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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Native Washingtonian 101 — Ted’s Bulletin

I have a new favorite restaurant in town – Ted’s Bulletin.

I’m not quite sure how to describe the old-style eatery on 8th & E Sts. SE. Parts of it feel like the 1930s, others like the 1960s. Either way, it’s old-school from the photos of the neighborhood years ago to the projector showing films from way back.

To me, restaurants are about three things – quality of food, service and price. Sounds simple, but getting all three at once is a rare treat that Ted’s delivered.

First, the service was superb. I made a reservation online for 5:45 p.m. and arrived at 5:35 with a few people waiting in the smallish lobby. Sure enough, we were seated by 5:40. The two servers brought the food quickly and didn’t forget us afterwards.

The menu is amazing. First, I’d heard of the homemade pop tarts and ordered two for five of us to try. They pretty much tasted like the ones I grew up on from the box, which is a compliment.

Next, we tried milkshakes despite knowing they were filling. I recommend the banana peanut butter.

Two of us tried Rachels (turkey version of a Reuben) plus grilled chicken, lasagna and a Reuben. Nobody was disappointed. My Rachel was huge. I loved their boardwalk-like fries.

The price was a reasonable $115 given five people ate a lot of food.

Would I go to Ted’s again? Absolutely. But at a busy time, I would make a reservation.

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Second to none: the Second Division Memorial

Between the White House and the Washington Monument, the Second Division Memorial on Constitution Ave. approaching 17th St. is another overlooked sculpture. It’s something people just pass by.

The memorial commemorates the U.S. Army’s Second Division’s dead during World War I. The flaming sword in the center blocks the Germans approaching Paris.

The west (left) wing was added to honor those who died during World War II. The east wing remembers those dying in the Korean Conflict.

Overall, the Second Division has lost 15,000 in combat, the most of any U.S. division.

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Horse and Rider trots along

It looks like me ready to fall off, but sculptor Mario Marini’s Horse and Rider is considered an example of a man in control.

Sure, if you say so.

The seven-foot tall sculpture outside the Hirshhorn Museum is another of Marini’s works that were influenced by ancient Etruscan sculptures. They’re nothing fancy, which is the point.

The Italian artist studied under Picasso and was considered a big deal in the 1950s and ‘60s before passing away in 1978. His most famous work is a horse and rider called The Angel of the City in Venice.

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Washington National Cathedral inspires

Want to see an old Roman church in Washington, D.C.? The Washington National Cathedral is the closest thing I’ve found since touring Italy.

You may recognize the world’s sixth largest church from televised events like late president Ronald Reagan’s funeral or Christmas masses attended by presidents. I attended a funeral for a basketball player so it’s a working church for everyone.

The church has an old world feel through its stone work, gargoyles and sweeping views. It is 100 yards long, the length of an American football field. Lots of stained glass with a real moon rock embedded in one midway on the right. Plenty of side rooms, eight floors and wonderful grounds.

The church is Episcopalian, though it has a non-denominational feel. Clergy from all denominations preach. It’s an older crowd with few kids, which is nice for those who like mass without a crying baby. The church is so large there are always seats. I especially like when the clergy enters for the mass and their prayers resonates throughout the church. It feels very spiritual.

There are free guided tours, but you can wander about yourself. Here are a few things to see.

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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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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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Save George Washington, get a statue

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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Happy 4th of July

Union Station

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The real George Mason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Mason is hanging out not far from fellow founding father Thomas Jefferson in West Potomac Park.

The George Mason Memorial remembers the “Forgotten Founder” who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights and was his state’s delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Mason didn’t signed the Constitution because it didn’t abolish slavery or provide sufficient protection to individual citizens.

Ironically, the Forgotten Founder has a forgotten monument because it’s not very pedestrian accessible. Not many people walk to the Jefferson Memorial where they would come across Mason and there’s not much parking nearby.  Still, it’s fun to sit by the one-third larger than life-sized statue of Mason who’s seated on a bench passing the day while reading. There’s a 72-foot long stone wall and circular pool. In the spring, there are flowers galore.

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If you’re a plane or space junkie . . . worth the trip

For years I’ve heard great things about the The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Drove by the entrance plenty of times without stopping just like hundreds of other local attractions.

It’s worth the trip to the Chantilly, Va.  venue near Dulles International Airport. Maybe that’s a little far for tourists without a car, but if you’re a serious plane junkie then the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum downtown is not enough. There is a shuttle from Dulles to this Smithsonian museum.

I don’t detail attractions in my blog for the obvious Xs and Os that you can read on an official website. I discuss whether it’s worth going, what I liked and whether your family will, also.

First, I love attractions that are hassle free. It cost $15 to park very close, but admission is free. Just the customary quick bag check. They only allow one-legged tripods.

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Lily Pond: art for art’s sake, I guess

On this site was the first water to be piped through the streets for city residents.

I’ll let you have a moment to absorb all that.

The Lily Pond in John Marshall Park at 4th and C Sts. N.W. by the Canadian embassy is one of the silliest things. Indeed, it commemorates the city spring first used as a water source, hence the life-sized lily pads, frogs, turtles, fish and dragon flies.

Part of a 1983 makeover of the park, the Lily Pond is 2 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. The granite and bronze fountain designed by American artist David Phillips makes a fine place to rest.

I guess it’s art for art’s sake . . . or for pete’s sake.

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There are no boundaries to art

Sponge Bob is better known than a plumbob, but at the National Building Museum you’ll see the latter.

Bordering the museum on 4th, 5th, F and G Sts. NW, the Boundary Markers are 10-feet tall with a brick base and concrete for the workers and urn. Atop the marker is a hook that holds a hidden plumb bob inside an urn held by six construction workers. It symbolizes how all buildings are measured when constructed.

Created in 1968 by American sculptor Raymond Kaskey, whose American Law Enforcement Monument is just down the street, the markers have workers looking different to show tradesmen come from different backgrounds.

A plumb bob comes from the Latin term plumbbub for lead weight. The heavy weight goes straight down because of gravity. A plumbob is placed in an urn of oil so it doesn’t move. All measurements of a building from it because it’s centrally located.

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U.S. Botanic Gardens more than a greenhouse

One of the joys of becoming a tour guide is stopping at places I’ve driven past a million times.

High on the list is the U.S. Botanic Garden on 1st and Maryland Ave. S.W. on the footstep of the U.S. Capitol. I just figured it was some small green house and not worth stopping.

I was wrong. As usual.

I stopped by on a Saturday and it was pretty crowded with families looking for a low-stress activity. Something you can just walk around and combine with other places.

George Washington wanted a botanic garden in the new capitol city showing the importance of plants. The mission has more than succeeded.

The conservatory has world deserts with some pretty wild looking cactus. They look like that could jump up and grab you. The children’s garden lets kids burn off some energy. The Garden Primeval smells like the beginning of time with high humidity for ferns and ancient plants from 150 million years ago. The Jungle is a tropical rainforest where you can climb to a second level for a better overall view. The orchid room has more than 5,000 varieties with 200 on display.

There are replicas of major monuments and buildings scattered throughout that kids especially love at Christmastime. It’s a good chance for a pop quiz on what they’ve seen already around town.

Overall, it’s free admission, easy to get in and out and you can stay however long you like. The Botanic Garden is easy on the eyes and a mental break from so much history around town.

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John Paul Jones Memorial lost in traffic

One of the feistiest American admirals of all time has been marooned on a traffic island.

John Paul Jones is on a spit of land at the intersection of 17th St. and Independence Ave. SW just a few yards from the National World War II Memorial. But, it’s a traffic blockade and a little dicey to walk up to (hence my crummy photo.)

Jones is best remembered for his reply to a British commander asking him to surrender during the Battle of Flamborough Head during the Revolutionary War. “I have not yet begun to fight,” Jones replied despite on the worse of the battle to that point. The sailors rallied to win the engagement and Jones became America’s first naval hero and the only naval officer during the war to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

The father of the U.S. Navy is simply shoved aside after first appearing in Potomac Park in 1912. The 10-foot bronze statue stands amongst a 15-foot marble pylon. Water flows from the mouths of dolphins on both sides into a small pool. The bas-relief has Jones raising the U.S. flag on his ship, the Bonhomme Richard. It was the first time a U.S. flag was raised on an American warship.

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Firefighter monument suddenly No. 2

I’ve determined Washington Post columnist John Kelly secretly wishes he was a Washington tour guide. If not, he’d sure make a fine one. (Must be career wanderlust. As a Washington Post Express sports columnist, I always wanted to be a U.S. Park ranger but instead became a licensed Washington tour guide.)

Kelly reports in ‘First’ D.C. firefighter to die on the job wasn’t the Benjamin Greenup Monument in Glenwood Cemetery long thought to honor the first fallen Washington firefighter indeed doesn’t. Instead, Kelly writes John A. Anderson died two months earlier in 1856. Mostly, it comes down to Greenup came from a wealthier part of town and his colleagues were better able to honor him so over time people assumed Greenup died first.

Hey, it’s not the first time the rich wrote history.

This monument gets some notoriety for its depiction of Greenup’s death. In a three-foot relief panel, Greenup is shown being crushed under the horse-drawn fire engine of Columbia Engine Co. No. 1. Seems Greenup fell under the engine while rushing to the fire and was killed instantly. Amazingly, this very pumper is still in storage for future display.

Firemen were in a hurry not just to save buildings, but to collect a bonus from insurance companies back then. Fights would even erupt between companies over who would fight the fire so Greenup and company were in a big hurry that day.

Fire recruits ride by Greenup’s monument in Glenwood regularly in tribute. Oddly, I wonder if they’ll now need to say he was the second one killed. Anderson is now buried in an unmarked grace in Oak Hill Cemetery near Georgetown.

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A family funeral at Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National CemeteryIt’s one thing to pass the endless white stones while leading visitors through Arlington National Cemetery. And it’s another to have a long ago family member buried there but never knowing them like my grand uncle.

But this time it was personal. My Aunt Delores and Uncle Charlie Portale were buried at Arlington recently. You can only walk away a little sad but proud.

Like many funerals, they died months ago. There was a joint funeral earlier since they retired to Florida and died only couple months apart. That was the time for real sadness.

But they were finally interred in Arlington’s new columbarium near the parking garage. It proved a simple but tasteful ceremony and an inside look at the process that happens nearly 30 times six days each week.

Family members met at the administrative building, then lined up the cars for the ride to the grave site. Since the couple was cremated, there was no caisson. Under a tent were a few chairs for the brief reading by a chaplain, flag ceremony and 21-gun salute. Then, a family member carried them to the wall, one more prayer and it was done.

It was sad enough to say goodbye to two people I spent so many holidays over a half century. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child, spouse, parent or sibling at a young age in service to our country.

Normally, cemeteries aren’t my favorite places, but as a guide I’ve learned to appreciate their history lessons. And, there’s none better than Arlington.

So eternal rest Aunt Delores and Uncle Charlie. You’re among our nation’s best.

 

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Native Washingtonian 101 – It’s not D.C.

Locals refer to themselves as Washingtonians. We don’t say D.C. At most we’ll refer to the city as “The District.” I really hate this new “DMV” trend. That’s the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, not D.C.-MD-VA.

Suburbanites will say D.C., usually in disdain. Newbies say D.C. for a short time. But, a true Washingtonian says just that. It’s much like San Francisco natives never say “Frisco.” They’re San Franciscans.

So make a friend and ask if they’re a Washingtonian. Sounds much smarter.

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Wordless Wednesday: Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill

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Chinese Community Church has something old, something new

It took modern science to make the Chinese Community Church look like 1852.

Founded by U.S. Capitol architect Thomas Ustick Walter as a Presbyterian church, it was later a Jewish temple and Baptist church before purchased by the Chinese Community Church in 2006.  Located at 500 I St. N.W., the church is only a couple blocks from the modern-day Chinatown.

The formstone, old stone look that wrapped the original brick-and sandstone in the 1950s was removed beginning in 2007. Church leaders wanted to install a steeple since it’s a Christian venue, but the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board refused permits because it was not part of the original design. The church opted to recreate the original Italianate-style tower, all 88 feet of it, with its five-foot cross.

Working off old photos and with the advice of an architectural historian, Washington architect Darrel Rippeteau designed a close replica. It took seven months to chiseled off the formstone and remove decades-old layers of paint from the brick.

Today, you can attend services in Mandarin, Catonese and English.

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