Whenever Clift Seferlis longed for a panoramic view, he didn’t head for the Washington Monument; instead, he joined his dad at the Washington National Cathedral in Northwest for a sit-down lunch 105 feet above ground.
His father, Constantine, a Greek immigrant, was one of the cathedral’s principal sculptors. Over a 20-year career, the senior Mr. Seferlis carved and sculpted many of the cathedral’s gargoyles and grotesques, which embellish the church’s grand exterior at Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues.
The cathedral and the surrounding buildings, which make up the Close, sit on 57 acres and became the younger Mr. Seferlis’ stomping grounds.
“I have a unique perspective of the National Cathedral because I literally grew up there. I attended Beauvoir [elementary school] and then went to St. Albans [School for Boys]. So, I basically spent most of my life on the grounds,” Mr. Seferlis, 29, says.
Who better to give a tour?
The son is a chip off the old block. A stone carver by profession, he uses words, not a chisel, to shape and mold his memories of the cathedral. He gives tourists and native Washingtonians down-to-earth stories about the grand old giant that looms high above them.
Last spring, Mr. Seferlis and friend Carolyn Crouch established Washington Walks, a leisurely way to get an up-close and personal perspective of the nation’s capital on foot.
No reservations are required for the tours, offered Tuesday through Saturday March through November. The tours include: Discover Washington, Discover the Mall, Capital Hauntings, Constantine’s Cathedral, Embassy Row and the Washington Waterfront. All tours are designed around public transportation.
Sightseers will meet Ms. Crouch or Mr. Seferlis at designated Metro stations for two-hour strolls, rain or shine.
“Walking tours work because they offer a perspective that you don’t get anywhere else. You don’t get it in a car. In Washington, it’s very easy to get caught up in the bus-terminal way of touring because that’s the way most people see the city,” Mr. Seferlis says.
“When you take a walking tour, you have time to stop, look at things more closely and learn.”
For example, Mr. Seferlis points to the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall.
“It’s a very interesting building because it’s asymmetrical ‘Romantic’; it’s different from every side. We take people not only to view it from the Mall side the north side but you also get to see it on the back, which is the Haupt Garden. When it’s seen from the back, you get a whole different perspective,” Mr. Seferlis says.
The National Cathedral has hundreds of carvings on its exterior. It is almost required that sightseers walk around and examine the work so that it can be appreciated fully, he says.
“I have a book of black-and-white and color photographs of the National Cathedral that I bring along during the tours so that I can bring the details to ground level,” he says.
During the Constantine’s Cathedral tour, Mr. Seferlis points upward to show one of more than 300 angels atop the central tower. In a moving vehicle, the chances of seeing the angels are slim to none.
“You would need bionic vision or a very good pair of binoculars to see it,” he says.
If you take away the monumental core of Washington, it’s a city made up of neighborhoods, Mr. Seferlis says. “The best way to understand the city is to walk its streets, see its houses and have the same experience as residents. So it’s a pretty effective way to learn about a city.”
Ms. Crouch agrees.
An actress and Southwest resident since 1994, she conducts the Washington Waterfront tour at 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Visitors meet at the Waterfront Metro station in Waterside Mall.
Southwest has its own allure.
“It’s by the water, and there’s a charming park and marina full of sailboats,” Ms. Crouch says.
The water isn’t the only draw for visitors, though. During the Washington Waterfront tour, Ms. Crouch takes sightseers past four houses that date from the 1790s, making them some of the earliest structures built in the District that are still standing, she says.
The waterfront also is home to the Titanic Memorial, the historic Thomas Law House and Arena Stage.
Not to be overlooked, she says, is the Fish Market. It’s a place with its own distinct sights and sounds that attract people from all over the city.
“It’s a place where you see everybody,” she says.
The two friends started the year-old business after meeting in a class for tour guides at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School two years ago.
“I’d visited England and been on a tour with London Walks, which offers tours led by actors and other local experts. On the plane ride home, I thought to myself, ‘I can do this,’ ” Ms. Crouch says.
Ms. Crouch says she and Mr. Seferlis believe strongly in inclusion, especially in a city as diverse as Washington.
“The story of African Americans in Washington is a gold mine of stories and events. We include African-American history in every walk possible. The same is true for other ethnic groups that have made their way to Washington,” Ms. Crouch says.
The focus on the District’s human history makes the walking tours special experiences for visitors.
“You’ve got to recognize that Washington is a place people call home. We stress that fact in the Discover Washington walk. We’re standing on the Mall, a place of national importance and pride, yet you’re really not far from where people actually live. We invite visitors to look beyond the purely ‘tourist’ experience of visiting Washington,” Ms. Crouch says.
Mr. Seferlis, a native Washingtonian, says even residents of the metropolitan area can benefit from the walks. For instance, the Discover Washington, Discover the Mall walk can be enlightening.
“There’s a misconception about the Mall as a place to play Frisbee. It’s definitely a living, changing place,” he says, referring to the area’s ongoing monument development and its carefully maintained historic and natural enclaves.
The tour guides’ goal is to zoom in on the different and interesting. It’s a passion they share.
Mr. Seferlis says Washington Walks offers area residents a “greater understanding of what their city has to offer, and what it was.”
On June 3, visitors can put on their walking shoes and participate in Beyond the Monuments Tour Day. Washington Walks, along with other walking-tour organizations, will give abbreviated tours of Washington’s colorful and diverse neighborhoods and there’s no charge, Ms. Crouch says.
For more information about the tour day, call the D.C. Heritage Coalition at 202/661-7581. For times and Metro station locations, call Washington Walks at 202/484-1565 or visit www.washingtonwalks.com.