Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

 

I wish my flowers grew this big.

The Federal Triangle Flower is 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Created in 1997 as part of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Center, the courtyard art was sculpted by Stephen Robin. The limestone flower atop a sandstone base reflects the large amount of aluminum used in the buildings.

Essentially, the two flowers were meant to jazz up an area that was a parking lot for 50 years until the Reagan Building opened in 1997. The Reagan Building is the area’s second largest building behind the Pentagon.

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LBJ Memorial Grove is a quick hit

LBJ Memorial Grove

Funny how I can live a lifetime in one town and still see new things even in my seventh decade in Washington.

I’ve driven by the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove many times, but always in a hurry to be elsewhere. Looking for some exercise on a warm afternoon, I played hooky and stopped by the memorial.

The memorial is technically in Washington on Columbia Island as part of a small, sleepy marina within sight of the Pentagon. It was chosen for its view of Washington across the Potomac River. The giant granite monolith from Texas was dedicated in 1973 less than one year after the 36th president’s death. The grove of dogwood and white pine trees leads to long walks of solitude despite overhead planes heading for Reagan National Airport and plenty of commuters whizzing by.

Johnson and First Lady Ladybird Johnson loved the outdoors and worked hard to keep the environment clean. Indeed, Ladybird was behind the billboard act that stopped more roadside ads from cluttering our views.

This memorial seems a modest reminder of a powerful president. I visited LBJ’s presidential library in Austin, Texas in 2018 and it was impressive. So was the nearby wildflower reserve dedicated to Ladybird.

The memorial has plenty of parking and a restroom and is only a few minutes walk to the monolith. The recording of three Ladybird sayings doesn’t work.

Take a breath from your busy day and stop by to remember LBJ.

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Georgetown along the water

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Perfect place for a winter walk

Teddy Roosevelt Island

Is there anything better than a warm winter’s day as a respite from the persistent cold?

Well, this has actually been a pretty nice winter by Washington standards. No real snow – yet. Don’t want to jinx things. We’ve reached the middle of February so the cherry blossoms are just a month away.

Anyway, a spit of warm weather gave me a respite from cabin fever and a yearn for a long walk to get the legs ready for tourist season. One of my favorite walks is Teddy Roosevelt Island, which is technically in Washington but only accessible by Virginia over the bridge shown above.

I’ve written the island’s history before so let’s just talk about the walk. It’s about 1 1/2 miles around on the shorter circuit, maybe two miles if taking the wider loop. I always start off trying the longer loop, but I like the shortcut that crosses over the statue and is a nice place to catch your breath.

Parking is free and usually plentiful except on warm spring weekends. I went on a Monday afternoon and there were still plenty of folks around. I was seldom alone as someone was always walking a dog.

Still, there’s nothing like some fresh air and sunshine to escape the winter if only for a few hours.

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Czech leader Masaryk stands tall on Embassy Row

Tomas Masaryk stands tall – like 12 feet tall. It’s a good lifelike figure despite Czechoslovakia’s first president really only half that size.

The bronze statue at the corners of Massachusetts Ave., Florida Ave. and Q St. N.W. remembers Masaryk, his country’s declaration of independence from Austria in hand.

Masaryk was a University of Vienna professor of philosophy when his home region was part of Austria. He joined the Austrian parliament in 1891 and was known as a champion of women and minority rights. During World War I, Masaryk led the Czechoslovakia independence movement. He came to Washington seeking assistance and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson endorsed Czechoslovakia’s freedom during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

Masaryk was the country’s first president from 1918-35 before dying two years later. The statue was dedicated in 2002.

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Key Bridge

Key Bridge

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DAR Memorial remembers its founding mothers?

I used to think the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were a bunch of old bluebloods caught in the past.

And then my wife whacked me. No, Lisa just set me straight since she’s a member. Turns out it’s not easy to become a member. Lisa needed documented evidence her great great great (I guess he really was a great guy) grandfather fought with George Washington in the Battle of Trenton. (Not sure if he was in the same boat.)

The DAR on 17th and C Sts. N.W. has a mesmerizing memorial to its four founding (mothers?) amid a garden. The white marble memorial has four bronze medallions remembering Ellen Wardin Walworth, Mary Desha, Eugenia Washington and Mary Smith Lockwood. It was dedicated on April 17, 1929.

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Police and fire boxes gain new life

I’ll admit not knowing the following story until becoming a tour guide. Like a lot of statues, I’d walk by these call boxes never knowing they were once the lifeline of police and firemen.

It’s not often I find superb websites and YouTube videos on subjects covered here. Most subjects here are only 250 to 400 words so if you’d like a detailed history check out Call Box Project and the video below.

This photo is next to Ford’s Theatre at 10th and F. Sts. N.W. Like all former call boxes that became obsolete in the 1970s when police and firemen gained radios, this one was turned into local artwork. Naturally, this one is Abraham Lincoln given he died steps away.

At one time there were more than 1,500 call boxes around town. Many were destroyed during the 1968 riots. But, you’ll still see one here and there. A few don’t have artwork, but there’s often something cool to see.

Just one more reason to walk a little slower around town. There’s artwork amongst us.

 

 

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Bill Hartack at Portrait Gallery

Bill Hartack

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Remembering the soul of a poet: Kahlil Gibran

There are plenty of memorials to foreigners that I really don’t understand, and this might be the most perplexing of all. I read two short biographies of the man and still not sure why a $1 million memorial across the British embassy on Massachusetts Ave. exists.

Kahlil Gibran was a renowned Lebanese-American poet and artist who died in 1931 at age 48. He first came to the U.S. at age 12 before later studying in Paris. He wrote in both Arabic and English and his A Tear and a Smile and Madman were early hits while The Prophet was a best seller in 1923. Several quotes from his books appear on the memorial.

The small park is a quiet reprieve from Embassy Row. For that, the 1991 memorial fountain dedicated by President George H. Bush accomplishes its purpose.

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Last Conversation Piece says a lot

I must admit this series of rotund statues makes me laugh. Like it’s a Weight Watchers meeting and a dispute breaks out as one says, “Who you calling fat?”

That’s the great part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden whose many modern art pieces can be whatever you want them to be. While I have no idea what most of these things are, I enjoy the outdoor bronze statues.

The Last Conversation Piece was created by Spanish artist Juan Munoz in 1994-95 and quickly purchased by the Hirshhorn. It’s five bronze statues on the Independence Ave. side of the building. Three of them are together as if in a huddle for a little 2-2 touch football.

Munoz was an interesting cat who disdained his family’s wealth to become a New York waiter until breaking through as an artist in the 1980s. He was known for his theme of isolation. Like I said, I don’t understand most of the Hirshhorn but I know what I like. Munoz died in 2001 of a heart attack at age 48 so we can’t get his version.

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High atop National Cathedral

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Simon Bolivar – ‘The George Washington of South America’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often wonder why other countries send statues of their heroes to our city. I mean, what do Washingtonians or even Americans care about the king of this country or the wise man of that nation? Wouldn’t it be better to erect statues where passersby know who they were, much less appreciate them?

But Simon Bolivar deserves notice anywhere. He might be the baddest man among Washington’s monuments.

Bolivar liberated not one country, but six in Latin America. Kicked the Spanish out of what’s now Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Panama and Ecuador. Imagine – the liberator of six countries.

Felix W. de Weldon, who also created the Iwo Jima Memorial, built one of the bigger memorials in town at 18th St. and Virginia Ave. N.W. The 27-foot equestrian statue is so heavy it was shipped from New York in five pieces because bridges and trucks couldn’t handle the 40-ton load.

The bronze statue sits atop a black marble base. Bolivar is wearing a gold medallion given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. There are six nearby fountains representing the six countries he liberated.

Ironically, Bolivar’s vast fortune was spent during the wars. He died in 1830 of tuberculosis.

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El Maiz is not corny

Sometimes sculptures are like a detective story.

Thanks to the fine folks at the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America located on the 18th St. side of the Organization of American States, and a Yahoo translator, I finally figured out this sculpture is El Maiz by Edgar Negret of Columbia.

The towering yellow steel structure was donated by Negret in 1996 because maiz (corn) is a crucial symbol of the Latino culture.

OK, it’s a short detective story. One of those chapter books. At least we know what it is.

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Footsteps on the moon at National Cathedral

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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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The Polish general in Lafayette Square

General Thaddeus Kosciuszko was an American hero in so many ways.

The Polish-born general of the Revolutionary War is one of four foreign-born general in the park largely for winning the battle of Saratoga, N.Y.

The statue reflects Kosiuszko fighting for both his Polish homeland and adopted America. Wearing a Continental Army general’s uniform, he holds a map in his right hand of the fortifications of Saratoga. Underneath is simply his name and at the base is Saratoga.

Below Kosciuszko is an eagle whose spread wings protect a globe where the new nation lies underneath as well as a flag, shield and sword. On the right is a wounded Kosciuszko in a Polish uniform giving orders to a Polish peasant. On the left, he’s in an American uniform freeing a bound soldier, which symbolizes the American army. Kosciuszko has a flag in his left hand while a fallen musket and overturned drum are at the youth’s feet. In the rear is the dedication from the Polish people.

Kosciuszko later returned to Poland to fight the Russians. He donated his Ohio lands awarded by Congress to fund a school for African-American children in New Jersey.

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Wordless Wednesday: Bill Shoemaker

Bill Shoemaker at American Portrait Gallery

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The woman behind the man – Queen Isabella

We always know Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred and 92. But, we rarely talk about the woman who funded the trip to the new world – Queen Isabella.

The Spanish monarch is in front of the Organization of American States on 17th St. The bronze life-sized statue has her holding a pomegrate with a dove emerging and wearing the crown of Castille. It was dedicated in 1966 as a gift from the Institute of Hispanic Culture of Madrid.

Isabella sold her jewels to pay for the expedition, which certainly was repaid many times over by discovering America. The Catholic ruler also created the Spanish Inquisition.

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Balinese Demons on Embassy Row

As regular readers know, I’m an average photographer. And sometimes it’s hard to get a good shot, especially when the gates are locked at an Embassy Row showstopper. Hence this photo.

But here’s one of two Balinese Demons who guard the front doors of the Indonesian Embassy, which was once the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, a super rich heiress who owned the Hope Diamond Bali is part of Indonesia and known for its artisans. There are many statues like these in temples on Bali.

These demons are five feet tall and made from volcanic rock more than a century ago. They were purchased by the Indonesian ambassador, who spotted them in Rockerfeller Center.

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