Shaw / Penn Quarter (November 16, 2020)
On a crisp Autumn day we walked back and forth between the Shaw and the Penn Quarter neighborhoods.
We walked by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, advertised to be the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. The museum, housed in a former Masonic Temple, includes more than 4,500 pieces of art including works by Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassatt.
Next up we passed the Warner Theatre. The Theatre was built in 1924 as a movie theatre, presenting silent movies and live vaudeville acts. It is named for Harry Warner, one of the founders of Warner Brothers that owned the theatre. Some of the biggest acts of the 1930s and 1940s performed at the theatre, including Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Duke Ellington. But by the 1970s, it had fallen into disrepair and for a short time was used to screen pornographic movies. In 1989 it was closed for renovations and reopened in 1992. Frank Sinatra performed at the reopening of the theatre, his last DC performance.
Around the corner from the Warner on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the White House, is one of Washington’s most controversial hotels. The Trump International Hotel opened in 2016 in what used to be the city’s main General Post Office. The building is in Richardsonian Romanesque style, named after architect Henry Hobson Richardson. It was completed in 1899 at a cost of $3 million. Right from the start for the hotel, there was controversy. Celebrity chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian pulled out of deals to open restaurants in the hotel after Donald Trump made controversial comments about Mexicans during the 2016 election campaign. Since he has become President there have been a number of cases arguing that Trump is violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the United States constitution which prohibits those in the federal government from profiting from their position. Litigation is ongoing.
Near to the hotel is one of the most important sites in United States history. On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was enjoying a play at Ford’s Theatre when he was shot and fatally wounded by John Wilkes Booth.
Lincoln did not die in the Theatre. He was carried across the road to the house of tailor, William Peterson. There he was placed on the bed in the first-floor bedroom – diagonally because of his unusual height. Many people came to visit him during the night before he eventually died the next morning at 7:22 am.
The Penn Quarter used to be the home of many large department stores. Virtually all of them have now closed, including the flagship store of Woodward & Lothrop, known locally as Woodies, which closed its doors in 1995. The building, designed by Henry Ives Cobb, has stood in its current form since 1925. When we passed, it appeared to be empty and we are not sure what its future holds.
A less ornate building, but just as fascinating is the Old Greyhound bus Terminal on New York Avenue. The deco style terminal opened in 1940 but by the 1970s it had fallen into disrepair and developers wanted to demolish it. In response, a group of preservationists successfully mobilized to get the structure designated as a historic landmark. It now acts as the lobby of building that rises behind it.