Walking again through the Shaw neighborhood, we were struck at the variety of row houses that we passed.
We’re starting to see Autumn decorations. Inevitably they must include a pumpkin or two.
There also some surviving halloween decorations. This was one of the more bizarre that we have come across.
We like the way that residents are taking over empty lots to create community gardens.
There are also some cool alleys in the neighborhood.
The District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995 made charter schools part of the public-education system in the District. Today almost half of the District’s public school students attend a charter school. Among the most well known are the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools. KIPP DC has 18 campuses throughout the city, including the KIPP DC Shaw Campus that we walked by on P Street. There are currently about 6,800 KIPP students from PreK to twelfth grade.
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.
Downtown / Federal Triangle / National Mall (November 13, 2020)
After two days of heavy rain, the skies finally cleared and we headed downtown on a gorgeous Autumn day.
This weekend, there is a Trump rally here in the District. In this predominantly Democrat town it was strange to see people wandering around wearing Trump shirts and no masks while trucks drove by bearing Trump signs and blasting YMCA. It seems to us to be an unlikely song to be adopted by the Trump community as its theme song. However, there is a lot about the Trump movement that we find hard to explain.
We are not sure if this dog was a Trump supporter but it definitely was the most extravagantly pampered dog that we have come across during our walks.
With the possibility of riots breaking out between Trump supporters and counter-protesters at the upcoming rally, many of the buildings downtown continued to be boarded up.
We saw “Fire Control Room” written at a number of places and thought that it would make a good name for a band.
We passed by a couple of Washington’s most iconic establishments. The Old Ebbitt Grill is a historic bar and restaurant. In one form or other the Grill has been around since the early 1800s but has been at its current location since 1983.
The Willard Hotel has been at its current location since 1847. The present Beaux-Arts style hotel, designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, opened in 1901. Many Presidents have stayed at the hotel over the years. Faced with several assassination threats, Abraham Lincoln was smuggled in to the hotel where he stayed for a couple of weeks until his inauguration in 1861. In April 1922, the Vice President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, was staying in the hotel when fire broke out and guests were evacuated. When he attempted to re-enter the hotel he was asked to identify himself by a fire marshall to which his response was “I’m the Vice President”. The unimpressed fire marshall relied “What are you Vice President of?” Other famous guests have included Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, The Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens and Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote his famous “I have a Dream” speech in his room at the hotel in 1963.
We liked the look of this bank with its ornate decoration.
We passed a number of massive Federal Government buildings, including the Commerce Department building
The Department of the Treasury
and the Department of Agriculture
The largest of them all was the Ronald Reagan building. At 3.1 million square feet it is the second largest federal building in the United States. Only the Pentagon is bigger.
In front of the Ronald Reagan building is the Oscar S. Straus Memorial, commemorating the accomplishments of the first Jew to serve in the cabinet of a U.S. president. Straus was the Secretary of Commerce and Labor under Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1909. The memorial consists of a fountain and four statues.
One of the statues contains a quote by Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. The full quote reads “The voice of reason is more to be regarded than the bent of any present inclination; since inclination will at length come over to reason, though we can never force reason to comply with inclination.” It seemed an apt quote for these times, when reason often seems to come a distant second to inclination.
Sitting on Freedom Plaza is another impressive government building. The Wilson Building houses the municipal offices and chambers of the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia. It is named for a long term Council member and former Council Chair, John A. Wilson. Wilson was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Malcolm X once called Wilson “one of the funniest guys in the movement.” Wilson wrote the District’s tough anti-hate crimes laws as well as its human rights law, which is one of the most comprehensive in the country. Tragically, he committed suicide in 1993.
We also passed one of the District’s most important museums. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the United States’ official memorial to the Holocaust. The museum opened in 1993 and provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history.
Howard University / LeDroit Park (November 9, 2020)
On another beautiful day we once again walked around the campus of Howard University and neighboring LeDroit Park.
William H. Greene Stadium is the 7000 seat home of the Howard Bison football and soccer teams. It is named in honor of a Washington DC physician.
We also passed the Ira Aldridge Theater. The theater serves as the home and main performance space for the Department of Theatre Arts at Howard. It is named for Ira Frederick Aldridge (1807-1867) an African American actor who specialized in Shakespearean roles. Aldridge was born in New York City, but facing the persistent discrimination that black actors had to endure at the time, emigrated to England in 1824. He had a very successful career in Europe and is the only actor of African-American descent to be honored with a bronze plaque at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.
We liked this wall sculpture called “Students Aspire” by the artist Elizabeth Catlett. Catlett, who died in 2012, was an American and Mexican graphic artist and sculptor whose works often focus on the African-American experience in the 20th century. The grandchild of slaves, she was born and raised in Washington D.C. and is a graduate of Howard.
We have noticed many corner stores during our walks. This in one of the prettiest.
Sitting across the McMillan reservoir from Howard is the Children’s National Hospital. It is ranked as one of the top children’s hospitals in the country with over 300 beds.
Howard University / Le Droit Park (November 6, 2020)
Today we walked through the campus of Howard University and neighboring LeDroit Park. Howard is a private, federally chartered historically black university. Tracing its history back to 1867, it is named after General Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War hero, who founded the university. The campus covers 256 acres and caters to around 10,000 students. Among its distinguished alumni are the next Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.
Walking through the campus, we noticed the distinguished building photographed below. We assumed it was part of the University but wondered why it was surrounded by a high fence. Turns out that it is what surely must be one of the world’s grandest looking pumping stations.
Neighboring Howard is historic LeDroit Park. Originally, the neighborhood was for whites only. However, after multiple actions by Howard University students and others, the neighborhood became integrated. By the 1940s, it had become a major focal point for the African-American elite of the time with many prominent figures residing there.
The following house looked just to be another beautiful old house in the neighborhood.
However, walking around the back showed a surprising and extensive underground renovation under way.
Not all of the houses are so majestic. We liked this house which reminded us of a house that you would see in a Western movie.
Howard University, like Georgetown University and George Washington University, has an affiliated hospital. It is the nation’s only teaching hospital on the campus of a historically black college. The 300 bed hospital sits on the site of Griffith Stadium that was the home of the Washington football and baseball teams until 1965.
It being election day here in the States, we decided it would be appropriate to walk along Constitution and Independence Avenues that border the National Mall. The Mall is not a shopping mall. Rather, it is a large landscaped park that is also home to a number of the city’s most famous buildings, museums and monuments.
Sitting at the center of the Mall is the iconic Washington Monument. Commemorating George Washington, it is the world’s tallest obelisk, standing at around 555 feet tall. When it was first built in 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world.
Various reporters were stationed around the city using the city’s monuments as backdrops as they reported on the election.
Sitting directly across Constitutional Avenue from the monument is the White House. It used to be that you could get relatively close to it but these days temporary fencing has been raised completed encircling it. More than one person has commented that the President has, successfully, constructed at least one wall.
A number of large government buildings line Constitution Avenue, including the headquarters of the following agencies
Mal worked for many years at the Federal Trade Commission, including a few years working in the Headquarters building pictured above. On both sides of the FTC building are two monumental statues created by the American sculptor Michael Lantz. Standing about 12 feet tall, they both depict a man attempting to restrain a horse, symbolizing the FTC restraining runaway monopolies and trusts. Hence, they are called “Man Controlling Trade”.
Lining both sides of the Mall are a number of large museums and art galleries, including the following.
All of the above museums, apart from the National Gallery of Art, are part of the Smithsonian Institution. The fortune of the British scientist, James Smithson, passed to the United States to found at Washington “an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.
The first building constructed for the Institution was the Smithsonian Institution Building (“the Castle”) which was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. and opened in 1855. Smithson’s crypt now stands in the Castle.
The Institution now consists of 20 museums and galleries as well as the National Zoo. Eleven are on the Mall. They are truly an amazing part of the City, particularly since they are all have free entry.
Sitting directly across from the Castle is a completely different type of building, housing the United States Department of Energy.
We stopped in a the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden for lunch in it’s Pavilion cafe. The Garden is home to an incredible collection of modern sculpture including “Graft” a life size metal tree sculpture by Roxy Paine.
“Amor”, by Robert Indiana
And a beautiful stone and glass mosaic by Marc Chagall called “Orphee”.
The smallest and oldest building on the Mall is the Lock Keeper’s House. Erected about 1835 it stood at the eastern terminal of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal now terminates in Georgetown but back then continued on as far as the Mall before flowing into the Potomac River.
Just off of the Mall on Independence Avenue is Washington’s newest memorial, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. Designed by Frank Gehry, its main features are a series of bronze statues by Sergey Eylanbekov and a large transparent tapestry by Tomas Osinski.
At the eastern end of the Mall is the United States Capitol. It is the home of the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the United States federal government. The original building was completed in 1800 but was damaged during the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. It was fully restored and enlarged later on, including the addition of its massive dome.
Dupont Circle / Logan Circle / Shaw (October 27, 2020)
During our walk today we noticed that many of the row houses had pleasant front gardens. These gardens have become more used during these Covid times. People want to get out of their houses where they have been confined for months and also meet with friends and family more safely outdoors. Here are some of our favorites.
On T Street we passed by a building where Todd Duncan lived from 1935 to 1960. Duncan was a renowned baritone during the middle part of the twentieth century. He is most famous for his role as Porgy in George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess. He refused to perform that role at the District’s segregated National Theatre until the venue changed its policy for the production’s brief run in 1935.
The area has seen massive growth during the last twenty years with apartment blocks springing up on what seems a daily basis, particularly along 14th Street. We thought that this building was one of the more interesting.
But the area still consists mainly of row houses. Here are some of our favorites from today’s walk.
We passed a building that was once the home of Frelinghuysen University. Named for a U.S. Senator from New Jersey who was a civil rights activist during Reconstruction during the 1860s and 1870s, the school provided education, religious training and social services for black working-class adults. Unfortunately, it closed its doors for good in the late 1950s. The home, known as the Edwin P. Goodwin House after its first owner, was built in 1879 in Queen Anne style and was designed by Diller B. Groff. Over the years it gradually fell into disrepair until it was bought in 1992 for $90,000. Now it has been beautifully renovated.
Recently, we have found ourselves on a number of one-block streets that we have found quiet and inviting. Westminster Street is another example. It had the added advantage of having a beautiful small children’s playground set between the homes.
The playground included a large colorful mural called “Community” that was painted by Anne Marchand who Lauren, coincidentally, used to dance with in days gone by.
We are not sure how we would feel about using this ATM machine.
Shaw / Chinatown / Penn Quarter (October 21, 2020)
Today we mainly walked along 7th and 9th streets running through Shaw, Chinatown and the Penn Quarter.
Recently, we discussed Banneker High School when we were walking through Columbia Heights. What we didn’t mention is that Banneker is scheduled to move to a new location in Shaw. After a fierce debate, Washington D.C.’s Council voted to swap the locations of Banneker and Shaw Junior High and renovate or rebuild them both. We walked by the construction of new Banneker and it looked very impressive.
Recently, we posted about 12th Place, a pretty and colorful block-long street in Columbia Heights. We came across a similar block-long street during today’s walk. French Street may not be quite as colorful as 12th Place but it is just as beautiful.
It is not just the school’s that the District has been feverishly renovating and rebuilding but also the libraries. We passed Shaw Library which was extensively renovated in 2010. With its distinctive translucent facade, glass enclosure, and light flooded interior, it has been hailed as a model for future libraries.
At the moment, you can see large white boxes outside the District’s libraries. They are for District residents to drop off their ballots for the upcoming election. Please vote everyone!
Walking down 7th Street we crossed from Shaw into Chinatown / Penn Quarter. At the center of Chinatown on the corner of 7th and H Streets is a traditional Chinese gate also known as the Friendship Archway. Designed by local architect Alfred Liu, the archway was built in 1986 to commemorate the newly-established sister cities relationship between the District and Beijing, China. The arch has been very recently renovated so the colors are particularly popping.
Next to the archway and anchoring the neighborhood is the Capital One Arena, where Washington D.C.’s professional basketball (Wizards) and ice hockey (Capitals) play.
The Arena was built in 1997 and was the impetus to a complete turnaround for the surrounding area. Mal used to work near the center and can remember 7th Street being mostly boarded up buildings, with the occasional adult video store and Chinese restaurant. The area is unrecognizable from those days. It is now a vibrant area full of restaurants, bars, theaters and apartment buildings.
We were joined on today’s walk by our good friend Ross. Here he is standing in front of a sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky aptly named “Man with a Briefcase”.
Down on Pennsylvania Avenue we passed by the National Archives Building.
Like many of the buildings along this part of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Archives building was built during the 1930s as part of a massive public buildings program. It holds the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; and the Bill of Rights. All three are on display in the building’s main chamber, called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.
Next to Archives and also built during the 1930’s is the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. Comprising seven floors and 1.2 million square feet, it houses the headquarters of the Department of Justice (DOJ), including the office of the United States Attorney General.
Directly across from the DOJ Building is the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is named for former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.
Although it was widely praised when it was first completed in 1975, the brutalist building has subsequently become one of Washington’s least loved buildings. Among other things, it has been called “Orwellian”, “an urban sin”, “disastrous”, “insensitive”, “hostile” and a “dreary 1970s behmoth”. Currently, the FBI is searching for new headquarters, so the building’s future is uncertain.
By this stage, it was after five which pre-pandemic would see the streets jammed with the cars of workers heading home. Instead, this is what we saw.
To our minds, a much more successful Washington landmark is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The library was designed by legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was completed in 1972.
The building was recently re-opened after an extensive renovation. Before the renovation, there was some talk about pulling it down and rebuilding a new library. Fortunately, the building survived. It has now been designated a historic landmark and is a rare example of modernist architecture in the District.
Just up from the library and perhaps the foremost symbol of the resurgence of the area is the City Center mixed-use development. Covering more than five blocks, it include four residential buildings, two office buildings, a luxury hotel and some of the fanciest stores you will find in the District.
Having worked up an appetite, we headed back to Shaw where we had an enjoyable meal on the terrace of a Japanese restaurant with the unlikely name of Zeppelin. By the time we had finished dinner, the terrace was packed with young diners, many who had brought their dogs along. Walking though these trendy areas, we have noticed that millennials appear to have an affinity for dogs. It is almost Paris like, the way they take their pets with them everywhere.
We finished the evening on the roof deck of Ross’s building which offered a great view over the surrounding area.
We were downtown again today and were struck by how empty it is. We passed by many closed restaurants that would normally be bustling.
Even those that had terraces open for business were empty.
We have to assume that the big old hotels like the St. Regis and the Hamilton are also suffering.
The National Geographic Headquarters were still boarded up from the riots, adding to the desolate feel.
Across from the National Geographic headquarters was an empty lot and the largest BLM sign we have seen so far, taking up the whole side of a building.
There are a number of political signs throughout the downtown area. We liked this tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Another normally bustling place is Lafayette Square directly across from the White House. It has now been completely fenced off.
Among the often nondescript concrete and glass boxes that dominate downtown we liked this building as being somewhat different.
Also standing among the buildings was the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Built in 1886, it is the oldest continuously black-owned property in Washington D.C.
We found ourselves briefly on Massachusetts Avenue, just enough time to pass one of the embassies that line the avenue. This time it was the Embassy of Peru.
Washington D.C. is a city full of statues but this is the first one we have come across honoring a poet.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet living from 1807 to 1882. He is known for such classic American poems as “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” The statue is by William Couper and Thomas Ball and was dedicated on May 7, 1909.
Standing across the street and above the Chase bank was the iconic Eighteenth Street Lounge.
Stepping through an unmarked door next to the bank, you walked up a long staircase and entered, in our opinion, the District’s best club. The ESL opened in 1995 and for twenty five years was hugely popular, offering world class DJs, as well as live music. It took up two floors and consisted of several rooms containing shabby chic furniture, velvet couches and fireplaces. It drew a diverse crowd of all ages to dance and enjoy the music which had a definite international vibe. Unfortunately, it is another victim of the pandemic and recently closed its doors. We will miss it immensely.
Our good friend Nick joined us on today’s walk as we continued making our way through Columbia Heights.
We passed by two schools with impressive front entrances, Banneker and Cardozo High Schools.
We have spoken about Cardozo in a previous blog entry but were surprised to find another public high school so close by. It turns out that Banneker, named for Benjamin Banneker, an African-American scientist, surveyor, almanac author and farmer, was originally the neighborhood Junior High School. Banneker who lived from 1731 to 1801 famously called out Thomas Jefferson for his ownership of slaves. In a letter written to Jefferson on August 19, 1791, Banneker wrote:
…. Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that altho you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of those rights and privileges which he had conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the Same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to your Selves.
Banneker High School is now a magnet high school and is considered to be one of the top high schools in the region because of its strenuous curriculum and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. It currently has approximately 450 students.
We passed by the home of another anti-slavery activist, Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She was the first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada. She was born in Wilmington, Delaware but moved to Canada with her family after passage of The Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 which required that all escaped slaves, upon capture, be returned to their owners, even those living in free states. However, she returned to the United States during the American Civil War where she recruited soldiers for the Union. She taught, went to Howard University Law School, and continued advocacy for civil rights for African American and women for the rest of her life.
Sometimes we come across a building that stands out as being somewhat different than its neighbors. The Manhattan is one of those buildings.
Feeling a little hungry by this stage we dropped by Washington’s top rated middle eastern restaurant, Maydan.
During the pandemic many of the District’s restaurants have opened outdoor tables where patrons can dine more safely. Maydan has the added advantage of being located at the end of an alley that it has appropriated for diners.
Unfortunately, Maydan was not open so we headed to nearby Franklin Hall for what can best be described as bar food.
The find of the day was, undoubtedly, a one-block street, running between Florida Avenue and W Street. 12th Place is perhaps the prettiest and certainly the most colorful block we have come across during our walks. We spoke to a friendly resident who gave us some of its history. He said that the small houses were originally built for staff from nearby Howard University but at some stage it had become mainly Jewish. However, after the 1968 riots, many residents departed for the safety of the suburbs. The street, like much of the surrounding area, became run down and was known as a place to acquire illegal drugs. Now the street has seen a resurgence. So much so, that despite their small size, houses on the street can sell for as much as $800,000. The neighbor told us that the street is sometimes known as Skittles Place, after the popular colorful candies. It’s definitely an appropriate nickname.
Speaking of colorful, we liked this home’s front steps.