast to the hard lines of the painted frame that outlines him. Greens and blues in checkerboard, paisley and art deco patterns fill out the mural and complement Ellington’s blue vesture. Piano keys add the perfect accent and finishing touch.

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The Mourning Rose 9-11 Mural
Arlington, VA 22201

A single red rose juts above the clouds against a blue sky in this mural by Thomas P. Mullany. Inspired by the traumatic events of 9-11, the Mourning Rose—painted atop a brick surface on the side of a building in the neighborhood of Clarendon—is at once solemn and inspiring. The single rose is both sad and beautiful, while the blue sky is a symbol of boundless hope. The tight bud awaits the moment when it will fully open as its long, vibrant green stem projects it above the clouds—it is capable of rising above seemingly impossible odds.

Kevin Don Porter is the author of MISSING — a creepy, yet humorous, mystery novel. Visit his website at