A 3D map of town at your feet – Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza may be filled with skateboarding teenagers, lost tourists or protestors, but the Pennsylvania Ave. near 14th St. N.W. median is also a map of town’s original plan.

The L’Enfant Map detailing the 1791 plan by Washington’s first city planner Pierre L’Enfant is at your feet. With the white and black stone, it’s like being on a chess board of sorts as you can see how the streets were to be layed out. Maybe the first version of the Sims City game.

L’Enfant envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a great ceremonial street, the symbolic link between the Capitol (which he called the Congress’s House) and the White House (which he called the President’s House). Freedom Plaza’s open space reinforces this symbolic connection.

The upper map terrace has a grass lawn where the mall occurs and inlaid bronze plans of the White House and the Capitol located at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The inlays illustrate L’Enfant’s intention to have these two buildings balance each other and symbolize two main branches of government.

L’Enfant’s plan of Washington combines two orders of scale. The giant order is the diagonal avenues that sometimes terminate in a building or a monument. This order characterizes the federal scale of the city. The minor order is the rectangular grid pattern of the local structure of the city. There are quotes from famous people about the city carved into the paving stones that surround the L’Enfant Plan.

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It’s Redskins season already?

Capital_Photo_History_Tour_-_Booth_3653Nothing says football like midsummer heat, but the Washington Redskins open training camp on July 28. It’s the fourth straight summer in Richmond for three weeks of workouts, then comes the preseason and regular season that even includes a game in London.

For me, it means I shift the majority of my time from tour guide back to columnist for several media outlets. I do both year-round, but the Redskins have been my predominant interest since 1993 after 10 years of intermittent coverage.

So you’ll still see me on the sidewalks around town, but don’t be surprised to see me standing behind some Redskins player listening and writing.

 

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National Fire Dog Monument honors arson teams

FIREHOUSE DOG

After looking for the new National Fire Dog Monument every time I drove by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, I walked the area one day. And there it was in plain sight — by the Engine Co. 2 fire house one block west at Fifth & F. Sts.NW.

Now we mostly think of a fire house dog as a dalmatian riding atop the fire engine on the way to an emergency, but this monument remembers the 81 K-9 teams nationwide that handle “accelerant detection.” Translation: they look for sources of arson in the ashes, which is why the piece is called “Ashes to Answers.”

Sculptor Austin Weishel of Colorado is an EMT and volunteer fireman and seen remarkable success as a sculptor at just age 24. According to Washington Post columnist Joe Kelly, the only younger sculptor of a major piece in Washington was Vinnie Ream, who created a Abraham Lincoln marble statue in 1871.

Weishel’s piece has the dog looking up to a fireman like they’re a team. It was dedicated on Oct. 23, 2015. There is also a plan to have a bronze fire hydrant pour water into a bowl for passing dogs to enjoy.

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Save George Washington, get a statue – Casimir Pulaski

Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski was a Polish count who came to America to fight for freedom. He once saved George Washington’s life, but is best known for teaching American troops the discipline needed to fight the mighty British troops.

Pulaski was known throughout Europe for his bravery and came to the U.S. in 1777 to continue fighting for the cause of freedom. Ben Franklin recommended to George Washington that Pulaski serve in the cavalry. In Pulaski’s first battle at Brandywine, he saved Washington from capture.

Pulaski was made a brigadier general in the cavalry. However, American troops didn’t like fighting under a foreign leader who didn’t speak English so Pulaski resigned from the unit and went to Valley Forge where Washington created a new cavalry of deserters and POWs for Pulaski to lead. Sadly, Pulaski was killed in the Battle of Savannah in 1779.

Ironically, the Revolutionary War hero is shown at the eastern corner of Freedom Plaza in a Polish military uniform with a long cape and a hat adorned with fur and feathers. His feet are in the stirrups and he holds the horse’s reins with both hands. The sculpture rests on an oval base decorated with a band of foliage and Greek key design. Wreathes flank the inscriptions which appear on the long sides of the base.

Erected in 1910 at a cost of $50,000, the bronze equestrian statue is 15 feet high, 12 feet wide. The granite base is 12 feet high and 15 feet wide.

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Wordless Wednesday: It’s beach time

Sea shells

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Sphere No. 6 is . . .

Sphere No. 6 is:

a) What was left of the Death Star after Luke Skywalker blew it up.
b) The remnants of Earth after a nuclear explosion.
c) A bronze sculpture by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro.
d) I have no idea.

The correct answers are c and d. The piece is one of several by Pomodoro and I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to represent after reading several stories.

Continue reading

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The Chess Players: It’s not over until it’s over

I’m telling you, the player on the left could still win this match. Come on, take the castle already. This game has been going on for an eternity.

Well, at least since 1983.

The Chess Players is one of those fun artworks that make people stop if not take photos. Two life-sized men are playing chess, neither having a great advantage. However, the older gentleman on the right holds the queen in his hand and showing a slight smile while the other looks sad. A key piece has been won and the game’s outcome will soon follow. But you know, if the other guy moved his castle . . .

American artist Lloyd Lillie actually modeled the two figures after family members. This right one is his father, the left his son despite the ages seeming the same barring close inspection.

The bronze artwork lies in John Marshall Park on 4th and C Sts. N.W. aside the Canadian embassy and just a short stroll from the court houses. Supposedly, the park is the perfect place for lawyers to play chess on their lunch hour, though I’ve never stumbled upon a live version.

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5 Must Places to Eat in Washington

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The curious cube of Congressional Cemetery

Congressional cubeThe black cube in Congressional Cemetery curiously placed at an angle will make you stop.

The graves of Charles Fowler and Kenneth Dresser are marked with a cube just 50 yards on the right once entering the gate. Fowler was a writer, educator and advocate for the arts who died in 1995. Dresser was a creative designer who died three months later.

Dresser was best known for designing the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland, Electric Water Pageant at Epcot and Fantasy of Lights at Callaway Gardens, Ga. Fowler was an arts educator and director of Natural Cultural Resources and guest professors at several universities.

The two were members of the University of Maryland’s “Black and Gold Society” honoring those who donated $100,000 or more.

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Lunar Bird makes your imagination soar

Like many things in the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden, Lunar Bird is a bit of a mystery. The best guess is it’s an imaginary bird with a symbol of the moon for a head, small wings and thick legs.

A bronze sculpture by Joan Miro of Spain, it was originally made in 1945 but recast larger in 1967. It’s 89 3/8 inches by 88 1/2 inches by 58 1/4 inches.

Overall, it’s pretty cool and in a quieter section of the garden. Worth a moment’s rest while walking the mall.

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5 Things To Know When Visiting Washington, D.C.

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Wordless Wednesday: Summertime in Georgetown

IMG_3572

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Happy Fourth of July

Fireworks

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5 Must See Places to Visit in Washington

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Wordless Wednesday: Night at the ballpark

Nationals

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Mountain and Clouds will blow your mind

My first thought when entering the lobby of the Senate Hart Office Building – was it this big piece of junk?

A few minutes later when viewing it from the seventh of nine floors, my second thought – Oh, I get it now.

My final thought – Mountains and Clouds is a pretty cool sculpture. Too bad it’s hidden in a government office building that the public rarely sees and few will appreciate from ground level.

It was the final piece created by Alexander Calder, one of the leading 20th-century American sculptors known for creating suspending moving parts called “mobiles.” This piece has four clouds hanging from the roof and five triangular mountains underneath. It’s painted black to contrast with the surrounding white marble.

Ironically, Calder’s final day was spent meeting with the Architect of the Capitol over the sculpture. He even used a pair of pliers to adjust the model. Calder then returned to his New York City home where he died that night. Mountain and Clouds was later dedicated in 1987.

Ironically, I didn’t realize my photo was from the rear until cleaning it up in Photoshop. I was photographing from up high and the lighting hid the rear. But, if I can appreciate it from the back, it sure must be a nice piece.

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Who’s the boss? Why ‘Boss’ Shepherd, of course

George Washington may be the father of our country and namesake for the our town, but Alexander Robey Shepherd, better known as “Boss Shepherd,” is considered “The Father of Modern Washington.”

Shepherd actually stopped an 1870s movement to relocate the capital to St. Louis after national politicians were upset over Washington’s poor infrastructure. Washington’s governor from 1873-74, Shepherd modernized the city’s infrastructure and even planted 60,000 trees to make it more attractive. However, these costly moves nearly put the city into bankruptcy and forced Shepherd from office amid corruption scandals. Shepherd’s plan to keep Washington as the capital city worked, though.

Boss Shepherd was such a controversial person that Mayor Marion Barry removed this statue when taking office in 1979 and exiled it to the city’s impound lot. I guess Mayor Barry figured there was only one boss in town and he was it. However, in 2005, Shepherd’s statue was returned to its original 1909 spot on the right side of the John Wilson Building entrance on Pennsylvania Ave. near 15th St.

The bronze statue is 18 feet tall, including the 18-square foot pedestal made of Vermont granite. It could use a good cleaning, turning green like many statues. It was created by Washington sculptor Ulric Stonewall Jackson Dunbar, who was better known for his statue of baseball pitcher Walter Johnson and death masks.

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Wordless Wednesday: Arlington National Cemetery

ANC graves2

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Verizon Center

What was the biggest thing to ever happen where Verizon Center now lies?

The site was once home to The National Era, a weekly abolitionist newspaper that published a 43-week series by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was supposed to just be a few stories, but readers loved it so much it ran for nearly a year. Two years later, Stowe turned those tales into “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

The Era was a mixture of anecdotes, poems, letters, stories and transcripts. Slavery was a major part of the newspaper, though. The Era ran from Jan. 7, 1847 – March 22, 1860 and later published by Frederick Douglass from 1870-74.

There has been recent talk of erecting a statue to Verizon founder Abe Pollin. An interesting idea, but in a city of monuments there’s certainly one for Stowe, too.

Maybe on the same street corner housing Verizon Center.

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Finding generations long ago on Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall namesWhenever I find a name for someone on the Vietnam Wall, I asked who this person is to them.

Often, it’s a relative. Someone they probably didn’t know like their mom’s uncle. Recently, the woman said it was her boyfriend in 1969. She couldn’t believe it took this long to come see his name on the wall . . . summon the courage to confront pain that still seemed raw. Another time it was a woman’s husband whose body was recently recovered and buried at Arlington National Cemetery that morning.

One day, a 18-year-old woman with dreams of becoming a vascular surgeon and asking about local universities and hospitals, mentioned she had a relative on the Wall. I have “The Wall” app on my phone and found it.

“Who is this to you?” I asked.

“It was my great grandfather,” she said.

The man died in 1966. Could it really be her great grandfather? The men on the Wall are mostly those who would be my older brothers or one generation back. I have a neighbor who’s on the Wall. The young woman is almost a decade younger than my daughters. Maybe it was her grandfather. But no, she insisted it was her great grandfather and one of the volunteers told me just did another great grandfather relation.

We had the young lady rub her ancestor’s name to take home. As the letters appeared, it seemed to become even more real to her. That’s the beauty of the Wall.

Every day, there’s a new story on the Wall.

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