Archive for March, 2014

We, The Pizza

We, The Pizza

In keeping with my tradition of treating myself to a nice lunch at a local restaurant at the end of each month, and then posting my review of the restaurant on this blog, I am closing out the month of March by reviewing “We, The Pizza” located at 305 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of southeast D.C.

D.C. has a number of good choices for pizza, from giant slices in Adams Morgan to wood-fired ovens in Brookland to ones with gourmet ingredients in DuPont Circle.  But I’m not going to try to compare them, or say that one is better than the other.  I find the various arguments about New York verses Chicago-style, or deep dish verses thin crust, etc., irrelevant.  I like them all.

So on the way back to my office on a bike ride I stopped at “We, the Pizza” and picked up a couple of slices to take back for lunch.  It opened in 2010, and the place has been getting a lot of publicity lately, including in a recent WETA public television special entitled “Pizza in Washington”  So I decided to check it out for myself, and I’m so glad I did.

“We, the Pizza” bakes thicker pies, which it displays on round butcher blocks to entice customers.  There are no waitresses.  Rather, they hand out pagers when you place an order that lights up when the pizzas are ready.  It was hard picking out just a couple from more than a dozen different kinds of pies available and on display.  After much contemplation, however, I ended up selecting one slice of sautéed spinach and roasted artichokes, with aged Provolone, Parmesan cheese, and a Béchamel sauce.  And when it comes ti pizza, you can never have just one slice.  So for my second slice I chose homemade Italian sausage with oven roasted peppers, Mozzarella, fennel seeds, fresh basil, and the house tomato sauce.  They were both right up there among the best I’ve ever had.

In addition to their pies, “We, The Pizza” also takes its homemade soda beverages seriously.  A staff of “fizzicians” whips up sodas in a variety of delightful flavors such as “Heard It Through the Grape Soda,” “I’ve Gotta Orange Crush On You,” and “Very, Very, Sour-ry Cherry.”  They also have a flavor named “Jupina Pineapple Soda,” and with all due respect to people who like Hawaiian-style pizza, in my opinion this is the only place pineapple should be in a pizzeria – never on a pizza.

I can now see why the place has been getting a lot of attention.  I highly recommend “We, The Pizza,” and look forward to going back soon to enjoy the remaining styles that I  have yet to try.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

CLICK HERE for the full length video from WETA.

The James Buchanan Presidential Memorial

The James Buchanan Presidential Memorial

Located just a short bike ride away from the downtown cluster of monuments and memorials, the Presidential memorial to James Buchanan is located in the Southeast corner of Meridian Hill Park in Northwest D.C. (MAP).

Commissioned in 1916, but not approved by the U.S. Congress until 1918, the bronze and granite memorial to the 15th President of the United States was completed and unveiled June 26, 1930.  The memorial features a statue of Buchanan bookended by male and female classical figures representing law and diplomacy, and is engraved with the following text, “The incorruptible statesman whose walk was upon the mountain ranges of the law.”

Buchanan is the last President born in the 18th century, and held the office immediately prior to the American Civil War, from 1857 until 1861.  Buchanan’s unsuccessful efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South not only alienated both sides but led to the Southern states declaring their secession from the Union.  Buchanan’s opinion was that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal.

By the time he left office, popular opinion was against him, and the Democratic Party had split. Buchanan had once aspired to a Presidency that would rank in history with that of George Washington.  However, his inability to impose peace on sharply divided partisans on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history, and often assess his failure to deal with secession the worst presidential mistake ever made.  The manner and process by which his memorial came to be reflects this widely-held opinion about him and his Presidency.

Buchanan is the only President to have never married.  As a result, he relied on his niece, Harriet Lane, to serve as White House hostess during his presidency.  After Buchanan left office, the now-married and fairly wealthy Harriet Lane Johnston became a philanthropist, supporting children’s charities and donating a great deal of art to government museums.

Johnston, being pretty much the only defender of the Buchanan Administration, in her will left money to build a memorial to Uncle.  Interestingly, even the memorial would require no public funding, because of their opinion of Buchanan, lawmakers did not initially accept the bequest.  In debating legislation about the bequest and memorial, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts stated, “This joint resolution proposes at this moment, in the midst of this war, to erect a statue to the only President upon whom rests the shadow of disloyalty in the great office to which he was elected.”

Someone eventually noticed that the bequest had an expiration date, and so Congress, always willing to spend money the is not there own, finally approved accepting the bequest and appropriated the funds for the memorial in 1918.


The Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building

The Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building

In 1800 President John Adams approved legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” thus establishing what would eventually become the largest library in the world – The Library of Congress.

The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and were stored in the U.S. Capitol Building, the library’s first home. The first library catalog, dated April 1802, listed 964 volumes and nine maps. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city of Washington and burned the Capitol, including the then 3,000-volume Library of Congress. Former President Thomas Jefferson, who advocated the expansion of the library during his two terms in office, responded to the loss by selling his personal library, the largest and finest in the country at that time, to Congress to “recommence” the library. The purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487 volumes was approved in the next year, and a professional librarian was hired to replace the House clerks in the administration of the library.

In 1851, a second major fire at the library destroyed about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including two-thirds of the Thomas Jefferson library. Congress responded quickly and generously to the disaster, and within a few years a majority of the lost books were replaced. After the Civil War, the collection was greatly expanded, and by the 20th century the Library of Congress had become the de facto national library of the United States and the largest library in the world.

Currently the Library’s collections include more than 158 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.  And the Library continues to grow.  It receives some 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 12,000 items to the collections daily.  And approximately half of the Library’s book and serial collections are in languages other than English. The collections contain materials in some 470 languages.

The collections are housed in three enormous buildings in D.C. – the main building, the Thomas Jefferson Building, as well as the John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building. There is also a fourth building in Culpeper, Virginia. The fourth building, the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation (MAP), is the Library of Congress’s newest building, opened in 2007. It was constructed out of a former Federal Reserve storage center and Cold War bunker.  Although it’s only 71 miles away, I didn’t ride my bike to Culpeper to see the fourth building.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on First Street in Southeast D.C. (MAP). It first opened in 1897 as the main building of the Library and is the oldest of the three buildings.  Known originally as the Library of Congress Building or Main Building, it took its present name on June 13, 1980. The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium, which opened in 1933, has been home to more than 2,000 concerts, primarily of classical chamber music, but occasionally also of jazz, folk music, and special presentations. Some performances make use of the Library’s extensive collection of musical instruments and manuscripts. Most of the performances are free and open to the public.

The James Madison Memorial Building (see photo below, second row, left) is located between First and Second Streets SE on Independence Avenue in D.C.  (MAP).  The Madison Building is home to the Mary Pickford Theater, the “motion picture and television reading room” of the Library of Congress. The theater hosts regular free screenings of classic and contemporary movies and television shows. The Madison building also houses the Law Library of Congress and the United States Copyright Office. The Madison building is the third largest public building in the D.C. metropolitan area, behind the Pentagon and the building that houses my office.

The John Adams Building (see photo below, second row, right) is located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on 2nd Street in Southeast D.C. (MAP), the block adjacent to the Jefferson Building. The building was originally built simply as an annex to the Jefferson Building. It opened its doors to the public on January 3, 1939. The Adams Building contains 180 miles of shelving (compared to 104 miles in the Jefferson Building) and can hold ten million volumes. There are 12 tiers of stacks, extending from the cellar to the fourth floor. Each tier provides about 13 acres of shelf space.

The Library’s primary mission is researching inquiries made by members of Congress through the Congressional Research Service. Although it is open to the public, only Library employees, Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and other high-ranking government officials may check out books.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]


J. Edgar Hoover’s Gravesite

Arguably one of the most powerful men in the history of D.C, he was never elected to public office.  He was born in D.C., but no birth certificate or public record was ever filed, despite the fact that it was legally required at the time.  He went through the D.C. public school system, and attended college in D.C. as well at The George Washington University, where he obtained both a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Master of Laws degree.  He lived his entire life in the nation’s capitol, died here, and is now buried at Historic Congressional Cemetery in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP).  That man was J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover was born on New Year’s Day in 1895, and died on May 2, 1972.  Appointed in 1924 as the Director of the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor to the FBI, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he became its first Director.  He remained the Bureau’s Director for 37 years, until his death in 1972 at age 77.

Hoover’s professional legacy at the FBI is mixed.  He was noted as being capricious in his leadership.  He singled out FBI Agents who he thought “looked stupid like truck drivers,” or that he considered “pinheads.”  He frequently fired FBI Agents, and also relocated Agents who had displeased him to career-ending assignments and locations.   And it is because Hoover’s actions came to be seen as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term.  However, Hoover is also credited with building the FBI into a premier crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to law enforcement technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Hoover’s private life is also subject to interpretation and speculation, and opinions of the man are varied as well.  Beginning decades before his death rumors began circulating that the lifelong bachelor was a homosexual.  Some historians speculate that Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s second in command at the FBI, and who also never married, may have been his lover.  Other scholars dismiss rumors about Hoover’s sexuality, and his relationship with Tolson in particular, as unlikely.  Still other scholars have reported the rumors without expressing an opinion.

Clyde Tolson is best known as the protégé and companion of Hoover, who described Tolson as his alter ego.  The men worked closely together during the day and, both single, frequently took meals, went to night clubs, and vacationed together.  Hoover bequeathed his estate to Tolson, who moved into Hoover’s house upon the FBI Director’s death, and also accepted the American flag that draped Hoover’s casket.  Tolson’s gravesite is just a few yards away from J. Edgar Hoover’s grave.

Despite the varying interpretations of Hoover and the disagreements that will never be settled, most would agree that during his era he was a very powerful man.  Perhaps exemplifying this was the opinion of President Harry S. Truman, who once said that “J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Even after his death, Hoover’s presence loomed large in D.C.  By regulation and custom, only Presidents, military commanders, and members of Congress are granted the honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Building‘s rotunda.  Of the 31 people, including 11 Presidents, who have been granted this honor, there has been only one exception.  That exception was J. Edgar Hoover.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]


Statue of John Carroll at Georgetown University

John Carroll was born in 1735, and grew up to become the first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States, serving as the ordinary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  He founded the first diocesan parish in the country, St. John the Evangelist Parish of Rock Creek (now Forest Glen), located in Montgomery County, Maryland.  And he also oversaw the construction of the first cathedral in the United States, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is located in Baltimore and is where he was buried in 1815.

Among these and his many other accomplishments, John Carroll is also known as the founder of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States.  Carroll was a supporter and advocate for education, which for him included a focus on the education of the faithful, providing proper training for priests, and the inclusion of women in higher education.  Based on this, a number of other educational institutions have also been named after him, including: Archbishop Carroll High School here in D.C.; The John Carroll School, a private college-preparatory Catholic high school in nearby Bel Air, Maryland, and; John Carroll University in Ohio.

To honor Carroll, a bronze statue honoring him sits prominently inside Georgetown University’s front gates, in the traffic circle in front of Healy Hall (MAP).  Fund raising for the statue to honor Carroll began in 1909, with the grand unveiling ceremony planned for May 4, 1912.  A number of prominent political and public figures were scheduled to make speeches at the unveiling ceremony, including the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who had graduated from Georgetown in 1860.  Others scheduled to participate included the Attorney General (who was representing President Howard Taft), the Speaker of the House, and the Cardinal of the Washington Diocese.  Unfortunately, after the final plans for the ceremony had been made and the invitations had been sent out, the foundry notified the university that the statue would not be ready in time.  Deciding not to postpone the ceremony, Georgetown officials ordered a plaster cast of the statue, which was then painted (in similar fashion to the statue for D.C.’s Maine Lobsterman Memorial).  The plaster copy of the statue was then duly unveiled in front of thousands.  Years later, Brother James Harrington, who was in charge of workmen on the Georgetown campus at the time, revealed the deception.  Harrington recalled, “Weeks later, in the dead of night, today’s bronze statue was substituted for the spurious one and no one was the wiser.”

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The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac

One of the more unusual Presidential memorials in the D.C. area is the one dedicated to Lyndon Baines Johnson.  There is no street address for the memorial, which is located on D.C.’s Columbia Island, across the Boundary Channel from the Pentagon (MAP).  The park has three entrances, one on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, another on Boundary Channel Drive, and the third is a footbridge from the Pentagon parking lot.

Shortly after his death in January of 1973, some of President Johnson’s friends and colleagues began to consider creating a national memorial to the 36th President.  They decided that a grove of trees, a “living memorial,” would be symbolically appropriate for a man who valued nature in his personal life, and supported conservation and preservation of our America’s natural heritage during his presidency.  By the end of the year, the memorial was authorized by Congress.  It was also administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places at that time. The memorial was dedicated in September of 1974, and is overseen by the National Park Service under the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Officially known as The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, the memorial consists of two parts. The first area is commemorative in nature, and features a 19-foot tall, Texas red granite monolith in the center of a flagstone plaza.  The grove, consisting of approximately 900 mature white pine trees encloses the plaza on three sides, and creates a dramatic feeling of enclosure for visitors walking serpentine pattern of walks and trails surrounding and leading to the plaza.  A variety of azaleas, rhododendron, flowering shrubs, wildflowers, and spring bulbs cover the ground beneath the trees.  The remaining side of the plaza is an open and leads to the second area of the Memorial.

The Memorial’s second area focuses on the grassy meadow and overlooks the Potomac River vista of the Capital city.  More informal than the plaza area, it provides a tranquil refuge for reflection and a variety of passive recreational activities.  Benches along the gravel walkway that winds around the meadow give visitors a chance to sit and relax, and there are picnic tables under the trees that frame the meadow.  It is this tranquil area where President Johnson often went when he needed to immerse himself in deep thought, or just escape from the stresses of his Presidential responsibilities.

The dramatic departure of the national memorial to President Johnson, in comparison to the imposing architectural monuments to previous Presidents such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, makes it less alluring to tourists.  Additionally, the somewhat isolated location of the memorial has contributed to making it one of the lesser visited ones in D.C.  But it is for these reasons that I find the Johnson Memorial even more appealing.

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The Naval Observatory Clock

In their debut album in 1969, the rock band “The Chicago Transit Authority” (later shortened to “Chicago”) asked the musical question, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”  Well, if anybody can answer that question, it would be the people at the United States Naval Observatory (USNO), located in Northwest D.C. at 3450 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), at the Northwestern end of Embassy Row.  And outside the gate to the USNO compound is a display for the Master Clock that serves as the official time in the United States.  So if you’re out for a bike ride in D.C. and you really need to know what time it is, I recommend riding by.

The USNO is one of the oldest scientific agencies in the United States.  Its headquarters was established in D.C. in 1894 as an astronomical observatory.  It was originally located in a more urban area of the city before the light pollution thrown off by the growth in the city’s center diminished its effectiveness.  It was subsequently moved to its current location on a 2000-foot circle of land atop Observatory Hill overlooking the city.  Today, the observatory’s primary observational and positioning work is done away from any urban areas at a higher elevation station near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Today, the USNO’s primary mission is to produce positioning, navigation and timing for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense and its contractors.  As part of that mission, the Naval Observatory is specifically responsible for standard time, time interval, and radio-frequency standards, and operates the primary Master Clock facility at its site in D.C.  However, if it’s not possible for you to stop by the facility in Northwest D.C., the USNO also provides public time service via servers on the Internet, such as, and via telephone voice announcements by calling 202-762-1401.

Aside from its scientific mission, since 1974, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States is Number One Observatory Circle, a house on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.  It has also been speculated that the residence houses a bunker-like room that serves as the “secure, undisclosed location” where Vice Presidents are taken and remain under protection during times of national emergency, such as after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In a 2009 interview, Vice President Biden described the bunker.  However, a short time later the Vice President’s press office issued a statement denying the bunker report, suggesting that Biden had instead been describing “an upstairs workspace”.

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The first photo (above, left) is of row houses in the 100 block of D Street (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in southeast D.C.  The other photo shows a mural of the same block of row houses.  It is located in the alley behind the houses, and is painted on the garage door of one of the houses depicted in the mural.  It goes to show that almost anything can be a canvas for an artist with enough imagination, so you just never know where you might find a work of art in D.C.

After discovering this mural, I also discovered a new iTunes app called ArtAround. ArtAround started out as a budding social project to map art in D.C., San Francisco, New York, Oakland, and a few other cities. It has since expanded to include the entire United States.

ArtAround helps users find, map and share the “art around” them, creating a community-generated map, tagged with the locations of publically accessible art, including murals, sculptures, and even graffiti. Anyone can photograph the artwork, then upload its location and information to the ArtAround app. Fellow followers are able to explore the map, comment on particular artwork and update information on the piece to include its name, creator and description.  I uploaded this mural to the ArtAround web site, and am hoping to find out more about it through the app.

The app’s Executive Director Anna Bloom was inspired by walking throughout and exploring the city of San Francisco where she lives. Much like I do on a bike in D.C. In describing the app, she stated, “I think the idea behind the app was to make those experiences, those deeper connections with art — and by extension, place, history and culture — more ordinary. To make them a part of everyday life.”   It is kind of like bringing museums out onto the street, and I’m all for that since most museums won’t let me ride my bike in them.

Library Court

Library Court

When riding around the Capitol Hill neighborhood east of the U.S. Capitol Building, you can find some of D.C.’s most famous (or notorious) alleys.  Alleys were built into Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the Capitol city as a way to provide tradesmen with backdoor access to substantial homes and mansions.  The alleys at that time also frequently contained stables and carriage houses.

Later, after the end of the Civil War, the population of D.C. increased considerably as both soldiers and freed slaves flocked to the city.  Within a decade after the War, the population of D.C. grew from 60,000 to over 110,000.  During this time, many alleys became festering slums where freed slaves and others squatted and worked under substandard conditions.  For generations, these D.C. alley dwellers lived off the grid and behind the scenes.  This led Congress to pass the Alley Dwelling Elimination Act of 1934.  Subsequently, many of the enclaves of converted stables and alley homes were demolished.

Only a few pockets of these homes survived, but many of the remaining ones have now been gentrified and turned into smart mews homes for the affluent. These homes are not located on any street, and can only be reached through an alley. One of the best examples is what is now known as “Library Court,” which can be found by entering the alley across from the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church at 201 Independence Avenue in Southeast D.C. (MAP).  Another example on Capitol Hill is Rumsey Court (below, left), reachable by an alley in the 100 block of C Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.  A third alley enclave on Capitol Hill is known as Miller’s Court (below, right), and is located in the alley across from the Frederick Douglass house at 320 A Street in northeast D.C.  (MAP), just behind the Library of Congress’ Adams Building.

There are a few other groupings of mews houses in D.C., but the number is extremely limited.  For those that do exist, given the fact that they are located within the center of a city block and only accessible through alleys, it was only recently that these communities started to be listed on any public maps.  And getting there using a GPS can be almost impossible.  But they remain very popular and sought after, usually selling within the first few days when one comes up for sale.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]


Herman Hollerith’s shop at 1054 31st Street

On the wall of the building at 1054 31st Street (MAP) in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood is a plaque to commemorate Herman Hollerith. Hardly a household name, this gifted inventor who is regarded as the father of modern machine data processing, launched the computer age from his basement shop on this site.

Hollerith was an American statistician and inventor. In 1880 he invented the punch card tabulating machine that could rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data. He said he got the idea of storing data on punch cards by watching a train conductor punch tickets. Hollerith built machines under contract for the United States Census Office, which used them to tabulate census data. When they were used to replace hundreds of clerks and save months of labor tabulating the 1890 census data, his machines took off in a big way.

Doing business as the Tabulating Machine Company, he developed more automatic forms of the machine over the years on this site. Many major census bureaus around the world subsequently leased his equipment and purchased his cards, as did major private insurance companies. Hollerith’s machines were used for censuses in England, Italy, Germany, Russia, Austria, Canada, France, Norway, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, and again in the 1900 U.S. census.

The machines were also used in the private retail sector, including a Chicago merchant named Marshall Field, who was about to turn a small dry goods firm into the largest department store in the world. In 1911, Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company merged with three other corporations to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company. The new company, headed by Thomas J. Watson, was later renamed the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

Hollerith died in 1929, and is buried in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery (MAP), a historic 22-acre cemetery and botanical garden located just a few blocks from his shop.

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